Farmington — Hanging on the pulpit inside Straight Up Ministries' sanctuary there is a picture of a man behind bars. Jesus' hand is seen holding the key and unlocking the prison.

"What it's showing is how we're locked in bondage by the things of the world," Pastor Toby Chavez said.

About 15 years ago, Chavez and his wife, Helen, started working on getting Straight Up Ministries running. The ministry includes a church as well as a men's transitional home.

At the same time he started the work, Toby Chavez said "that work was also started in me."

Eight years later, the couple opened the doors. During those eight years, Helen Chavez said "the Lord was working on growing us."

Toby and Helen Chavez with Striaght Up Ministries in Farmington.
Toby and Helen Chavez with Striaght Up Ministries in Farmington. (Jon Austria The Daily Times)

The couple went through the paperwork to get nonprofit status and built the church and men's home.

"We do not take any of the credit," Toby Chavez said. "It's all the Lord's glory."

And the couple makes sacrifices. The majority of the work they've done with money out of their own pockets. Sometimes they even went without food to make sure the ministry could operate.

"What we're doing is so important that we have to apply ourselves until the Lord says it's done," Toby Chavez said.

Every morning, the couple starts their day with prayers of gratitude. One day, as Toby Chavez was praying, he asked the Lord to open the eyes of the community to the work the ministry was doing. Within five minutes of finishing his prayer, the phone rang, he said.

At first after answering the phone, Chavez thought it was a solicitor. But the woman on the other end went on to tell him that Straight Up Ministries had been nominated for the Good Samaritan of the Year award. Then she ecstatically informed him that they had won.

By the time Straight Up Ministries was nominated, the nominations were already closed. But the Red Cross was so impressed by their work that they received the award anyways.

"This is how the Lord works," Chavez said.

After hanging up, he went to find his wife.

"I said 'Honey, guess who that was,'" he said.

When he told her, she began to cry. Where there had once been tears of sorrow, Toby Chavez said they had tears of joy.

"My promise to my creator was to work for him for the rest of my life," Chavez said.

He said Helen was his blessing as a partner in their work.

"It's been a thousand years and the honeymoon's not over," Chavez said.

About 20 years ago, Toby and Helen Chavez were married. Both had previously been married, but weren't satisfied.

"It was still 'us' we were looking for," Toby Chavez said.

Both grew up in Farmington and got involved in "the dark side of life."

"I can relate to all these people who come in," Toby Chavez said.

Then Toby Chavez met Helen.

"The Lord threw two monsters together," Helen Chavez said.

One day, as Toby Chavez was holding Helen she began to cry and he was crying. He said they were tears of pain. Then she said something Toby Chavez would never forget.

"Why does it hurt so much to love you?" she asked.

He said that question rang in his heart and helped him start to change.

"She made me want to be a better man," he said.

Together, Toby and Helen Chavez were able to change their lives.

"We became bored with the things of life," Toby Chavez said.

The party life and the drugs were just too repetitious, the couple said.

"When you're in the pit, it's very dark. There's no direction," Toby Chavez said. "The only direction is straight up."

When you look straight up, there's the Lord, Toby Chavez said. That idea was where the name and logo for Straight Up Ministries comes from. The logo is a hand with the pointer finger pointing straight up.

Chavez often attends community meetings such as the mayor's council. He said he always hears about something plaguing the community. Often it's inebriates and transients. He said he believes they shouldn't just be "swept under the carpet."

"I have a vision that will help clean up part of the community," he said.

Toby Chavez was raised on a ranch and worked for 15 years in telecommunications. He has also done plumbing, welding and various other jobs. He currently designs clothing as part of his leather work. He hopes that he will be able to pass on some of his skills to the men helped by Straight Up Ministries.

"I believe that the Lord blessed him with all these things for the people," Helen Chavez said.

Toby Chavez said there is a lot of talent out on the streets. While some of them are lazy, he said the majority of the people on the streets don't have a choice. He hopes to take in the people who have the ambition to do something. After spending time at the transitional home, he hopes to send them to a self-sustaining ranch that would eventually be able to give back to the community.

The couple even have a place in mind that has most of the facilities already in place. Although it is currently owned by someone else, Helen Chavez said she's heard that the owner is interested in selling it.

However, at the moment, Straight Up Ministries is having to turn people away due to lack of funds.

"We've got the know-how, we just need the help, the funding," Helen Chavez said.

At one point, a group from Texas offered them $1.5 million to take in men from Texas. But they turned it down because they didn't start the ministry for Texas. The ministry is for Farmington, San Juan County and the Four Corners area.

Straight Up Ministries is currently in the process of opening a thrift store. Toby Chavez said a lot of people want to donate to it already. Big R has even donated $30,000 worth of brand new items, he said.

"Most of what's in Ace Hardware, we've got," Toby Chavez said.

But, before the thrift shop can open, the ministry has to get the building finished, which means working every day assisted by some of the other members of the church, such as Pastor Preston McNeely, who has been helping them for about five years. Toby Chavez described him as a loyal member and said he is part of the backbone of the ministry.

In the entry to the church, there is a picture hanging of a man shooting dope into his arm, but instead of it being his arm, it's Jesus' arm and Jesus is grimacing.

"We take and apply the things in life to the very word," Toby Chavez said.

Their goal is to show people that they are in the Bible, he said. All you have to do is look and you'll find yourself.

"Our excitement now is we're excited to see what the Lord's got in store next," Chavez said.

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover.