From Homelessness to Law School
By Shreya Shukla Thornton
Joe Addink graduated cum laude from Regent University School of Law’s Juris Doctor program in 2019. He ranked 10th in his class and currently serves as associate district attorney at the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office. If you ask him about his journey to law school, however, he will tell you that he can only take credit for saying “yes” to God. It was the Lord who opened one door after another, leading him from homelessness to law school and beyond.
Addink grew up in a Christian home in Iowa and attended a Christian college. While he had considered going to law school, he pursued a career in sales instead, attracted by the prospect of making money fast. Addink got married and was blessed with five children. However, after a divorce in 2009, he experienced severe depression and struggled with alcoholism. By January 2014, Addink had become homeless in Omaha. Seeds of restoration were planted when he joined the drug and alcohol rehabilitation program of a homeless shelter a few months later.
Submitting to God
“(I) just got busy trying to make life work on my own … it just didn’t go very well,” says Addink of some of the most difficult moments of his life. But it was at the shelter that he decided to submit to God. “I said, ‘I don’t know where else to turn, God; I need your help, and I give my life to you.’”
After getting out of rehab and the homeless shelter in November 2014, Addink landed a job in sales with a company in Omaha. Providentially, the company also had a branch in Pittsburgh, where his ex-wife and children lived. So when a position became available there six months later, the company helped Addink move so that he could be close to his children.
Soon after, another door opened unexpectedly. Addink’s aunt contacted him and asked if he still thought about going to law school. If he did, she and her husband would sponsor him. So began applications to law schools in Pittsburgh, as well as to Regent Law in Virginia Beach.
Just as unexpectedly as the door opened, it also closed – or so it seemed. A month after Addink’s aunt called him, she developed a rapid onset of Alzheimer’s disease and passed within a matter of weeks. She hadn’t told anyone about her desire to help him with law school.
Without funding for a law degree, Addink was ready to give up on his dream. Then, Regent contacted him. Regent Law wanted to consider him for the honors program and a scholarship, he was told. The scholarship was a full ride. “All right, God; I guess this is your answer. I’m going,” said Addink.
The move was difficult, as it involved moving away from his children. However, Addink feels that it strengthened their relationship in the long run because there were frequent video calls and visits. “We have a great relationship now that I’m back in Pittsburgh again,” he says.
An Answer to Prayer
At times, God lets us view the lifecycle of prayer from beginning to end. For Addink’s parents, that moment occurred on the Regent and Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) campus in Virginia Beach. They visited their son during his first semester in law school; when he had to attend a class after their campus tour, they decided to continue exploring the campus. They entered the CBN building and were prompted by the receptionist to look at pictures of the ministry’s history on the second floor.
While looking at these photographs, it suddenly dawned on Addink’s mother that she had prayed for her son with a CBN prayer counselor years ago. It was around the time that Addink was homeless that CBN had called her, a sponsor of the ministry, to ask if she had any prayer requests. “And the only time that she (had taken) them up on that was to pray for me … that God would save her son,” says Addink.
“And then I just got chills,” she told her son, “because I realized that, not only did God reach down and grab you, but He took you to law school at the very place where the people I had prayed with are located.”
Addink was among the six graduates invited to speak at the 2019 Chancellor’s Luncheon. His parents attended both his graduation ceremony and the luncheon thereafter and were thrilled to hear their son share his testimony.
Another part of his story is the new chapter of marriage. A month into law school, Addink started driving Uber – something he had done a couple of times in Pittsburgh. Around the same time, a friend he had met at an AA meeting was dealing with a totaled car after Hurricane Matthew. Addink began driving her to work and back, and it was during these Uber rides that the two began to click.
“So, had Pennsylvania not drained my bank account and had Hurricane Matthew not destroyed her car, we may not even be together today,” says Addink with a laugh. They were married in 2018.
Today, Addink serves as associate district attorney at the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office. After gaining experience with the district attorney, he’d like to be part of a practice where he can focus on people with legal problems resulting from alcohol and drug use. Addink would also like to connect them to strong rehab programs and employers willing to give them a chance.
“For a lot of people, the biggest challenge for addictions is denial. There’s a brief window of time after someone gets a charge where they’re generally open to the idea of making a change,” says Addink. “I think that would be a great time for me to come in and be able to say, ‘Hey, I know exactly where you are. I’ve been there; here’s where I’m today. You could turn your life around too.’”
And though he doesn’t know if or when this will happen, he’s following God’s lead. “When He lays something on my heart, I’ll go do it,” says Addink. In this case, as before, it will be a matter of saying “yes.”