Some of you that follow our ministry or watch the news know that for most of this year we have been under contract for some land. Not just any land but land that we believed the Lord had promised to us. It was one hundred acres which was the exact acreage listed in our vision statement that was drafted five years ago. If you saw the news or read the papers, then you also know that on November 18th, the Jones County Planning & Zoning Committee unanimously denied our application to operate our ministry on the land in their County. What we experienced in that hearing room that night was one of the worst experiences of our lives & it has taken me almost a month to find the words to describe it. I think I have got it now and I want to start at the beginning of the story.
Five years ago when we accepted the calling to do this work and open a recovery ministry, we went to visit our long time counselor and friend, Dr. Ken Beers. The Lord has used Ken mightily in our lives and we are forever grateful. Ken counseled us through it all and was my counselor the entire year Brad was in recovery so we continue to keep him posted on our lives and occasionally go in for check ups. When the idea of this ministry came up we naturally wanted to share our thoughts with Ken. If not for Ken, we would have never heard of No Longer Bound which was the vessel that God used for Brad to find healing and freedom from the bondage of addiction. Ken and NLB were the vessels that God used to not only save Brad but also save our marriage and our family.
We made an appointment with Ken and as we shared our vision for the ministry we shared that we envisioned one hundred acres (because when you write vision statements and make plans you absolutely shoot for the stars) & as soon as we said one hundred acres, Ken pointed his finger and excitedly said “I know just the place!” We were like “okay, keep that under your hat and we’ll circle back when we are ready.”
Fast forward five years to this year, January of 2019 and at our first board meeting of the year, our board decided that we should get proactive about finding some land to grow the program & our goal for the year should be to acquire property. We had never forgotten Ken’s statement from that conversation five years ago and literally had prayed over it for the last five years – sight unseen. So naturally, our first thought was to call Ken.
Before I had a chance to call him, we ended up sitting beside him at a funeral. I told him about the board meeting and asked if the land was still available. He said “It is and I am actually meeting with the owner this week and I will talk with her about it” & that was that. Within a week, Ken reached out to say that the land was still available and the owner would be glad to show it to us. Ken shared the owner’s number, I called and she called back and within one day, Brad and I were out there meeting with her and looking at the property.
I will never forget that day in February when we drove onto the farm. She told us to cross the railroad tracks, go to the gate and enter the code. As we approached the big stone gate, we noticed that etched into the stonework were the words “Wayside Farm” and Brad immediately said “How about that? It is called Wayside Farm, how fitting as the people that we help have all fallen by the wayside.”
We drove down the long, winding driveway and marveled at the beauty of the land. That driveway lead us to a smaller, circular driveway at the main house where we met the property owner, Mrs. Katie. She was delightful and there was an instant connection and ease of conversation. She showed us all throughout the main home, walked us to the stables and then hopped in our car to drive down to the pond. This property is home to two houses, a barn, a few horses, some cattle, a workshop, a pavilion and a four acre pond. It was perfection. As we ended our tour and drove back around to the front of the house, we sat in our car talking and we asked what the total acreage was. As God wold have it, Mrs. Katie said it is one hundred acres. We smiled and shared our vision with Mrs. Katie and we all marveled at the God wink we had just experienced. Mrs. Katie is strong in her faith and went on to share how special this property is to her and how happy she had been there until her husband’s death. She teared up as she said it always felt like holy ground to her & we agreed. She shared that she had never put it on the market because her heart’s desire had been for it to be used for a ministry purpose. She could have sold it in a red hot minute at any time and made some good money as the property appraised for over a million dollars but she didn’t need the money and it seemed to all of us that maybe she had held onto it for such a time as this.
Over the next month, we drafted a proposal to Mrs. Katie that explained our ministry, provided our business plan, vision statement and every piece of information anyone could ever want about who we are and what we do. We proposed a purchase price & hand delivered the proposal to Mrs. Katie in March. In a matter of days, Mrs. Katie accepted our proposal & by May we were officially under contract. We had until 12/31 to raise the money for the purchase and close the deal. There was so much hard work ahead but it all felt like a dream.
There is a process in place in most counties that states if anything different is going to take place on a property other than a single family dwelling, then you have to apply for a conditional use permit at the local Planning & Zoning Office. So in June, Brad and I headed into the Jones County Planning & Zoning Office to file the paperwork. We were naive and had no idea what we were heading into that day. We filled out the paperwork as best we could & turned it in having absolutely no idea what we would soon face. The land tract was so large and so rural that we assumed no one would have a problem with it because we were so far off the beaten path. We filed the paperwork and checked that off our “to do” list.
