When God Interrupts

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Edwin Colon is the senior pastor of the Recovery House of Worship (RHOW) located in a Brooklyn neighborhood known for tree-lined streets, boutiques and coffee shops. Everyone is welcome through RHOW’s doors, but the church has a specific ministry to those dealing with addiction. They reach out to “Recovery Rob.” Edwin explains, “Recovery Rob exists in every church—especially in the U.S. He has a unique set of struggles to overcome.” 

There’s a reason Edwin has a deep-seated desire to reach Recovery Rob. Edwin first used drugs when he was 11. By the time he was 17, he was in need of a 12-step program. There was no Jesus in his life. A few years later, he was miserable and suicidal when God interrupted him—without his permission (as he likes to say). In 1995, he surrendered to Jesus.
 
Edwin started reading his Bible and doing what it said. He explains, “I thought that all people read the Bible the same way. I thought everyone fed the hungry and clothed the naked.” He was married with kids at this point, and as he interacted with homeless men in his neighborhood, he invited them into his home, where they often stayed.
 
As he led his guests in early morning devotions before work and Bible studies after, he had no idea a church was starting in his apartment. He says, “I didn’t know churches were planted. I thought churches just existed.” 

Soon they were meeting in a church basement. Edwin says, “I just copied what I’d seen. I had a travel guitar, so small that everyone called it a ukulele, and I played the same three songs every week for worship. After service, I’d counsel until midnight.”

A number of things have changed since those early days. They have their own building, and Edwin no longer needs to play the ukulele, but the heart behind what he does has remained. Edwin and his team’s approach to Recovery Rob has proven to be effective. Edwin says, “When people come to church with an addiction, most churches want to get them away from their 12-step program. We do the opposite. We strongly encourage them to keep going to their meetings. They already have a culture there. I haven‘t used drugs in 26 years, but I still go to these meetings.” As Edwin builds friendships in his 12-step homegroup, he has the opportunity to share the gospel. His new friends then often come to church and turn their lives over to God. He says this happens again and again.

RHOW trains others to reach out in the same way. Edwin says, “Everyone knows someone who is either in a 12-step recovery program or who needs to be. Can you imagine what it would be like for someone to get to know them, help them come to Christ and then have them go back to their recovery group? Let’s say you have 10 people, each making three meetings a week, and they’re each reaching out to a handful of people in every meeting.”

When CTC’s Robert Guerrero met Edwin in 2012, he invited him to participate in a training program called Incubator—CTC’s key two-year program to serve, train and develop church planters. Edwin says CTC has allowed him to get into an environment that is theologically robust and practically relevant. At the same time, Edwin brings an experience, history and practice of working with the poor and the marginalized from which other ministry leaders across the city are learning. He says, “We are not visitors. We are indigenous to that community.” Having completed the Incubator, Edwin is now incorporating insights from his decades of ministry experience as he helps train other pastors and church planters with this material.

As Edwin’s church continues to welcome everyone, the makeup of the church has changed. The tree-lined streets and cozy cafes have brought new neighbors, and Edwin is studying this changing context. Edwin's involvement with CTC has helped forge relationships with pastors in Manhattan whose churches have long been filled with people like the newcomers gentrification has brought to RHOW's doorstep. Even as Edwin helps train leaders across the city, he is also learning from these center-city leaders so that the gospel message continues to speak to everyone who walks through their doors.

RHOW now has five churches in addition to Brooklyn. They are located in Staten Island, the Bronx, Hoboken, York, PA and Los Angeles. There are also groups forming in Dallas and London.