Santa Barbara Rescue Mission focuses on rebuilding lives. Here are just a few stories.
One day, while in his car, Mike saw his reflection in the rear view mirror clearly for the first time in years. “I knew my life was out of control,” he says. “I was the only one in the car, but I said out loud, ‘God help me. Help me get out of this madness.’ A day and a half later, I was arrested. But as I say, I was rescued.” Mike knew that without help, he’d never escape addiction. From jail, he contacted the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission and was offered a spot after he was released.
That was 12 years ago, and it was the turning point in his life. “The Mission is a great, wonderful program. You learn about beginning a relationship with God and Jesus Christ, which is instrumental. The Mission is by far the best drug and alcohol rehabilitation program there is in California.” Mike has been clean and sober since he graduated from our program over a decade ago. But it wasn’t only the foundation of Jesus or the recovery aspect that changed Mike’s life, he also learned the skills necessary to live life and have a successful business in the Learning Center. After leaving, he started a business that is thriving.
In fact, you may have heard of Mike or seen him around town – everyone calls him “Mike the Bag Man” because that’s the name of his company which distributes restaurant supplies and paper products – including paper and plastic bags of all kinds. “The one thing that helped me in my business was learning about the computer, learning Excel at the Mission.” Mike knows that he is where he is today thanks to God’s grace.
Sometimes the issues that drive us to despair aren’t the ones people see.
Sarah didn’t grow up poor.
She didn’t grow up in a bad part of town.
She didn’t grow up surrounded by addicts.
“Nothing in my childhood foreshadowed who I eventually became.”
In spite of appearances, Sarah felt empty. As a teenager, she cut and burned herself trying to find relief. Her parents put her in counseling, but the relief was only superficial—and temporary. She turned to drugs, but that only left her jobless and homeless.
Sarah was arrested numerous times. The last time, she connected to Bethel House, our women’s recovery program. “I arrived three months clean and sober, scared out of my mind, and literally, without anything, even shoes,” says Sarah. “I met my Lord and Savior during the year I spent at the Bethel House,” she says. “I grew up in my year there. I became the adult my parents always tried so hard to let me be. I finally healed.”
Today, Sarah has a great relationship with her family, a steady job, a relationship with Jesus, and tools that she knows will help carry her the rest of her life. “My chains of addiction are forever gone.”
Stephanie struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for decades. Her family dissolved and she ended up in and out of jail. Her life had become so destructive she was ready to go to prison for the long haul. But then, while she was in jail, her daughter sent her a small black and white photo. The details were fuzzy, but the image was unmistakable. Her daughter was pregnant. Stephanie was going to be a grandma! “That’s what made me decide, ‘Okay, I need to do everything that I need to do and be a grandma,’” she says. “So I went back to court and asked them if I could do a program and they allowed me to come here.”
Stephanie had heard about a higher power before, even in other programs that she had tried, but it wasn’t until she was here that it finally made sense. “I remember sitting in devotions and the light bulb coming on. I was like, ‘I get this now.’ I still read my Bible every morning.” Not only does Stephanie spend time in God’s Word every day, she spends time helping others who are working through their addictions, too. We hired her eight years ago, and she now works as the House Manager at Bethel House, where our Women’s Recovery Program is. Her favorite part about her job is seeing other women experience God’s grace for the first time. “I like to see it when they come here and all of a sudden their light bulb goes on,” she says.
Now Stephanie is the grandma she dreamed of being when she first saw that ultrasound picture. Her two grandkids don’t know her as an addict. They know her as “Grandma Stephanie.”
Some people would have looked at Richard a year ago and said there was no chance he’d ever be sober.
Those people would be wrong. That’s because God worked through people like you to give him a whole new life.
Growing up, the one thing he remembers having in common with the kids in his neighborhood was the fact that all their parents were hit by the heroin epidemic of the 1970s.
“As we played outside together at the ages of 7 or 8 years old, heroin had taken control of our parents in the house,” he says.
It wasn’t long before addiction was attacking the children too.
“There I was, this kid who should be learning in school, playing sports and learning to be social. But instead I was at the very start of my failures in life,” says Richard.
“I went from playing in the sandbox and swinging on the swings, to putting a needle in my arm at the age of 13. The disease of addiction hit me at such a young age I didn’t even finish learning how to be a kid, much less a man. Looking back today, I realize heroin took my childhood.”
