Check your baggage at the door

Published 5:10 pm Thursday, July 19, 2007

“By the time we get them, they have lost everything. They’ve hit bottom,” Director of Jacob’s Well Charlie Haynes said on Thursday. “Sometimes a judge will order a woman to come here. Other times we’ll get a phone call from parents who are at their wits end. They don’t know what to do with their daughter. Not too long ago, we got a girl from Virginia. Her parents called us and brought her here.”

“Sometimes they’ve been incarcerated,” Dub Herring interjected. “We don’t go clean out the jails, but they have come here from jail before.”

Both men displayed a passion for their ministry as they talk about Jacob’ Well. The ministry sprawls along Highway 11 in Picayune, just down the street from the post office. The building is where Dub Herring had his car dealership.

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“I never owned the property,” he said. “I tried to buy it, but the owners wouldn’t sell, so I leased it for years. Right where we’re sitting in this coffee shop was Charlie’s office.”

“That was back before I met Jesus,” Haynes said. “Then we moved on. God started working on me.”

“He came in my office one day,” Herring took up the story. “He told me about this ministry that God had been urging him toward. It spoke to me greatly. For the longest time, I had my eye on this piece of property up in Millard. I’d walk around it and pray over it. I had no idea why it was so heavy on my heart. I even called the real estate people about it, but was told that the people were asking too much for it. Then Charlie here told me about this ministry and I said, ‘Get in the car. I want to show you something.’ We bought that property that day.” Both men laughed.

“And,” Haynes adds, “the chapel is where Dub’s office was. I never thought twenty years ago I’d have a ministry for God right here. Worship used to be just for the girls, but now we’ve opened it up to anyone who wants to be blessed. It’s at 11 a.m. every week day.”

The ministry is a recovery intervention for women who abused drugs and other substances, and have decided they don’t want to live like they’ve been living.

“It’s a Bible-based program. A Christ-centered recovery center,” Herring said.

“It’s based on sound Biblical principles,” Haynes explains. “This program is six months long. We give them a safe place to live and work. We have worship three times a day: 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. and again at about 6 p.m. That’s a lot. But, we know they need it.”

Most other recovery programs are based on a 30-day regimen.

“When Charlie explained to me why the program had to be six months, I had to agree with him,” Herring nodded.

Haynes and Herring believe six months is the necessary length of time to completely get rid of all the baggage. Anger, resentment, anxiety, fear are all things that these women bring with them into this program, Haynes clarified. The mission of Jacob’s Well is to help women who are desperately reaching for a lifeline to get out of their substance abuses. Most of them have made the decision they don’t want to live like that anymore. Alcoholism, drug addictions and other addictions clutch at them and drag them to the bottom of the mire. The mission is to educate them so they can get past the walls that hinder their progress to a better life.

“I call them walls,” Haynes explains. “There’s the 7-10 day wall. That’s when they are just getting past the addiction’s pull, the chemical pull on their bodies which is very strong. They hit that wall and many of them go back to their old way of life. When they get past that crises, they’ve won a huge battle.

“The next wall is the 30-day wall. During the first 30 days, they only receive contact from the outside world through letters. After 30 days, they can receive phone calls and visits from family. That’s when they face the unforgiveness and the bitterness family members harbor.”

The women face their families and hear how their addiction has affected those closest to them.

“Sometimes,” Pam Haynes described a typical meeting, “they get so emotional we have to ask the family to leave. They have to visit where we can see what’s happening.” She waves her hand at the four or five tables on the manicured lawn. “They have to face some deep anger and resentment from what they’ve done. Mostly, they cry. But, some get angry right back. That’s when we may have to ask the family to go.”

“When they get past the first 30 days,” Haynes continued, “the next wall is at the 90-day point. They are half way through the program and they are getting comfortable. They feel so much better (physically). They feel so much better about themselves. That’s when the devil jumps in and deceives them. That’s when they let up. They don’t pray as much, they don’t study as much. They don’t read their Bible as much. They are coasting along. This is when we begin to press them to strive harder, to read more and study more. They have to learn they can’t do it by themselves, only through God’s help can they do it.

“The next wall comes about two to three weeks before their graduation. They start to think about going home. The old thoughts come back. They think about the old neighborhoods and old friends. They are about to get back to the outside world and they’re being pulled toward the old lifestyle. This is when they must press forward into their new life with Christ.”

“We know it is Christ that changes them,” Herring said. “No person changes them. They can’t do it on their own. It is Christ that changes their lives.”

