What is Victory Acres? A rehab center for addicts, a homeless shelter, an organic farm…? We all have our idea about what Victory Acres is or should be, but I would like to share what Victory Acres is to me.
I first met Eric Himelick in 2003 when I attended my first year of college at Union Bible College where he taught a class titled Christian Service. I remember his passion for God and his compassion for people. He taught us a new brand of Christianity– One that challenged us to serve others, putting our faith into action, as opposed to simply saying the right things but not practicing those things in our hearts. It was during that time that I first heard about Victory Acres and his vision for a ministry there. Later in my life, I would remember his words and think hopefully about a place I had never been to before. After my first year at UBC, I couldn’t afford another year, so I went home to get a job and hopefully save money to return to school. I moved into my first apartment and got a job at the factory where my dad works. I moved up quickly and became good friends with my supervisor. Unfortunately, my supervisor was not a Godly man, and he influenced me in a negative way. He took me to a bar where he knew the bar tender so that I could get in even though I was only 19. We drank often, and before I knew it I was drinking every night. Once I was invited to a party and ended up drinking until I blacked out. I don’t remember leaving the party, but I found out later that I left and passed out in the alley next to the house. A neighbor saw me and called the police. The next thing that I remember I was in jail answering questions. I had never, in my life, been to jail or even been in trouble, and I was ashamed. However, this experience was not enough to make me stop drinking. In fact, my drinking escalated. I drank every night until I blacked out. I would return to jail two more times, spending a total of three months incarcerated.
When I was released from jail for the last time, I realized the mess I had made of my life and was determined to change. However, determining to “turn over a new leaf” wasn’t enough to make any real difference in my life. I didn’t drink as often after that, but slowly I could feel myself slipping back into my old lifestyle. During the summer of 2007, I went to the Pilgrim Holiness camp with my parents and went forward during the alter invitation to receive Jesus Christ as my Savior. I started to live a changed life: No more drinking; no more hanging out with my worldly friends. I wanted to live a Christian life again.
I returned to UBC in the fall of 2007, and God was helping me. As could be expected, my old temptations returned, and I was unprepared to deal with them. Slowly, I slipped back into my habit of drinking and started a new vice, smoking marijuana. I didn’t want to return to this lifestyle and confessed to the dean of students. Although he really cared about me and wanted to help, he had no choice but to remove me from school. I rented an apartment two blocks from the school along with two of my friends from UBC and my younger brother.
In the fall of 2009, one of my friends got married, and my other friend and my brother returned to school. As for me, I met a girl. She lived in the apartment right below me with her sister. One night they invited me to watch a football game with them. After that night, things moved rapidly in our relationship, and within six months we had rented an apartment together in Carmel, IN. We often drank together and with her friends, and occasionally we smoked marijuana. Things went from bad to worse for me when one of my friends from work introduced me to crack cocaine. I thought, like most addicts when they first start, that I could control my usage, but it didn’t take long for the reality to set in. Even though I denied it to myself and others, I was no longer in control of my habit. I was using two to three times a week and spending more money than I had. I lost my job as assistant manager at Wendy’s when my boss discovered that I was using at work. I could no longer cover up my problem, and I had no idea what to do next. How was I going to tell my girlfriend that I had lost my job and didn’t know how we were going to pay our bills? I talked to Eric that night and admitted that I had a drug dependency and didn’t know what to do. He listened and gave me some advice as to what steps I needed to take. I meant to do as he advised. I truly did, but I didn’t follow through. I found another, better job quickly and thought all my worries were for nothing. I thought that I had everything under control. How wrong I was! I continued to use, and my relationship with my girlfriend started to deteriorate.
Our lease was up in May 2012, and we could no longer afford the place where we were living. We found a cheaper apartment and decided to move there. As the time of our expected move got closer, I received a call from my girlfriend. At the time of her call, I was supposed to be working, but I had actually been out spending our rent money on drugs. She told me the apartments we were getting ready to move into had called and needed proof that we had paid our last month’s rent at our former apartment. I looked down at the money I had left and realized I didn’t have enough remaining to pay the rent, and just as quickly, I realized that the charade was up. I had smoked myself into a hole that I couldn’t get out of this time. The next day I told my girlfriend everything, and we broke up. I moved in with my friend from college and his wife and determined to get a handle on my life. Unfortunately, determination wasn’t enough to break the chains that bound me. One night I spent the entire night smoking and come morning I was scared. I realized how much crack I had smoked in such a short period of time, and I suddenly realized that I wasn’t going to stop. I would keep using crack cocaine until it killed me unless I got help. I called Eric that morning and confessed to him that I needed help, and with that call I began a journey much different than I had ever experienced before.
