Note: This story appears in the Wednesday, June 5 newspaper on Page 1.
McARTHUR — While recovering from addiction during his time in The Refuge men’s ministry, Mike Wells kept busy.
Wells remembers traveling around Vinton County to mow lawns, volunteer at food banks, paint buildings and give his testimony at area churches.
He enrolled in The Refuge Ministries in 2005, and now he serves as a program director.
“We helped give hope to a community who, even then, was riddled with addiction,” Wells said. “And it’s just continued over the years, in all counties.”
The Refuge ministries transitioned from the farm house location in November 2018, and the program’s roots in Vinton County allowed it to branch off elsewhere.
The Refuge now operates with locations in Columbus and Lancaster, though participants continue to do outreach initiatives in Vinton County.
Johna Thompson explained she and her husband Tom first started The Refuge ministry in 1999 after hearing of a farmhouse go up for sale. Inspired by Tom’s recovery from a dependence to alcohol, they wanted to find an area for those in the program to be free of distractions.
The program as a whole is open to those 18 and older who are combating an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Those interested must not have any open or active warrants, among other legal requirements.
For nearly two decades, the Vinton County farm house — located on 117-acres of land near McArthur — was part of the program’s four-phase process. Wells described each phase of the program: “Discovery,” “Relational,” “Application” and “Launch.”
In the Discovery phase, the program focuses on helping individuals find themselves and learn models for healthy relationships. For Wells, phase one was a safe place.
“This phase kind of reformed the idea of what my identity is, not a drug addict, but actually as a person who has respect, dignity,” he said.
The Relational phase, Wells said, is very reflective of the program itself. He said The Refuge uses a “relational modality.”
“Basically, we deal with addictions by learning, growing and developing into having a healthy relationship, first with ourselves, then others, and of course God, as well.” he said. “We really walk through each individual person. We don’t tell them, we walk with them, through the journey of overcoming addiction ... and viewing themselves in a healthy way and breaking those patterns and behaviors.”
Application and Launch both focus on developing leadership skills and preparing to go back out into the world after life in the program.
This program has a unique approach to drug or alcohol rehabilitation, focusing on a spiritual component to recovery. At the program’s beginning, participants have no contact with the outside world and no way to reach out to family or friends.
People who elect to participate in the program have group activities, one-on-one peer counseling and attend frequent Bible studies. This recovery program is not medically assisted, and participants are not allowed to use tobacco in any form while enrolled in the program, or be taking any kind of mood-altering drug.
“It’s about being healed from some of the wounds people have in their hearts,” Thompson said. “And it’s about getting out of themselves and serving others.”
The Refuge has partnerships with warehouses or construction companies to allow its participants to work. Money they earn goes back to the ministry, aside from a $60 stipend the participants each receive every month.
In the program’s second phase, participants are required to work up to 20 hours per week. In phases three and four, participants must work between 20-40 hours per week.
The ministry covers all costs of living. The Thompsons have never accepted government funding for their program: rather, it’s funded by individuals, churches and other organizations, as well as by the participants of the program.
The Refuge has serviced mostly men in its 20-year history, but two years ago, it began a women’s ministry.
Thompson explained the women’s ministry also sparked another initiative: Safe Families. This program allows women to have childcare options in lieu of foster care if they wish to enroll in The Refuge ministries.
Of course, everyone who enrolls in the program do so on his or her own accord, but many are encouraged by loved ones to seek recovery.
This was the case for Wells, whose mother heard about The Refuge through a co-worker.
“I was at that point where I was ready for a transformation,” he said. “I was ready to change my life, and it was a way out of addiction.”