By Stan Friedman
MOUNT VERNON, WA (January 19, 2012) – The woman living at Faith House while working to overcome her drug addiction – we’ll call her Anna – was struggling to develop new behaviors and attitudes. Trusting someone was nearly impossible. Anna was defensive and feared being “discarded” when she made a mistake. Conflicts would become intense.
Like everyone else, Anna frequently would see the barn cat that walked the property, a cat that at one time displayed traits that Anna recognized in herself.
“The cat was skittish, stand-offish, and prone to bite when approached,” says Amy Muia, who started and coordinates the home. That was in the past, however. The cat’s behavior has undergone a 180-degree change over time, and now runs to whoever might be outside and wraps herself around their legs while purring.
Recently, Anna has become more like the cat as she learns to drop her defenses, communicate honestly, and live in community, Muia observes. Reflecting on the cat’s early behavior, Anna said, “Yeah, I guess I was just feral.”
Anna is one of several residents working to leave behind their addictions while living at the house, which Muia started earlier this year. Her husband, Alan, also helped start the house and became a co-coordinator late last year.
Muia is surprised that she started the ministry given her own history. “I’m a very unlikely candidate for this kind of thing,” she says. “It’s not my culture. It’s not my background. No one in my family history has been an addict.”
A member of Bethany Covenant Church in Mount Vernon, Muia says beginning the ministry was an act of faith in response to a desire God had grown in her heart over the years for women living in desperate situations.
Muia had been working with a nonprofit called Tierra Nueva since 1999, when she joined its board. “The work of Tierra Nueva captured my heart, and I made the leap and came on staff in 2005.” The house is a ministry of Tierra Nueva.
Muia is bilingual, which enabled her to begin working with Oaxacan migrant workers, especially women and children. She visited them in the camps or their apartments and learned “to love people one by one.”
Adding to her work, Muia began serving as a chaplain to women at the county jail. She developed close relationships with the women and was frustrated that many were caught in a seemingly endless cycle of being jailed, released, jailed, and then released again.
“They would leave the jail with great resolve, but fall within hours of rejoining their old friends and community because they had nowhere else to live.”
An invitation to attend the first-ever Covenant Prison Ministry Roundtable changed her life. It was there that she met Joe and Carmin Ottley, two recovering addicts and members of Crossroads Covenant Church in Yelm, Washington.
They had started their own homes for recovering addicts and have been recognized by the state for their work. Click here to learn more of their personal story. Click here to read about an award recognizing the contributions of their ministry.
“My husband and I caught a vision – we would start a women’s clean and sober house under a new department of Tierra Nueva called New Earth Recovery,” says Muia. They would partner with Bethany Covenant and nearby Trinity Presbyterian Church.
“I remember Carmin telling me, ‘We couldn’t have done it without Crossroads.’ ”
The Muias started raising funds and then found a large house. Members from Bethany and the Presbyterian congregation put in about 2,000 volunteer hours fixing up the home. Small study and fellowship groups each took on the task of decorating a particular room.
For many of the residents, the house is nicer than any place they’ve lived and is symbolic of what a new life can be. “One of the residents just cried,” says Muia. “She said that just being in a beautiful place makes her feel human.”
The women become like family, says Muia. “They fight. They encourage and pray for one another. They learn what they can accomplish collectively.”
Treatment centers, counselors, and others have referred the women. Some have come directly from jail. Faith House then screens the women for readiness based on multiple criteria.
At the house, the women learn to manage conflict, develop job and other skills such as paying bills and interviewing. Alan Muia says, “The conflict is hard, but this is the good stuff. This is where people learn to do things differently, to get relationship skills that will help them their whole lives.”
The women also take weekly drug tests. “We have ‘punch cards’ just like the latte stands have,” says Muia. For every clean UA (drug test), they get a punch. It takes about seven weeks to fill up a card – quite an accomplishment.”
Muia tells the women that she may not suffer with alcohol or drug addiction, but she stills struggles with other issues common to the residents. “God is refining me, too, just as he’s doing with the women,” she says. “We all have our fears and the lies we believe. We’re kind of doing this thing together.”
One of the goals of Faith House is to share the gospel, but the women are not easily swayed. “They don’t just take your word about God’s love,” Muia says. “They want to experience it.”
Through the volunteers, the women have been experiencing that love. One resident told her, “You’ve changed my whole feeling about church people. In the past, it was always people looking down on other people. I have a whole different view now.”
The Muias and a part-time assistant are the employees, and the house has been supported through various grants, donations, and new micro-enterprises, such as New Earth Bread, which was initiated by a volunteer.
“She took her family’s 90-year-old sourdough recipe, combined it with some business know-how, and New Earth Bread was born,” says Muia. The businesses now add a
variety of breads that are sold at a local bakery and farmer market.
All of the investment in the women is paying off in changed lives. The house’s first resident, Kayla, graduated after spending five months there. She had earned increasing responsibilities that included helping administer drug tests and overseeing the house while Muia was not present.
“God did an amazing work in Kayla’s heart,” says Muia. “She’s left us with trust and faith in God, something new in her life.”
Kayla also left with a new job. “This represents a big step because it means she’s leaving the safety net of state assistance and entering into a stable, sustainable life,” Muia says. “I’m so proud of her.”
It’s no wonder, Muia says. “I’ve never been part of a project that has meant as much to me as this does.”