The Arukah Story 2015
How does one go about getting called to open a men’s transitional home? I will tell you that when I became a pastor back in 2002 it was the furthest thing from my mind. Yet, in 2008, I had the opportunity to become the Director and Pastor of Care Ministries at Cornerstone Fellowship in Livermore, California. Within the Care Ministry, I oversaw about 10 ministries that cared for the congregation. One of those was the church’s prison ministry. Pastor Mark Comella and his team went into many of the Bay Area prisons and helped men and women when they came out of prison. He built an amazing team and I was blessed to go in periodically to San Quentin to teach at the Sunday night worship services and build relationships with the men. In September 2014, Pastor Comella decided it was time to retire and move to South Carolina. The question came up as to who was to oversee this ministry in Mark’s absence and I jumped at the chance. It was an amazing ministry with incredible leaders. I enjoyed going in and I had a heart for the aftercare of the inmates once they were released. In fact, it was the aftercare part that I enjoyed the most. I started to meet and walk with a few of the guys that had been released from prison. As I became not only their pastor but their friend I started to see their struggle and I felt great compassion for them.
What I started to see was a system that was broken. I knew the prison system was broken but the aftercare for men exiting prison was also broken. It is extremely difficult for a man coming out of prison to make it on the outside. It is difficult for men with supportive families around them and almost statistically unachievable to make it for those that don’t have any family support. When a man is released from San Quentin they are given $200. If they don’t have clothes they are required to buy an $80 Wal-Mart jump suit. With $120 in their pocket and with no one to pick them up at the gate they are dropped off in downtown Oakland – in front of a liquor store with prostitutes and drug dealers waiting for them. They then need to find a place to stay and check in with their parole officer within 24 hours. This is one of the reasons that 7 out of 10 men go back to prison. It is truly an uphill battle.
“What I started to see was a system that was broken. I knew the prison system was broken but the aftercare for men exiting prison was also broken.”
There are some State run transitional homes for men exiting prison in the Bay Area. What I came to realize is that this is big business. The State gives the owner of the home $2,500 a month to house the formerly incarcerated. What tends to happen is that the owner of these homes will cram 20+ men into a home. The living environment is supposed to be drug-free, yet drugs are frequently brought into the home. It is also communicated that there will be job training, resume building and job connections, yet there is very little. One of my formerly incarcerated friends was in one of these homes for about 16 months. At the end of this period he still didn’t have a job and had technically graduated out of the program. Since the State was still paying for him, he had a place to stay. One day the State decided to stop and he was out on the street with nowhere to go and with no job to support himself.
This friend had spent 26 years in prison. Think about what the world was like 26 years ago. It was a completely different world. His job skills back then do not transfer to today’s standards or world. To further his difficulty, he was paroled in Alameda County and he is not allowed to move. Alameda County is one of the most expensive places to live in California. His church family surrounded him and tried to help him. However our ability to help was pretty much insufficient compared to what he really needed.
In November of 2014, I was sitting in a meeting with church leaders from different churches in the Tri Valley. We would do this periodically and we would bring our lists of what we could do to help the formerly incarcerated. We would also talk about what was missing from our list and what was really needed. What was always said was needed was Shelter and Jobs. Those two items were key in helping these men become self-sufficient. Shelters are expensive in our area and the job market is not only very competitive, but having a felony on your application is almost a guarantee that you will be placed either in the circular file or at the bottom of the pile of the other applicants. Think about it: if you were an owner of a business would you rather hire the person with or without a criminal record? The liability jumps up considerably when taking on a person with a record. Some say the labor jobs are booming, which is true at the moment. But when you are in your late 50’s and 60’s that kind of work is hard on the body.
I remember praying and venting to God asking, “When are you going to pull the trigger on this? Who is going to step up?”
From this meeting I was frustrated. Not at the people who came to the meeting, for they are beautiful people and help as much as the church will allow them to help. I was frustrated at the system, at the injustice, and that it didn’t seem like anyone was going to step up and go all in. I remember praying and venting to God asking, “When are you going to pull the trigger on this? Who is going to step up?” God spoke to my heart and said “What about you? What if you were to step out?” The question penetrated my heart and I wish I could say that I was filled with faith, but instead I was filled with excuses. I said to the Lord, “Not me God, my time is so limited, I am a pastor over a very large ministry with over 200 volunteers, I am needed there. I don’t know anything about transitional housing or restoring formerly incarcerated to society.” But the Lord gently and patiently continued to encourage me with the question of “how about you Josh? What if you stepped out Josh and fulfilled the need? Do you trust me?” Pretty soon I started asking the question of “What if I did do something, what would it look like and how would it be any different than what is already out there? My wife Kelly and I started to pray and then we started to dream! After that I started to visit as many men’s transitional homes as I could and gleaned as much information on how to run one. As I was visiting the different transitional programs they were very helpful in defining what we wanted to do and not do. We believe that we have a program/experience that will care for physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual needs of each man that enters into the Arukah House. We believe that by the time a man finishes the 12-month program they should be self-sufficient and be able to provide for themselves in a stable environment.
