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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




Head Shot

By John W. Kennedy
July 6, 2014

Influenced by cousins and uncles in his neighborhood, Brian Bolt started drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana at the age of 12. Wanting to emulate his relatives, Bolt advanced to heroin and methamphetamines during his teenage years.

“I didn’t understand the path I was on,” Bolt says. “I would do good for a season, but drugs would always drag me back down.”

Before he turned 18, a continually-in-trouble Bolt appeared before a judge, who ordered him into the military in an effort to rectify his out-of-control life. An aptitude test indicated Bolt excelled at strategic thinking. Before long, the Navy assigned Bolt to the war room of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.

At sea, a drug-free Bolt focused on war game scenarios that included simulations of how to escape from dangerous predicaments and how to conquer the world.

Back in port at San Diego, Bolt once again sought out a wild party lifestyle. Because he had special military identification that provided security clearance, Bolt traveled freely into Mexico.

Bolt ended up AWOL, going to work for a Tijuana cartel, and running both people and drugs into the U.S. He made and spent a lot of money, but constantly wondered if he would wake up alive the next day.

After almost 18 months, Bolt surrendered. He went before a military judge, served time in the brig for transporting drugs across the border, lost his security clearance, and received a bad conduct discharge.

Bolt went on appellate leave while waiting for his discharge papers. During the interim, Bolt visited a bar one day, hit a patron, and tried to rob him in an attempt to get enough money to buy drugs. The man pulled out a .22-caliber pistol and shot Bolt point-blank in the side of the head, the bullet lodging in Bolt’s carotid artery.

Rapidly losing blood, Bolt, then 23, thought he would die.

A paramedic who arrived on the scene told Bolt he likely would not survive. But the emergency medical technician then asked Bolt if he knew Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

“When he said that, something just tugged at my heart,” Bolt recalls. “I didn’t know Jesus that way.”

In the back of an ambulance en route to a hospital, Bolt committed his life to Jesus. He passed out — and didn’t wake up for a week.

Although he no longer drew military pay, Bolt still received military benefits. Recovering in a Navy hospital, Bolt benefited from more than $1 million of medical treatment — for free.

In an experimental operation, doctors fused part of Bolt’s hip bone with titanium to create a new jaw that replaced his shattered one. He also had collapsed and paralyzed vocal cords surgically repaired. A thin gold plate inserted in his left eyelid kept him from losing his sight in the eye.

Bolt had to relearn how to eat, drink, swallow, walk and talk. He was hospitalized 75 days.

While Bolt was continuing therapy soon after his release, two men from Victory Outreach, an inner-city church-based mission, encountered him on a San Diego street. They told Bolt that Jesus had a plan for his life, and he could move into a recovery home the ministry operated.

“They saw that I was hurting,” Bolt says. “I wasn’t quite homeless, but I was bouncing from place to place. I had been praying to God to send me somebody to help me understand more about what had happened to me.”

The pair prayed for Bolt, who began speaking in tongues. He quit drugs cold turkey.

As Bolt underwent 18 months of discipling at Victory Outreach, he realized the ministry incorporated some of the same success strategies in planting churches he had used in Navy war games. After studying at a Master’s Commission in Gettysburg, Pa., Bolt obtained ministerial credentials with the Assemblies of God.

Nearly 10 years ago, Bolt moved to Pittsburgh, determined to replicate the pattern he had learned in San Diego: Plant a church by first starting a recovery home.

Bolt met Jeff Leake, pastor of Allison Park Church, an AG congregation in suburban Pittsburgh already involved in church planting.

“Brian told me his story and his vision to reach people coming out of drug backgrounds,” Leake remembers. “Afterwards I said, ‘Let’s work together.’”

Bolt joined the Allison Park staff for six months, and Leake mentored him.

The first effort, CityReach Church where Bolt remains pastor, now has four weekend services. Under the auspices of CityReach Network, church plants followed in Braddock and Reading, Pa., as well as in the Pittsburgh and Cleveland areas.

In April, CityReach Network started congregations in Bangor, Maine, and Buffalo and Massena, N.Y. A total of 11 churches will be launched on the same day: Sept. 21. The day before, Convoy of Hope will conduct outreaches in each of those communities.

“We have a lot of partnerships and relationships,” Bolt says. By the end of the year, Bolt will have been the instigator of 27 mostly urban church plants during the past decade.

CityReach teams follow the formula that appealed to Bolt, initially telling the down-and-out that God has a plan for their lives. They learn Jesus not only can save them, forgive them, and help them abstain from an addictive lifestyle, but also that the Lord has a marvelous plan they never even imagined.

“The goal goes beyond freedom from drugs,” Leake says. “The goal is to change the world.”

Bolt takes the unusual approach of working with community leaders on a compassion initiative as a prelude to starting a church. He is executive director of a separate nonprofit called Network of Hope that establishes a smorgasbord of outreaches that serve a need, from an addiction recovery home to an after-school youth enrichment program. 

“Brian’s methodology is unique,” Leake says. “He opens a men’s home, not a church. He brings guys into the home who are living on the streets or just out of prison or addicted to drugs. The story of changed lives is absolutely phenomenal.”

Steve Pike, longtime national director for the AG Church Multiplication Network who is now pioneering an urban church planting project, believes Bolt has detected a rare urban ministry model that is reproducible.

“Brian has demonstrated that his approach is transferable to diverse demographic settings,” Pike says. “He employs a powerful combination of skillful strategy and deliberate dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit. The underlying principles that support his strategy are effective in every imaginable context.”

Hope Homes, for men and women, focus on spiritual renewal, discipleship and sobriety through prayer, church attendance, and service to local organizations and churches. Residents pay nothing to live there for nine months.

“These guys and girls want to give back,” says Bolt, now 35. “Most of them have hit rock bottom and want to change.”

Network of Hope, in conjunction with local congregations, provides various programs to nourish needy families, keep at-risk kids off the streets, and get addicts free from drugs. The ministry meets practical needs by providing food, furniture, and vehicle care, as well as emotional support in areas such as recovery from divorce and abortion.

Bolt’s Pittsburgh-based ministry school coaches church planters in how to garner resources and build a team. CityReach Network has memorandums of understanding with AG districts in Pennsylvania-Delaware, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Southern New England, Northern New England, and Florida.

Leake notes several of the planters are men who started attending church because of the recovery home.

“Brian has experienced God’s grace, so he understands people who are broken and addicted,” Leake says. “He believes in people and the power of the Holy Spirit.”

CityReach Network continues to rescue people and turn their lives around. Many of the formerly hopeless eventually wind up pioneering a church.

“Brian’s vision is to take the unlikely guy and to plant a church in an area that is forgotten and overlooked,” Leake says. “These guys are going into places that are desperate and needy — and it’s working.”


JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

 

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