In nearly 40 years of addiction ministry, Harvest Evangelism founder Rick Hagans has never witnessed a sweeter, more honest graduation than the one held Aug. 15 at First Baptist Church, Opelika. It also was the largest group yet.
The ceremony recognized 23 men and women who completed the faith-based residential recovery program located in the east Alabama town of Lafayette.
“COVID-19 has forced everything to be more inward and that’s been difficult, but out of that inward push, there’s a sweetness,” Hagans said. “Our men and women were more honest than they had ever been.”
As the graduates shared their testimonies, Halley Waller recalled how she had come to Harvest’s Hosanna Home for women after years of physical, sexual and mental abuse at the hands of her father. Through the program, Waller found healing as she learned of a heavenly Father who loved and cared for her.
“I now know what having a real father feels like,” Waller said. “I now know how loving and forgiving He is. Even when I fall short, He loves me anyway. That is true love.”
Michael Richardson recalled turning to drugs and alcohol after losing his five-month-old daughter to brain cancer.
“My life had been nothing but trials and tribulations. I had wanted to be the best dad in the world. [Losing her] got me on methamphetamines and alcohol, drug me all the way down to the deep.”
Richardson said he found hope at His Place, Harvest Evangelism’s men’s recovery home.
‘From the inside out’
Graduate Marie Gas said Hosanna Home “has changed me completely from the inside out. I’m alive and I’m living; I’m redeemed and I am forgiven.”
During her time at Hosanna House, Gas met fellow graduate Josh McVicker. The two fell in love and were married Aug. 16, after completing the year-long program.
Tyler McLain recalled how God used His Place to completely turn his life from drug addiction to a heart for ministry — he’s registered to attend Summit International School of Ministry in the fall.
Financial support for Harvest Evangelism has dwindled during the pandemic, and Hagans said some friends of the ministry urged him to close one of the homes.
“It’s cheaper to bury them than it is to house them,” Hagans reflected. “I told the crowd [at graduation], ‘You just heard 23 testimonies. Who do you want to send to Hell, the men or the women? Who do you want to put back on the street or in an abusive situation?’
“I believed God would be faithful and He has.”
Hagans noted 24 graduates should have been at the ceremony.
Another program participant had just two weeks left in the program when he received his COVID-19 stimulus check and elected to leave His Place.
“He left on Saturday and they found him dead on Wednesday with a needle in his arm,” Hagans lamented. “It just breaks your heart. We see it far too often.”
In fact, Hagans has seen more addiction cases than ever this year due to pandemic restrictions.
“Addicts don’t do well by themselves,” Hagans said. “During COVID, they’ve gone from functioning to catastrophic because they’ve used more [drugs] and have experienced more emptiness in their lives.
“There’s no small group or Sunday School, no Celebrate Recovery,” he said. “There are more drugs available and they’re cheaper now than they were 10 years ago.”
“But John wrote in exile that you can overcome the enemy by the blood of the Lamb and the word of your testimony, when you love not your life unto death,” Hagans said. “That’s what we tell people: You can overcome the enemy.”
To learn more about Harvest Evangelism, follow Hagans on Facebook at tabonline.org/rick-hagans.
Shoes, friendships result from walks
Ramblin’ Rick” Hagans walks across one state every summer, collecting pledges for each mile to buy shoes for children in Mexico.
On these walks, Hagans has made countless friends who became lifelong supporters of Harvest Evangelism, of which he is founder. While the coronavirus pandemic postponed his scheduled walk through Idaho this summer, not even COVID-19 could keep one of his journeys from impacting the lives of those served by His Place, Harvest Evangelism’s faith-based residential recovery program for men.
Hagans encountered fellow preacher Charlie Walker 21 years ago while walking through Minnesota. Walker offered Hagans a lift and hospitality one night, and the two developed a lifelong bond.
Through the years Walker preached in Alabama and Hagans returned to Minnesota, often preaching more there than he did at home. Hagans said he eventually helped Walker open a men’s addiction recovery home in Minnesota.
Some 15 years ago, Hagans said Walker experienced a dark time of depression, and Hagans encouraged his friend to spend a few months at Harvest Evangelism.
“Charlie was a preacher, not an addict, but I believe you can live with depression or with addictions when someone loves you, and you know that you’re loved and that you will be loved,” Hagans said. “Charlie spent three months with us, and it changed his life. He went back to Minnesota and preached for another 10 years.”
Walker died in 2018 while entering the pulpit to preach. This year his wife, Nadine, donated five boxes of Walker’s “church clothes” to the men at His Place.
Hagans said the clothing blessed several of the men with little access to “dress-up clothing.”
“One of our guys had on one of Charlie’s jackets [at graduation],” Hagans said. “Charlie was a precious friend.”
Now Hagans walks not only for shoes but also to motivate other Christians toward “taking a step and becoming a part of history.”
“I said, ‘God, there’s people who wouldn’t normally go to church. Let me meet them.’ God put me where I met them, and when I go to church and share these stories it brings comfort to people who realize they can walk across the street or meet someone in Walmart.”