Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
Hood Church had the relationships, but not the resources. Victory Life Church had the resources, but not the relationships.
What they shared was a passion to offer a faith-based aftercare program for men who complete a Life Recovery Program at the Haven of Rest Ministries Life Recovery Program. That program is a long-term transitional housing program for single men dealing with substance dependency or homelessness, or both, with an average length of stay being between nine and 12 months.
“We have this great program there and it’s a faith-based yearlong program, however when most men come out of there, their chances for relapse increase anywhere from 40 to 60 percent and within one year of being outside of any extended recovery program that increases to 80 percent,” says Raul Maysonet, founder and Pastor of Hood Church
Recent drug relapse statistics show that more than 85% of individuals relapse and return to drug use within the year following treatment, according to the American Addiction Centers
“Researchers estimate that more than two-thirds of individuals in recovery, relapse within weeks to months of beginning addiction treatment,” according to an article on the American Addiction Centers website. “Why are these drug relapse statistics so discouraging? Without a long-term drug relapse prevention plan, most people will be unsuccessful in their attempts to remain sober, so having a solid plan in place is essential.”
Raul Maysonet, founder and pastor of Hood Church, sits near the entrance of Hope House.
For Maysonet and Pastor James Sunnock, with Victory Life Church
, that plan is taking shape in the form of a house at 24 Arthur Street that will offer five men at any given time the opportunity to continue their recovery in a faith-based environment that is being called Hope House.
The two men were introduced to each other by Battle Creek Police Chief Jim Blocker, who got to know Maysonet through his work as a Violence Interventionist
in a program with the Battle Creek Police Department and knew Sunnock through his attendance at Victory Life Church.
Through conversations, Sunnock learned about Maysonet’s vision and his plans to purchase the home and an adjacent lot, totaling one acre, on Arthur Street through a $16,000 grant he received from the Battle Creek Community Foundation.
The grant was awarded to Maysonet in May, 2020, says Annette Chapman, Senior Vice president with the BCCF.
“They had one year to complete it, but because of COVID, we extended it one year,” Chapman says. “Part of it was for acquiring the building, but it was also for programming.”
“When I was about to purchase it I got a call from Pastor Sunnock and he asked me how things were going with the house and I told him I would purchase it and an adjacent lot. I went to his office and we had this long dialog and he said he wanted to help,” Maysonet says. “Then he offered to buy the house.”
In addition to covering that purchase price, Sunnock and his congregation donated money to cover the cost of completely renovating the interior. The church’s total contribution is $200,000.
The Calhoun County Land Bank owned the house which was abandoned. Sunnock says it will be completely renovated and given a second chance, symbolic of what the house represents to the men who will live there. He says Victory Life will retain ownership of the home and members of its congregation will serve on the Hope House board, and that is the extent of their involvement.
“Everybody understands their lane," Sunnock says. "We really didn’t have the expertise to run a program like this and we see that in the high level of trust that people in the community have with Raul and Hood Church. We have some members in our church who want to assist, but we’re not going to micromanage any of this. We’ll let Pastor Raul take that lead.
The house at 24 Arthur Street that will soon be home to Hope House.
“Sometimes there can be a struggle of who’s in charge and we all realized what gifts we have and what we could do and bring to Hope House. We’re letting Raul take the lead on the ministry. We’re becoming the landlord and a resource and he’s trusting in us to do that.”
Partnering with Faith
Maysonet says his search for a space that would eventually become Hope House took about three years. He says he was driven by the recognition that there was no faith-based approach to continuing recovery in the community.
“When God put this in my heart, I said, ‘O.K. God, why are you asking me to do something everyone else has failed in?' The whole system is designed to put people back into system,” he says.
The partnership between his church, an outreach ministry, began with Sunnock reaching out to him.
“(Pastor James) said, ‘You have the relationships and I have the resources and let’s come together.’ Part of me was skeptical, but after dialog and having lunches and speaking with one another, we quickly realized that this is not something I could do by myself. He convinced me that I needed help.”
Maysonet says, “Just the fact that he would take the time to reach out to me” alleviated the initial doubts that he had.
“We would be considered the ultimate underdogs," Maysoner says. "We are a church without walls. We depend on partnering with churches in the community. We are boots on the ground with the body of Christ.
“We had the faith, but we didn’t have the tools to develop or apply it. What are the odds that Victory Life Church would lend itself to Hood Church and that out of all people Pastor Sunnock and Chief Blocker and some of our other partners in the community understood that there needed to be a relationship with the church and people in community, not just in the faith arena, but in the community sense.”
Blocker says he wanted to get the conversations going between the two men after seeing how they could help each other. This was an outgrowth of quarterly meetings he began having with members of his department and local clergy. Known as “Cops and Clergy”
, the goals of this program include: discussing the criminal justice system, its organization, the police department's roles and functions in society -- and how those roles are changing, and any other concerns that community leaders might have about policing in the 21st century.
A few years ago the BCPD mapped out where all of the gun-related violence was occurring and recognized that many of the church leaders who were attending the Cops and Clergy discussions had churches located “right in the middle of where this stuff was happening,” Blocker says.
“At the next meeting I informed and appealed to them as leaders of a pretty broad mix of congregations across the greater Battle Creek metropolitan area to say, ‘If you’re looking for mission work and opportunities, I’ve got some folks who could really use your help and they’re right in the middle of that mission field of work.'”
Blocker would go on to make some personal follow-ups with some of the larger churches, including Victory Life where he shared with Sunnock some of the good work that was being done and the need for additional resources to get that work done. He told Sunnock, “I’m asking you to pray and think about it and find out what you and Victory Life could do to help this city. It hit home with him and he ended up meeting up with Raul who was already doing some pretty wonderful and specific work as a Violence Interventionist.”
