The Business of Change
Jervon Carswell (left) and Armel Jordan (right) walked into the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Cleveland, Ohio, in need of help. Jervon had little more than the clothing on his back and comfort in the knowledge that through God, the best was yet to come. Armel had been blessed with a successful career and a family, yet was filled with agonizing questions about his purpose in life. But both men suffered from addiction.
Reclaiming my soul:
The first time I came to the Cleveland ARC in 1999, I only stayed two weeks. I was not ready to stop being an addict, but I did have some breaks in my addiction. During that time, I went to ministry school and became a licensed pastor. My choices baffled me; how could God allow me to have both the life of an addict and the calling of a pastor?
You might say I was a functioning addict. I did cocaine and drank alcohol, but I also had a house, a job as a hotel manager, and a family to come home to. If you ever saw me on the streets, it was because I wanted to be there, not because I didn’t have a place to go.
Fifteen years after failing the ARC program, I returned to attend the graduation of a beneficiary who had been under my ministry. The building looked new, and when I walked inside, I felt like a different person. The graduate asked me to give the program a shot myself, so I did.
When I spoke to Darnell, an intake coordinator at the Cleveland ARC, I voiced the question that had been eating away at me for much of my life. “How am I a pastor trying to lead others to Christ, yet I remain deaf to my own message?” To my surprise, he responded, “Oh, you too?” Darnell was a pastor like me, and a former drug user. Hearing from someone else who had gone through the same doubts as I had immediately made me feel welcome.
I learned that rather than sending these men in recovery out and forgetting about them, The Salvation Army instead entrusted them to help other people like themselves. The day after I graduated from the program, I also began working for the ARC as a resident assistant manager. After a year and a half, I went back to school and became a counselor.
My own confusion was what kept me an addict. I was fortunate to have what I needed in life regarding possessions. But the Gospel of Mark tells us, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Even with a home and a family, I didn’t have my
soul. The Salvation Army gave me my soul back and my relationship with God.
We need to understand and accept God’s permissive will, not just His perfect will. I once asked God, “Why do I smoke crack and drink, when I could have been addicted to something else?” I heard Him say that He chose this for me, because something else would have been too much to withstand. If I was addicted to gambling, my family might be left homeless. If I had suffered from depression, I may have taken my life. God knew the outcome of my addiction, and that I would return to His grace.
Being an addict can be isolating. Many addicts have been exiled from their families and from society. They think they have nothing to offer. That’s why those little words, “Oh, you too?” were so powerful. That’s what many of our addicts just need to hear; a reminder that they’re not alone in this world.
You may be unique in your addiction or in your life experiences, but you are not so unique that Christ didn’t die for your sins, as He died for mine.
A healer reborn:
Having been an alcoholic since I was 26, I finally heard the Lord speak to me at 55. He said that if I would stop living that life of a drug–dealing, drug–using, gang member profiting off the bodies of women, He would lift me up, make me a healer, and meet my needs.
I rode on a bike with patched tires to The Salvation Army Cleveland ARC. I was wearing a fur jacket and hat, leather pants, and gold chains around my neck. I must have appeared so awkward to the men there. I didn’t look like a man searching for help. I looked like a man who was there to sell them drugs.
A counselor at the ARC told me that God had something great in store, echoing what the Lord had said to me when I decided to turn my life around. I had to get clean as soon as possible so God could use me to do His will.
The Second Mile Award is the highest recognition that The Salvation Army can give an ARC beneficiary. Receiving it was proof to me that God acknowledged my life. After finishing the program, I continued to volunteer at the ARC, while also participating in a new program called The Railton House, which focuses on independent living. For the first time in my life, I now had a chance to become self–sufficient.
Today, I’m a Salvation Army soldier and a counselor at the Cleveland ARC. God has turned me from a pimp and a pusher, to a preacher and a praiser! He and The Salvation Army are in the business of changing us to be our best selves. God loves moving the heaviest mountains, cracking the hardest nuts, and there was no nut harder to crack than me.
I was blessed to help save a beneficiary from dying of an overdose, thanks to the training I received as a counselor. I’ll never forget that look of death in his eyes. As I saw life trying to leave his body, I realized how he could have been me. God was showing me the path I could have taken, and He was fulfilling His promise to make me a healer.
Personality–wise, I haven’t changed much since my days in the streets. But now I’m promoting and advocating for the Word of God and for redemption. When I go back to the streets to meet the men there, I never judge, but I ask that they let me pray for them. I also invite them to church on Sunday.
When I talk to the men who seek help, some say I’m strict, others call me nasty names for telling it to them like it is. But weeks and months later, they write to me and say thank you for being honest with them. These are men with broken souls, bodies, and minds; no faith in anything except the streets. It is my obligation as a soldier to share my story and remind them that Jesus never chose the good, tidy folks to follow Him; He chose the sinners and the unclean.
I’m thankful to The Salvation Army for allowing me to be what God called me to be. I’m forever in debt, which is why I put on this uniform every day.
interviews by Hugo Bravo