A Place for Second Chances
By Ken Horn
Nov. 25, 2012
The Dream Center in Palmer, Alaska, located on 30 acres some 40 miles northeast of Anchorage, is a throwback to an earlier day of missions. It is what used to be called a “faith ministry.”
For Rob Hyslip, leading the Dream Center is also a bivocational ministry. When the Dream Center first opened he worked as a diesel mechanic in the Alaskan oil fields. When years of exposure to chemicals forced him to leave, he and his wife, Cherise, turned to a surprising alternative — charter boat fishing.
Homer, Alaska, some 300 miles from Palmer, is considered the world’s greatest halibut fishery. The Hyslips purchased two boats — and a boardwalk to go along with them. They manage a gift shop and are landlords to several other tenant businesses. Their two sons help with the business. And the Dream Center also benefits from halibut and salmon donated to the ministry by successful fishermen. The Hyslips call the endeavor a “businistry,” ministry supported by creative enterprises.
The distance between the Dream Center and the business means the Hyslips must be separated more often than they like. But don’t worry about their marriage. They are experienced marriage counselors, having trained under one of the best, the late Leo Godzich, at Phoenix (Ariz.) First Assembly.
It was at Phoenix First, with regular exposure to Tommy Barnett’s Pastors’ Schools and the many testimonies from the Phoenix and Los Angeles Dream Centers, that the seeds for the Alaska Dream Center were planted.
After returning to Alaska from a powerful conference in Phoenix, the Hyslips felt the vision grow. They flew to the L.A. Dream Center, led by Rob’s friend Matthew Barnett, and were deeply inspired by the ministry. When they returned to Alaska, the Hyslips felt God’s call on their lives and began an incredible new adventure.
Under the covering of Wasilla Assembly of God and Pastor Ed Kalnins, the Hyslips approached the Alaska District Council about occupying the former Teen Challenge facilities, which were not being used. After the district agreed, the Hyslips sold their dream home to found the Alaska Dream Center. Shortly after opening the center, it became evident Rob would need to quit his high-paying job.
“We had a peace that God has always supplied our needs and will continue to supply our needs,” Rob says. “The Center has been open for five years now.”
While most Dream Centers are community outreach ministries, the Alaska Dream Center is, at this time, a discipleship center, focused around drug and alcohol rehabilitation, with additional outreach components. The Dream Center describes itself as a “residential facility that helps people deal with life-controlling issues.”
Most residents come to the Center via word-of-mouth. There is no cost to those who are admitted, but they must make a one-year, full-time commitment to the program. It’s a cost some are not willing to pay at first. But desperation often brings them back. As they begin to understand who they are in Christ, the year turns out to be worth far more than anything they may give up.
Residents are in various stages of their one-year commitments. Disciples live upstairs, with staff occupying the building’s walkout basement. There is at least one staff member on duty 24 hours a day.
The program helps individuals recognize the factors that led to their current predicament, and to relate to a good God while learning how to defeat a real enemy. It provides them with the information they need to be successful in their battles. The staff takes them through extensive curricula to help them break free from drugs, or whatever their life-controlling issue might be.
The days are full. Every day begins promptly at 6:30 a.m. with devotions from Psalms and Proverbs. There is teaching on life skills, cooking and chores to be done. A lot of time is spent in church. When the doors of their home church, Wasilla Assembly of God, are open, residents are there. They also visit other local churches throughout the week.
The first half of each individual’s year is devoted to gaining tools, the second half to using them. This includes a 30-day “blackout” period where each resident concentrates on his relationship with God with no outside contact. He learns to tear down the enemy’s strongholds, the lies he’s accepted.
“We make no apologies about this being a faith-based program,” says Rob Hyslip. “It’s really about the person learning to utilize his relationship with God in order to get free … not white-knuckle it on his own.”
As they grow in the Lord, residents begin to help one another.
Work therapy is a major part of the program, training in practical skills — such as mechanics, welding and woodworking — that will help graduates support themselves when they leave the Center. But the ministry has taken this beyond mere training. There is more than a bit of an entrepreneur in Rob, and he has turned this propensity into a benefit for the residents, developing actual businesses to support the men and the program.
There are 11 current residents. Over the Center’s five years of existence, occupancy has averaged 12-14 individuals. The facilities can house 15 at the most, and at times there is a waiting list.
Staff and residents are currently working on three buildings for transitional housing for graduates — and sometimes for their families. Most of the building takes place in Alaska’s short summer season — and is done by disciples teaming up with missions teams.
Recently, a local businesswoman donated a piece of property plus some of the materials to build a women’s center. The center has received hundreds of calls from women in need of a safe place to be set free.
All of the staff at the Center are volunteers. Currently three couples are on staff, with the husbands doing the bulk of the ministry.