I visited one transitional facility up north in Chico that not only offered shelter and food but also had a job vocational program where they created a business that taught the men a trade and also brought in funds for the program. I beleived if we were going to open a home we would need to add this to the Arukah Program and that is where the Arukah Shop came from. We started asking vendors and people to donate items to the church. Cornerstone was gracious to share the larger furniture, which we sold online, and smaller items we sold at swap meets. The Arukah Shop teaches the men to run a business and helps provide some funds for the program. Our desire is to continue to build this Job Vocational Program.
Another area of need in the Tri Valley was the issue of homelessness. In both the incarcerated and homeless environment I continued to run into men who needed a restart on life. They wanted to move forward but didn’t have an opportunity for a fresh start because there were no transitional homes in this area. I’ll be honest, I struggle with the homeless population. I found that many of them wanted to be homeless and enjoyed the freedom of the lifestyle. I have a hard time investing into those that do not want to change but just want a handout. Yet, I have great empathy and compassion for those that are done with the lifestyle and truly want to move forward, they just need an opportunity. I believe that we as a society should give people the opportunity to move forward and become self-sufficient without government assistance. (Side note for government assistance: I believe government assistance is good for temporary use to get one’s life back on track or if there is a physical or mental disability that inhibits them from working. Yet, if one can work then one should work and provide for themselves).
“Week after week we continued to see God’s provision for this ministry.”
One day I was helping out a pastor friend furnish his office from the Arukah Shop and I was telling him of this dream of having a transitional home for men coming out of prison and out of homelessness who wanted to move forward in life. He said,“You need to talk to one of my friends they have a home here in Livermore that they always wanted to do ministry out of.” I met with his friends, shared the vision of Arukah and they “caught” that vision and said they would rent the home to us. Before I was even ready-we got a home!
Week after week we continued to see God’s provision for this ministry. One friend who I shared the vision with said, “Give me a list of what you need for the house and I’ll fill it.” He filled 85% of the house with furniture. When I put out the call for the rest of the items for the house many people pitched in and completed the home. Cornerstone Fellowship has been not only a financial supporter but also an encourager to go live out what God has called you to do! Cornerstone’s support has been a huge part of getting Arukah off the ground.
God provided a House Manager in Garrett and House Facilitators in Ron and Mark. All three of these Godly men have a heart for the transformation of men, not only physically but also spiritually. I am so thankful for them!
God provided an amazing board that have said yes to helping men move forward in life. They have been an incredible support and guidance for me and for Arukah.
Some people have asked me where the name Arukah comes from. I was at my house trying to figure out what to call this nonprofit. I knew the main thing we wanted to do for the men was restore them back to God and back to society. I looked up “Restore’ in the Greek and that was a no go. I then looked up “Restore” in the Hebrew and Arukah popped up. Arukah: (ar-oo-kaw) which means “healing and restoration”. I started looking at different verses where “arukah” in the bible and I found Isaiah 58:8 which says,
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing (arukah) will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.” – Isaiah 58:8
I thought this was a pretty cool but then I read all of Isaiah 58 and I was absolutely blown away. As started to read, it was exactly right for what I want to do, as well as for those that are hurting and need to move forward in life with God and what they need to do. If you have not read Isaiah 58 please take a moment to do so and you will see what I mean.
“Each one of these men has a purpose and we at Arukah are helping them not only find it but to move forward in fulfilling that purpose.”
By January of 2016, we received our first resident and our 501c3 application received IRS approval. I was amazed that we actually did it. I should not have been, as God lined it all up and just asked Kelly and I to step out in faith. There is a great book by John Ortberg “If You Want To Walk On Water You’ve Got To Get Out Of The Boat”. Kelly and I feel like we are walking on water as we see each man come into the house. We get to see true life transformation as they complete each level that is filled with Bible memorization, books to read, and papers they write to help with not only getting spiritually aligned with God but help to think differently about life and what their purpose is on this earth. Each one of these men has a purpose and we at Arukah are helping them not only find it but to move forward in fulfilling that purpose.
I want thank you for taking the time to read this story and I want to encourage you to partner with us. There is a hero in every good story. In the Arukah story I am not the hero. The men that enter the home and work really hard to transform their lives are not the heroes either. The hero of the Arukah story is each volunteer, each partner, and each financial supporter. They are the heroes that allow us at Arukah to do what we have been called to do. They provide the opportunity for the men at Arukah to move forward in life.
I want to encourage you to be one of the heroes in the Arukah Story. We are just beginning but have seen so many amazing things in the last year. Come join us! The story is far from over.
President of Arukah
Share this Post