Building a House of Grace
Those who have heard of Charis House – Ministry Village at Olive’s non-profit Christian-based residential substance abuse recovery program for women – have no doubt heard the name “Debbe Jefcoat” or “Ms. Debbe.” Charis House and Ms. Debbe have gone hand-in-hand since Charis House opened in 2007. On July 1, 2020, Ms. Debbe will retire and the Charis House will continue, doing the work of Jesus under different leadership. In honor of Ms. Debbe’s contributions, our next several blogs will tell her story of service and dedication to our community and the hundreds of women she has helped.
When Debbe Jefcoat began working in Social Ministries at Olive Baptist Church in 1998, she worked closely with Ms. Jean Rea. Ms. Jean was a force to be reckoned with. Her no-nonsense style was Holy Spirit-led. “She would just tell you exactly what she thought,” explains Debbe. Ms. Jean challenged everyone to think beyond what they were doing for the community to what they could be doing. When people would contact the church around the holidays asking for names of poor families that needed food, Ms. Jean’s response was simple. “She would say, ‘People are hungry 365 days of the year, not just at Thanksgiving and Christmas. They should be helping them the rest of the year too.’ And that was true.” Ms. Jean’s wisdom and heart for those in need laid much of the groundwork for what would years later become Ministry Village at Olive, and she was instrumental in shaping Ms. Debbe’s approach to social ministry.
In 1999, Ms. Debbe began assisting Sarah Jane Mitchell with a Bible study at the Escambia County Jail. “The first time I went, I knew I would always go back. We had about 75 ladies in that class. When I looked in their faces, I saw a lot of hurt, pain, shame and guilt. At that time, God gave me an overwhelming love for them and a desire to help them.” When Sarah Jane retired the next year, Debbe began teaching the class, and she ended up teaching classes at the jail for 16 years. “I loved sharing Jesus with those hurting ladies.”
After Hurricane Ivan devastated Northwest Florida in 2004, Pastor Ted Traylor of Olive Baptist Church saw so many people hurting in our community and the surrounding areas. That is when God gave him the vision for what would later become Ministry Village at Olive. Debbe remembers their pivotal conversation. “Pastor met with Eddie Echarri and me to discuss opening a home for men or women who needed support escaping the chains of addiction.” (Eddie Echarri was a man whose radical transformation from a life of crime and addiction to an unwavering warrior for Christ led to the local launch of Most Excellent Way). “After discussing other programs available in our community, it was determined that there was a larger immediate need for a women’s program. Pastor asked me if I could put one together and I said ‘yes’.”
“I started visiting other successful Christian-based recovery programs, gathering information on their admission criteria, program structure and more. We didn’t need to reinvent the wheel – we could learn from those who had gone before us. So, in January 2007, Pastor Traylor announced to the Olive congregation that we would open a recovery home for women in 40 days — we had much to do. The building we planned to use was renovated and furnished; clients were interviewed and accepted; and we opened at the end of those 40 days.” Pastor Traylor named the new home the Charis House. Charis is the Greek word for “grace,” – a place for women who have lost all hope to learn about the saving grace that God provides through Jesus, and how He alone can transform and redeem their lives.
“The mission of the Charis House is to provide a Christ-centered home for our ladies,” explains Debbe. “Our goal is to assist, invest in, teach, and encourage each lady who comes into the program. We try to lead them to Jesus, and teach them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Their healing comes from Him.” The first Charis House group included 6 women and 1 full-time house manager. “It was initially a 3-month program,” remembers Debbe. “We could see that was not enough time to help these ladies stabilize their lives, so we expanded it to 6 months. Then 9 months. Then, after attending several conferences and hearing from many psychologists about the amount of time it takes your brain to heal, we eventually expanded to a 1-year program like it is now. As a result of addiction, your brain is not dead, but it does go dormant. It can be resurrected with time and sobriety. It takes time to recover from addiction and learn a new way of life.”
Since that first group of 6 in 2007, approximately 150 women have come through the Charis House, all under the watchful care of Ms. Debbe Jefcoat. But she is adamant that the credit for any success is not hers. “Jesus is the integral part of Charis House Ministry. He is the reason for any success. He uses our staff and volunteers to teach our ladies, and the Olive Baptist Church family and staff who treat our ladies with the utmost love and respect. We are all used for His glory.”
Next week, we’ll learn about Ms. Debbe’s greatest joys and challenges through the years, her plans for retirement, and the hope she has for how her work will be remembered around Ministry Village.
✝️ The Charis House is a non-profit Christian-based residential substance abuse program for females. The program is designed in 3 phases, each offering stages of recovery that provide the necessary tools for a practical transition into a new lifestyle free of addiction. The faith-based recovery program addresses the client’s personal relationship with God as the foundation for healing and wholeness. It requires a willingness to change and adhere to a controlled, strict and disciplined environment, allowing life-changing experiences to occur. There is no fee to apply.