A week after I made that call, Eric got back to me with the news that he didn’t have space available at the farm, but that they were starting a new work in Detroit, MI, and I was welcome to stay there. I accepted. Now, Detroit is not the ideal place for an addict to recover. It wasn’t hard for me to find drugs there, but looking back now, I know that is where God wanted me. After my first week there, Jeremy Baker, the person in charge of the house, went back to Indiana to attend the International Christian Holiness Association (ICHA) camp meeting, and I went with him. That week would make all the difference in my life.
From the moment I stepped onto the campground, God started convicting me, and I responded. I borrowed $ .75 from Jeremy to buy a book titled Confession The Road to Forgiveness, by Andrew Murray. It was a study on Psalm 51. I started getting up before breakfast and going to the tabernacle where I would read my book, memorize Psalm 51, and ask God to lead me to a place of repentance. On Friday night, the Holy Spirit settled down on the service during the congregational singing and people headed for the altar to seek God. I stood there with no emotion, wondering why I couldn’t feel God’s conviction. Brother Smart, one of the evangelists that week, spoke to the congregation saying, “If you have a spiritual need tonight, please come forward and let this old preacher pray with you.” I knew that I had a spiritual need and that I had nothing to lose by going forward, so I went. I knelt at that alter on Friday night, June 8th, 2012, at the ICHA camp ground and prayed Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according unto thy loving kindness. According unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions.”
I felt nothing. After much counseling at the altar, I decided to believe that God would do as He said: “If I confess my sins, He is faithful and just to forgive me of my sins.” The next morning, I did as I had done all week long. I went to the tabernacle before breakfast, read my book, and prayed. This time I asked God to help me believe that He had saved me. I went to breakfast and then returned to the tabernacle and read some more. I came to verse 8 of Psalm 51 where it reads, “Make me to hear joy and gladness that the bones thou hast broken may rejoice.” I began praying, “God you have broken me. Now help me to rejoice in the salvation you have given me.” I continued reading and got to the middle of the chapter where Murry quotes Matthew 9:2: “My son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee.” At that moment I knew I had been forgiven of every sin. I didn’t cry. I didn’t shout. I just simply said, “Thank you, Jesus.” That night, Eric told me that a place had opened up at Victory Acres, and I was welcome to come and stay there. I gladly accepted, not knowing then how much Victory Acres would impact my life and play a major role in my spiritual development.
When I arrived at Victory Acres, I moved into a cabin with another guy who was much older than me and who had some similar life experiences. He was only there a week, but he was a great encouragement to me as a new Christian. I worked hard and met some really awesome people that loved me and accepted me for who I was–not for who they thought I should be. I met with Eric regularly, and he helped me grow in my spiritual walk. I helped Daniel Peterson, one of the guys that lived and worked at the farm, with the animals in the morning, and he mentored me and prayed with me. Daniel directed me to a Celebrate Recovery group that was very beneficial to me, and I started seeing a counselor. In August Leslie Gottschalk, the manager of the Community Sustained Agriculture (CSA) program at the farm, asked me if I would consider working for the CSA the following year. For the first time in my life, I felt like I truly belonged somewhere. Over the past year, I have had many experiences: I met a good Christian girl from Ecuador and have been to visit her twice; I found an amazing church family with the Community Bible Methodist Church in Gas City; I have a job working for the Victory Acres CSA; I found a great counselor; and I have become a part of this community,
Victory Acres didn’t provide me with a counselor, a strict schedule, drug testing, or any type of programming, but they provided me with so much more– real Christian love. I know that people here will always be there for me no matter what happens and that they really care for me. It has provided me with a safe place to pursue healing and develop my walk with God. There may be a place for programs and strict rules, but sometimes people don’t need direct, active help as much as they need instruction, support, love, and friendship. There is a saying, “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.” But how you teach the man to fish is the question. D