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Mud Creek ‘firmly in support’
 of treatment center, pastor says

First Contact Addiction Ministries wants to build a $3 million residential treatment center with beds for 33 men and 12 women on Erkwood Drive across from Mud Creek Baptist Church. The congregation voted overwhelmingly in favor of the ministry. First Contact Addiction Ministries wants to build a $3 million residential treatment center with beds for 33 men and 12 women on Erkwood Drive across from Mud Creek Baptist Church. The congregation voted overwhelmingly in favor of the ministry.

Mud Creek Baptist Church “starts in Jerusalem” when it comes to mission work, says Greg Mathis, the church’s senior minister. He means that church members start close to home, as Jesus instructed, then branch out as time and resources allow.

On Mud Creek’s grounds are a Christian school, Hope Academy for special needs adults and Clearwater Counseling. The faith-based services have existed in harmony with the surrounding residential neighborhoods. But when Mud Creek announced a partnership with First Contact Addiction Ministries to build a treatment center on Erkwood Drive, neighbors sprang into action to block it. Even before First Contact filed a rezoning application, residents of Dunroy, Estate Drive and other neighborhoods are studying the county land-use code and drafting talking points to use if there is a zoning hearing. Earlier this month, 70 people gathered at the public library to hear Don Huneycutt, a resident of Dunroy, and Hilton Swing, who lives on Chanteloup Drive, sketch out the argument against the proposed treatment center.
“It’s my opinion that a 15,000-square-foot facility of any kind is not in keeping with the residential character of all the neighborhoods that are around this area,” said Swing, a real estate broker. “What we’re talking about is zoning integrity and zoning compatibility and those are the things that affect our property values.”
The comments stung Mathis and other church leaders, who say a residential treatment is a desperately needed service in response to a crisis that claims lives and devastates families.
“This is a such a crisis,” said Mathis, who has led Mud Creek for 38 years. “This is an epidemic, this is an emergency and it’s not a time to fuss over should we do it here. Somebody needs to start and set the example that would be done in multiple places.”
Seven years ago, Craig Halford came to Mathis with the idea of partnering on a ministry that would counsel and treat drug addicts. Mathis had seen the scourge of prescription pill addiction in his congregation. He said he’s preached plenty of funerals of parishioners or their family members who died of overdoses.
“I do it all the time, and it breaks my heart,” he said. “We try to help them but we have found unless they can go somewhere for six or seven months, 30 days is not going to do it.”
“When Craig came to me many years ago with the idea of this, I helped him start this ministry right here in this office,” Mathis said. “Then this whole crisis blew up. It’s just unbelievable at the people that are crying for help. I am unapologetic in trying to do something to help in what has become a crisis of desperation that’s affecting every family, every community, every neighborhood, including right here in this neighborhood.”
Mathis and other church leaders who spoke to the Hendersonville Lightning last week put the First Contact ministry in the context of the church’s many other missions that try to help people close to home with faith-based solutions.
“That’s who we are. I don’t apologize for Mud Creek doing ministry because we’ll have to give an account to God if we don’t do ministry,” he said. “But we want to move forward in the right spirit and we are 100 percent in support of First Contact Ministries.”

‘If not us, who? If not now, when?’

After forming First Contact, Mathis, Halford and others visited the Life Enhancement Center in Leesburg, Florida, a church-affiliated residential treatment center that claims a success rate of 52 percent, well above the national average.
“God impressed on my heart to lead this congregation to consider this,” Mathis said. “My question is this. I said to the congregation and I’ll even say to the people in Henderson County: If not us, then who? If not here, then where? And if not now, then when? At some point, we have to quit, as someone said, cursing the darkness of the opioid crisis and begin to show a light.”
Church leaders objected to the characterization of Mud Creek’s ministries as commercialization of the Erkwood-Rutledge intersection.
“We’re not trying to commercialize anything here. The idea that we’re trying to build some kind of a commercial empire is inaccurate. The Bible never uses a Christian ministry as building an empire. What the Bible does say is that Christians follow the Lord Jesus helping to build his kingdom. That’s what we are about here.”
Mathis’s son, Jared, the church’s connections pastor, said the ministries are Bible-based.
“To view it as commercial empire is misleading and false because commercial by definition would mean an act of commerce, would mean for profit, and that’s not what’s happening here at all,” he said. “We unapologetically want to advance the kingdom of God and the reason we do what we do is out of the love for our neighbors as ourselves.”
Greg Mathis recalled that earlier that day, his son said after reading opponents’ criticism that, “At least Mud Creek is having the courage to step forward and try to present a solution.”
“I agree with what they said in the article that this won’t hardly put a dent in it,” the elder Mathis said. “But somebody’s gotta start. Somebody has to try. It’ll at least make a difference if it’s 42 beds for that many people, where we have no beds right now that I’m aware of.”

Community focuses on opioid crisis


The debate over a potential rezoning case for a treatment center comes as community leaders are training the spotlight on the opioid crisis in big way. When Henderson County administrators organized a leadership forum on the topic for Wednesday, so many people signed up that the event was moved from the Historic Courthouse to BRCC. Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic, speaks Thursday night at a sold-out event at BRCC. And middle and high school students plan a We Are hope vigil Friday against substance abuse.
According to IRS filings, First Contact had $29,271 cash on hand at the end of 2016. Halford, president and executive director of First Contact, received no salary from the nonprofit, according to the tax form. On Friday night, 250 people packed the lower floor of the Hendersonville Country Club for First Contact’s Take the Mask Off Addiction Masquerade Ball, the agency’s first big fundraiser. The event had 60 sponsors and raised $109,000, Halford said.
While First Contact might look at another site off the church campus, the nonprofit would then lose the proximity to the church sanctuary, a counseling center and a corps of volunteers from Mud Creek, Halford said.
“It’s like we said in the meeting. We would consider it,” Halford said when asked about a property offer. “Doesn’t mean we would accept it. The value of this church to that ministry is invaluable. What they’re going to give us is not just the support but teaching and facilities.”
Halford said First Contact leaders are close to making a decision on whether to file a zoning application for the Erkwood Drive property. If they do, Mud Creek will steadfastly support them, Mathis said.
“We stand firmly in support of taking this to the county commissioners and seeking their approval,” he said. “I’m praying for them. God can open the door or God can close the door. It’s a political process that I respect. … I hope we can enter into a healthy dialogue and present our side and a solution.”