Shawna and Kevin Coffman’s house of refuge isn’t on the way to anywhere.
You wouldn’t know it’s here unless you heard about it from someone else who turned up from life’s floor — who maybe rotted relationships and teeth with methamphetamine, or raided a grandparent’s medicine cabinet for pills, or knows how to squat and cough for a jailer’s body-cavity check.
The Coffmans’ Saved by Grace Fellowship in rural Cass County east of Raymore sits lonely on a horizon as big as all the hope its self-described misfits nurture for one another.
On a recent day, red-winged blackbirds trilled in the fields. Evening bugs built their soothing chorus.
But the small crowd that gathered on the gravel drive ahead of another Celebrate Recovery Friday service also knew the truth.
The sky, as big as it is, can’t absorb all their pain.
“Once you’re here, you’re still not fixed,” said Moe Witt, 39, one of seven members, along with husband Corey Witt, 41, who agreed to talk to The Star about a community’s generosity and its struggle to change lives.
“We don’t know how to live,” she said. “We’re trying to learn how to get through this life together. That’s what makes this place wonderful.”
They talked about the love and trust of the Coffmans. How they all found their way here. About addiction’s strangling grip. And how quickly they can fall.
Not all of them will stay clear of trouble by the time their stories are told here.
Did you shoot up once hiding in a bathtub at a homeless shelter? Did you steal your kid’s birthday money to spend on dope?
“Nothing surprises us,” Witt said. “We all know what it’s like.”
‘I am free’
With hands open to the ceiling, voices high, they sing.
“I am free …!”
On Sunday mornings. On Friday nights.
“I am free to run. I am free to dance …”
Shannon Bruegge, the Cass County Drug Court probation officer, had to see it for herself.
She drove out to Saved by Grace Fellowship, 519 S. Prairie Lane, on a Sunday morning and slipped into a seat in the back row.
Sure enough, she saw several of her people — convicted drug law violators who’d diverted from prison to the county’s intense drug treatment program. One was singing in the choir. One read the Scripture.
Drug court turns its clients’ lives inside out, watching over their treatment, their counseling, their home life, their employment, and their social and spiritual support.
Bruegge wanted to see this place and these people — “Shawna” and “Kevin” — whose names kept popping up when the court was checking in on its clients.
How’d you get to that job interview? Shawna took me.
Are you working? Kevin got me a job.
Have you found a place to stay? Shawna fixed me up.
When some of the clients had completed the grueling drug court program and were given graduation ceremonies, a mysterious woman in the back was clapping and cheering loudest of all.
Who is that? Judge Mike Rumley wanted to know.
It was Shawna.
The Coffmans’ church is simple. A pianist and drummer at the front. A congregation casual in summer shirts, shorts and sandals. Plenty of long hair. Plenty of tattoos. No minister robes.
A satiric bowling ball with a bolted chain and emblazoned with the word “religion” sits at the front.
Here was “someone for the underdog,” Bruegge said. Here was a community “giving back to a lot of people society had given up on.”
There was no formal line for greeting when it was done. Bruegge approached Shawna, who was mingling, and introduced herself.
Shawna gushed, “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
And the probation officer replied, “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Fifteen years ago, Kevin and Shawna simply wanted to publish a religious newsletter to send into prisons.
He was a construction tradesman with a tile company, and she was a graphic designer — and they still are.
Kevin Dimmick, 15 years ago, was coming out of his teen years on a path toward oblivion. A pot-smoking habit with friends was escalating.
“We said, ‘I wonder what meth does?’” Dimmick said.
Come 2014, three felonies later and a year of hiding out in a friend’s garage, strung out using and dealing, the 35-year-old Belton man was “going hard and heavy,” he said. “I knew the police were going to get me. I think I was trying to off myself.”
Once the police did get him, he found himself looking at drug court as an option out of a long prison sentence.
Over those same 15 years, the Coffmans’ nationwide prison newsletter had gained a following.
Some of their readers who left prison for homes in or near Cass County wanted to make church part of their lives but felt self-conscious and a bit ragged to step into a regular congregation.
So the Coffmans started a church in their home in 2002 just for those people. Within a few months, they rented a storefront shop to take in a small but growing church group.
