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A Farm for Hope

Georgia residential recovery program offers addicted women a path to freedom.

Growing up in a violent, drug-infested home, Mirranda J. Jenkins determined to avoid what she saw destroying her family. While still a little girl, Mirranda found her dad trying to take his own life. Another time, she awoke to see her mother badly beaten after a failed attempt to buy drugs.

“The older I got, the more I saw how drug use was tearing our family apart and caused so much heartache,” she says. “I grew up to despise it and I swore I would never touch it.”

But amid parties and easily accessible drugs, at age 12 Mirranda started drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. At 15, she snorted cocaine at a party with friends. By 16, she had a full-blown addiction that she’d spend years trying to overcome until she fell into hopelessness.

Yet in that broken time, Jenkins found love and help through Jesus and Hope Farms.

Assemblies of God U.S. missionary with Chaplaincy Ministries Debra S. Patterson leads Hope Farms, a residential recovery program for women in Locust Grove, Georgia.

Launched in February 2018, Hope Farms is a 9- to 18-month Christian discipleship program designed to help women find inner healing and develop Christ-like character. They learn practical life skills to live independently. More than 20 women have graduated from the program.

Patterson lives in Jackson, Georgia, with her husband, Joe, where they attend Abundant Life Church. She worked 26 years in the Butts County school system in Jackson, first as a second grade teacher, then later as a middle and high school counselor, assistant principal, and special education director.

The Pattersons also have volunteered for short-term Assemblies of God Mission Abroad Placement Service. In 2011, they went to Ireland to work at a Teen Challenge property that needed renovation, where Debra gained new perspective. Until then, she hadn’t detected homeless and addicted people in her community near Atlanta.

Subsequently, she began noticing a mom strung out on drugs in a grocery store and tents of the homeless under a bridge. She saw many women living in crisis.

Although she felt called to ministry at youth camp at age 13, Patterson hadn’t pursued it. In midlife, Patterson knew God had renewed the call. While it may not have made sense from a natural standpoint to leave a good-paying job, Patterson believed God wanted her to serve in church. She retired early in 2011 and became administrative secretary for Abundant Life pastor Jeremiah Hosford. She began working toward her ministerial credentials through the Georgia School of Ministry and the Pattersons started assisting Abundant Life’s jail ministry.

Patterson learned when many women are sentenced, they are given the choice of incarceration or a rehabilitation program. But often a program doesn’t have enough beds or the potential enrollee doesn’t have the money to enter one. And for every four programs for men, there’s only one for women.

What’s more, most women don’t respond well in an institutional-type environment and it’s typically hard for them to leave their children and commit to a program for any length of time.

In 2014, the Pattersons, with their pastor, formed a nonprofit foundation. From that came the Hope Farms Recovery Center. The property includes a large log cabin and a smaller transition house called Grace Cottage.

“The first nine months, we really focus on developing the character of Christ, helping the women learn how to walk out life as a Christian,” Patterson says. “If they need to stay longer, we allow them more time to become competent in taking care of themselves.”

Many of the residents haven’t completed high school. At Hope Farms, they can work on passing tests to earn a General Educational Development diploma, then enroll in technical college or community college. Staffers have helped find free medical, vision, and dental care for the attendees.

“They’re students of the Bible the entire time,” Patterson says. “They need to know Jesus.”

Hope Farms closely follows the Adult & Teen Challenge model and uses Global University's curriculum and other more women-specific materials. Hope Farms provides parenting classes for women, many of whom have case plans through the state to regain relationships with their children.

Patterson sometimes wonders why God allowed her to minister to recovering addicts when she never has been in serious trouble. When she told the Lord she didn’t really know anything about such ministry, she says He explained she didn’t need to experience addiction, only to provide the solution.

“And He is the solution for every problem,” Patterson says. “It doesn’t really matter what their life-controlling issue is, He’s the answer.”

