New Life Program Posts

Hope and Helping Hands :: Harvest Farm’s Mission Trip to Whiteclay

 

A Group of New Life Program participants serving on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

A Group of New Life Program participants serving on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation


Like most visitors to Whiteclay, Nebraska and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, New Life Program (NLP) participant Kris Wise was shocked by the alcoholism and poverty that plagues the local Native American community. Every year, NLP participants at Harvest Farm go on a mission trip to Whiteclay to serve and minister to the Lakota Native Americans who live on the Pine Ridge Reservation, located two miles north across the South Dakota border. Whiteclay exists almost primarily to provide alcoholic beverages and groceries to the reservation, where the sale of alcohol is prohibited. Kris notes:

 
“What stuck out the most to me was how the town with the population of 14 had 4 liquor stores [and] the streets being flooded with drunken people who consumed a lot of alcohol.”

 
As many as 80% of adults in Pine Ridge suffer from alcoholism, and roughly a quarter of newborns on the reservation suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome (The New York Times). Most of the alcohol consumption occurs on the town’s sidewalks, resulting in what The New York Times has called a “rural skid row.” Barred from drinking on the reservation, customers often huddle together against the elements, sleep on mattresses in nearby fields, or lie incapacitated in the open air. Poor health, domestic violence, and lack of opportunity has led to a sense of hopelessness and resentment among the community.

 

Pine Ridge residents on the streets of Whiteclay (Hilary Stohs-Krause, NET News)

Pine Ridge residents on the streets of Whiteclay (Hilary Stohs-Krause, NET News)

 

That’s where our New Life Program comes in. The power of the NLP participants, such as Kris Wise and Luke Cooper, is to share their own experiences with members of the Pine Ridge community and to serve the communities’ physical needs. In working with local ministries Lakota Hope and Hands of Faith back in June, participants have been able to share their own struggles with substance abuse with the Lakota community. Living and serving in Whiteclay allows participants to witness how a long history of alcohol dependence can impact families and whole communities. In contrast to the therapeutic refuge and tight-knit community at Harvest Farm, Whiteclay demonstrates how isolation and substance abuse frequently becomes a vicious cycle. Our NLP participants speak into the experiences of Pine Ridge residents and have helped construct new homes for families living in cramped conditions, completed landscaping projects, and gathered firewood among other projects.

 

NLP participants working on a home’s foundation

NLP participants working on a home’s foundation

 

In addition to the tangible benefits that their service has for families, our New Life Program participants have shared how serving the Lakota families has impacted their own perspectives on poverty and self-sufficiency. Luke Cooper writes:

“As a group of guys from the Farm and I were helping pour a house foundation for a family of ten who were living in a single-wide trailer, I looked around to see FEMA trailers surrounding us and felt fortunate to be at Harvest Farm with all of its resources and people. The Lakota people do not have the opportunities for employment or the stable income that we have here in Colorado, which is apparent when we drove through Pine Ridge and saw the number of people walking around or hanging out in the middle of the day. Being able to help a couple families get new homes built for them, replacing the old, beat down trailer homes that they were currently residing in was a great feeling and experience that I will always treasure.”

 

Luke Cooper (third from left) and the rest of the mission trip group

Luke Cooper (third from left) and the rest of the mission trip group

 

Although the participants note that the impact of their service is limited within the grand scale of the Pine Ridge reservation, they were glad to have provided long-term change for those two families, who now have suitable homes.

 

Kris Wise (right) serving at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Kris Wise (right) serving at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

 

Participating in mission trips together likewise strengthens the NLP community and the bonds between our participants. They are able and encouraged to work on several different projects throughout the week. Kris Wise writes:

 
“I chose to do a different [project] each day. By doing that I got to work with different people every day. I got to know some of the Native Americans who had a few stories to share with me… I also got to work with different guys from the farm who I didn’t really hang out with before. That was nice because I got to develop new friendships.”

 
The synergistic impact of the Lakota and NLP communities is the reason why the Whiteclay Mission Trip continues to be one of the most meaningful weeks for Harvest Farm each year. In paying forward the hope and help they have received at Harvest Farm, participants expand their personal growth and bear witness to the power and possibility of attaining new life. We hope that through continued prayer and missions to Whiteclay, our men at Harvest Farm can continue to bring healing to this community every year.

Are You Happy?

Mountain-View-High_HF-Guest-Speakers_edited_13_sml_999x583

Mountain-View-High_HF-Guest-Speakers_edited_02_sml cropped

 

“Maybe this is a stupid question,” a young woman said timidly. “But I was wondering, how are you doing now and are you happy?” The question came during an afternoon class at Mountain View High School in Loveland, Colorado, after about 40 minutes of New Life Program participants Ben and Jaime sharing their stories of what brought them to the Mission.

