At the House of Hope ... Preparing for the "Outside World"
October 1, 2003 - Living the Christian life may be difficult, but living the Christian life after spending time behind bars has challenges that people "on the outside" rarely face. The House of Hope in Gainesville, Fla., provides loving, biblically based help for the formerly incarcerated to face the outside world.
by Amanda Knoke
House of Hope executive director Thomas Johnson himself has been incarcerated and spent 33 years on the streets of New York City as a drug addict. His life was transformed when a pastor at a soup kitchen showed him the love of Christ.
Since the ministry began seven years ago, Johnson has rallied for support from the Christian community in Gainesville for the House of Hope. The city had offered Johnson funding for his outreach, but only with the stipulation that it would have no religious affiliations. Johnson declined the funding—Christ would always be at the center of the House of Hope.
After Franklin Graham's North Central Florida Festival in April 2002, pastors and churches came together in a way they never had before. And according to members of the Festival's executive committee, the Festival also motivated churches to broaden their focus to other ministries in the community.
Pastors in the Christian Pastors Association (CPA), which formed after the Festival, learned about many area ministries, including the House of Hope. They realized how, in a united effort, they and their churches could help support these ministries.
Johnson's vision is to purchase the space that he is renting—as well as additional buildings—and double his participant capacity. And with two acres adjacent to his property, Johnson could plan for further expansion.
On August 28, more than 300 people, including 26 pastors, came together to kick off a $200,000 fund-raiser for the House of Hope.
Johnson refers to his ministry as a "Christian transitional center" for released prisoners who have given their lives to Christ or are seeking Him.
"There's no rehabilitation within the prison system," says Christopher Worlds, a 1998 graduate of the House of Hope who now teaches a Bible study there. "The only [true] rehabilitation center is Christ. He's the only Answer." Worlds says that he sees many prisoners spending time dieting and working out so that they can look good when they get out of prison. Yet, he says, they have not prepared spiritually for their release, and they likely are not ready to stay out. The House of Hope helps men prepare for the outside world with Bible studies, financial accountability—and love.
House of Hope graduates can be found volunteering at county jails, preaching the Gospel and showing prisoners living proof that God can change people.
Johnson is eager for his community to see that the unity God brought to the pastors and churches has motivated the Christians in Gainesville to action. He wants Gainesville to know that the Church is not "a bunch of bickering people," but a body of believers that is bearing fruit.