Uniting addicts with hope

First Community Recovery Church brings together men and women touched in some way by addiction.  Photo by David Pierini

First Community Recovery Church brings together men and women touched in some way by addiction. Photo by David Pierini

This story is part of a series on how the opioid crisis has hit the Northside that ran in the 9/27 print edition of North News.

By David Pierini Staff Reporter

Johnny Hunter drove a bus on Sundays to bring addicts and homeless men to local churches. The men were broken and disheveled in appearance and Hunter, a recovering addict himself, could sense the churches felt uneasy welcoming them to service.

This made Hunter say to his mentor one day, “I think God is telling me to start a church.”

Whether visibly high or sober for decades, all are welcome at First Community Recovery Church on Logan Ave. N.

The church meets each Sunday in the gymnasium of Hospitality House. It started in 2007 with 23 worshipers, all touched in some way by addiction. Hunter wanted a church that united people suffering with addiction with power in scripture and testimony from others in recovery.

Visitors are greeted with a song that says they are loved and cared for. For those distrusting and wary of shame, Hunter says, “I’m not the judge; I’m the love.”

“One thing about our church, we believe in loving everybody right where they’re at,” Hunter said. “Everybody is valuable so love is everything. Love will conquer a multitude of sins.”

The church, which averages 40 to 75 people every Sunday, is not a substitute for treatment, though the message and fellowship bolsters recovery with a spiritual backbone. Like the proverb about a village raising a child, those in recovery are expected to lift an addict with hope and encouragement for the journey ahead.

Those in local treatment programs can request a ride to the church. There is also an open Bible study on Tuesday nights and a men’s group called “God’s junkyard DOG Bible class,” on Thursday at the Salvation Army.

On a recent Sunday, Charles Orange told the congregation he had been to treatment 49 times and has now been clean for almost 14 years.

Don’t clap for me. I didn’t do anything but show up,” Orange said. “How big is your God? Here’s what I found out. God won’t take you from your problems. He will walk through your problems with you.”

This is at the heart of one of Hunter’s most important teachings: being in service to others. It is how Jesus lived, Hunter says, and staying busy keeps recovering addicts clean and sober.

“In here, you have to be giving back,” said Hunter, a substance abuse counselor with the Salvation Army prior to starting First Community Recovery Church. “You have something to give because you are valuable. I believe you have to give back. Just because you are saved doesn’t mean you will stay clean. If you’re not busy, idle time is the devil’s playground.”

Hunter has nearly 30 years into his recovery and his journey includes a return to high school at age 40 to get a diploma and learning to read so that he could attend Bible college to become a pastor.

Hospitality House was the first and only location he scouted to start the church. As a kid he was a regular at Hospitality House and when he became a recovery counselor, he volunteered to run youth programs. He is now the executive director of Hospitality House.

“God works in peculiar ways,” he said.

Abdi Mohamed