Not only did heroin take Richard’s childhood, it took his freedom. He was first arrested when he was 14 and would go on to spend the next 21 years of his life in and out of prison.
“The disease of addiction didn’t stop at the prison gates for me,” he says. “After getting released, my addiction ended up being worse than it had ever been.”
It wasn’t until he ended up homeless on the streets of Santa Barbara that he got to a place of total desperation and realized he needed help. He came to the Mission, joined our recovery program, and now has been clean and sober for over a year!
Richard has a relationship with God and plans to go to school so that he can be a drug and alcohol counselor. He and 40 others graduated from our recovery program at the end of 2018. His life couldn’t be more changed, and it’s all thanks to God’s goodness and the support of ministry partners like you.
“When I reflect back on all the years of being caught up in addiction and locked in prison, I remember often thinking how much I wish I could start my life over. Being here the last year has given me that,” Richard says.
Viola beat the odds and claims her victory as the spokeswoman for her graduating class of November 2018.
Another shining example of what a year in our residential recovery program can achieve for those who are willing to do the hard work of recovery.
“When I finally made it to the Mission, I was off the chart with anger. I also thought it would be like prison. That was my mindset. I soon realized it was not a prison at all; it was an opportunity to get my life together. When I learned about the program, I knew it was something I wanted to do — and finish. But I didn’t realize it would be so tough. But I slugged it out, worked through the pain of self-disclosure and being honest with myself for the first time in my life. When I graduated last year, it was one of the best things I had ever done.”
“I was probably the bitterest person at the Mission, bitter about life, bitter about my present, and bitter that there was no hope for the future. But then I began to look around at others in the program. They had boarded that ship of hope while I was stranded on the shore. I saw the joy on their faces, but I had isolated myself, refusing to be part of that joy. That is, until I admitted I needed help.”
Today, TJ is employed at the wastewater treatment plant across the street from the Mission. Every day he says he’s reminded that just as the plant treats wastewater, so God continues to treat and transform the waste in his own life as day by day he’s transformed into the person God designed him to be. He shares, “Now when my children look into my eyes they see someone who knows how to love. If that’s not transformation, I don’t know what transformation looks like.”
“Ever since I can remember, my life was about being severely abused. Six months after being born, Child Protective Services took me away from my mom. After that, my life was a downhill spiral.
“Over the years, I tried every drug possible. Before long I was 150+ pounds overweight. I started living in my car, and I was drinking to the point of blacking out every day, never knowing what I had done the night before.”
“I started getting arrested frequently, and that’s when I broke down and cried out to God — if He was really there. I asked for Him to help me get clean and stay clean, no matter what it took. It was only then I admitted I needed help… and that’s when I waited for an interview at the Mission’s Bethel House.”
Little by little, Bianca no longer felt like she was a bad person for being a drug addict…
“Slowly, the guilt from my childhood started to subside. The pain lessened. I started to see things for what they really were, not what was ingrained in me as a child. And now a dream has come true: I was offered a job working with animals, and today I am employed as a grooming apprentice and loving what I do.
“My unsure belief in something out there bigger than I has transformed into a strong faith in the God I have come to know and love. Thank you for doing your part to help me know what real life is like – a life God intended for me to live.”
“I came to the Mission at the end of 2016…after traveling a long, torturous journey. I’ve been in and out of jails and prisons most of my adult life. I spent three of the last four Christmases before coming here locked up. Christmas in prison was just another day of playing cards, gambling. My holiday dinner was a plate of Top Ramen.
“I’ve struggled with alcohol and drugs since high school. I would lie to my family about needing money for something useful – and then I would use the money to buy drugs. I’d break into stores through ventilation systems to steal things – all because of my addiction to drugs.
“I might have given up on God, but He never gave up on me. I know that’s true, because I believe He led me to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission directly from jail. When I got to the front door, I was nervous and scared. I didn’t know what to expect. I was surprised when I was received with open arms. I came to the Mission with only the clothes on my back – my pants were too long, my shoes were torn up, and I was wearing a sweater given to me by a friend. Within minutes, I received nice boots, socks and a hygiene kit. Suddenly I realized this is where God wanted me to be. Now, I’ve graduated from the Mission’s intense rehabilitation program, and I’m ready to get on with a life that’s worth living.”
