Click the “play” button on the image above to watch a short film about Pastor Paul Montoya.
Before the people of Pueblo, Colorado, came to know him as Pastor Paul, they knew him as a trouble-maker — abusing alcohol and drugs, driving under the influence, getting into fights.
He was on probation in 2003 when a dispute with another man sent Paul Montoya into a rage. He went to the man’s house while drunk, beat him badly, stole a car and $300, and took off, hiding out in a friend’s junkyard.
He was ultimately caught and arrested, sentenced to six years for robbery and habitual traffic offenses, and ended up in the same prison where his father and uncles served time for most of Montoya’s childhood.
“I got blessed with six years,” Montoya says. “I didn’t do my time — I used my time.”
It was a prison chaplain, Montoya says, who helped him reconsider his path in life. “The chaplain came to my cell and said, ‘Look at your life. Your dad’s been in this prison. Your uncles have been in this prison. Let me help you. When you get out, you can help Pueblo instead of damaging it as much as you’ve damaged it.’”
Montoya spent the next four years taking classes and studying the Bible. When he was released, he attended Bible Nazareth College in Colorado Springs. In 2010, he took a job as associate pastor at Victory Life Ministries and began his outreach to prison inmates and Pueblo residents experiencing homelessness.
Pastor Paul’s outreach has continued since, and he’s become widely known among Pueblo’s homeless community as a reliable resource and someone people can turn to when they need assistance.
Along with his wife, Liz Montoya, and assorted helpers who come and go, Pastor Paul prepares dozens of lunch bags daily to deliver to several campsites where people are living in temporary shelters, including one along Fountain Creek.
“He helps everybody all the time. A lot,” says Michael Trujillo, who has received numerous meals from Pastor Paul. “When we’re freezing and burning, he comes out to help everybody as much as he can.”
According to the 2019 Point In Time Count — a census for people experiencing homelessness — more than 300 people in Pueblo are living on the streets or in tents on any given night, and about 200 receive services through various shelters across the city. Given the city’s size, this is slightly above the national rate of homelessness — .17 percent, compared to Pueblo’s approximately .29 percent.
“Pueblo’s a small community,” Montoya says. “If I know somebody needs help, I’m going to help them. Because you know what? I was there before. I’ve been there, and now I know what it’s like.”
Relying on donations and their own personal money, Montoya and his wife also collect extra items people might need — bleach wipes, hand sanitizer, feminine hygiene supplies, and warmer clothing for the winter months.
Some of those experiencing homelessness text and call Pastor Paul with special requests to let him know what they need. He’s also one of the first people in town to hear about accidents, crimes, and other emergencies that take place in and around the camps because his friends who live there trust him and reach out to him first.
“Pueblo used to be a booming town with a steel mill,” Montoya says. “That was the best paying job in Pueblo. A lot of people worked there. After that shut down, all the jobs were gone. Pueblo don’t have nothing, so the streets pick up the kids. It’s crystal meth, it’s cocaine, it’s heroin, and it’s bad. It’s bad here.”
Paul’s brother, George Montoya, had been a pastor for years before Paul left prison. After Paul’s release, the two brothers established a ministry at Martin Luther King, Jr. Church and Youth Center, and continued their outreach together, until George passed away in January 2019 as the result of a car accident.
“He taught the whole church how to give because he was a giving person. When he died, the homeless community was devastated. But his spirit is still here with us,” Montoya says.
After serving the Pueblo community for the past decade, Pastor Paul and his wife are planning to move to California, where he’s been offered a ministry position at a church in Los Banos. He plans to do on the West Coast exactly what he’s done for people in his hometown.
“You know, God opened a big door for me,” Montoya says. “I guess I’ve done what I needed to do here in Pueblo. So God’s taking me somewhere where more people need help.”