Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash
Published by Sidney Meriweather, Director of First Impressions
What are the things that money can’t buy, and death can’t take away?
Maybe a family legacy or an investment of time and money into something that will outlive you. We call this your “Life Defined” here at Wise Counsel.
We had the privilege of interviewing Joshua Harris, Founder and Director of Oak Ridge Disciple House, about his “Life Defined.”
We hope you enjoy his story:
INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO US. WHO ARE YOU?
My name is Joshua Harris and I am the Founder and Director of the Oak Ridge Disciple House. Who I am truly first and foremost is a husband. I have an incredible wife of 16 years who has been with me through the good and the bad, and she’s the reason I can do what I do today.
I’m also a dad, and I take that very seriously. My oldest daughter Allison is married and living in Abilene at the Air Force base with her husband. I have Luke, 15, Matthew, 14, and our angel Emily, 10.
I had great mentors coming into ministry who taught me that it’s God, family, and then ministry. Who I am first and last is a husband and a dad. Then I also get to be a minister and help guys find freedom from all kinds of things in this world.
WHAT IS THE OAK RIDGE DISCIPLE HOUSE?
Oak Ridge is an outreach ministry that helps broken people, and my heart is addictions, habits, hang-ups, and life hurts. The reason that I have such a passion for those that struggle with substance abuse is that for 15 years, until 2005, I struggled with a severe cocaine addiction.
It wasn’t until a pastor friend who’d come to visit me in jail and took me under his wing, that I found freedom. When I got out he showed me who Jesus Christ was and got me into a disciple house in Denver City, TX.
I learned there was a God who loved me, who had forgiven me for every mistake I’d ever made, and that I could heal from the hurts in my life. Coming home from Trinity, I felt a call to ministry. First, I was in youth ministry at a church, then outreach and recovery ministry.
Oak Ridge is a Christian, character-building program for men ages 18 and up who have come to the end of themselves and are ready to surrender to the Lord and learn to walk in freedom. Our program is a mandatory minimum 6 months, but these men learn to walk in freedom every day for the rest of their lives.
My hope is when they leave Oakridge that they are not only clean and sober, but they have a plan now to wake up every day surrendered to the Lord and never ever look back and dig up that old man.
WHAT HAS OAK RIDGE BEEN THROUGH TO GET WHERE IT IS TODAY?
I was called to help a young man who had been struggling with drug addiction, and we took him Shining Light Ministries in Mission, TX. The property was beautiful, and they had everything that you need to have a good disciple house, but it had just fallen through the cracks.
Walking around on my own I could see dangerous red flags. This was with just meeting some of the guys and seeing some of the things that are going on after being there for only a couple of hours.
The pastor there looked me in the eyes and said, “do you know I’ve been praying for a man to come and help me get this thing turned around? I think you’re sitting right here.” I had to take a deep breath and really think about my response. My family was established back in Georgetown, I had a great position at a church, and I thought, “you have no idea what you’re asking of me.”
All the way home I prayed and knew there had always been a desire in my heart to have a men’s home one day. My wife was open to the idea, so we took a trip down there with the whole family, walked the property, and felt God say this was where we should be. We loaded up like the Beverly Hillbillies and went to Mission, TX.
We had everything for sale in Florence, TX because we thought this was a long-term deal, but we lost 2 contracts on our property the week of closing. After one year, and turning the Mission, TX house into a well-functioning, discipleship program, we knew it was time to go home.
My mentor, John Hargrove, had property in Florence that was sitting vacant, and I offered to rent it. He said the ridge was a mess but that I could use it. People were seeing what God had done in my life, that it was real, and everything just took off. That is how we started Oak Ridge Disciple House.
WHAT DOES A DAY-IN-THE-LIFE LOOK LIKE FOR A MAN AT OAK RIDGE?
We have a very structured recovery program and discipleship training. It all starts with a phone call from the man where he shares what’s going on in his life. Then he must read every word of our 20-page handbook and decide if he’s willing to do everything he’s asked to do.
If they want to be part of this then we’ll set up a “Round Table Interview.” They’ll come to the house with their family and meet every single one of the guys currently going through the house.
