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Lighthouse Ministries

It's a place to come and "die"

Lighthouse Ministries

LAKELAND, Fla.-From what he calls his "summer home," Paul Price watched the Fourth of July fireworks crackling above the Lakeland baseball stadium. The next day, sitting in the chapel of Lighthouse Ministries, he declined to say exactly where he sleeps, but it's somewhere on the streets. A year after completing a three-year prison sentence for "jumping a deputy sheriff," he hasn't returned to his once-successful car dealership, his home, or his now 20-year-old son.

At age 60, when many men think of retirement, Price won't accept help because he is absorbing what he calls the "full benefit" of the consequences of his drug addiction. "Holidays are for family," he said, his eyes drooping as he gazed out the window. He came to the men's emergency shelter for church fellowship, a pizza dinner, and some TV. Lighthouse Ministries was also offering a chance to rehabilitate his life through its One Stop Care Program, but Price, at the moment, didn't think he needed it.

Lighthouse residents have to surrender their own independence and make a long-term commitment to follow a strict path that leads to "independence as unto God," as executive director Steve Turbeville explained: self-sufficiency without pride. Addicts have to surrender their habits-from drug addictions to ways of thinking-and accept the stringent rules of the program. "The price has been paid for our life," Turbeville said, but residents have to accept Christ's sacrifice for them.

Lighthouse Ministries began in 1977 with a soup kitchen in an abandoned bar in Lakeland, a town halfway between Orlando and Tampa. By the time Turbeville arrived six years ago, the ministry had moved to its own block and was offering more than free food. The Lighthouse campus, with its cinder-block complex for men and church-like building for women, sits on Lakeland's busiest street among magnolia blooms and hibiscus flowers. The lawn is trimmed, sidewalks are clean, and no one loiters outside. All the residents have a hand in maintaining the property. "We're trying to be so responsible that you can't tell the difference between us and a well-managed apartment building," Turbeville said.

The front door of the men's house opens into the chapel, which on July 5 smelled fresh despite constant traffic and a Fourth of July picnic the night before. By opening the shelter for holiday picnics and emergency care, and by offering three free nights before collecting a $10 fee, Turbeville hopes to draw those like Price into the rehabilitation program. To get in, all they need do is ask. And when one does ask, Don Quattlebaum, director of the men's ministry for rehabilitation, leads him into his office and pulls an 8-by-10 mug shot from his filing cabinet. "This guy," he says, "came into here eight years ago and died."

The photo is of Quattlebaum, but wrinkles and baggy eyes make him look eight years older in the photo than he does now. The old man in the picture died when Quattlebaum professed Christ and later graduated from the One Stop Care program. Now he shares his testimony with up to four applicants a day. "You can't do it," Quattlebaum tells them, and their reply can be sarcastic: "Thanks for the confidence." But he means, no, you can't overcome addiction without Jesus.

In the backyard, a shaved, formerly homeless mutt named Beacon greets visitors to the hydroponic garden. Gardener Paul LaPeer arrived at the ministry three years ago, "broke, busted, disgusted." He graduated from the rehabilitation program, though he hesitates to use such a definitive word because he is still recovering. Now he manages three-eights of an acre of vegetable plants stacked 20 high in tiered styrofoam planters. The garden produces the equivalent of five acres of fresh vegetables-including collard greens, corn, tomatoes, squash, okra, cucumbers, and beans-for the ministry's kitchens.

LaPeer said his life is a bit like a garden. "You can actually see the fruits of your labor," he said. "You reap what you sow." A methamphetamine addiction lost him his house and family. Last year he lost his status as an intern with the ministry for "fraternizing" with a woman. Instead of being "independent-minded," he is learning to be humble, he said, and to "trust in the Lord with all your heart."

The men's building often houses transients-when bunks are full, they sleep on the chapel chairs-but the women's building has tighter security. The doors are locked to protect the 15 women and 26 children living there.

One of the residents, Mary Hafford, 25, walked straight up the path to the front door of the women's ministry and rang the doorbell. She fled to the mission after her boyfriend nearly choked her unconscious: "It was my safe haven." Naomi Magruder, director of the women's ministry, remembers that day because she held Hafford's 2-month-old baby so she could fill out the application.

Two years later, Hafford has benefited from the strict schedule of chores, mandatory church, and classes. At the Lighthouse Thrift Shoppe across from Lakeland's day labor site, Hafford sat in the office and tapped her acrylic fingernails on the desk. She described how the ministry's adult learning program prepared her to earn a nail technician's license and helped her make living arrangements with Salvation Army's transitional housing program.

Surrendering to the ministry's rules wasn't easy for Hafford, but she did it. "I have an attitude problem," she said, and living with the other women and children can be aggravating-but "we're all there for each other." She hopes soon to celebrate her own independence day.

Back at the men's chapel, Price sat in the back row and listened to the minister, Willie Hayes, speak of his crack-addicted life on the streets. Alcohol and cocaine take hold spiritually, he said, and you need the Holy Spirit to battle them. "Man," he pleaded, like a father to his son, "give Jesus a chance. We just can't do it all by ourselves. We need Jesus, amen?"

Then Sutton Smith, a program resident and former Marine, invited each guest by name for dinner. Price eyed Smith's every move, then stood up and hovered by the entry of the black and white tiled dining hall. When he finally heard his name he turned on his heel and sped inside.

Not 30 minutes later, Price emerged from the kitchen, moving much more slowly and with his hand on his belly. He returned to his chapel chair and watched the others climb a narrow cinder-block staircase. At the top they received a towel and a bar of soap for a shower. Price hadn't worked at day labor for a few days and blamed the economy. Ten dollars can be hard to come by. So when another overnighter invited Price to have a night on his tab, he jumped up and darted toward the stairs--perhaps taking a small step out of his past life.

Suzanne Haberman

Suzanne Haberman