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Farming Out Addiction

Livestock and greenhouses help finance recovery efforts at Teen Challenge in Jamaica.

Mark Coote had spent the last six years of his life in a marijuana haze. The 24-year-old Jamaican found himself in the Caribbean island’s only mental hospital where doctors told his family they could do nothing for his psychosis.

The young man’s drug nightmare is one familiar to Anthony Richards. A former police officer who became a crack cocaine addict, the 55-year-old Richards knew the despair of being trapped in the vicious cycle of drug abuse. And as a graduate of Teen Challenge Jamaica, and its director since 2007, he has seen many find hope in Christ and overcome the most severe addictions.

“The reality is some of them are so badly damaged,” Richards says. “We strictly rely on the power of God to change them.”

Only that power could change Mark’s life. His prayer-warrior grandmother took her grandson from the mental hospital and straight to the Ocho Rios Teen Challenge center, which opened in the Jamaican tourist resort town of Ocho Rios in 1997.

Like all Teen Challenge ministries, the Jamaica branch’s model is centered on Christ as the answer for addiction. With a dozen staff workers, its main goals are evangelism and discipleship.

Today, the Jamaica program’s dozen staff workers minister to 30 residents who live on its 10-acre property, donated in 2010. It’s now home to a farm and small businesses, which provide 70 percent of its funding. Its two greenhouses (the first constructed by a Builders International MAPS Construction team supply a supermarket and nearby hotels with tomatoes and green peppers. A 250,000 cubic-gallon tank now used for irrigation soon will be treated to provide potable water for the project’s needs.

The ministry’s 1,100 laying hens provide an average of 70 dozen eggs daily, most of which a supermarket and neighborhood customers buy. Broiler chickens and 30 swine provide meat for program participants. A recent donation of 50 beehives will reduce the residents’ need for sugar.

Richards says the agriculture connection has helped the ministry become self-sufficient. Other funding comes from the outreach’s thrift store, carpentry workshop, ice sales, and snow cone business that caters to cruise ship travelers.

Participants learn vocational skills through an array of self-sustaining projects; with this training they can find work once graduated from the yearlong program. The Teen Challenge center contracts with a trained agriculturalist that teaches the men how to work in the greenhouse. Upon graduation, the men are able to find work on farms that use greenhouses. Likewise, Richards notes that a graduate can earn a living from 50 chickens.

“We teach them the technical side and how to run a business,” Richards says. “They get trained in marketing and sales, and how to approach and deal with customers.

Richards says that while many in Teen Challenge Jamaica suffer from crack or alcohol addiction, heavy, long-term users of marijuana, such as Mark Coote, are the most difficult to help. That’s why Coote’s grandmother tried three times to get him admitted to the program.

Coote accepted Christ as his Savior. After he completed the Teen Challenge program, he attended the Assemblies of God Bible college in Christiana, Jamaica. Today he preaches and ministers at Ocho Rios Assembly of God. Coote also is on staff at Ocho Rios Teen Challenge.

Deann Alford

Deann Alford is a journalist and author. She attends Glad Tidings of Austin, an Assemblies of God congregation in the Texas capital.