They learned how much drugs and alcohol had ravaged so many of these former prisoners’ lives. Helping them help one another fight their addictions became a central part of their mission.
They moved into their own building in May 2011. Within a year, they opened a chapter of the national Celebrate Recovery program. It became one of the Cass County Drug Court’s approved choices for its clients’ required support group meetings.
Dimmick, as a drug court client, had to pick a support group, be it Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery. He didn’t want to do any of them.
A friend pointed him toward the Coffmans.
Kevin Coffman remembers Dimmick’s ashen face, the dark rings under his eyes, the gaunt body of a 6-foot-4 man whose weight had fallen below 150 pounds.
He had to do community service as part of his program, and the Coffmans, as they had with several drug court clients, offered work on their properties that fit the bill.
Dimmick was going to need to get into the Coffmans’ home. They gave him a key.
His eyes welled with tears to be holding it in his hand.
“They gave me the key to their house,” he said. “No one had ever trusted me like that. I had dealt with meth addicts all my life.”
‘Someone loved me’
The prayer request box sits on a shelf at the back of the sanctuary.
It’s a solid wood creation with thick seams, decorative golden rivets and rope handles, carved with a Western scene of a windmill and cowboy on horseback. Much like a crate, though no bigger than a lunchbox.
The 46-year-old Raymore woman offered the simplest note on her slip of paper.
She was new. Her break from meth was tenuous. As another pilgrim from drug court, she was hardly sure she belonged.
“I was scared to tell anyone,” she said.
So many broken things in her life seemed beyond repair, not the least of which was her mouth, which had been ravaged by meth to the point that the teeth she had left were extracted the last time she was in prison.
The hardest part was done, Moe Witt told her at a recent women’s group at the church.
Witt, who had gotten a new set of teeth herself, knew what a restored smile meant to someone trying to get a foothold for recovery.
The group had taken the Raymore woman in. They would arrange a new home and roommate for her to help her shed bad influences.
Because her teeth had already been extracted, she needed a few hundred dollars for the dental work.
The women in the circle shared knowing looks, Witt recalled. They would come up with the money.
Within days, the Raymore woman recalled, she got a surprise phone call from Shawna, who told her, “You’ve got an appointment!”
Retelling the moment, the woman wiped away tears.
“Someone loved me,” she said.
Shawna and Kevin haven’t experienced addiction. But they’ve learned.
They know that for every three people in their ministry in recovery, two are bound to relapse, they said.
Things disappear. Desperate people will take advantage of them.
“Sometimes we’re blessed,” Kevin said. “Sometimes we’re burned.”
Tony Eskue, 44, of Harrisonville, one of their early church members, brought the Coffmans the idea of starting a Celebrate Recovery program.
He, like all the people passing through, can tell you how hard recovery can be because they know the damage already done, damage that wasn’t enough to stop their fall.
“I was losing my wife and children, with grandbabies on the way,” he said.
They’ve already passed “now or never” moments like Corey Witt’s. He and Moe had landed in a homeless shelter in Paola, Kan., he said, and there he was in a bathtub, doing a large dose of bath salts — a dangerous mix of synthetic drugs.
He passed out. Bit his tongue. And woke up, still in a shelter.
“Once you cross a line, there is another line,” he said. “You cross that line.”
And some lines you can’t uncross, he said.
“I taught her how to shoot dope,” he said, looking across at Moe. “That’s my lowest point. Once you teach someone how to shoot meth, you can’t take it back.”
Knowing all they know makes them marvel at the small community that has clustered around the Coffmans.
This is their best chance.
“It’s about finding people you trust and care and love,” Corey Witt said.
Dimmick nodded. “You don’t want to let them down.”
One who fell
It is the Raymore woman who got her teeth who falls.
She has returned to jail, at least for now, and her future is unclear. There is some anger. Disappointment.
She’ll be out of their hands when they gather to sing and pray. But they will be thinking of her.
“I try not to take it personal,” Shawna Coffman said. “I try to protect my heart.”
Some things they cannot abide at Saved by Grace. You can’t sneak in drugs or alcohol. No dealing. You can’t be luring members out of recovery.
But for the most part, their patience is inexhaustible. The doors are always open.
They sing on.
“I am free … I am free …”
Hoping the woman can someday return.