Over 175 million persons aged 12 and older (65.7 percent of this population) reported alcohol use in the past year, with over 66 million (24.9 percent) reporting binge drinking in the past month.
Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, 2016
about the Elim Home
One of the oldest ministries of Thomas Road Baptist Church, Elim Home for Alcoholics, was established in 1959. It began, and continues to this day, as a spiritual ministry dedicated to helping alcoholic men find freedom from their bondage.
A residential program involving a stay of eight weeks forms the structure of Elim’s program. Men must voluntarily commit to the cost-free program which operates on the premise that spiritual regeneration results in permanent sobriety. Thousands nationwide give testimony that, through the ministry of Elim Home, they have been delivered from chemical dependency and are living changed, abundant lives in Christ.
history of the Elim Home
The Elim Home was started in 1959 as one of the new ministries of the ever-growing Thomas Road Baptist Church. Jerry Falwell’s father, though a successful businessman, had been an alcoholic who died from cirrhosis of the liver. In his role as pastor and especially in his daily visits, Jerry met men who also struggled against the power of alcohol. After he had met “the town drunk,” George Ragland, in the winter of 1958 and wanted so desperately to help this likeable character, his burden for alcoholic men intensified. Finally, he shared his heart with the deacons and eventually with the congregation at TRBC.
God’s Spirit led the church as they prayed about a way to minister to alcoholics. Jerry Falwell’s desire was to find a farm somewhere deep in the woods and a long distance from bars, restaurants, and liquor stores. Alcoholic men needed a place where they could dry out and find comfort and strength within a Christian community. In January, Jerry talked his brother Lewis into selling the church an isolated 165-acre farm he owned in Stonewall, Virginia, just eighteen miles from Lynchburg. The church’s first paid staff member, other than their pastor, was hired to oversee it.
Before all the cracks could be filled in the cold farmhouse, John Suttenfield, a friend of Jerry’s from the Fairview Christian Church, met with Jerry and told him about an immediate need with Earl Thompson. “He’s threatening to kill himself if he doesn’t get some kind of help quickly. I thought maybe you could help him.”
Jerry Falwell took Earl Thompson – drunk, delirious, and suicidal – home with him that evening. He had recognized Earl as a former driver of his dad’s who had run illegal booze into Campbell County during Prohibition. After he sobered up, Earl listened intently as Jerry explained the plan of salvation to him, assuring him that God loved him and had a good plan for his life. Earl wept his way to Jesus and was wonderfully saved. The next day, Jerry drove Earl Thompson and George Ragland up to Stonewall, Virginia.
Although the old farmhouse had no electricity or running water, Earl and George were admitted as the first residents in the new ministry Jerry named the Elim Home for Alcoholics. He adopted the name “Elim” from Exodus 15:27, an oasis the Jews found after the bitter waters of Marah. Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Greene became the first directors of Elim Home. They lived among the men and ministered to them unselfishly day and night.
Oil heaters were hastily installed, as well as bunk beds for the men to sleep on. Earl and George began their stay with hope, the first they had felt in many years. In the mornings they were taught God’s Word with love, compassion, and encouragement. In the afternoons they performed household and farm chores and hunted and fished together. In the evenings they sat around the fireplace and talked about life before and after the presence of alcohol in their lives.
A compassionate story was carried in Lynchburg’s Daily Advance about Earl and George and what Thomas Road Baptist Church was doing in the rather primitive farmhouse in Stonewall. This story was transmitted via the wires of the Associated Press and circulated around the world. Soon applications for Elim Home flooded into the church which had, in just a few weeks, filled the home with alcoholics from the Lynchburg area. Elim Home became a model, and homes like it soon sprang up around the country.
The church learned a valuable lesson about waiting upon God from their experience with starting Elim Home for Alcoholics. They had prayed, then acted to meet a need when they felt it was God’s time. Still they did not know how they could finance all the necessary changes to the property that were needed or how they could care for all the men free of charge. They had no money, no skills, and no experience with alcoholics.
Two days after the article appeared in the newspaper, a helicopter landed in the pasture near the old farmhouse. Mr. James Cooke, the executive director of an electrical cooperative, had read the article about Elim Home, and he and his top aides had come to help.
Not only did Mr. Cooke bring electricity to the property, but he arranged for Dan Candler who owned Mid-State Electric Company to wire the old farmhouse to receive it. After that, truckloads of stoves, refrigerators, heaters, and various appliances were unloaded. A plumbing supply house put in bathrooms, and a septic company dug and installed a septic tank. Soon the 165-acre farm was filled with volunteer laborers, including carpenters, plumbers, painters, and decorators. All freely donated their time and labor. Even the fireplace was reconditioned.
A loving church had prayed and acted, and God had made the difference.
Upon leaving Elim Home after their 60-day stay, Earl and George became allies of Jerry Falwell in the ministry. Both grew to be vibrant Christians who maintained their sobriety for the rest of their lives. They were among the thousands in the years to come whose lives were changed forever by the power of God. The testimonies are countless of those who found liberation from the bondage of alcohol and went on once they left Elim Home to be reunited with their families and live productive lives.
Our son’s restored life began at Elim Home’s doorstep. We are very grateful.
Parents of a Graduate