LAFAYETTE, Ala. (BP)–New sounds are coming from the old tuberculosis hospital these days: the pitter-patter of little feet and the heartbeats of hope.
Now known as Hope’s Inn, the former hospital turned office space turned women’s and children’s shelter in LaFayette, Ala., is a beacon to lives darkened by abuse and a refuge for those battered by circumstance.
The shelter, which opened in April, was started by Rick Hagans, an evangelist who is still called “preacher boy” in pockets of east Alabama, where he was called to preach at 9 years old.
Hagan, a member of First Baptist Church in Opelika, Ala., and the ministry he leads, Harvest Evangelism, also operate His Place, a men’s addiction-recovery program in Opelika, and a similar one for women called Hosanna Home.
Though he’s more southern than fried chicken, Hagans had struck up a relationship with Times Square Church in New York City -– and it was that church’s desire to lend a helping hand in the disastrous wake of Hurricane Katrina that initially inspired the vision for Hope’s Inn.
“We were down on the coast just doing some relief work ourselves and Times Square called,” Hagans said. “They said they wanted to help with the hurricane and said [to send them] 30 women and children, but I just didn’t think that was a good idea. These are southern women — they don’t know New York or New York winters, and the other thing is that they’ve got families here. To take them away would be difficult in a difficult time.”
But he couldn’t keep them at Hosanna Home, which only houses 10 women and children at a time.
“I had been thinking of buying land to put mobile homes on it when somebody called and told me about this old building for sale. At that time, the big push was just to find shelter for people,” Hagans said.
Built in the 1930s, the expansive three-wing facility was a perfect fit. Times Square purchased the facility and helped fund renovations of the building’s 35,000 square feet — from its kitchens to its beauty shop and from its health clinics to its computer lab.
Each changed life is a testament to the power of Christian commitment.
“We don’t apologize for being a Christian ministry,” Hagans said. “We don’t ram it down their throats or anything, but we’re a ministry. We’re Christians and this shelter is completely paid for by Christian money. We haven’t received any government support up to this point. Everything has been provided by the Lord’s people.”
Hope’s Inn is capable of sheltering about 100 women and children and has partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to do so in the event of a disaster. With all but two hurricane refugees back to the way their lives were pre-Katrina, the full scope and potential of the project has quickly expanded beyond a traditional “three hots and a cot” mindset into what Hagans and company do best — facilitating recovery not only from nature’s storms but also from life’s storms.
“Some people just bounce from shelter to shelter. We don’t want that to happen; we want people to feel the healing touch of Jesus,” Hagans said.
The 40 women currently staying at Hope’s Inn do feel that touch — in the hugs from their children, in the glow of the chapel and from the soft sheets of their own bed.
“Nice, isn’t it?” says live-in director Linda Sullivan, the only fulltime staff member of Hope’s Inn.
Hope’s Inn, in various ways, resembles more of a resort than a shelter. Even Donald Trump might think so: The billionaire’s own interior decorator was one of three members of Times Square Church who came to help decorate.
Marble and hardwood floors, refinished by a member of First Baptist Opelika, span the entire building, and the refurbished foyer beams with Baldwin County pine cut from trees blown down by Hurricane Ivan, delivered and installed by a Baptist layman from Baldwin County, Ala.
“This place is just incredible,” said one new arrival, her right eye covered in bandages but her left twinkling with the hope of new beginnings. “Things were getting pretty hopeless but they took me in. I’m so blessed to be here. I mean, they’ve even got a garden.”
In the shelter’s garden, there are peppers turning red, ripening okra and squash hanging low to the ground. The watermelon didn’t turn out too well, but if Sullivan has anything to say about it, the people who planted it are going to do just fine.
“You can see the difference … from when they come in and being scared, tired and afraid to when they leave,” Sullivan said. “I’ve had several come in and say it was the most peaceful place they had been…. We’re definitely seeing the Lord work in the women, their confidence and their ability. We tell them God don’t make junk.”
Jeremy Dale Henderson writes for The Alabama Baptist, online at www.thealabamabaptist.org.