Finding Religion in Recovery

An Unbreakable Bond
April 24, 2019
Drug and alcohol addiction program resources
April 25, 2019

Religion and rehab saved two men from addiction. Now, they are spreading the word

By Bailey Cline

Tragedy came early and often for Bon Funkhouser who, today, at 19 says his relationship with Jesus Christ and a man named Brian Blevins are the reasons for his salvation and a life of recovery.

Life was never going to be easy for Bon, who grew up with few material belongings and maybe even less emotional support. At age 3, his father died in a car crash. Bon doesn’t know the details but says he remembers the feeling of loss. The family’s grieving left little time to pay attention to Bon.

“They didn’t deal with it at all,” Bon said. “They masked it.”

Bon says he spent the first several years of his childhood living with his grandparents.

He moved to Hartford City, Indiana, with his mother at age 7. Their apartment was in a shadier side of town, he said, and Bon felt judged by his peers: he responded by acting out in school.

By the end of second grade, Bon says he was suspended three times from Hartford City Southside Elementary School for stealing, being disruptive and bringing a lighter to school.

By age 12, Bon’s bad behavior escalated. Now, he was using drugs.

Hoosiers are more likely to die from a drug overdose than car crashes and gun homicides combined, according the 2018 Opioid Data Brief by the Indiana Youth Institute. In 2017, Indiana’s rate of fatal overdoses was 25.7 per 100,000.

Brian Blevins, who later would become Bon’s closest friend and father figure, had his own share of problems. Despite a suspended driver’s license since 2010, Blevins was cited several times for driving without a license and failure to appear in court. In 2012, about the same time Bon started to use drugs, Blevins was arrested and charged with possession of methamphetamine.

“I did so many stupid things,” he said.

By 2015, Blevins says his life hit rock bottom. Facing charges of possession and dealing in narcotics, he was sentenced to house arrest. It wasn’t long after he was in a room alone with a pastor who asked him: “If you die today, where will you go?’’ It made Blevins think about where his life was headed.

In March 2016, Blevins founded his own addiction recovery group.

Hope House, 312 W. Washington St., started in a small building beside the Grace United Methodist Church in Hartford City. Every Sunday, a meal is served to anyone who comes, and attendees share testimonies about addiction and recovery. Blevins coordinates with area churches, which provide the meals.

Attendance has increased steadily. First, there were 25 people, then 30, then 35, then 40. Before he knew it, Blevins had 50 people crowding into one room. Eventually, Hope House moved into the church basement, where it meets today.

“To see the transformation in people’s lives and [to see] where people start out to where they go is a blessing,” Blevins said.

As of March, Blevins has been clean three years.

But just as Blevins started Hope House and began his recovery, Bon was losing control of his. He left a private drug addiction recovery center early, craving a cigarette. Next came fentanyl and OxyContin or sedatives like Xanax. He says he tried acid and used marijuana, meth, cocaine and, most often, heroin.

“Sometimes I think, ‘What haven’t I [used]?’” Bon said.

A criminal record followed his addiction. Bon violated his probation and relapsed.

In January 2016, he threatened a gas station clerk with a needle and syringe that he said was infected with AIDS.

By age 17, Bon was facing six years in prison for armed robbery.

“I didn’t see myself as a violent person,” Bon said. “Drugs definitely had a lot to do with that side of me.”

Bon’s grandfather bailed him out of jail with a property bond, meaning if Bon broke the terms of his release, his grandfather would be forced to forfeit his home.

“I really never cared for anybody, but for some reason I cared enough that I wasn’t going to leave him out on the street because I ran — because I was a coward,” Bon said.

This time, Bon completed a 28-day-long program at Fairbanks Alcohol and Drug Addiction Treatment Center in Indianapolis. It was during a visit home, where Bon met Blevins.

Both were sitting in a small group session at Celebrate Recovery, where Bon announced his higher power might as well be a sandwich. While some laughed at Bon’s comment, Blevins took made a point to speak with Bon afterward.

