I Visited Awake Ministries
In this series, we're visiting Southeast's Mission Partners to understand their vision and how God is using them in the community.
By Carla Williams
This week, I made my way back to the heart of Shelbyville, where Awake Ministries exists to equip individuals with the essential resources for an abundant life. The ministry there is meeting community needs while also deeply impacting the lives of men and women caught in cycles of addiction. Through the Gospel, they are addressing physical, emotional, and spiritual issues in really exciting ways.
My first meeting of the day was with Marcia, the Director of Operations for Awake. Just a few years ago, she was serving in an exciting and lucrative role, but she couldn’t shake a gnawing discontentment. The first year the folks at Awake invited her to apply for an open position, she dismissed the idea. When they extended the same offer the next year, she was ready to explore where God might be leading her.
Now, after two years at Awake, she wouldn’t change a thing. Though the work is often messy, exhausting, complicated, and frustrating, Marcia doesn’t feel that old discontent. When God brought her to Awake, He gave her a new purpose and the tools to accomplish it for His glory. The work is hard, but the lives are worth it.
Heart and Services
As Marcia gave me the overview of the ministry, we walked to the various Awake buildings, all tucked into the same neighborhood. We started at the main campus, where outpatient care happens, recovery groups gather, and the residents meet for classes.
Down the road at the Serenity Center, Awake serves the community with a weekly food pantry distribution. Each week, approximately 400 families come to the pantry distribution, and more than 1,000 families have been served so far this year. There is also a backpack program where they distribute weekend backpacks full of non-perishable, easy-open food for 340 vulnerable students in Shelby County. From that facility, Awake is also meeting tangible needs for senior citizens and veterans.
Next we traveled to the men’s and women’s residential recovery houses. While participating in the inpatient program, residents live and grow together. Though each man and woman is navigating his or her own journey toward recovery, they have no greater champion than one another. Together, they’re praying, learning, growing, encouraging, and experiencing the transformational power of the Gospel.
Awake is also launching transitional housing and just leased the land to build six tiny houses for homeless veterans to live in while they navigate the complicated resources available to them.
It was clear as I walked with Marcia that Awake is an advocate and an intercessor for the most vulnerable and hurting in their community. They love deeply, provide generously, and point everyone they meet toward the redemptive grace of Christ.
Wisdom and Counsel
My next experience of the day was with Chase. Though his past was fraught with addiction, brokenness, and despair, Chase now leads 40 men and women each week through the outpatient program at Awake.
The outpatients come in voluntarily or under court order to monitor their sobriety, talk through struggles and solutions, and manage their goals and next steps. Chase points them all to the Bible. He freely acknowledged that in his own wisdom and power, he is inadequate to help anyone. But by God’s grace, through His Word, lives can be saved and transformed.
I was invited to sit in on for an outpatient meeting. A woman came in for her weekly appointment. Chase immediately noticed that something was weighing her down. When he asked more, she admitted that a long-term relationship had just ended, leaving her reeling, heart-broken, and confused.
Together they talked through how she could navigate that difficulty without needing to numb it with her previous addictions. He gently shared verse after verse with her as he listened. What could have easily come across as pushy or dismissive was decidedly thoughtful and constructive. We closed the appointment in prayer and hope, and I left Chase’s office with a true sense of how Awake is meeting people with practical help, spiritual tools, and unwavering grace.
Restoration and Heartbreak
When I finished, Alyssa was waiting to walk me to a nearby ministry where the residential women had been invited to serve for the afternoon. Alyssa is a living testimony to the Awake program. She was a resident not so long ago, having struggled through her own addictions and self-destruction. Now, she is the director for the women’s house, where she manages their schedules, oversees their progress, and directly loves and guides every woman in the ministry.
While we walked, Alyssa shared some of her story with me. She was born into brokenness. Her mother lived in active addiction and her father was in prison. Alyssa picked up the habits around her and spiraled into her own journey of loss and pain. But when she came to Awake, she discovered that God loved her. He loved her so much that He gave His Son for her, and though her sins were many, His grace overcame them all. In time, she was no longer a slave to her addiction. Christ had set her free. It’s the absolute story of recovery and redemption everyone longs to hear.
As I listened to her, it was clear that God had rescued her and made her a new creation. Alyssa exudes hope and grace and joy. But though her sins have been washed away and her future is secure, Alyssa carries a constant reminder that her previous life had consequences. In a heroic act of selflessness, Alyssa had signed over her rights to her two youngest children to the foster parents who had been protecting them for years during her addiction. Her healing came just a little too late, and she no longer has any access to the children she loves desperately.
I was moved by Alyssa’s overwhelming vulnerability. She is convinced that God is good and faithful, and yet she knows her heart may always be broken. We hugged and cried for a long time, right there on a Shelbyville street. Here, in Alyssa’s story, redemption and loss coexist, each strengthening and sustaining the other.
Eventually, we stopped crying, and we joined the women who were spreading mulch around the flowerbeds of a local ministry. The woman who runs that ministry has a special heart for the men and women of Awake, and she often invites them to serve the community with her. The group of women laughed good naturedly as they worked together to spread a small mountain of mulch, some of them having never tackled a project like that previously. Before long, the mountain had been dispersed, the women were covered in dirt, and we all laughed our way inside for pizza.
It always amazes me how people with very little in common can find a way to connect. We easily jumped into a wandering conversation, bouncing seamlessly between topics. Our lives couldn’t be more different on the surface, but at the end of the day, our similarities were deeper than the differences that could have divided us.
Eventually, we always came back to God’s love, His faithfulness, and the joy of walking with Him. It was a recurring theme for my day at Awake, and for my own thoughts in the days since then.
Obedience and Humility
Before I knew it, lunch had flown by and I was settled into the office of Awake’s Executive Director, Jeff Reynolds. He’s a farmer and a businessman who found himself leading the ministry two years ago. Jeff’s worn Bible rested in the middle of his desk because he goes back to it often throughout his day, constantly pointing the men and women in his care back toward the truth of God’s Word.
Because Jeff experienced God’s grace in his own life, he is positively delighted to share it with others. He, like the rest of his staff, could not tell me enough about grace. Though the court system has rules and the parole officers have requirements, Jeff and his team do everything in their power to love people unconditionally. Of course, some days they are disappointed, frustrated, sad, or angry. But they also have front-row seats when God takes a broken life and transforms it for His glory. They love that view.
For my last meeting of the day, I sat with the men’s house director, Phil. He spent several years as a missionary in Kenya, then moved to Louisville to study at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Eventually God moved him into the military reserves, where he’s awaiting placement as a chaplain. The journey to chaplaincy could take several years, and Phil is seeing God use all of his different experiences and gifts for God’s glory with the men at Awake while he waits.
Phil brought a love of organization and clear processes to Awake, which is helping shape the sustainability of a growing ministry. He also oversees the daily needs of the 18 residential men, walking with them as a leader, friend, encourager, and guard. His plate is full, and God is moving powerfully.
In so many ways, the men and women at Awake are tangible examples of Christ’s love. Their journey to restoration is all of our journey. Eventually we reach the point when we realize we can’t be good enough, strong enough, whole enough, or healed enough on our own. At that moment, we can choose to accept that God is everything we need. When we surrender our efforts and cling desperately to His sacrifice, His love changes everything.
To learn more or get involved, visit awakeky.org.