We began raising money and taking donors out to see the property & by September, everything was financially in place for the closing to happen by year end as our contract stated. Since we filed the P&Z paperwork in June, the public hearing would normally have been scheduled for August but Mr. P (the head of P&Z) was going to be out of town so he put us on the agenda for the September meeting. He explained the process that would take place two weeks prior to the meeting. The process included letters being mailed to all property owners within 200 feet of the property, a public notice in the newspaper and a sign placed by the road on the property which briefly described our intent and gave the public hearing details.
We marked our calendars & started doing PR. We talked to everyone that we personally know that lives in Jones County, we met with public officials, local business men and women & we went and knocked on doors to everyone that was in that 200 foot circumference just to shake their hand and explain who we are before they received the letter in the mail. All of that went really well and we were encouraged.
Then the letters went out, the ad ran in the paper, the sign went up and all hell broke loose.
People got up in arms, were misinformed, petitions were started to block the ministry from coming to the county, news interviews were given, slander and social media attacks were rampant & we were absolutely floored. We expected opposition but never to the degree at which it came.
We wanted to clear the air and clarify misinformation that was being passed around about our ministry and the intent for the property. There is a church, Encounter, that holds Celebrate Recovery meetings and our residents had been a part of those meetings for months. So, the pastor and the Celebrate Recovery leader reached out to us or we reached out to them (I can’t remember) and we set up a meeting. We planned to host a Q & A at Encounter on the Thursday before the public hearing in September so that we could address the concerns of the public and answer any questions they had. Thursday rolled around and just hours before the Q&A, Mr. P from P&Z called to say that a resident had hired an attorney who made them aware of a state law that requires a bigger P&Z process and that our hearing would be postponed a a result. As a result of that, we postponed the Q&A with an intent to do it closer to the hearing & hopefully let it all die down a little.
Soon, we had a new hearing date in October and were told the hearing with the committee would proceed as normal and then we would have to wait six months instead of the usual one month and the Commissioners would make the final decision at the end of that six month period.
As we got more details about these concerned citizens and the acquired legal counsel, we realized we also needed to have legal representation. We hired an attorney who is familiar with P&Z hearings and all that they entail. He told us that since we would have limited time to speak that we should present a file full of letters of support for the committee to review. The support and affirmations in those letters were powerful so we filled a file with the letters and planned to take them to the hearing. Our attorney did not realize that the letters had to be filed ten days in advance of the hearing so they would have been null and void for the October hearing date. The letters seemed too important to just disregard so we withdrew the application that was filed in June, thus postponing the October meeting. We filed a new application, submitted our letter file and our third and final hearing date was set for November 18th.
We met with our attorney and he prepared us for the context of the meeting and how the meetings typically flow. It would be a public hearing so it was open to the public. The committee members would be seated in a circle up front and there would be two tables on either side of the room, one for Brad and our attorney and the other for our opposition and their attorney. The meeting would be called to order, Brad and our attorney would have ten minutes to speak, anyone in the room in support of us would have one minute to speak for up to ten minutes. Then, the same cycle would repeat for the opposition.
Our local news had been covering the story and talking with angry citizens for a couple of months but we had not made a comment or agreed to an interview because that just didn’t seem like the right thing to do. There was too much to share & not enough time in a news clip to do that, not to mention how the media clips the footage to paint the portrait they want to be seen. Our goal was to remain humble & move forward until the Lord closed the door so we respectfully denied any interview requests right up until the day of the hearing.
November 18th rolled around & as the day went on & calls came in of local support dropping out and not attending the hearing on our behalf we began to understand what was happening. The main opposition (the one who hired the attorney) is a family that no one in the County (including the committee members) were willing to disagree with or go up against. We had a growing sense of dread as we made our way to the conference room that night but we went because we knew that was what the Lord told us to do – to follow through & to finish the race.
We showed up about 5:30 which was thirty minutes ahead of the 6 pm meeting time and the parking lot was full. We quickly debriefed with our attorney in the parking lot and headed in. We were the only item on the agenda and the hearing room was packed to standing room only and people flowed out into the hallways. There was somewhere between 100 and 150 people at the Government Center that night and about 30 of them were there in support of us and the rest was opposition.
The people who filled that room were angry and mean spirited and it was heartbreaking to witness. It is one of those situations that unless you were there and experienced it, then it is hard to describe. It was such a reminder that in today’s culture, people don’t just disagree any more, if they disagree, it is not just a difference of opinion, there is hate and malice. Our ministry, our leader (who is almost my husband) and the men in our program were vilified that night. We had previously joked about neighbors coming out with their pitchforks & while they didn’t show up with actual pitchforks (probably because of the metal detector) they used their sneers, facial expressions and words to express how unwelcome we are in their community. After the meeting drug on for an hour and a half, the committee finally decided to put an end to it and the unanimous declination of our application was met with applause, cheers, and hoots and hollers from the crowd. It brought me to tears and I just have to believe that they didn’t understand what they were saying “no” to.