“I just really wanted to help him along,” Blevins said. “I was someone who really didn’t believe in Jesus when I first started into recovery. I knew, me reaching out to him, that he could have that same relationship as what I had and how to go after it.”

Faith-based recovery is growing, said Zach Craig, Delaware County chief deputy prosecutor. Recovery coaches and mentors, as well as formal sponsors, are critical parts of recovery, said Craig, adding that his office and others cannot arrest their way out of crimes caused by addiction.

It was soon after Bon left for Youth and Families Inspirations, another addiction treatment center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he says he found what he had been looking for: Jesus Christ.

When Bon returned to Hartford City, he began spending time with Blevins. Bon said he told him, “You can hang out with me, but you’re going to go where I go, and do what I do, and say what I say.”

Blevins introduced Bon to Hope House. The group’s welcoming atmosphere and empathy for addicts made Bon feel comfortable. One evening, a speaker shared the Bible story about David and Goliath. He told the group they were giant slayers, Bon said. For the first time since beginning his religious journey, Bon said he felt deeply encouraged and moved. “I had never loved myself, and I really never loved anyone that I know of, and the fact that He was telling me all these things about me … [it proved to me] God was doing work that night in my heart,” Bon said.

When the pastor made an altar call, Bon said he felt compelled to go forward.

“I never had anybody to show me to stand up and be a man and not run from things,” Bon said. “But that night was different. For some reason, I didn’t run.” He felt drawn to a 3-foot wooden cross at the front of the church, he said.

“Even with drugs, I had never felt anything like that,” Bon said.

Suddenly, he didn’t feel judged by others. Bon walked up to the front and kneeled at the cross. “I didn’t even know how to pray,” Bon said.

That moment became a defining point in Bon’s faith.

Rodney Tackett, who runs Walk It Out, a faith-based drug recovery program, at Urban Light Church in Muncie,  says Urban Light Church is rebuilding its faith-based addictions recovery program after one of its founders relapsed into drug use.  

“This has been the perfect intersection of how secular programs in our area are meshing with faith-based groups,” he said. “The Walk It Out program provides weekly counseling but also checkpoints that keep recovery addicts moving forward.”

Tackett says today’s area faith-based recovery programs, like those offered at Urban Light and Hope House, are the strongest he’s ever seen them.

“I came to recovery with a concept of God and He’s used the programs to give me clarity,” Tackett said. “Now, He uses me to bring other people to recovery. I’ve been trying to get clean for over 20 years. I celebrated four years in January.”

For his part in the gas station robbery, Bon was sentenced to three years in prison and three years on probation. After that night at the cross, he saw prison as an opportunity for ministry.

Bon used his prison time to get his GED, and he was released after 27 months. Now, he attends Hope House on Sundays.

In March, Bon relapsed — for the first time in nearly three years.

“Relapse is part of the recovery process,” said Anthony Lathery, director of adult and addiction services at Meridian Health Services. “While relapse should be managed seriously, the individual should not be “shamed,” or made to feel they have done something wrong. Often times treatment takes multiple episodes. Sustained recovery requires daily work just as any other chronic illness.”

A second Hope House was recently started in Eaton, Indiana, too. Blevins estimates, in three years, they’ve fed around 15,000 people. “I always made the excuse that there wasn’t any good recovery around these small towns, but I couldn’t make that excuse anymore because recovery was booming in Hartford City,” Bon said.

These days, Blevins works at Grant-Blackford Mental Health as a peer support specialist. His coworker, Shane Beal, who has also struggled with addiction and runs a successful recovery blog, said Blevins has a spiritual feel to him.

“When he walks into a room, it’s almost as if things get calm or serene,” Beal said. “When I’m with Brian, I feel really close to the Holy Spirit. If I’m struggling, I reach out to him … I know if I was having a bad day, Brian would carry me through it,” Beal added.

Blevins’ willingness to reach out to others led him to his relationship with Bon.

“Bon was a huge blessing in my life,” Blevins said. “I’m on him just like a dad, too.”

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