Hope in Maine
Bobby Bledsoe has been addicted to heroin and crack cocaine, a dealer in illegal drugs, arrested frequently, and in multiple drug rehabilitation programs. Although such a background might not seem suitable for a ministerial résumé, Bledsoe thinks his experiences are perfect for those he wants to attract as pastor of CityReach Bangor.
The Maine inner-city church plant started in April 2014, and within a year an average of 200 people attended on Sunday mornings. CityReach began with a target demographic unlike most congregations: drug addicts sleeping on the streets and those living in homeless shelters.
"I came from that background," Bledsoe says. "They're responding because the gospel changes lives."
Bledsoe says he underwent a radical salvation encounter in 2004 thanks to the prayers of his Spirit-filled mother. Upon deliverance from drugs and a call into ministry, he found he wanted to help those who came from similar trying circumstances.
As a network hub, CityReach Bangor operates Hope Homes in seven locations: four in Bangor and one each in Belfast, Lewiston, and Auburn, Maine. Hope Homes provide support for those coming out of addiction, abuse, prostitution, homelessness, and incarceration.
During the first nine-month transformation phase, residents learn discipleship and sobriety through activities such as prayer, church attendance, and service to local organizations and churches. Those who choose to stay for an additional four-month transition phase pursue employment or education while building savings for an independent life.
The faith-based recovery homes are supported financially by other local churches as well as by members of the CityReach congregation. There is no fee to enroll in the first phase, while second-phase residents contribute a nominal amount to cover rent and living expenses. The recovery ministry also is sustained by a moving business CityReach Bangor has purchased, plus participants engage in odd jobs such as shoveling snow, raking leaves, and mowing grass.
The pattern earlier had been established by Brian Bolt, pastor of CityReach Pittsburgh, which is the parent church of CityReach Bangor. After being delivered of heroin and meth addiction, Bolt became an Assemblies of God pastor and planted the Pennsylvania church by first starting a recovery home.
Every Thursday night, CityReach Bangor church personnel drive to the two homeless shelters and the four church-affiliated recovery homes in the city of 33,000. After hearing the gospel preached and accompanying testimonies, these attendees eat a meal cooked at the church before returning to the shelters.
On Sept. 20, CityReach Bangor will launch 10 new churches, nine in Maine and one in Vermont. Some of the pastors have been raised up from CityReach Bangor while others are contacts that Bolt knows from elsewhere.
The AG Church Multiplication Network (CMN) and AGTrust have providing funding for all 10 of the CityReach churches launching in September. CMN also has trained all 10 of the church planters through CMN Launch Training.
"The Church Multiplication Network, in partnership with CityReach and the Northern New England District, has worked to see 10 healthy, Spirit-empowered churches planted in Maine and Vermont this fall," says Chris Railey, director of CMN. "Each of these churches has received training from CMN, as well as a $30,000 distribution from the CMN/AGTrust Matching Fund. These church plants will bring hope, healing, and life to communities in need."
In addition, CMN has financed seven more CityReach congregations starting in Pennsylvania, Florida, and New Jersey. To date, CMN has helped fund 45 CityReach startups.
Bledsoe will oversee a second Bangor location, where services will be video streamed live. The new location also will be a Hope Center.
CityReach Bangor is open four mornings a week so people in the community can gather for a devotional, teaching, and music before heading off the work.
Motivating laypeople to get involved in ministry is a cornerstone of the Assemblies of God Acts 2 serve model. Bledsoe says finding adherents to serve isn't a problem.
"People are looking for a tangible way to get involved in a cause," says Bledsoe, 36.
Bledsoe's 30-year-old wife Jade is familiar with difficult environs. Both her parents have been methamphetamine addicts.
"God's grace has been so real in our lives," Bledsoe says. "We're called to serve people who can't give anything in return. We've seen God come through and bless us."