The hearing was just the first step in the process and the County Commissioners would make the final decision next June but after what we witnessed in the hearing room that night, we have no desire to move forward with our application. That was an answer to prayer, not the answer we were hoping for but an answer still the same. The door was clearly closed that night. Ministries need the support of the community and Jones County is clearly not interested in a ministry like ours that helps men who need a second chance. We help recovery center graduates re-enter the community and go back home to their families. We get to aid in the regenerating work of Jesus and see men regenerated and families restored. The problem of addiction is in every county in our state and we want to be a part of the solution. We will be an asset to whatever community we reside in, not a burden. The letters from all of our Bibb County neighbors as well as the The Bibb County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that.
As the community members cheered that night, our hearts broke because as they were cheering all we could see are people dying from addiction & loved ones crying because our program is always full and our capacity for help is currently limited. In that room and beyond there is a stubborn resistance to change no matter if that change is good or bad.
Many people asked why we continued to move forward knowing the opposition we faced and our answer was always because we knew that God was in this and that any time you are doing Kingdom work, opposition is expected. If there were no opposition and it had been smooth sailing, that is when we would have felt like something was wrong. I want to share a few God winks that let us know the Lord was in this all the way to the bitter end.
1. the conversation with Ken over five years ago alerting us to the land and to begin praying.
2. the first meeting with Mrs. Katie about her heart’s desire for the land and that it was exactly one hundred acres.
3. Mrs. Katie accepting our proposal.
4. Raising the capital – God used one man for the bulk of it.
5. Cross Roads residents being hired by Jones County business owners.
6. P&Z meetings being postponed – we viewed this an encouragement rather than a discouragement because God was saying “not yet, you are not ready.”
7. The attorney God provided for us and the help he gave.
There were lots of times as we faced slander and cruelty that we wanted to quit and wondered if we should. Everything in our flesh said “just give up, the ministry is doing fine where it is” but then we would hear God say “you are doing fine but you can do better and you can offer more so keep fighting the good fight because I have gone before you and I stand behind you.”
I don’t fully know why we had to endure the villainous P&Z hearing that night but I do know that the lesson that Brad, my husband, and the leader of Cross Roads taught the nine residents who were watching him that night is immeasurable. He taught them that it is okay to be afraid but don’t let that keep you from standing up for what you believe you in & following through with what you believe you have been called to do.
Brad has given me a lot to be proud of in a husband, a father and a faithful Christ follower, but nothing made me prouder than his courage and his humility as he faced the roar of opposition on November 18th. It was only the spirit of the Lord that filled him and allowed him to be so calm and humble amidst such fierce opposition.
Some of our supporters and friends that were in the room that night wanted to take us to dinner afterwards. Choices for a late dinner were limited so as we entered the cafe’ we noticed that some of the opposition was also there. We passed by the one man who had a visual aid at the meeting displaying the 200 opposing signatures he had gained on his petition. He was happy and jovial as he made phone calls to the other good ole’ boys letting them know he had shut us down.
We sat down with our big ole’ group and told the waitress that we would like to pick up their check because that just seemed like a move Jesus might make in that same situation so we enjoyed our meal and paid for theirs.
One last story as I wrap up. There is a little yellow gold figurine that has been a part of our life since 2015. I took it to my bible study back in August when asked to bring a tangible symbol of God’s faithfulness in my life. Brad graduated from No Longer Bound in December of 2013. In 2014, they contacted us and wanted to film our story and show it during their banquet in October. So for most of 2015, we filmed the video and the theme was “United” and they used these little wooden figurines in the background of our video and on the tables the night of the banquet. The little yellow one was left behind in our home during filming. We displayed him on the dresser in our bedroom as constant reminder of God’s faithfulness. Once we were under contract for the land in Jones County, each time we visited the property, we would leave a small token behind as a physical sign to God that we were believing His promise and claiming the land just as the Israelites did thousands of years ago. Usually it was just a pocket knife or lip gloss but then I decided to up the ante by leaving behind something with more sentimental value. You guessed it, on my last visit to the property in mid-September, I left my little wooden man.
A few days after the P&Z hearing, I found myself passing through Jones County on the way back from a funeral in Milledgeveille so I stopped by the property to pick up my little man. He was dirty and a little beaten up by the weather but just like us, he was still standing. Now, he has been moved to a more prominent spot in our kitchen where we all see him everyday. We are still reminded of God’s faithfulness but now it includes his faithfulness even when the story didn’t turn out like we hoped.
The good news is that God is still at work, He is still on the throne and is bigger than any opposition we will ever face. He still has a plan and a future home for Cross Roads Recovery, this just was not it. If nothing else, we are thankful for the experience that has only equipped us for the future & the new friends we made along the way like Mrs. Katie.
Stay tuned for the next chapter of this story and God speed! Glory to God forever and ever Amen.