Joe Green ran. Ran away from home. Ran away from his two sons. Ran from a painful divorce.
A Columbus resident for 25 years, Green moved to Birmingham a couple of years ago. He stayed on the streets. One of his two brothers died there. More pain.
Green came back to Columbus last New Year’s Eve with all his possessions in his Chevy Blazer. Then, “everything I had was stolen,” said Green, who then moved into a son’s apartment. Eventually he felt like he should be on his own, yet without a job he landed at the House of Mercy. As he got to know the homeless shelter’s chaplain, the Rev. Steve Chittum, he found out about a new home that Chittum was opening for guys like him — guys who have been addicts or suffered abuse, or doled out abuse themselves, yet want to get their lives back on track in a meaningful way. Some are military veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder.
Now Green is more settled; and so is his home, the Frontline Men’s Transition Center on 12th Avenue.
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It was officially dedicated last weekend in a ceremony that began around the corner at East Highland United Methodist Church.
The home is an extension of Chittum’s Frontline Ministries, where he offers teachings on leadership, church growth and strategic planning. Retired as a garrison sergeant major at Fort Benning, Chittum also runs Frontline Consulting and does strategic planning, training and management for secular organizations. The U.S. Army is one of his clients. He’s a 1970 graduate of Baker High School.
As for the men’s home, Chittum simply saw a need.
“One of my students was in a transition facility and they were about to shut it down,” Chittum said this week in the newly remodeled house. “These guys had a need. And, I have a heart for veterans.”‘As long as it takes’
The home can take nine men at a time, but Chittum said he’s more comfortable with six or seven maximum. It has four bedrooms with bunk beds and single beds. The house has a front screened porch, a full kitchen and a common area where the guys meet for discussions and classes.
A “Level Three” facility, the transition home is not for men right off the streets. It’s for those who’ve already been through some type of treatment, such as a 12-step recovery program and counseling, and who aim to be more independent. Level Three is for someone who is maintaining a healthy and sober life.
“They can stay as long as it takes,” Chittum said.
The men’s home has a board, which includes the Rev. Ron Cottle, Ph.D., the founder of Beacon University. Frontliners’ overseeing ministry is called Evangel Fellowship International.
The residents — currently there are four — take turns leading morning devotionals six days a week. On Sundays, they fan out to worship at various local churches.
Payment from each man is based on income.
The nonprofit is supported solely by donations.
The home was formerly called Noah’s Ark. Under different management, the facility operated similarly as Frontliners as a residence for men in recovery but went out of business after about three years. The home was completely renovated, starting late last year. Businesses and individuals donated f u r n i t u re a n d l a b o r, w h i c h reminded Chittum that he could still believe in miracles.
“The Lord made it so easy,” he testified. “I have always believed in miracles, but this was a reminder of God’s power.”
In overseeing the home, Chittum requires drug testing as a condition for residency. Beyond that, he concentrates less on enforcing strict rules but teaches the men how to rely on one another and hold each other accountable. He quotes a household phrase, “from friendship to brotherhood,” to illustrate how their living situation can be like a healthy family.
‘A single prayer’
“They have to interact and find the harmonious place among each other. They have strong clashes at times, but they learn to work through it. We’re all damaged and broken in places and when things come up, one person will speak to another person and he’ll say, ‘I never thought about it that way,’ ” Chittum said. “They learn how to give each other the benefit of the doubt.”
The house manager, James Hartsock, runs the household and also lives there. His work gets him free room and board. Hartsock has walked in the shoes of Green and the other residents.
Like Green, Hartsock also recently lived at the House of_____________________________ Mercy. He stayed for two years. For nearly 30 years before that, Hartsock was a BMW technician. He had to quit because of arthritis. After that he got a divorce, then Hartsock started abusing prescription drugs. He fell into a deep depression. “I prayed a single prayer, ‘God, open a door for me,’ ” said Hartsock, 56, who today is clear-eyed and wears a gold cross around his neck. At the House of Mercy, he became the children’s ministry director and ran the shelter’s clothing bank. “I got a little too comfortable,” he said. “The Lord said, ‘It’s time for you to go.’ ” Then he heard about the Frontliners place.
Because he’s accustomed to working with his hands, Hartsock has been part of the home’s renovations. He also prepares two meals a day for himself and the other residents.
“I’ve learned that I’m not a f a i l u re . I c a n a c h i eve , through Jesus Christ,” he said. “I don’t have to denigrate myself. In a humble way, I am somebody.” Hartsock has two sons — one in O k l a h o m a a n d o n e i n Gainesville, Ga. The son in Gainesville has given him two grandchildren ages 5 and 5 months. One is named for him. The family is slowly making amends, he said, as he gets back on his feet.
“It takes time for all this to happen. I’m not pressuring them; but my goal is to move near Gainesville. I want my grandchildren to know me,” he said. Still, he likes his work here at the house, which he seems to enjoy. He’s content.
“The Lord will reveal what he wants me to do,” said Hartsock, who attends Trinity Temple Assembly of God. Because the church is close to his new home, Hartsock gets there by his main means of transportation: a Schwinn bicycle.Jeremiah 29
Michael Rickenbaker is another Frontline resident. The assistant to Chittum, Rickenbaker travels with Chittum when the pastor has speaking engagements in area churches. He helps in marketing Chittum’s classes, among other tasks. A graduate of Teen Challenge, another residential facility for recovering addicts, Rickenbaker formerly abused “alcohol, drugs, anything — you name it.” He said he’s been clean for about two years.
Raised in a Baptist congregation in Newnan, Rickenbaker came to faith when he was 5 and has believed since about age 9 that he had a special calling on his life — for ministry, he said, but not necessarily as a pastor.
But as a teen and young adult, he started his cycle of abuse and ignored that calling.
He hit bottom around age 30 when, he said, he lost his family and his cleaning and restoration business. Rickenbaker plea-bargained to stay out of prison for two charges of aggravated assault and instead found himself at the Teen Challenge men’s facility in Dublin, Ga. Rickenbaker said his life today can’t compare with where he used to be.
“It’s awesome. God is blessing me richly. My life now is very peaceful. I know everything will be OK.” A guide for him is Jeremiah 29, where the ancient prophet writes, in part: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil . . .”
“I live on that every day,” he said.
Meanwhile, Green — like his new “brothers” at the home — has a future to look forward to, after so many years of despondency and t r y i n g t o e s c a p e h i s problems.
“I hate to see anyone move through life without a purpose,” he said. “God created each of us for a purpose. It would be great if everyone could be aware of that.”