June 27, 2022

Newton church has been home to a faith-based recovery group for the past six months

From dope to hope

When Robbie Robinson and Aaron Groves first met each other, they weren’t exactly on the same page.

Robinson was about 11 years clean at the time — trying to move further and further away from a lifestyle he left behind. Groves was and is a member of the law enforcement community — someone who had his doubts about those who claimed to be beyond a life of drugs and crime.

Not only did the two become friends after meeting in a leadership class at The Way church in Newton, but they ended up as partners in founding a faith-based substance abuse support group. The Discover Hope Ministry has been meeting on Tuesday nights for about six months.

“I think we were both skeptical of each other at first,” Groves said. “I used to get some enjoyment out of throwing guys in jail and getting them off the street, but I got sick of seeing the same things happen again and again. Robbie and I started talking more often, and started talking about a support group that involves the church, and eventually, we got this going.”

The Way Cafe will be the site for Saturday’s Soup Supper and Service. The 7 p.m. event is a fundraiser where the public can make at-will donations to the ministry and hear testimonials from adults who “have overcome addiction,” according to a church announcement.

Groves is a lieutenant with the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office, and a native of Newton. Robinson’s story is as dark as any, and he credits divine intervention for simply being alive. Born in Mississippi, he grew up in Waterloo, and was in and out of correctional facilities leading up to a longer prison sentence.

After paroling in 2005, Robinson ended up at a transition house in Newton. He works for the Vermeer Manufacturing Company in Pella and still lives in Newton with his wife, Emily, and three children. Robinson also has a daughter who doesn’t live in the area, but Robinson said his relationship with her has grown by leaps and bounds during his sobriety.

“Our group isn’t really to push guys in a different direction, it’s to help people who are already trying to go there,” Robinson said. “I didn’t have a lot of social skills before. I sold dope, did some (gang) banging, and smoked weed.”

Groves said the group differs from 12-step programs not only in how it uses the Bible as a guiding point, but also in that there aren’t steps or phases or a structured regiment or program.

Anyone age 18 or older can attend the group in an effort to use Bible passages to relate to the day’s or week’s events, with other members on hand to lend support and encouragement. Groves said the attendees, which have been as few as six and as many as 16 over the first six months, each leave with a mediation or concept to focus on for the week ahead.

A grant application with Vermeer Charitable Foundation is pending. Groves said the ministry would hopefully involve ways to connect former drug users and convicts with specialists that can help with issues like employment, transportation and dealing with the courts.

Robinson said his calling is to not only help others move away from what he calls “the bondage of addiction” and toward a positive Christian lifestyle, but to develop good habits. For example, he doesn’t keep the numbers of former street buddies or drug-trade cohorts in his phone.

“All the names in my phone are people who love the Lord, or who are a part of my life today,” Robinson said.

Groves said Robbie is so positive and focused, he can hardly picture his friend living such a different life when he was younger.

“He’s a huge inspiration to me,” Groves said. “I hear the same old song and dance all the time about how people are going to clean up and change. You tend to lose hope completely. Where Robbie has come from shows us all that lives can change.”

Robinson said he still has his rough days, but going to his support network is an important part of his daily routine.

“I just try to think about what I can do to help others develop positive habits, and that gets me out of myself,” he said. The Way pastor Steve Heerema said he was glad to be able to support Groves and Robinson when they wanted to be a more active part of the solution in the world of addiction.

“We encourage people to step out in faith, and both Aaron and Robbie were regular attendees here,” Heerema said.

“Not everyone is ready for something like this. But we told them there will be some peaks and valleys, support them by providing meeting space and help them formulate plans, and we don’t micro-manage — it’s still their vision.”

Groves said he hopes his partnership with Robinson can provide an example on many fronts.

“We’ve got tensions between cops and citizens as high as ever — especially, as we’ve seen with the Ferguson protests, between white cops and African-Americans,” Groves said. “So while living positively is our primary aim, we want to promote unity on all levels, including racial.”

Robinson said he can feel the pain of addiction every time a new person walks into the group.

“There’s a real brokenness to a person,” Robinson said. “But if they stick around, we all get to see each other grow.”

Contact Jason W. Brooks at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or jbrooks@newtondailynews.com