Revival Center's survival

Friday, December 8, 2006
Carrie Flannigan, 6, left, sat down for dinner with her sisters Jessica, 15, and Sierra (not pictured), 12, at the Revival Center on Wednesday. The family, including the girls' parents, who recently started new jobs, found temporary housing at the Jackson homeless shelter. (Don Frazier)

Three weeks ago, Cape Girardeau police stopped 19-year-old Spenser Davis walking along Independence Street.

He said he had been living under the Independence Street bridge over Cape La Croix Creek west of Kingshighway for three days, after being ordered out of the home he shared with a girlfriend and her grandfather in Tamms, Ill.

Cold, hungry and in pain from a kidney stone, Davis asked the officers if there was a shelter where he could stay. Officers directed him to the Salvation Army, which brought him to the Revival Center in Jackson, a 40-room converted nursing home.

"It was a good thing I found this place," he said after enjoying a dinner of meatloaf, mixed vegetables and bread. "Otherwise, I would be up under that bridge or I would be dead."

Davis joins a long list of people who have found themselves on the Revival Center's doorstep since pastor Joyce Hungate opened the shelter in 2001. Some stay for a few nights, reviving their bodies before moving on. Others stay for several months, reviving their spirits and saving to find a home of their own.

But now a "for sale" sign sits on the lawn at 914 Old Cape Road. Hungate is looking for a new location if a lawsuit filed by the city of Jackson can't be settled. The suit, alleging zoning violations and continuing police problems, has left Hungate feeling unwanted in her adopted town. It's the second lawsuit since 2002; the first was settled out of court.

The latest lawsuit was filed Sept. 26 and alleges that "defendants are conducting the business of running a halfway house or other enterprise not allowed in an R-4 general residential district for the purpose of housing individuals released from confinement facilities." In addition, the lawsuit cites 36 police responses since 2004 as a result of actions by residents of the Revival Center, including 12 warrants being served, seven "follow-up visits," a dog at large, a theft and an allegation of forcible rape.

Hungate denies the home is a haven for troublemakers. Many of the allegations in the lawsuit are false or overblown, she said. There's never been a rape at the Revival Center and there are no dogs, she said. She now conducts warrant checks on potential residents to make sure they aren't using the center to hide from the law.

She doesn't deny that some residents, past and present, have come from detoxification centers, Teen Challenge or jails. But those people are often homeless, she said, and like anyone else they've got to follow the rules.

"God can deliver anyone," she said. "I believe in miracles."

The current lawsuit is Jackson city government's attempt to enforce its zoning rules and answer resident complaints, city attorney Tom Ludwig said. "The city is not trying to run anybody out of town, but we want to make sure that the problems with this facility stop."

In the reply to the lawsuit, filed by Scott City attorney Francis Siebert, the center denies it is a halfway house and points to federal laws that allow the center wide latitude in its activities because of its religious foundation.

"Hopefully we will be able to resolve the issues," Siebert said. "Right now we are waiting for a response from the city. I do think they do quite a bit of service for the community."

While most residents of the center stay a few weeks or a few months, a few, like Larry Hill, have made the Revival Center their home, giving credit to Hungate for settling their troubled bodies and minds.

Hill was in mental institutions and group homes in Jeffersonville, Ind., as a teenager. Beset by problems that included periodic seizures, he struck out on his own in 2002 and drifted until he found himself in Jackson. Immaculate Conception Catholic Church directed him to the Revival Center.

"God was so thick here, and I knew deep down I should be here," Hill said.

He lives on a disability income. In almost four years at the Revival Center, he and Hungate have formed a bond strengthened by his belief that she has helped him overcome the seizures and that her prayers have blessed him with the ability to play an electronic organ. Playing by ear, he performs compositions from movie themes to Beethoven.

"He's just like a son," Hungate said.

Tina Rodgers, a caseworker with the Salvation Army in Cape Girardeau, said the center is vital to helping people in the area who are struggling. There are no other homeless facilities in the county -- there are other facilities targeting specific populations, such as the Safe House for Women -- but Hungate is the only one who will help anyone who appears at her door, Rodgers said.

"She has tough love, but if she can help you in any way possible she will," Rodgers said.

Homeless people in Cape Girardeau aren't just the people who stand at highway ramps begging for money, Rodgers said.

"We have had families living out of cars, women living in abandoned buildings."

Help with a lecture

Hungate will often offer a lecture along with a helping hand, Rodgers said. She recalls one unmarried couple with five children she referred to Hungate.

"She got on them," Rodgers said.

Hungate let the couple know she didn't approve of them bearing children out of wedlock. "When it was all said and done, they had bus tickets to get them back home.

"I just keep praying that something good will happen, that God will open some doors and put her in a place that is acceptable to everybody," Rodgers said.

Hungate turned to helping others after discovering she had cancer 27 years ago and attending a revival led by the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart. She gave up a thriving business working as an antique broker providing set decorations for movies and television. The revival opened her eyes to Christ, she said.

"He told me to give up my very prosperous business and live by his principles," she said. "When I was dying, all that money didn't help me."

She attended Rhema Bible School in Broken Arrow, Okla., then returned to her home state of Nebraska, where she opened her first church and shelter. She's operated homes in Oregon as well before arriving in Cape Girardeau 10 years ago. She opened her first Revival Center church at 433 S. Sprigg St. and says she's helped more than 3,000 people over the past nine years.

"I get no salary," she said. "No one here does."

The well-furnished look of the home comes from making use of discards, Hungate said. The financial end of the operation comes from donations and the tithing expected from residents. "We never beg for donations," she said.

When someone shows up cold, dirty and hungry, she said, "the first thing we do is give them something to eat. We give them clothes, washing powder, toothpaste and toiletries. And we give them a room."

The rules of the house are no drinking, no drugs and no smoking in the rooms. Everyone must help with chores, ranging from dishes to cleaning the common areas to raking the leaves.

Men and women live in separate wings of the building. "I believe in holiness," she said. "We keep it straight. They can't live there and cohabitate together."

The residents are also required to take part in Bible studies twice a week and attend a Sunday afternoon service, timed so they won't miss services outside the Revival Center.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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