Loving with Grace + Mercy
In last week’s blog, we learned about Mrs. Debbe Jefcoat’s early days in the social ministry outreach of Olive Baptist Church and how she helped launch the Charis House – one of the flagship programs of Ministry Village at Olive. This week, we’ll hear about her greatest joys and challenges throughout her 21 years in social ministry and 13 years with the Charis House.
Ms. Debbe receives hundreds of letters and phone calls each year from women and families who are hurting and devastated by the chains of addiction and the havoc an addict’s lifestyle wreaks on everyone who loves her. She visits area jails, accepts phone calls from inmates, and listens to appeals from family members desperate to find help for their loved ones. Listening closely for God’s guidance, Ms. Debbe does intake applications and gathers information to make sure each person applying meets the criteria for admission. She discerns which women are ready to take the necessary hard steps to radically change their lives. She makes no false promises and speaks frankly and honestly to the women as she interviews them, telling them the program is not easy, there are high expectations to meet, and while they will be loved and embraced by the staff it will not be a comfortable process. Recovery is hard, uncomfortable, and not easy to achieve. Work will be required. Emotional work. Spiritual work. And only the addict can do the work. No one else can do it for her, no matter how much she is loved or cared for by others. This is a journey she must take in order to receive the healing God has for her. Once a woman is accepted into the program, Ms. Debbe becomes a loving caretaker who is unafraid of taking a hardline in discipline.
Not everyone who is accepted into the program is ready to surrender their lives to Jesus, and that is both understandable and heartbreaking to Ms. Debbe. “Knowing they may choose to go back to drugs or alcohol when they leave is my greatest heartbreak. If they don’t stay plugged in to Jesus – by praying and reading their Bible daily, staying accountable, attending church, staying away from old people and places or even family members that have addictions – they won’t make it. You can usually tell if they will be successful or not when they go. Even though we can see patterns they continue to have, we love and encourage them while they are here. But that’s why we are called the Charis House – the house of grace.”
As difficult as some days can be, Ms. Debbe finds immense joy in what she does. “My greatest joy is seeing Jesus change the hearts and lives of these women. When God sends us a lady whose addiction to drugs or alcohol — along with the street life that goes along with addiction – has become cold and hard, and Jesus just changes her heart….. When her heart changes, everything changes. The anger, bitterness and unforgiveness she once had leaves during the process because she is being changed into the likeness of Christ. His love and forgiveness permeates her heart, mind, and soul. She begins to have self-worth, and understand her identity is in Christ, and she is not who the world has told her she is. And to see families reunited because of those changes is absolutely wonderful.”
After 21 years in social ministry and 13 years leading the Charis House, Ms. Debbe is ready to retire to spend some time with her family and her grandchildren. “My retirement is very bittersweet. I’ve never met a lady I did not love. Some can be harder than others to love; however, God quickly reminds me – what have we done when we only love the lovable? I, like them, have been unlovable at times. When my husband died five years ago, I was told by many that I was going to have a new season. I didn’t want a new season! I wanted my old season back! However, I now know, five years later, God is taking me into a new season now. He has new plans for me. I am moving back to Alabama to enjoy my family, so I can rock the babies and continue to spoil my grandchildren! If God opens doors, I would love to volunteer at the county jail there and continue to minister to hurting ladies. I am also hoping to begin an aftercare class for the ladies that graduated Charis House and live in that area of Alabama. I definitely plan to stay connected with the Charis House! Hopefully, I will be sending a lot of client referrals to them. And I’ll be coming back to visit and attend church at Olive occasionally. Plus, thanks to the Coronavirus Pandemic, I’ve learned that I can see everyone at Charis House online through Zoom calls!”
“Through the years, I have learned so much from the sweet ladies we are blessed to serve. I have learned there are no families exempt from addiction, and we can’t fix any of them on our own. That is God’s job. He is the Fixer, Mender, and Healer of all things broken. I praise God for the passion He gave me to serve our ladies at the Charis House. He has given me a love for the unlovable, because we have all been unlovable at some point in our lives. However, if there is breath – there is hope. I have been such a blessed lady to have been given the opportunity to be a part of this ministry. What an honor to be allowed to see God change the lives of many, many ladies and witness the restoration of families.”
When asked what she hopes her legacy at the Charis House will be, she doesn’t hesitate. “I hope people will remember how blessed I was. Not everybody gets to wake up every day and go to a job they absolutely love, and I’ve been able to do that all these years. I love these ladies. It has been such an honor to be a part of this work and to be able to do what He has called me to do. I don’t feel that we ever retire from serving the Lord. I pray He will continue to allow me to share with many others His love and the hope that only He can give. My time at Olive, Ministry Village, and Charis House have been some of the very best years of my life. Having others see Jesus in me, and how He has blessed me to love these sweet ladies – that’s what I hope my legacy is.”
In next week’s blog, we’ll hear tributes from several people who have worked with, been mentored by, or simply been blessed to know Ms. Debbe throughout her years of ministry.
✝️ 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.