Josh and Kim Cooley came from Colorado and were on site to help open the doors in January 2008. They have raised support as missionaries from an independent organization. Josh serves as the program director.
“The main thing I see is the anointing on this place,” he says.
Kim organizes the Center’s outreach with other local area food banks. There the disciples have the privilege of giving back to those in need.
The Cooleys’ five children — ages 2 months to 13 years when I visited — love the guys at the Center. One resident said, “The Cooley kids saved my life,” and others have echoed the sentiment. Having a family atmosphere is important.
Steve Ray is the residential director. His wife, Bev, earns a paycheck as a preschool teacher and is working toward her degree in Christian counseling.
Steve transports the residents to their various functions outside of the building — services on Sundays, an “Addicted No More” class on Mondays, different churches on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On Thursday nights there is a discussion group at the Center. There is also daily work therapy and regular counseling.
“It’s very structured on paper,” Steve says, “but it’s more like a family than a program.”
The staff love the men like parents love their children. This love is what has won over so many who have become part of the program.
Like Justin from Las Vegas. A world-class athlete who became addicted to drugs, starting with pain meds, he had no experience with church and didn’t want to be at the Center. He struggled through ups and downs.
“The person has to want to be free,” Rob says.
Justin finally had a breakthrough, saw his life transformed, and is now sold out for God as much as he once was for drugs. He has married a Christian woman and is ministering in Las Vegas, where he used to be part of the gang scene.
Rob tells the residents they are “full-blast” people, and God doesn’t want to take that away from them. “He just wants them to be full blast for the right thing.” These guys won’t go back to their old ways, Rob says. “Their party days are ruined.”
Cherise Hyslip is effusive about how these young men flourish spiritually — finding the giftings, granted by God, that Satan tried to keep them from using.
“They have so much potential in Jesus,” she says, “and when they finally get a hold on that … watch out!”
The residents come from varied backgrounds, with one common denominator: trouble. All have had life-controlling addictions that have ruined their lives and relationships. Many of them have been jailed. For some it is their last chance.
But the Dream Center is a place where the God of last chances transforms the most desperate of situations. Though not everyone who comes sticks with it and makes a dramatic turnaround, many do. With a history of just a few short years, success stories of residents already abound. Some of the stories include miracles God did to preserve the life of someone headed to hell so he could commit his life to the Lord.
Like Marvin Parazoo. Shot in the chest with a .338, he should rightly be dead or disabled. But he is neither. God miraculously preserved his life and gave him the second chance he needed.
Parazoo started drinking and doing drugs in elementary school. When his mother became a Christian, he ran from God. It took a felony DWI to get his attention. The court made an unusual decision and allowed him to come to the Dream Center as part of his sentence.
Uneasy at first, Parazoo was eventually won over by the love that fills the place. He learned to focus on God, and was saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. A first-rate mechanic, Parazoo has flourished in the vocational training shop. He now heads up the shop and the Cars for Recovery program, through which people donate cars for the residents to work on and sell. He delights in praying in tongues.
David Bigjoe, 26, grew up on a homestead along the Tanana River, later moving with his family to the small village of Minto. He was young when he started drinking. When Bigjoe was 11 or 12, a drunken friend lifted a gun and shot him in the face, then turned the gun on himself. Bigjoe lived, brought back from the brink of death; his friend did not.
Bigjoe dropped out of school and says he watched his friends “dropping like flies” — dying young from alcohol poisoning, suicide or related tragedies. He went through severe depression. Then he met Assemblies of God minister Ron Pratt.
“He ministered to me for 10 years,” says Bigjoe, “even when I was wasted drunk.”
It was a Christmas Eve when Bigjoe’s brother, under the influence of alcohol, became incapacitated outdoors and froze to death. That hit Bigjoe hard. He eventually went to Pastor Richard Simmons, from the AG church in Minto, called out to God, and was saved and delivered.
Pratt guided him to the Dream Center, where Bigjoe told me his life was turned around after “I was seconds away from killing myself.”
Randy Marx is one of three graduates living on campus. He was delivered from drinking himself into daily stupors and has stayed at the Center to work.
“I showed up a wreck,” he says. “I’m surprised they even kept me. I knew this was my last chance.”
Marx now plans to study to be a pastor. He had the joy of leading his father to the Lord before he died.
Rob Hyslip dreams of adding more businesses to the ones already started. More ministry is also a priority. This year the whole crew traveled to Camp Nahshii in Alaska to work and minister.
The biggest dream remains saving souls and transforming lives. And this Dream Center, with God’s help, is hitting that target, providing the “one more chance” that many desperate individuals need to see God turn their lives around.
For more information visit dreamcenterak.org.
KEN HORN is editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.
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