Note: This post is about the men of F3 Columbia, Lexington, and Lake Murray who have answered the call to serve men in their community. When I say “I” or “we”, I’m talking about these guys. If you take one thing away from this post, I hope you will find it in your heart to look for some small way to reach out to another man in need in your community. You probably have no idea how much impact you can make in his life by simply showing up.
“The last time I was in prison, I was in cell block F3. This F3 is much better.”
– F3 Mission pax named Truth, recovering from a recent gunshot near the groin he received after a misunderstanding during a financial transaction (his words)
My head hung low as I left Trinity Episcopal Cathedral’s annual business meeting in January.
I had recently been asked to run for an open seat on our church’s vestry, and I was excited about the opportunity to get involved and serve. However, as the ballots were counted by Rev. Tim Jones (F3 Dean Wormer), it was announced that I, who was sure I’d win, would not be joining the vestry.
As my M and I walked to our car with my little monsters, she could tell I was disappointed and told me, “Don’t worry, you’ll find some other way to get involved and make an impact.” The woman, ten years younger than me (hence the name Robber), is at least ten years wiser. It was as if her words were meant to both challenge and dare me at the same time.
I took the bait.
A week later, that “other way” hit me, on a flight to Seattle: Bring F3 to an organization that helps men get back on their feet.
I had been inspired my by man Jonathan Vipperman (F3 Mission) and the work that he’s done in Haiti. On a trip to the island with Trinity members including a contingent of F3 Cola pax (Wormer, Adrian, and Apple) a couple years ago, I saw the benefits of working with established, credible organizations, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and all the associated infrastructure.
There was one very visible presence in Columbia that had been helping men get their lives back on track for years, and after a call to Haywood from the F3 Foundation, and advice from Slaughter in F3 Metro, I decided that we needed to bring F3 to the Oliver Gospel Mission.
The Oliver Gospel Mission is a 125 year-old organization that offers social services to men that are homeless and operate a one-year residential, Christ-focused rehab program. You could say that the OGM is a no-nonsense, “teach a man to fish” kind of organization.
I reached out to the CEO of the OGM, Wayne Fields, and asked for a meeting to discuss the possibility of starting an F3 AO to support the men enrolled in their recovery program. Fortunately for me, Mr. Fields knew a few of our pax through a leadership and mentoring program, which served as a warm opening for our discussion.
After a few meetings, and within a month, we were clear for a March launch. Armed with the advice from Slaughter to show up with “hat in hand” we wanted to keep things simple. We decided to start with a single Saturday workout at 8:30am. This would give men from the super region (Cola, Lake Murray, Lexington) time to make their home AO, and then post to The Mission for a double-down.
We were on our way.
“Because of where we are in life, most people don’t trust us because of the decisions we’ve made. Thanks for giving us a chance to be leaders.”
~ F3 Papa Smurf, who was last seen modeling the latest in protective dreadlock gear on the Leatherneck
It didn’t take long to know that things would be different at Mission.
If there was any skepticism why we were there, it quickly vanished as we showed up in the rain for the first 4 weeks. Once they figured out that we weren’t there to sell them something, convert them, or “fix” them, they realized that we were for real.
Over the next few months, we introduced F3 to these men like we plant, grow and serve any new community of men. The same way we’ve done it so many times before. We just followed the same playbook, and things took off at the Mission.
Most weeks you post at The Mission, something happens. By something, I mean, something you don’t see at your typical F3 workout. Whether it is someone asking for prayers because people are (literally) trying kill them, or a guy experiencing DTs (look it up) because he’s gone 5 days without booze/heroin/whatever and his body is telling him it’s time for a fix – something happens.
There were two Saturdays that stick out as inflection points in my mind that I want to share with you. Points in which I knew we were experiencing something special.
The first one was in June, when we handed over AO responsibilities to the Mission men. It was the first time any of them had been entrusted with something so valuable in many, many years. They articulated their appreciation for our trust in them directly after the disclaimer that Saturday, and right before strings of fire with a bunch of burpees. We had successfully created monsters.
The second was a month later in July. About four blocks from The Mission AO (Finlay Park) about 50 knuckleheads from the KKK were exercising the hell out of their 1st amendment right by protesting the removal of the Confederate Flag from the SC Statehouse grounds. Most of the men in the recovery program are black, most of the men from F3 in the Midlands are white, a fact that wasn’t even mentioned until this particular Saturday. During the COT that day, one of the Mission men prayed for those men, those men in the KKK. I’m looking at a man who has lost most of the things that I take for granted each and every day, and he’s humbly and sincerely praying for his enemies. That was the moment I asked God if he would help me to be like the recovering heroin addict sitting across the COT from me .
While I listed some meaningful goals on the F3 Foundation application, they weren’t what you’d call BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals). At the time, I don’t think I really understood the full capabilities of our pax.
Looking back at the application, they seem kinda weak for 1-year goals:
- At least 25 men post to their 3rd workout
- Men in the Program begin to Q workouts
- Local F3 Regions involved with at least one other OGM program
Despite my failure to fully understand our mission at the Mission, one thing was clear: For one hour a week, we wanted these men to experience what we experienced in F3, and just feel like “one of the guys”. We achieved this on week one, and the rest of these goals in the first three months.
In addition we’ve hit some pretty killer milestones:
- In six months, we’ve more than tripled the number of mentors available in the program. When we started this partnership, the OGM had 3 mentors, now they have 10. Our goal is to have 15 mentors from F3 by the end of the year.
- Within 90 days, the men of the Mission attend Q school and assumed leadership of their AO.
- Mission men have begun to show up at other AO with their mentors.
- OGM (male) staff have begun to post at F3 and have repeatedly told me they can see a change in the men’s lives who are participating in F3.
- In September, six Mission men ran their first race ever, a 5k to promote awareness for addiction.
- In October eight Mission men completed their first CSAUP event, the USMC Mud Run (by the way, this was totally their idea, not mine).
“The 3Fs, fitness, fellowship, and faith allowed me to focus on recovery and be successful at the Oliver Gospel Mission.”
~ Mulligan, during his Oliver gospel Mission graduation speech
Last week, one of the Mission pax named Mulligan, graduated from the OGM. He was the first man to make it through the residential portion of the program while participating in F3 for the entire term. He had the opportunity to speak at the graduation ceremony, and he, along with no less than three OGM staffers used the training we did for the Mud Run as a metaphor for life.
After the Mud Run in October, Mulligan had a chance to meet Jingles and some his buddies from his hometown that post at F3 Summerville and it dawned on me: Our work isn’t over when these guys leave the OGM, in fact, it’s just beginning. Our job is to help these men transition to life in the real world, it’s to surround them with love and support. It’s to hold them accountable. Our job is to help them be the very best men, husbands, fathers they can possibly be.
Our job, is to simply treat these men like we treat each other.
They are us, and we are them.