I had to pinch myself every morning. Over the last two months, the new guys in the NoAH project were doing so well that James and I could hardly believe it. Perhaps it was the ninth set of modifications in how the program operates. Perhaps it was the difference in the new people coming in. Perhaps it was the modifications God has been working inside me as he challenges me again and again. More likely, it was all of the above, and then some. God took us to a new baby-step up the ladder.
Van and Freddie, both professional cooks, came into NoAH just when God's Katrina Kitchen really-really needed a cook or two. They were determined that they were not going to go around again on that cycle of addiction that they had been caught up in for way too long. And they jumped into the Camp Avenue kitchen operations like seasoned professionals. Van and Terry were to become the second and third successful graduates from the 60-day NoAH project.
Van especially seemed to have a knack for working with people, and for getting along even with difficult people. (Do we have difficult folk come through here? You bet.) This week I listened to Van counseling one of the other workers here, and thought, "Wow. I wish I could talk like that." But Van knows that he still needs much more grounding before he can be sure of long term success against his former drug life.
The air around Freddie sniffed like a man who was called to preach--and had been avoiding the call for a long, long time. His transformation from street-based drug user to budding preacher astounded not only himself, but all the people he had known on the street. His sermon at the Camp Avenue nightly worship service was powerful, as he described his new direction and his steely determination. But there was still a certain broken-ness lacking; that missing limp that Jacob carried all his life after he wrestled with God.
Terry came in three weeks later, and slipped smoothly into Kitchen life as Van's assistant and dishwasher. But like most new NoAH members, he soon found he had to deal with the real issues in his life. His street life as an alcoholic mendicant morphed into a camp life as an ailing mendicant. Eventually he revealed that Terry was not even his real name.
Terry left us this Monday, holding a bus ticket to Vicksburg, Mississippi where his parents live. His goal had been to get sober so that he could return home, and the bus ticket would take him to a family that would hold him accountable. The former Terry, reclaiming his real name, left holding a 30-day sobriety chip in his pocket from Alcoholics Anonymous.
Freddie left us this Sunday, returning to help the mother of his youngest daughter through difficult circumstances, and determined to use his skills as a senior cook to pay his child support, become the father that he wanted to be, and become the man that his recently deceased father had always wanted him to be. He called me last night, and wants to stay in an accountability relationship as he struggles to make it in the culture where he never made it before. If we had the staff in place to open a Sober Living House, Freddie would be a prime candidate to move in.
Van is staying on. As he puts it "I ain't going nowhere." With the recommendation of Gabe, our former head of cooking operations, and with the support of James, Van was offered and accepted the position of head of cooking operations for God's Kitchen. Also, he especially wants to stay on for the next phase of the Church Army Gulf Coast Life Transformation program, the Jacob project.
Van has various portable grills and stoves available to him to use outside at the Sanctuary, and he has begun to use the upstairs kitchen in the Mansion. This morning he had four volunteers from the Vision Quest team help him prepare breakfast here.
Vision Quest's 24-member team arrived late Sunday night, and has immediately set to work. The day for these young people often begins with vigorous calisthenic exercises, and with "circling up" to share and receive direction.
Vision Quest, like Church Army Gulf Coast, also has a goal of life transformation. They work with teenage men and women who have had problems coping with society or have fallen afoul of alcohol, drugs, or the legal system.
Van is working with a four-person team of Vision Quest teens assigned to him for cooking, washing, and cleaning up. Here is Van taking a break on the upstairs screened porch of the Mystery Mansion after breakfast operations have been completed.
The NoAH project kicks off the year-long Life Transformation program with an intensive 60 days of 12-step classes, Bible studies, worship and accountability. The next phase is the Jacob project; five months of transformation as we wrestle with who we have been, wrestle with who we must be, and inbetween these, wrestle with God until he gives us our blessing--and our holy limp. Completing the year is the Joshua project, five months in which, having found who we are and having chosen whom we will serve, we prepare to re-enter society and to join in Christian fellowship as we go forth to claim the land that God has promised us.
I have been talking lately with the Chaplain at the Harrison County detention center, where he runs a pull-out program for inmates based on spirituality and the Bible. He has been looking for places to send his people for after-care, and I suspect soon that he will have a candidate or two for us to interview for the NoAH project. All in God's time.
Every few months, God cleans house here at Church Army Gulf Coast. Then shortly, He sends us new people. Each time we learn. Each time we move up to a new level, one baby step at a time.
God is getting ready to take us up to next baby step.