For Kathleen Schuster, the Charis House drug and alcohol recovery program in Pensacola, Florida, was life changing.
But it was a long and difficult journey.
Charis House opened its doors 15 years ago to help women in need of freedom from addiction. A key component of Olive Baptist Church’s Ministry Village, Charis House provides a homelike setting for a Christ-centered drug and alcohol recovery program.
“My vision for the Charis House is that we show grace to the broken ladies that God sends our way,” explained Ted Traylor, longtime pastor of Olive Baptist.
“Restoration is the key word,” he added. “They are often estranged from their real self, their family and the world around them. It all begins with being restored to God in Jesus, and then comes restoration on the horizontal lines.”
Pursuing real-life restoration
Schuster, program manager for Ministry Village’s Tender Hearts Caring Hands ministry, is a prime example of Charis House’s focus on restoration. Serving families in need, she helps provide resources ranging from rent and utilities assistance to local transportation and food needs.
“I feel like this job was just created for me,” she said. “The fact that I’ve been where these people have been, I understand them and understand the situation.”
Coordinating a ministry to benefit others wasn’t something Schuster could have envisioned a few years ago as she battled alcoholism.
“I started drinking at a very young age,” she recalled. “Whereas all my friends got married young, started having kids and grew up, I continued with my partying.
“I had always thought of myself as a functional alcoholic because I graduated from college, I got a master’s degree, I was in a good job,” she said. “It was only when I got married in my early 30s, and I married somebody that didn’t drink that I realized how much of a drinker I was.
“Since he didn’t drink, I ended up hiding drinking and hiding bottles,” she admitted. “It progressed from there to the point where I no longer had that good job. I could always get a job, but I couldn’t hold a job because I couldn’t stay sober.”
Noting she “had gone through about 15 treatment facilities because I wanted to get sober,” Schuster said, “I tried to educate myself into getting sober and that just didn’t happen. I would go into treatment, have this great new outlook and then my coping mechanism was, if anything was great or anything was horrible, it was to drink. And so finally in 2015, my family pretty much gave up on me.”
With no job, no insurance and a failed marriage, she ended up entering a treatment center for homeless women. The center shut down just seven months into her treatment.
Caring Christian environment
“I was just starting to read the Bible” when the center shut its doors, Schuster recalled. Transferring to Charis House to complete her treatment, she discovered a caring Christian environment that quickly made an impact in her life.
Citing Charis House’s focus on spiritual, physical, mental and social well-being, including Bible study and Christian counseling, Schuster said, “I got to the Charis House April 1 of 2016. … By April 11, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.”
“I know exactly when I felt the Holy Spirit enter myself,” she recounted. “I just gave up everything and gave it to Him. And now it seems like He’s just given me everything. I’m taken care of to allow me to do what I need to do in the kingdom of Christ.”
Although her mother died last summer, “she got to see me six years sober, and I got to take care of my mom in those final years,” Schuster said. “My siblings are like, ‘We’ve got our sister back’ — where I had been absent for a good 20 years.”
Restoring broken relationships
Vanessa Bettis, director of Ladies Recovery Ministries at Ministry Village, said classes for the women at Charis House address issues such as boundaries, life skills, how to stay clean and sober, and relapse prevention.
She said another key goal is “restoration with families because a lot of them come from broken families.”
“Once they are here, we help them to restore that relationship back with their family and children,” Bettis explained. “That plays a very important role in their recovery.”
Most of the women who come into the program “have very low self-esteem,” she acknowledged. “Once they are here six months to nine months to a year, their appearance has changed, their demeanors have changed.”
Noting “we have a great support system from the church,” Bettis added. “They have so much to offer and sponsor our ladies in so many different ways.”
Passion for the community
Drayton Smith, executive director of Ministry Village, said the overall organization encompasses a variety of hands-on ministries.
“Ministry Village was started out of a passion for the community,” he explained. “The No. 1 thing that we’re trying to do is reach a community that needs help.”
Affirming the biblical call to minister to “the least of these,” he said, “We live by that. We believe that we should have a lifetime impact on the community that we live in.”
Now sober for nearly seven years, Schuster said her journey through Charis House definitely sparked a life change — physically, emotionally and spiritually.
“I knew that there was a bigger picture than just stopping drinking,” she reflected. “It was completely just giving myself to the Lord and saying, ‘Here I am. Take me. Do with me what You will.’”
To learn more about Charis House and Ministry Village, visit www.ministryvillage.org.