Resident Stories

JohnJohn came to Place of Refuge in July of 2019 from a recovery house where he had spent the prior eight months. After decades of alcohol and drug- use he was in the process of putting his life back together, but something was still missing. Something meaningful. Something it would take Place of Refuge to help him rediscover. His art.

From a young age John had always been drawn to art. As a child he drew superheroes and dinosaurs. In high school his art was all about machines: airplanes, cars, bikes, and more. And in college where, he had gone to study architecture, he found himself delving into the arts and so transferred to the fine arts program where he majored in painting.

John had found his passion, trained and refined it. But over time his substance use would take it all away.

When John arrived at a recovery house in October of 2018, he hadn’t picked up a paint brush in more than a decade except to paint houses. He decided that in addition to getting sober he was going to treat the time ahead of him as a sabbatical. How many people get the chance to pause, take inventory of their lives, and to recalibrate their compasses with the help of others, after all. He had that rare chance, and it was during that time that John decided to rekindle his love of painting.

But while John had decided to set the kindling the actual spark of inspiration was slow to come. He thought about painting, he talked about painting, but he still couldn’t actually paint. And so, he arrived at Place of Refuge with an idea that wasn’t yet a plan.

The supportive environment of Place of Refuge gave him the confidence he needed to dive back into his art, and that spark of imagination necessary for all good art. But life was still full of distractions and so his ideas remained images in his head and not ones upon canvas.

Then came COVID. While the pandemic brought many hardships it also brought John gifts: time and relative solitude. The early months of limited contact, what he refers to as “his lockdown” were what he needed to quiet his mind, to reflect, and to paint again. The thing he needed in his life, what he was searching for, was back. In fact, it felt like it had never left.

His passion for art reignited he found himself always conceptualizing, looking for ideas, and taking more joy in other people’s art. Today when John isn’t busy painting, he’s finding inspiration in the world around him, in a park studying the roots of a tree, watching the sunset from Vancouver Cemetery, or spontaneously visiting a local art gallery.

The art he’s creating carries a message as well, one of environmental appreciation and preservation. It’s a passion that carries over even into the preparation of his canvasses from recycled materials. Initially he made his canvasses from old prints he’d purchased on clearance or in local thrift stores, priming over them in white to cover the prior art. Later he would use recycled wood pallets for stretcher bars and old bedsheets to prepare his own canvasses from scratch.

John has realized that there's still life, purpose, and art to be found in things people might have written off in the past. After all there was a time not so long ago where people, including himself, had written him off but with the help of Place of Refuge he’d discovered an abundance of life and passion ahead.

My name is Kevin and I lived at Place of Refuge for 15 months. Prior to this, I spent 4 months in stage one recovery. Before making the decision to enter recovery my life was completely unmanageable. I had suffered in addiction for over 15 years, but had reached a point in my life where I felt I could no longer continue living and was ready to take my own life.

Through a series of misfortunes and bad decisions, I ended up homeless for the first time in my life. At this point I thought life couldn’t get any worse. This was the needed turning point in my life as I reached the point of desperation. I was off work injured, my union disability stopped coming in due to a paperwork mix-up and I had to move out of my apartment. I ended up in a shelter and though life felt very bleak, I was in an environment where people wanted to help me.

Because of my desperation, I finally had the willingness to accept the help that was being offered. This is when my life changed direction and for the first time I saw the possibility to a solution to my problems.

On the seventh day in the shelter a woman came to run an AA meeting. She shared her experience in addiction from how bad it had been to how great it had become in sobriety. Her story of transformation was so amazing that she gave me hope. I was so inspired by a complete stranger the next day I checked into a recovery centre where I stayed for 4 months and successfully completed their program. The woman who shared her sobriety story with me is one of my dearest friends today.

At this point I moved into Place of refuge which immediately felt at home. With the help, love and support I received from people like director Jeff Borden, the staff and all the board members involved at Place of Refuge, I flourished. My life had seen incredible improvement. I was attending regular AA meetings, participating in Bible studies, was involved in 12-step work, and was engaging in service work within and outside the AA community. My life once again had purpose wasn’t just good again - it was great!

Last year, the church that provided the venue of my AA meetings no longer had enough room and capacity to accommodate the size of our group. Peace Church on 52 nd , who also helps facilitate Bible studies for Place of Refuge, offered to help us grow our meeting by providing us with a larger venue to hold our meetings. The pastors even occasionally attend our meetings and have also offered their
services for step-work for the members of the fellowship. With their support and ability to offer us a larger space, our group has become even more successful and we now see upwards of 100 to 150 people per meeting.

Today I am pleased to say that I’m still doing regular meetings and service work. I am returning to work at my old job at their request and I live in a beautiful home. I could not have received all these gifts without the love and support of Places Refuge, Peace Church on 52nd and the grace of God. Today I am extremely grateful in my new life. I am almost 2 years sober and very happy.

I have been a resident of Place of Refuge for the better part of a year. I moved here after spending time in recovery with the Hope for Freedom Program in Port Coquitlam. To have a place to call a temporary 'home', a safe place to begin a new life, is a blessing. My belief is that this is where recovery really begins. The support through the Mennonite community is truly humbling. To be accepted without judgment is soul nurturing.

To be encouraged in my belief in God is life affirming. I look forward to the weekly bible studies with Ted Klassen and Rod. I am close to moving on with my life and finding a place to live and will be eternally grateful for the support given me through Place of Refuge.

After spending two years struggling with alcoholism, including two separate admissions in an expensive 29-day self-pay program in Ontario, I moved to Vancouver in the summer of 2011 in the hopes of starting a new life. Unfortunately, there was much missing from my recovery program and I relapsed shortly after arriving. Through nothing short of an act of God I found myself at the Hope for Freedom Society and ultimately, Place of Refuge is where my hopes for the future turned around completely. I believe there are two main reasons for my resurrected outlook on life. First and foremost was my coming to believe and accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. The spiritual awakening I received as a result of this was – and still is – truly mysterious, yet very real. Before this, I could not forgive myself for how I had led my life and how I'd let loved ones down. I needed forgiveness from one higher than me and I received that from Jesus Christ.

The second reason depends greatly on the generosity of others. It is based on the requirement of time. Time getting accustomed to a new way of thinking, a new way of living, a new way of approaching life's challenges. Unlike the 29-day program, Place of Refuge offers an aftercare process in order for my recovery to gain a foothold on building my faith and hope for a better life – to plan and put into practice that will ultimately contribute to the benefit of others. After 8 months with Place of Refuge I am now able to contribute to my livelihood. I have plans in place for my future and I have confidence that my skills in the career I have been in for over 25 years will pay off. I am part of my children's lives and I will be able to be there for them in the future. I thank God each and every day for Place of Refuge and the time I have been granted in order to build my life again.

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