“For years, my mom tried to get help for me. But because I kept going back to the old ways, she finally gave up on me. Before long, I found myself in jail. I knew I was in big trouble, but I wanted to change. The Sheriff ’s Treatment Program in Santa Barbara recommended Bethel House here at the Mission. I’d heard good things about the program, and I had a feeling it’s what I needed more than anything else.
“This is an amazing program. It is so special. I have now mended relationships with my family. I trust in God. I am motivated to change. I’m learning so much about myself, all because people here believe in me. I am encouraged to grow. The other women here at the program are also an inspiration to me. We build each other up. This is a healing place. Thank you for supporting the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission… for reaching out to me… and for helping me to believe in myself.”
Once entombed by homelessness, hunger and addiction, men and women like Will have now allowed God to move stones of despair from their lives… providing for them hope and newness of life.
“When I arrived at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, everything about my life was out of control. I had been using Meth… I had been arrested… I was looking at six months in jail… I’d lost everything that was important to me. Day after day I would keep running myself into the ground. When I came to the Mission, I was a lifeless shell, filled with anger and rage.
“Today, because of a loving God and the Mission, I am not the person I used to be. I’m now living life as God wants me to live it. I’ll soon be enrolled in college, and I look forward to a great future – with my resurrected Lord leading the way.”
As a child Marci suffered from verbal abuse and an absent father. She grew up in Santa Barbara. With low self-esteem she turned to drugs. Soon she was selling drugs and using. Little by little she lost everything — family, friends, and her home. She struggled with her addiction and finally found herself living on the streets.
Alone and afraid she slept in bushes. Sometimes she’d sneak into a laundry room at night. She was always hungry. She was arrested and spent some time in jail. Upon her release she came to the Mission’s Bethel House where she was welcomed with open arms. She rebuilt her life, graduated last year and has a full-time job. She thinks of Bethel House as a “miracle factory” — where she’s seen many women whose lives are changed while they are here. She learned how to restart her life.
Sarah was alone, defenseless, lonely and afraid; certain she’d die out there. Dying on the streets was a future she’d never imagined for herself. Growing up across the breakfast table from a bipolar, alcoholic dad, eventually Sarah and her mother left. After the divorce, Sarah fell in with the wrong crowd. She immediately found comfort in heroin and was addicted by 16.
Sarah’s addiction cost her everything and she ended up overdosing on the street. She reached out to her new stepfather and he asked her: “Are you going to die this way with nothing but the clothes on your back . . . or are you going to ask God for help?” Ordinary rehab programs had failed Sarah before. Feeling lost and ashamed, she had crumbled and relapsed . . . and ended up back on the street.
Her stepfather was right: Sarah needed to include God in her recovery. After being accepted into our 12-month Christ-centered residential recovery program, Sarah is well on her way to a new and better life. With tears of gratitude running down her cheeks, she says, “For the first time in my life, I have more good days than bad days. That’s never happened before . . .
“I feel like I have so much more value now. My confidence is built up by the people around me here every single day, when I’ve been told I’m worthless my whole life. “Now I have dreams. I know what I want to try to be and that I can get up and go to work and go to meetings when I have problems. I can pray, have people to call, and I have friends. I haven’t had friends since 6th grade! “I’m coming out of the ashes into something new!”
It started when she was just a little girl. Christina says, “My mom has always been a single parent. I’ve seen men come and go throughout our lives, all of them addicts. My mother and her husbands—my ‘uncles’—took drugs and everyone drank . . . “So I stayed up nights to watch over my brothers and sisters . . . and that was when I was first molested. I wasn’t safe. I was scared. And when I told my mom, I felt like she was trying to get rid of me.”
As a seven-year-old, Christina remembers thinking,“If the people who brought me into this world can cause this much heartache and pain, then imagine what the world can do.” Years of addiction led to despair, and even jail. Until one April day, “I decided I needed help. And I came to Bethel House.” she says. “This is the final chapter in my life with addiction. Today, I have hope. “I feel like for once in my life, I’m doing the right thing, doing it for myself!” Christina proclaims.
Christina was the featured Bethel House speaker for her graduating class on March 11 at Calvary Baptist Church. Yesterday she successfully completed 365 days of treatment and relocated out of the area to be near her four children.
I don’t think he ever really had a chance for a normal life— someplace safe, with someone to love or care for him. You might not either if your mom became an addict after years of child abuse. She had his older sister when she was just 13, and Steven when she was 15. Steven recalls, “CPS came out and took us away. Split us up. It was hard.” Then, after bouncing around in foster care, he was finally rescued by his grandparents—only to have the bottom drop out of his life once again.
