Dr. Jacqueline Owusu had everything she ever wanted -- a marriage, a growing family and a lucrative career.
Then one day she woke up just feeling empty inside.
"I said, 'God, I don't understand this. Somebody would really think I'm crazy,' " she said in a recent Ledger-Enquirer interview. " 'Here it is, you're a medical doctor, you're making a lot of money, you're married with (two kids) and you're not happy?' And I wasn't, but I couldn't explain it to somebody why."
That was 2007, when Owusu, now a physician at Midtown Medical Center, was working at a hospital in Dublin, Ga. At first, she tried filling the void with entrepreneurial endeavors. She started two clothing stores, a day spa, a restaurant and a skin care line. But the empty feeling persisted.
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The experience set Owusu on a journey that eventually led her to Columbus, where she now ministers to the homeless who congregate at a park across the street from the hospital. She's also renovating space in a Victory Drive strip mall, where she plans to hold worship services for the homeless and tend to their socioeconomic needs.
And there is no shortage of potential clients. On Jan. 26, a local count of the homeless population in Columbus revealed that there were 149 people sleeping unsheltered and another 135 sleeping in local shelters. Of that number, 53 were identified as chronic homeless and 22 were veterans.
Gabriel Clark, 37, was homeless six months ago and is still unemployed. On Sunday, he and his 5-year-old son were among those who received spiritual nourishment from Owusu, along with McDonald's sandwiches and bottles of water.
"Miss Jackie is trying to do all she can for the people out here and give them a word of encouragement," he said. "It just brings joy to me to know that she cares."
Yet, the physician said she took a long winding road to get to where she is today, and she almost missed her calling.
Owusu, 44, is a native of Ghana, West Africa. Her parents emigrated from the country when she was a 1-year-old and left her in the care of relatives. At 10 years old, Owusu joined her parents in the United States. The family settled in Bronx, N.Y., and Owusu excelled in school.
"I've always been a go-getter," she said. "I knew I wanted to do something with myself, I just didn't know what. And my mom used to always tell me, 'You can be anything you want to be.' "
After graduating from high school, she went to the State University of New York-Stony Brook, where she earned a bachelor's degree in biochemistry. While there, she joined a Christian group that kept her focused on her studies and spiritual growth.
Owusu, who describes herself as a non-denominational believer in Jesus Christ, said she knew then that God was calling her into some kind of ministry.
However, she still didn't know what he wanted her to do.
She began working at a biotechnical college while contemplating what to do with her life.
In 1997, she graduated from New York University with a master's in public administration.
That same year she was accepted at a medical school in the Caribbean called Ross University, where she studied internal medicine.
In 2001, Owusu graduated with a medical degree. The next year, she married and started her residency at Lebanon Hospital.
After completing the residency in 2005, she and her family moved to Dublin, where she worked at Fairview Park Hospital. And that's when she said she began feeling dissatisfied with her life.
A few years later, her father passed away and she had an epiphany.
"I realized that everything we're chasing after in terms of money and material things and all that stuff, it doesn't matter," she said. "My dad, he was so much into his home in New York, and he just died and left everything. So for me, it was kind of a life-changing event. I was like, 'Wow, all this means nothing because we leave it all behind.' "
Owusu said she was praying one day in September 2012, when she heard God's voice telling her to move with her two sons to Toledo, Ohio.
They visited Thanksgiving week and inadvertently drove through a rough neighborhood.
Her 6-year-old son shouted, "Momma, drive fast," as they whizzed on by.
She said three months later God told her to go back to the same neighborhood to feed and minister to his people.
"He said, 'The very same people who have been rejected from society, you tell them that I love them,' " Owusu recalled.
One day, she saw a billboard for a program called Visions Ministry and contacted them.
She learned that they fed the homeless on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and worshipped with them on Sundays. Owusu felt it was exactly the type of ministry to which God was calling her and began supporting the organization financially.
While in Toledo, her bank accounts began running low and she needed steady employment. One day, a temporary agency hired her for a three-week hospital assignment in Maine.
At the same time, an agency contacted her about a temporary position at Midtown Medical Center in Columbus.
Now, Owusu works full time at the medical center as a hospitalist, admitting patients in the evenings. She is also director of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called "Living Free Now International Ministries."
And on Sundays, she, her sons and baby sitter go to the park across the street from the hospital to feed and worship with the homeless.
Owusu hands out Bibles and tells her listeners: "Guys, I don't come here as just a regular ministry to feed you and then leave. My goal is to get something better out of you because God has specifically sent me here saying you are loved by him and even though the world has rejected you, you are not rejected by him."
When temperatures began to drop in the fall, Owusu's heart got heavy.
"I said, 'Lord, I don't get it. I don't think that this is enough, just go feed them and that's it. What happens when it's cold? There's got to be more for them, but I don't know what to do. I have limited funds. I know I'm a doctor, but how much can my funds do?' "
Then in December, she learned she would make a few thousand dollars from an investment opportunity.
"In January, he spoke to my heart and he said, 'My daughter, the money I led you to make, use it to build them a place.' And I said, 'Yes, Lord.' "
Owusu said the task seemed too big and she felt doubtful. But she went the next week to New Light Missionary Baptist Church in Smiths Station, Ala., where Bishop Larry Garrett confirmed her calling.
She secured space at a strip mall behind the Huddle House on Victory Drive and has paid for it to be renovated.
Owusu plans to open the facility this month and begin feeding the homeless every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
She said the building will also be used for Sunday worship, employment, along with computer and GED classes.
She plans to rent a van to transport people to the building and hopes to add sleeping accommodations for women in the future.
"It's turning out to be bigger than I thought, but I'm not afraid," Owusu said. "I used to be, but now I'm not at all, because I know that if God is in the middle, he will somehow provide."
The mall, owned by restaurant owner Lavoy Powell, includes the Occasions Event Center, Jack N Sports Bar and an Internet cafe. Powell said he is helping Owusu with her mission.
He plans to open up an additional three acres to build a homeless shelter.
He and Owusu plan to apply for grants to expand the ministry.
"On this side of town, we're close to the river and the spirit just hit me to want to do it," Powell said. "It's just going to be a ministry where we're not only going to house so many people and be able to feed them, but prepare them to go out and get jobs and just try to mentor them at the same time."
Owusu said she's glad to have Powell on board and sees God leading.
"I know we can't solve every problem," she said. "But at least we can be a helping hand and do the best that we can with God's help."
Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.