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    Of course we need substance abuse centers. New ones are being built? Great. Where? In our neighborhood? Well…

    It’s often the case. El Cajon, for example, has been struggling with the homeless problem for many years. A strong controversy was raised when the Rev. John Conrad, pastor at St. Albans Episcopal Church, allowed more than 100 people to camp in a vacant lot beside his downtown church. The neighbors vigorously complained and the homeless were out.

    Recently, Alpha Project, a nonprofit agency operating low-income housing units and treatment centers for the homeless throughout Southern California, was commissioned by Hamann Corporations to convert the Fabulous 7 Motel and a vacant restaurant on East Main Street in El Cajon into a transitional-housing facility, which would include a preschool, job training, adult-education programs, and a for-profit restaurant to help finance the center. Residents would also receive medical services, chemical-dependency counseling and 12-step programs.

    Unfortunately, a lawsuit filed to stop the plan has delayed grant funding and renovations until at least December. Hamann has enlisted the help of Set Free Ministries to manage the motel until Alpha Project can take over.

    Pastor John Cabrera of Set Free Ministries, who describes Alpha Project as a “very successful agency with a good, very effective program,” said that “the motel residents are ecstatic about their work. Most of them are families who cannot afford to rent a house.”

    “We got rid of drug-dealing and prostitution,” he explained. “Our people manage the hotel and those who do wrong feel uncomfortable in staying around, because they don’t want to be exposed. Some move on. A small element is still there, because it’s still a motel and anyone can rent a room.”

    Some neighbors are not as ecstatic. “Some people had a tremendous fear that the worst was going to happen, so they stopped the work,” Pastor Cabrera continued. He said that some fear is still there today.

    “Set Free Ministries continues as it did from its beginnings in 1982 until the present to win souls for Jesus,” said Pastor Phil Aguilar, founder of Set Free Ministries. “Motel 7 is another attempt to take in the homeless, the drug addicts, the lost of this world, and give them something to eat, and to share the Love of Christ with them.”

    “We have, since the beginning of our ministry, taken in people off the streets and tried to obey the great commission of making disciples for Jesus,” he continued. “We are a simple group of Jesus Freaks.”

    Pastor Cabrera, who, like 99% of the church’s membership, has come out of the drug and alcohol lifestyle, accredits, in part, this common background for the success of their mission. “We can relate to these people and even look like them. In our church, people are encouraged to be themselves. We may look wild, but it’s the inside that counts.”

    In the San Diego area, Set Free Churches can be found in El Cajon, National City, Oceanside, and Lincoln Heights.

    The greatest reason of their success, according to Pastor Cabrera, is the pure and simple preaching of the Gospel. “Like many others, I went from program to program,” he said. “Christ is a way of life and not a program. We are all about Jesus and about the Bible.”

    Set Free’s motto, “Set Free is strictly for the hardcore,” reveals the character of the church. For the hardcore, they have established training centers, usually out of the beaten paths. In the East County, they have a Women and Men Ranch in Dulzura. Plans are made for another center in Escondido. “You have to get people away from temptation,” Pastor Cabrera said.

    Rather than focusing on rehabilitation, Set Free centers are about training disciples. Rehabilitation naturally follows.

    But there are some who are not the hardcore, and Set Free still reaches out to them in their churches or in outreach efforts such as Motel 7. Those are the people who need food, clothes, and shelter as expressions of God’s love until they discover the God who expresses that love. They are in our streets everywhere, and can’t all be shipped to the desert. But when food, clothes, and shelter are provided in our regular neighborhoods, that’s when neighbors start feeling uncomfortable.

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