“When they first arrive,” Haynes elaborated, “it’s everyone else’s fault they’re where they are. It’s the judge’s fault. It’s the parent’s fault. It’s the boyfriend’s or the husband’s fault. They have come to a place in their life where it has to stop, and it makes them angry that they must deal with what they’ve done. They must take responsibility for all the stuff they’ve brought on themselves. They must check those bags when they come in.”

Some stay on after their graduation. Some leave before they are ready to face the demons of their old lifestyles. Others call and ask to come back when they get in the real world and take a tumble back into their old ways.

“When they call, we open our arms to them,” Haynes said. “We like it when they call us. That says a lot. Most of the time when someone falls from a recovery, their pride is too strong for them to ask for help. We’re well known on the street, and we’ll get calls from folks telling us So-and-so is not doing well, she’s back into drugs, or alcohol, or whatever. We’ll try to put our arms back around them. Sometimes they let us.”

Jacob’s Well is more than a thrift store where most of the women work. The place where they live and worship in the mornings and evenings is in Millard. The dormitory is a huge, sprawling house. It’s fresh and spacious with a fireplace, a huge kitchen, three laundry rooms and a place for 35 women to find safe haven for six months to put the pieces of their lives back together. There’s a swimming pool and a meeting house under construction so the women can meet their families.

It wasn’t always so. They started out with several trailers where the Haynes lived with the women and the worship center was a triplewide trailer. One evening Herring got a call from Libby Gonzales, the director for the battered women’s center, next door to the Jacob’s Well complex, telling him Jacob’s Well was on fire. They lost everything. But today, the swimming pool sparkles and the lawn is neatly clipped. The landscaping is well underway and the home is beautiful.

“We have different work crews,” Pam Haynes said. “Some stay here all day, washing clothes, vacuuming, cooking, working in the yard, while the others go in to the store to work.”

The store has a Christian bookstore, with new things for sale such as books, t-shirt and other things. There is a singer’s room where accompaniment tapes and CDs are for sale. There are brand new mattresses with great prices. The thrift part of the store has some new clothes with the tags still on at a tiny fraction of the tagged price. There’s a room devoted strictly to denim clothing. Knickknacks, children’s clothing, toys, children’s books and a myriad of other things the women sort, and shelve. There is a frame shop where several learn to frame pictures. They are not only learning life skills, but other skills to get a job when they finish the program.

“But, we need someone to teach these women about finances, how to balance a checkbook,” Haynes said.

The ministry is funded mostly through the thrift store earnings and a $500 per month tuition from each woman going through the program.

“If they can’t pay it, we’ll accept them anyway. Usually, we’ll ask if they have a home church and then ask if they’ll take up a love offering once a month on the girl’s behalf. No matter what that offering is, 50 cents or whatever it is, we’ll accept that as tuition. God has blessed us greatly,” Haynes said. “We want to get as many churches as possible involved in this ministry. We’ve got volunteer pastors that come teach these girls every day; enough to fill in three hours a day, every day.”

“God is good and He changes people,” Haynes said. “We’ve had 21 graduate from the program. We’ve taken in 100, but 21 have graduated. Stacy will be number 21 this Sunday.”

“Stacy didn’t even know she was pregnant when she came here,” Pam Haynes said. “God is working and it is awesome to see them want to change. God brought her here. She’s worked hard and she’s saved. Because she’s saved that baby she’s carrying will have a much different life and that baby will be saved.”

“I don’t think it has really hit me yet that I’m going home,” Stacy smiles shyly. “I’ll be getting married when I get home. My fiancé has rented a place and he and my grandmother are coming for the graduation. I won’t be going back to my grandmother’s and I think that’s a good thing.”

Stacy has plans to further her education. She said it was a good thing she didn’t get very far into it because she felt like she would have messed it all up then the grants would have gone to waste.

She took parenting classes at Life Resource Center. She earned her way into becoming Senior Leader. She helped with devotions and talked with the new girls coming into the program.

“I feel ten times better now. I forgot how I used to feel, all that pain and depression, God took all that away from me. I get up everyday, and it is such a relief. All that baggage I was carrying, the depression and the anger are gone. I can deal so much better with things,” she said. “I think it’s better that I went through all that I did, so I can go on to school and be more attentive. I’ve grown up. My priorities are straight and that’s a major thing. Responsibility is a big thing with me now. I’m not out in the wind or leaning on my grandmother. God is stabilizing me.

“Sometimes you get real scared, but this place is such a blessing. I went through a recovery program before, but (that one) didn’t work for me. I wasted so much of my life that I can’t ever get back. But, I can’t look at that, I’m moving forward now. This worked. God has made me a new person.

“I want everyone to know,” Stacy nodded to emphasize her point. “I just want people to see there is hope. ”