A Place of Hope and Recovery in Palatka

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PALATKA–On a recent Monday evening a group of people working fervently to overcome their hurts, addictions and to celebrate their recovery gathered at Life Church in Palatka for a weekly time of praise and worship. Together they witnessed six new believers publicly profess their faith in Christ through baptism.

Giving hope, restoration and redemption to residents in this northeastern Florida community is the driving force behind Celebrate Recovery at Life Church, the only rehabilitation program in Putnam County.

Originally begun in 2014 at a sister church in Palatka by Jeremy and Melissa Rea, the group has moved on and now meets at Life Church, located in the heart of town.

Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered 12-step recovery program for anyone with “any hurt, habit or hang-up – anger issues, marital trouble, drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders,” said Rea. He leads the local program that has Biblical comparisons about restoration, accountability, growing in your relationship with Christ; but it is not a church service.

“Many that come would never step foot in a church,” he said.

The Palatka native, a recovering drug addict himself, recalled that the faith-based program was “hard to start; no church wanted it.” But since they began meeting at Life Church in April 2019, the folks there have been “so welcoming and fully supportive.”  Church members have not only embraced the ministry but also serve in it.

According to Life Church pastor Garry Taylor, Jr., the congregation received the program with “no hesitation; I tell our church that Celebrate Recovery is not something we do, it’s who we are.”

Rea serves as discipleship pastor at Life Church and as pastor at the church’s Interlachen campus. Taylor called the couple, “fantastic leaders” and said he is “excited to work with them.”

For the past six years, the Reas have taken Celebrate Recovery once a week directly into the Putnam County Jail, working with both men and women.

“When we’re in there, the whole demeanor changes, it’s just the presence of God. He is igniting a fire in there,” said Rea.

In 2018 God gave Rea a vision to begin a residential transitional house for men and women coming out of jail and rehab. In October 2019 an internet café next door to the church became available. Life Church bought the building and after completing remodeling work, opened Recovery Point this past March.

Walking alongside them through the process was Craig Culbreth, Florida Baptists’ catalyst for the east region, who invested time and Convention resources to help the congregation through challenges.

Currently six men live at Recovery Point and the facility will soon house six women as well. The ministry, a separate 501c3 entity from Life Church, provides a nine-month program to help residents transition back into the community.

For the first 90 days, residents must live on the property and perform community service work for local churches, businesses and individuals. They also attend daily recovery meetings as well as a variety of classes that are offered – discipleship, finances, parenting, GED – anything they might need to help equip them when they return to society.

During the final six months of the program, the residents obtain a job, open a bank account and are held accountable for their money.  “Some have never paid a bill or made a bed,” said Rea.

Pastor Taylor demonstrates his commitment to the effort as well. “He’s a huge help,” Rea said. “He goes into the jails with us, hangs out with the guys at Recovery Point.”

The transitional house is located about two miles from the Putnam County jail. “People walk here daily from the jail when they are released,” said Rea. “We have a clothes closet; we feed them and help them find housing and other resources.”

Recently they received two residents, the first to come to Recovery Point directly after being released from jail.

Rea’s three-year goal is to establish a 40-bed transitional facility to house 20 men and 20 women; they are currently seeking grants and funding to provide another building.

“People will know there is hope here,” said Rea.

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