“My grandpa was my best friend. He was like my dad. Then he died of cancer. Two weeks later I got a call from the sheriff, saying my mom was found dead in a homeless shelter. I started drinking heavily, and went off the deep end—right over the edge.” After years of homelessness and time in jail, with no one else to come to his aid, Steven turned first to our emergency shelter, and later entered our 12-month Christian recovery program.
Steven says, “I don’t know what I’d do without this place. I’m blessed to be here. And I’m taking every opportunity to do everything I can here. I love this place!” he smiles. “I plan on staying on the straight and narrow and getting to where I should be,” he says. “Taking care of myself, making a living—and giving back in any way I can!”
The hope we find in Christ’s resurrection is an inspiration to each of us—even when you’ve lived through heartache, abuse, and addiction, like Joselle . . .
Both her parents were alcoholics, and after being taken away from her mother, the trauma and violence Joselle experienced at the “iron fists” of her stepmother scarred her deeply. Then, as a vulnerable 13-year-old, she was sent to live with her grandmother. But what could have been an opportunity to escape the damage she’d received became the exact opposite: “I immediately fell in with the wrong crowd”—and into addiction, Joselle admits sadly.
“From that moment on, my life would no longer be my own for many, many years . . .” Until one cold, black December night when she was pulled over for drunk driving. “I knew at that moment it was an intervention from God,” she says with tears at the memory. “And I spent 33 days in jail before coming to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission.”
“You’ve provided me with a safe, loving, calm, and disciplined sanctuary to put myself and my life back together,” she smiles. “God had a plan for me,” Joselle says with assurance she’s rarely felt before. “He saved my life. Let me tell you how grateful I am to be a part of the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission.”
I felt like I never fit in, so I did a lot of things to become anyone other than me.” Which is how he wandered into a world of alcohol and drug use . . . at just 12 years old. And eventually into the hands of a child predator.
That was the turning point, changing the young boy I was before. And I buried the memories of it somewhere inside me—for 32 years.” Blair vividly recalls, “I was an empty shell of a human being, even spending time in prison, seeing murder, stabbings, riots, and more violence. After I was released, I overdosed on heroin, and they told me I died on the kitchen floor. I remember waking up in a hospital angry I was still alive.” Until God led him into the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s life-transforming, year-long residential drug and alcohol treatment program.
God has helped Blair put himself and his life back together here at the Mission. And I’m proud to tell you he’s now a graduate of our recovery program! Blair smiles, “This year has blessed me with faith and knowledge that life can be beautiful and full of happiness. I can finally hold my head up high and be proud of who I am. I have discovered joy in a world I used to see as only filled with pain. I want to live today—and I owe my life to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission program!”
She descended into addiction while her mom prayed she wouldn’t die. If Megan hadn’t come here, she could have died. “It wasn’t IF I would die,” she says, tears springing into her eyes. “It was WHEN.”
Then Megan was arrested and she realized she finally had to make a decision—“I knew the rest of my life was going to be addiction and jail . . . or I could decide to do something to change that. So I made the choice to try the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. There are so many people here who genuinely love you,” she says. “People who genuinely care.”
“My life was on the line,” she admits. “I was ready to die . . . and almost didn’t care what came next,” she sighs. “There was no hope.” But when God guided Megan into our proven 12-month recovery program, she discovered the Christ-centered love necessary to break the cycle of addiction and turn her life around. “A lot of times I felt like I didn’t deserve it,” she admits, “and I’m still not sure why, but God gave me this chance!”
Melissa never thought she’d end up without her sons, especially at the holidays. It’s incredibly hard when you’ve hit rock bottom, lost everything, and ended up on the street. But Melissa’s journey through pain began early. After being abused as a child and seeing her parents split up, she found relief in alcohol and drugs—in junior high. “Little did I know that my dependency on these substances would haunt me for the rest of my life,” she says.
Along the way, she thought she’d found peace in the birth of her two sons. But even they couldn’t keep her from despair and the demons of addiction. Finally, years later, she found herself homeless and without them. She’d lost her boys. And she says she almost lost her life. She smiles with tears in her eyes as she recalls the moment she finally took control of her life—and began turning it around, “in desperation, over my head, I decided to apply to Bethel House.”