Many Abundant Life Church adherents have stepped up to help. Older churchgoers have been spiritual moms and dads to students and taught them practical skills. Staff members, those usually approaching retirement, have come from across the country.

“I’ve watched it give new purpose to people who thought their days of ministry were over,” Patterson says.

Patterson, who is 60, hadn’t planned to have such a ministry in this point in life.

“But it’s probably the best stage that I could do it,” says Patterson, who notes she has three grown children and eight grandchildren. “I don’t have to worry about them, so God’s given me a new focus.”

Students range in age from 18 to 60.

“I don’t think it’s ever too late for somebody to change,” Patterson says.

Change for Jenkins, now 37, occurred after years of struggle. Her parents wrestled with addiction. Police frequently visited the home. The family moved often. One day, her dad left.

“I remember my dad getting in a taxi , me chasing that taxi and crying, and wanting him to take me with him,” Jenkins says. “I didn’t want to have to stay.” A grandmother with whom she often stayed died of cancer the same summer.

“I was lost,” she says. “The people I loved the most were gone.”

Her mother’s alcoholism grew worse. Jenkins became mom to her two younger brothers, Kyle and Miles. A kind and supportive stepfather then came into her life.

Nevertheless, drugs gave her a false sense of confidence. She left home at 16 and lived with a boyfriend, whom she married a year later. Jenkins grappled with an addiction she tried to hide.

When her husband went into the U.S. Army and was deployed overseas, she used his military pay for drugs, and her addiction worsened. They parted after he returned. But she stopped taking drugs and later reconciled with her husband. She became pregnant with their son, Austin. For the next couple of years, things went well.

Her husband became a law enforcement officer, working nights in a jail and sleeping during the day. Jenkins became bored and fell back into the cycle of addiction. Her husband had no idea. When living a double life of lies became exhausting, she left him and took Austin.

By her early 20s, Jenkins took drugs intravenously and fell into a physically abusive relationship. Her father already had died from drug abuse complications. She ran into an old friend, Steve, then also an addict. Together they had a daughter, Gracie, and eventually the couple wed.

But Jenkins lost custody of her children and continued a downward spiral.

“I knew if I continued, I was going to die,” she says. In 2013, she entered a faith-based recovery program.

She and Steve regained custody of Gracie and had a second child, Gavin. But more drug use and heartache followed. She and Steve split up. Her younger brother’s drug-related death in 2017 proved devastating.

“I got to the point where I didn’t have any hope anymore,” Jenkins says. She prayed for God to take her life.

In 2018, a shoplifting arrest proved to be her saving grace. She applied with various rehabilitation homes, but none responded — until Hope Farms.

“I was so broken, just completely lost and crazy,” Jenkins says. “I was an absolute mess.”

God began to work on her heart, mind, and marriage with Steve. They grew in love and respect.

“Now, it’s completely different,” she says of their relationship. “We put God first, and He has healed and restored. There’s no bitterness, no anger between us.”

Looking back, she’s realized how God protected her through the years. Guilt and shame have departed.

“I’m not my mistakes, I’m not my past,” Jenkins says. “I am forgiven and I am God’s child.”

She graduated from Hope Farms in June 2019. Austin lives with his dad, but she and Steve moved with their two children to North Carolina, where he’s involved in jail ministry. Both are involved in homeless ministry. She’s going to college to become an addiction counselor and he is receiving ministerial training while employed with the New Hanover County Parks Department.

“God has really done exceedingly more than anything we could have ever imagined,” she says. “Two years ago, we didn’t have anything. Now, we have a home full of love and hope and joy.”

She is grateful to God and Hope Farms.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without Hope Farms,” Jenkins says. “I tried for 20 years to get my act together and never was successful.”

Bottom Photo: Mirranda Jenkins with her children.

Tammy Real McKeighan

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune in Nebraska, where she has worked since 1981. She is a member of Full Life Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Fremont. She has two sons, Michael and Zachary.