For Ben, experiences when he was a child and the influence of drug addicts in his life led him to choose the same lifestyle. But after 30 years of violence and dealing drugs, Ben realized it was time to change. He read a message from his mother to the class—something she had written to him, pleading for him to stop his drug-ridden lifestyle. She spoke about how the kind and gentle boy she knew had been overcome by someone angry and willing to steal from his own family just to get high. It was an emotional letter, one that Ben keeps as a reminder of how far he’s come.

Jaime had a different experience. Coerced into a gang at just 11 years old, most of his childhood was spent dealing drugs, fighting and committing crimes. He described what it was like to watch friends die, to watch other friends turn their backs on him, to get shot, and to spend time in prison.

The tattoos across his face were a pretty clear indication of the type of life he’d lived in just 24 years, but the smile on his face showed something changing underneath. With all the weight of their stories hanging heavy in the air, the question from this student was fitting.

“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” Ben answered. “I have nothing, but I have everything.”

Jaime chimed in next. “Prison didn’t teach me anything. When I got out, I didn’t know what to do so I went back to dealing drugs,” he explained. “At the Farm, I’m learning how to deal with the struggles in my life instead of running from them.”

The visit was part of a regular community service opportunity for men in the New Life Program at Harvest Farm. As these men experience change in their lives, they are given the opportunity to give back and share their story with students during a critical time in their lives. “If even one of you gets something out of us being here today, it’s worth it,” Ben said.

This was the first time Jaime had shared his story with kids, but he says he wants to do it again. He’s glad that his negative experiences can be used to positively influence someone’s life as he learns from his past and builds a new future.

For more information about our New Life Program at Harvest Farm, visit HarvestFarm.net.

The transformative process of Work Therapy at Denver Rescue Mission

Oct. 10, 2008 is the date I graduated from the New Life Program at Harvest Farm.

This date is important to me because it is the anniversary of my new life, freedom, and happiness. The anniversary of my sobriety is June of 2007 which is also when I joined the New Life Program. It is meaningful, but not nearly as important to me. I feel that rehab wasn’t the start of anything; it was more like the end of a nightmare. Before entering the New Life Program at Harvest Farm I had been in two other “sober living programs.” The first program I attended was 60 days long and consisted of a lot of group therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous and DUI classes, (I attended this specific program twice, so I guess you could say I was in 3 programs.) The second program focused on mental health disorders and how they affect addiction. I don’t think these programs were inconsequential, but they definitely did not give me what I needed to change my life. What I did need to help change my life was a realization that I could change it, for the better.

When a person gets used to doing the same thing (good or bad) every day it is very hard to get out of that cycle. It’s like that job that you hate but you keep going to because you’re afraid to quit because you don’t know how to do anything else. Being an addict is a job in itself, except you lose money. It takes all of your time, burns you out, makes you angry, and ruins your relationships.  I came to Harvest Farm needing something to replace the monotonous, destructive, disastrous work that my addiction had become and work is exactly what I got.

Josh Dickinson

Starting my journey to sobriety back in 2008 at Harvest Farm’s New Life Program.

Work Therapy was one of the highlights of my time at Harvest Farm and every day I see it change the mentality of the men who come into the New Life Program at Harvest Farm. After getting sober at Harvest Farm, I was actually hired as the Work Therapy Supervisor. In this role, I am charged with figuring out how the men who are assigned to work with me can be utilized to benefit their program and Harvest Farm. Every man has different skills; some have been doing the same job every day for 25 years and don’t know that life is not about work, others have barely lifted a finger to do anything and they don’t know that work can be fun. It’s incredible to work alongside such a diverse group of guys trying to change their lives for the better.

Me (back row second from the right) and fellow staff members at Harvest Farm

Me (back row; second from the right) and fellow staff members at Harvest Farm.

At Denver Rescue Mission, our goal is to help New Life Program participants understand that becoming a productive, self-sufficient person can be enjoyable. The program provides education, life skills training, and spiritual and emotional counseling, which sets a strong foundation for a self-sufficient life.

Even after graduation, many New Life Program graduates participate in our Post-Graduate Program, which provides further mentoring, accountability, counseling, and financial assistance. Graduates also mentor others, as well as volunteer for the Mission. Just like me – these graduates get a chance to inspire other men and help them towards sobriety.

October 10 has come and gone and I celebrated eight years of being a New Life Program graduate. I’m proud to say that life doesn’t feel like “work” any more.

Finding joy in the Father

My son and daughter, Roman and Abigail, were born in June two years ago, and spent the next 2 months in the intensive care unit at Saint Joe’s; that’s where I spent Father’s Day 2014. They gave me a bottle of root beer in a foam coozie that said “Happy Father’s Day” and I remember thinking how surreal it was to see those words apply to me. God had given me two new things that belonged to Him that He expected me to take care of.