Raul Maysonet, Founder and Pastor of Hood Church, a community outreach ministry, stands inside a house at 24 Arthur Street that is being converted into a faith-based aftercare home for men.
Blocker says Maysonet and his counterpart in the Violence Interventionist work, Pastor John Boyd, are perfect examples of boots-on-the-ground missionary work.
Sunnock says his congregation overwhelmingly threw their support and dollars behind the project.
“We wanted to be part of the solution. For the 20 years of Victory Life being here our values and our mission is to see people safe, healed, and set free,” Sunnock says. “We knew this was something we could do to truly make a difference and everyone wants to have a significant role in that change. This project and opportunity hits the scope of who we are called to be. This is who we are and what we can do to make a difference in our community. We never bought a house before and this has really opened our eyes to many more opportunities.”
The build-out of a dream
Maysonet borrowed ideas from the Oxford House
model to develop the framework for Hope House.
Oxford House, a publicly supported non-profit, is a concept in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. In its simplest form, an Oxford House describes a democratically run, self-supporting, and drug-free home, according to information on its website.
The number of residents in such a house may range from six to 15; there are houses for men, for women, and for women with children. Oxford Houses flourish in metropolitan areas such as New York City and Washington D.C. and thrive in such diverse communities as Hawaii, Washington State, Canada, and Australia; but they all abide by the same basic criteria.
Each house represents a remarkably effective and low-cost method of preventing relapse. This was the purpose of the first Oxford House established in 1975, and this purpose is served, day by day, house after house, in each of over 2,000 houses in the United States today.
“I’m a senior Oxford House member with a charter and I could start an Oxford House anywhere. Instead of doing that I borrowed from their model,” Maysonet says. “It’s a great model but not what I was looking for. I was looking for a home that allows you to live there in a sober environment where you do meetings every week with house members and in order to live there you have to be clean. I wanted a fellowship of brothers who believe in Jesus Christ and are dealing with issues like untreated trauma, and abandonment in an environment that’s safe to do so.”
Although he did tweak the Oxford House model, Maysonet says it offers a great business model to run a home. The men who stay there will pay between $250 to $300 per month in rent which will cover the cost of basics like food and utilities.
But, they also will have access to programs and services including employment opportunities through a partnership established with Goodwill Industries of Central Michigan’s Heartland and financial literacy with the goal of creating self-sufficiency and financial stability. All of this will be done with a foundation of faith-based support and ministry provided on a daily basis by Maysonet.
“What Hope House endeavors to do is to be the safety net for men looking for a faith-based option to recovery. This is a low-cost option compared to what most recovery homes look like,” Maysonet says. “We’ve got others in the community, but they’re not faith-based and Hope House will be a first of its kind recovery aftercare for men seeking a faith-based option.
“I believe that we need to do extensive follow-up with these men and Hope House will help with things like getting jobs and giving them opportunities to save money,” Maysonet says. “They will be cohabitating in this home with others, experiencing the same things, and then there will be me there who’s had these same experiences. They will run the house themselves.”
In order to be a resident of Hope House, which is expected to open in early 2022, an individual has to have successfully completed the Life Recovery Program at the Haven of Rest, be sober, and want this option. If they don’t, Maysonet says, “There are other options in the community that can accommodate you.”
Chapman says Maysonet’s grant request was one of the first requests she and committee members who approved the request had seen in a long time for a new model that empowers the people living there to help themselves and each other as they move into a more stable environment or a different stage in their lives.
“It’s probably for me one of the first examples where a faith-based institution is partnering with a nonprofit organization. You see that with nonprofits, but this was a couple of churches that voted to make this their mission as well as reaching out to do community-based work.”
She says initiatives like Hope House are important on many different levels. In addition to providing housing alternatives and helping individuals who are recovering from addiction, she says multiple organizations working together have opportunities to leverage different funding sources.
“The fact that you see multiple partners involved in an initiative like this speaks well of the community,” Chapman says. “The community foundation gave a little bit of funding, but the churches are doing the majority of the funding and the manual labor and you have Raul and he has members as well. Everyone is coming together to meet needs identified in the community.”
Yesterday (July 21,2021), Maysonet stopped by Hope House to visit with construction workers who are rehabbing it. What he saw in the newly installed wooden beams and bare walls was a vision he had that is being brought to life.
That vision and desire was borne out of Maysonet’s own battles
with addiction that began when he became a member of a gang in Los Angeles and continued as he found himself in and out of jail and prison for various crimes he committed. He says he actually lost track of the number of times he was incarcerated.
But, he says, God apparently never lost track of him. While serving time in a jail in Vancouver, Wash., the last jail he would ever be in, he overheard a pastor offering help to a fellow inmate. That interaction planted the seed for Hope House.
“The thought came to me that he was being fathered and everything was cloaked in that. I said, ‘God, I want to be fathered like that. I almost felt that he made an imprint in my soul after I said that prayer,'” Maysonet says. “At that moment in my heart, it sounds crazy but it’s true, at that very moment I heard a voice inside of my being and the voice said ‘I got you covered.’
“I understand it then and now. It meant, ‘I got your back. I’ll be what you don’t have. I’ll be your supplier and give you the love you didn’t have in the streets.’ That was the turning point. I was an addict and all I really wanted to do was sell dope, get high, and I was into prostitution and porn. At that moment, I lost the desire for all of that.”
In the years since, Maysonet and his wife have built a new life for themselves in Battle Creek. He founded Hood Church and became a Violence Interventionist.
“My experience and my reality is as real as it comes. I was not looking to be sober. I began to read the Bible and things began to change inside of me,” Maysonet says. “I knew that I found a solution for me. I do want people to understand that if you want to be free, I know the way.”