“Today, I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior,” Melissa smiles. “I’ve found my place in this family, and believe God has a plan for me!” That’s the best part of Melissa’s story: her recovered life includes her sons, and hugging them close, she says, “I look forward to becoming a full part of their lives and being the mother I know I have always been capable of being!”
Karla was abused . . . by those she trusted the most. The fact that she is here, still alive today, is a miracle—after being physically abused as a child, only to experience more terror in foster care—bearing the pain and impact of both without professional help for so many years.
“All I wanted to do was not exist. And a friend of mine said he had the perfect cure for everything I was going through—and introduced me to cocaine. “It worked,” she says—for awhile. “I didn’t sleep so I didn’t have the nightmares. But it got worse and progressed and I became an addict. I put myself in situations where I should not be alive. I OD’d. I was stabbed. I lost my house. Lost everything. And went to jail.”
“Every time somebody told me there was a program I could do that would turn my life around, I would turn it down, because I didn’t believe . . .” But finally God spoke to Karla’s aching heart, she listened, she believed and Karla came here to the sanctuary of Bethel House. Gratefully, she says, “I’ve been given a chance to heal—and I have never been offered that in my life. Not by anybody.” Karla graduated in 2015 and is enjoying her life today as a mother, grandmother, volunteer, and she sponsors women at Bethel House.
Irene was the spokesperson for Bethel House at the July 2016 graduation ceremony. She has a tragic story, but she is triumphantly beginning a brand new chapter.
Forty years ago, a sixth-grade teacher handed a Bible to a boy named David. Opening the front cover, he had written, “Rejoicing in hope, patient in times of tribulation and constant in prayer,” Romans 12:12. Underneath, he added, “I hope you will find comfort in this verse someday.” Those words came back to David as he sat in despair on the railroad tracks not far from here—homeless, addicted, and alone.
“I was scared,” David says, “I didn’t know who I was.” And he prayed for his life. God answers prayers: three days later he was in detox, two weeks after that he found a place open in the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission’s 12-month, faith-centered recovery program. David completed his year in the program and is employed at a local non-profit organization. “This place really has saved my life,” he says with tears of gratitude in his eyes, “and if I can be saved and helped, then there’s hope for others, too.”
Dillon played baseball in high school and was always the apple of his mother’s eye . . . until he disappeared into addiction for seven, long, terrible years. “By the age of 18 I was full-blown addicted to severe pain medication,” he remembers, “And that’s when the vicious cycle of opium addiction really took over my life. I started feeling the withdrawals when I didn’t have it, one thing led to another . . . and then I found heroin.”
After that nothing mattered to Dillon but the drug. Until he hit rock bottom. “I was extremely underweight, I was broken, and I had nothing, nothing at all,” he says, “except a tiny seed of hope.” That’s when Dillon went down on his knees—and prayed. “I was lost, and cried out for help,” he says, with tears in his eyes at the memory. “Then a week later, my mom found me on the streets.” She brought him here—to the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. “That’s all it took,” he says in relief.
“Coming to the Mission allowed me to find out who Jesus is and allowed me to have a relationship with God. I don’t think I would have found that if I hadn’t come here. That’s the basis of my sobriety,” Dillon says gratefully. He is completing the final days of his year-long program, attending Santa Barbara City College, and passing all of his classes.
Tragically, Susan suffered terrible abuse as a child right here in Santa Barbara, which finally drove her into desperate addiction as a way to cope . . . at age 13.
But, of course, there was no hope or help for her in alcohol or drugs. And after years of trying to escape her past in any way possible, she remembers just what it felt like to hit bottom—“Inside, my spirit was dying,” she says. That was when Susan’s younger sister—who had fought her own battle with addiction—told her about a place she could finally find redemption . . . and real hope.
Susan’s brutal past and horrendous addiction chewed her up and spit her out on the streets—“I didn’t have a place to live, was in and out of shelters, and was so tired,” she recalls. “I’d burnt all my bridges . . . I was just broken.” Blinking back tears at the memory, Susan says, “But I knew from my sister about the program here in Santa Barbara. She went through the treatment program at Bethel House, and she finished it!”
That was enough to inspire Susan to follow. “I just surrendered, came in a few days later, and have been here ever since,” she says gratefully. “And this program is changing my life!” She explains, “I’ve tried doing 12-step programs before, but this time it’s with Christ and Bible study. And that real core value is what’s going to make it happen for me here.”