Roman is an introvert (like his daddy) and Abigail is an extrovert (like her mommy). Most mornings I’m up around 5:30 because Roman starts crying. He and I sit on the couch for the next hour. We don’t actually interact a whole lot during that time, but that time is meaningful to him. When he doesn’t get that time, he’s off.

Abigail on the other hand is a force; everything she does she does with her whole heart. She is usually the instigator of the arguments with her brother. She also gives me her full attention during story time. She pays so much attention to detail; I think she’s going to be one of those people who edits Wikipedia.

Chris Rutledge Family

My wife and I constantly see God’s perspective when we raise our kids. One day we were taking our kids to the park and Roman didn’t want to leave the house. He was having a blast playing with a toy he’d played with a million times before. I picked him up to put him in the stroller and he threw a temper tantrum and thrashed in my arms. I said to him, “Dude, you’re going to have so much more fun playing at the park than with that toy. Trust me and let me put you in the stroller!” I probably got more upset with him than I should have. I don’t blame him, really; he had a good thing going with that toy. What more could I possibly have to offer him that would be better? I realized later how often my Creator says the same thing to me. I resist change when I’m comfortable, even when I know it’s God’s will that I change. I empathize with God; it must be so frustrating parenting me.

In his book “The Weight of Glory” C.S. Lewis said, “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

I get chills every time I read that. I imagine that’s how the disciples felt when Jesus told them, “Follow me and I’ll teach you how to fish for people.” God designed us to do something specific, and until we do that thing, we feel unfulfilled. Things just don’t feel right. God tries to take me somewhere he’s so excited for me to go. He knows I’ll enjoy it immensely. But I tend to kick and scream and reach for the toy that I’m so consumed with. I reject His plan for my life.

Chris and New Life Program GraduateThe largest part of my job as a Chaplain here at Denver Rescue Mission is talking with men in our New Life Program about what it looks like to live a life free from addiction. After seven years of working with them, I’ve realized how similar we are. A lot of us are dads and still working on what it means to be a father. Food, shopping, relationships, money, power; when boiled down, the desire for these things comes from the same place as a desire for heroin, alcohol, marijuana, and crack. There are a myriad of ways I can make myself happy without God’s help. Those ways of course lead to nothing but death, but in the impulsive moment they feel pretty good.

Jesus knows the desires of my heart. Many of those are desires I can’t identify with words. I stumble upon them after I’ve sinned, then submit myself to God’s will. Weeks after that, in my quiet time alone with God, I’ll realize how happy that submission to His will has made me.

In Luke 11:11-13 Jesus said, “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

 

A New Home for 50,000 Honeybees

On April 30th, I drove back from Berthoud in the cold afternoon, parked our little company car in the mud and snow at Harvest Farm, and popped the trunk to unload about 50,000 honeybees into their new homes. In five months, we hope to have honey from these hives. One year I harvested 20 gallons. The year of the High Park fires, with most of the flowers dried up and withering in the heat, I harvested only two gallons. So, only time will tell what the season will bring.

Welcoming new bees to our farm is a practice of hope. Bees are incredible creatures, I can talk for hours about all the fascinating aspects of their lives. They’re democratic in their decision-making even though they have a queen. Their alarm pheromone smells like banana runts. (It’s true, look it up). Honey found in King Tut’s tomb is still edible. But, my favorite aspect of the honeybee’s life is its abundance. Like very few other creatures, bees work so hard producing their unique product that they provide an abundance to be harvested. It is the abundance built into the community of bees that gives me hope on the bitter cold day I introduce them to Harvest Farm, another community of abundance and hope.

 

Harvest Farm is a refuge for men struggling to make sense of life and recover from a time of self-destruction and disappointment. A vast majority need substance abuse counseling, some need to connect with fulfilling employment, some simply need a place to heal and re-orient after being homeless. We are also a working farm which provides us with lots of space and some incredible examples for describing the work our men do during their year-long stay, like the honeybee hive.

It takes as much of a community approach to work on staff at Harvest Farm as it does to succeed in its program. As individuals, we can’t help our men do what they have to do on our own. It often feels a bit like a beehive to be honest. There can be four or five staff in a room with one program participant where we are confronting, supporting, guiding and talking through all the messiness and complexity of their life. Because we need to rely on the community approach so much, it can be unpredictable. Humans are fallible, inconsistent, forgetful and have a whole host of unique weaknesses. At our best, we all are pulling in the same direction and the energy hums through our work. Other times, we struggle to understand one another, we disagree, withdraw, blame and get discouraged.

Yet, this is why the icon of the beehive is so important. A single honeybee is amazing and complex, but the abundance of the beehive is the accumulation of tens of thousands of bees at work. There will be dark times of fragmentation and isolation in all our lives. The beehive is an icon of the promise of abundance. If we can redouble our efforts to engage in community, we invite others to see that God has created abundance, not out of the work of one spectacular person, but out of the faithful and dogged work of many fallible individuals striving together.

The harvest is worth it.