We are set up to house 10 disciples in training. The men sit down and share their three-minute testimony with their potential housemate. We then hear from the man being interviewed exactly what’s going on in his life and what he’s looking for.
We decide as a team if this is a good fit for the man. Is the man is being honest and looking for real change? I want Oak Ridge to be the last place you go because you really found heart change.
A day at Oak Ridge starts at 4:45 AM where the men head straight to the chapel. At 5:15 AM they’re on their knees in surrender to the Lord, listening to a devotional, and then spending 30 minutes memorizing scripture.
We have a different pastor or teacher that will preach every morning for about 30-45 minutes and finish up with praise and worship. The guys have breakfast and then we do three hours of service work.
The three things we focus on we call S.O.S. The first “S” is to surrender every morning and all day long, the “O” is to be obedient to God’s Word and His will for your life, and the last “S” is service. They’ll serve on the property or in the community. We serve a lot of widows, single moms, and people that have big moves. We are this county’s go-to for service projects.
Then lunch at 12:00 PM and afterward classes for the rest of the day. They have down time where they can work out at a facility we have onsite, there’s a swimming pool in the summer, a sports field, or they can prayer walk for a couple of hours.
Recovery class starts at 4:00 PM. They work on Christian recovery, what does God say we are in our addictions and in our hurts. Finally, dinner and a different program every single night of the week for the men. We teach these guys from 5:00 AM until 10:00 PM what God calls us to be as a disciple. That’s a day in the life at Oak Ridge Disciple House.
WHAT IS THE LIFELONG IMPACT YOU’RE SEEING IN THE LIVES OF THESE MEN?
We opened the house on March 15th, 2010. In almost 8 years we’ve had 108 graduates and 75% of the men who have come broken and ready for change have new lives. I never want to disregard the work that rehabs and treatment centers do, but the re-citizen rate is about 5% in those places. We have a success rate of 75%.
It’s not because of me or the people that we have, but it’s because of what God is doing through the Holy Spirit and through so many faithful people that are a part of this ministry.
We have education classes for guys that come that don’t have their high school diploma. I have a guy right now that’s in his 3rd year of seminary at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth who, literally, seven years ago we found dying on a library floor in Chicago. I’ve seen families that were ripped to shreds completely restored.
Even in the hardest days of recovery work and ministry, you see those men one at a time becoming whole and getting lives they never thought they could. It’s so infectious to other people and that’s why we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.
IF SOMEONE WANTED TO GET INVOLVED WITH OAK RIDGE HOW COULD THEY DO THAT?
First, we want as many prayer partners as we can get because we know prayer works. Prayer is what brought them to Christ- people on their knees praying.
We welcome any kind of financial support we can get because we are 100% faith funded. I want people to know we never turn a man away even if he doesn’t have the resources to be able to take care of housing and tuition. In the 7-8 years we’ve been going we have a scholarship rate at 80-90% of the men that have come through.
We don’t take credit cards, but someone can reach out to us, find us online, and send us any amount made out to Oak Ridge Ministries. That is our 501(c)(3) and they will get a giving statement by January 30th and they can write that off on their taxes.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF OAK RIDGE?
First and foremost, our vision is to never stop putting God at the center of this. We want to help as many men as we can, but we never want to be so big that people fall through the cracks.
Five years ago, we opened a second disciple house through one of our graduates and his family. He and another one of our staffers started Interfaith Disciple House. Same exact discipleship, same exact classes, just at a different location.
We don’t want men to just graduate sober and clean, but we want them to give this to someone else.
We have a little saying around the disciple house, “You cannot keep this if you don’t give it away.” We want disciples that make disciples because that’s what the Bible tells us to do, that is the Great Commission, that’s our vision.
HOW WOULD YOU, JOSHUA HARRIS, DESCRIBE YOUR LIFE DEFINED?
I am a man who does not deserve anything that I get to live out daily. I am a man who for a definite 15 years, if not 34, did everything possibly to destroy everything good in his life. It was only by God’s grace and knowing me before I ever knew Him that He had a plan for me.
My life defined is that I am a husband and a dad that is going to try, even in my flaws, to lead my family well. To continue to lead this ministry courageously with honor and integrity, doing what’s right when no one else is looking, so that we can continue and so that God can continue to bless this ministry.