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Saving lives in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS—“Jesus Saves.” That’s what the old sign declares at Wheeler Mission Ministries downtown. It may sound simplistic, but it happened to Andrew Gibson.

Jesus did save him. Others also, saved by Jesus, have walked and prayed with Gibson through a remarkable recovery. Now he has a job and a promotion at work, and he’s reunited with his wife and two children. But a couple of years ago heroin was dragging Gibson to the bottom.

His biological father abused drugs and alcohol when he was growing up in Florida and never was part of his life. Gibson developed similar habits, starting with marijuana and alcohol in high school. He was on the slippery slope of escalating drug addiction, graduating to stronger drugs, sometimes through prescription pain medication for back troubles.

For several years Gibson seemed to have his drug habit under some control, as he and his wife lived in Florida. He worked in construction and in the boating industry. He tried a rehab program but wasn’t serious enough to stay clean.

Then Gibson tried heroin and headed into a faster downward spiral. He lost his wife and two small children and his job. “I came to the end of my rope,” Gibson said.

His mother in Illinois had heard of Wheeler’s programs, so Gibson moved to Indianapolis to give them a try. He can still recall the date of his commitment to Christ: Jan. 29, 2014. The STEP program helped him get a new focus on life, as he realized he needed more than personal willpower to resist any temptation to return to his old lifestyle.

“I definitely give all the credit to God, but Wheeler helped save my life,” Gibson said as he applied shellac to a project at Purposeful Design, an Indianapolis ministry where he is now a supervisor. In one sense Gibson does not feel a strong pull back to the old life. “It’s a miserable, miserable lifestyle,” he said. “It’s not fun to wake up in the morning and be dope sick. Your body aches. A lot of my past has been literally a living hell. I’ve been through a lot with the drug use and what not, and am putting that behind me and moving on pressing toward what’s to come.”

He reunited with his wife and children and has been clean of drugs for more than a year.

Gibson’s story illustrates Purposeful Design—work for men who have abused alcohol and drugs, often losing their families and homes. Many of the men come from the Wheeler Mission ministry.

Indianapolis businessman David Palmer started Purposeful Design after volunteering at the mission and hearing from men looking for jobs. The ministry has employed about 30 men so far and is projecting sales of about $160,000 this year. Palmer’s long-term hope is for work at Purposeful Design to open doors for men to move on to other employment.

Another example of how Jesus saves: Growing up in a subculture of alcohol and drug abuse, Ted Johnson wound up in jail in Indianapolis last year on drug charges. He asked the court for drug rehab instead of more time behind bars. He was assigned to Wheeler Mission and its tough love work program in Monroe County.

“Camp Hunt was so uncomfortable,” Johnson said. “I thought jump school in the Army was hard. But Camp Hunt was the hardest thing I ever did.”

But Johnson, 49, gained some perspective on his drug abuse and a boost in Christian faith. “As they see things, they will confront you,” he said. “You have to humble yourself, especially if you are older like me, listening to younger supervisors.”

Now, working at Purposeful Design, Johnson plans to leave the drugs and alcohol behind.

The discipleship ministry at Camp Hunt gives these men a spiritual foundation for moving into the kind of work offered at Purposeful Design. In a rural part of Indiana, Camp Hunt offers less intensive work in a pallet factory as well as a strong dose of tough love.

“You get confronted by the Word of God,” said Dwayne Gordon, the mission’s supervisor of the camp and discipleship ministry. “People are the instruments, but the Word of God will confront a lifelong experience of sin. At first it goes completely against the grain. You learn how deep your sin is. But God’s Word will cleanse.”

Purposeful Design started as a modest idea—sheltered work for men. Wheeler Mission also started as a modest idea more than a century ago—shelter for the homeless. Yet together these ministries are contributing to the Indianapolis battle against crime, offering a way up and out of addiction and sometimes giving the courts an alternative to prison.

Jesus does save.

Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of the WORLD News Group board of directors.


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