”God has always been there for me, always been in my life,“ said Doug Keith, 47. ”And he has always let me have my free will. But there gets to be a point where he humbles you.“
Keith realized that when he found himself ”wallowing in isolation,“ drinking a case of beer a day, and trying to do things his way.
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Fortunately, Keith knew what he had to do. He joined the Life Renewal Program, a one year recovery and rehabilitation program for men at the Lexington Rescue Mission.
”They don't focus on the problem, but what causes the problem,“ said James Goar, also a client. ”That's more effective.“
André Ribeiro, 18, agreed.
”I see a big chunk of difference in my attitude, my drug use and my behavior.“
The program the men are a part of can house up to 15 at its location at 649 North Limestone Street, offering support for ”life-controlling issues,“ said director John Ferguson, such as drug, alcohol, anger, and sexual addictions.
Life Renewal is just one program offered by the Lexington Rescue Mission, which was established in 2001 by executive director Jim Connell. I decided to take a look at the mission when I realized I didn't know that much about it.
A member of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions — which has nearly 300 affiliates nationwide including The Lighthouse Ministries, Inc., at 185 Elm Tree Lane — the mission is the vision of Connell, 53.
A former certified public accountant and financial manager from Indiana, Connell wanted more in his life. Although he had enjoyed success in his career, a supervisor change at work indicated to him that his job would change soon as well. He began looking around for work he really wanted to do and realized he wanted to work in social outreach and evangelism.
He flipped through a Christian ministries guide and found page after page of rescue missions.
”That is what I thought the Lord was calling me to,“ he said.
He called the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions and soon found himself attending a training conference and beginning to network to see if his calling was confirmed by others.
He discussed the change with his wife, knowing it would entail losing half the family's income. But Becky Connell liked the idea of mission work.
”I was probably bitten by the service aspect more than he was,“ she said. ”So I was very excited when he said he had figured out what we would do for the rest of our lives.“
The only other obstacles could have been their two children — their daughter, Laura, who was in college and their son, Brian, a junior in high school.
”Brian said, "Are you sure you want to do this now? Can't you delay your mid-life crisis a few years until I get out of college?'“ Jim Connell recalled, laughing. ”From the world's standpoint, it was absolutely the worst time.“
Connell came here in April 2001 after AGRM officials confirmed there was a need for a rescue mission in Lexington. Knowing no one, the first thing Jim Connell did was send out letters to churches advising them of an information session he would hold. Twenty people showed up, and two of them, ministers, became members of his board.
He then found a building for sale on North Limestone. With $20,000 from an anonymous donor, he bought the building on Aug. 16, his birthday, and after renovation, it became the mission's first site.
Although he was only worker and the only cook, Jim Connell served lunch once a week at the mission.
”He cooked for the first year and a half,“ said Becky Connell, who remained in Indiana for a while. ”I would be at work and every Tuesday at 11:15 the phone would ring and I knew it was him asking what to do with this or what do I do with that. He had some really faithful volunteers.“
Thanksgiving Day that same year, with the use of facilities at Broadway Christian Church and more than 50 volunteers, the mission served a meal to a couple hundred people.
The mission has continued to serve Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner at Broadway Christian.
Because the need is so great in Lexington, the various ministries and missions don't compete, Jim Connell said.
”My mindset was to be relevant,“ he said. ”We're here to help restore lives. We provide the hope that Christ offers.“
Daughter Laura Connell, 26, who joined the mission as an AmeriCorps volunteer, said AGRM provides continuing training and networking for the mission.
AGRM also gave the mission $80,000 over three years to help get it up and running. The mission's only federal money comes from the AmeriCorps program and from an emergency food and shelter grant, amounting to about 2 percent of their total budget.
The rest of the budget comes from about 6,000 individual donors, nearly 60 churches and 80 small businesses, Jim Connell said.
In 2004, Jim Connell found a building on Glen Arvin Avenue, a former nursing home that sat abandoned for three years. It now houses their offices, food preparation and serving area, classroom and computer center, and medical clinic. But the mission's main focus remains the restoration of men.
Goar, 25, who joined the Life Renewal program two months ago, said he has problems controlling his anger. He's attending classes that are Christian based to help him bring his anger under control.
”They are not necessarily helping me,“ Goar said. ”It's the life change, giving my life to God. That is really what's doing the change. I want to have a good life and not worry about trouble.“
That sounds exactly like what Jim Connell envisioned.