Editor’s note: The Steve Hill mentioned in this story is not the same Steve Hill who is the founder of AEgis Technologies.
Jim Summers doesn’t know how many people he has helped throughout the years because he doesn’t believe in the validity of statistics. He estimates hundreds—maybe even thousands—have gone through the addiction recovery program he founded in 1969. After growing up in a family plagued by alcoholism and dysfunction, he has a special connection to these people.
He realized early on his true calling was helping addicts, people who needed a little bit of coaching and a whole lot of Jesus.
“It was really strange because I never dreamed I’d be doing it,” Jim said about working with addicts. “It just sort of fell in my hands. I started working with young kids … and saw them getting in trouble as juveniles and saw them as they got involved with the regular courts and started working with them, and the next thing I know, I’m working completely with drug addicts and alcoholics.”
Jim founded Outreach Ministries of Alabama as a treatment program to fight addiction and assist participants around the clock. When they outgrew the original house, they moved out to a 160-acre farm in Valhermosa Springs—a rural Morgan County community off Highway 36.
They jokingly call it a boot camp for Jesus, but Jim prefers to think of it as a discipleship program.
“When I started the ministry, and we opened up the first home, … we were working with people who had drug and alcohol problems that everybody had given up on,” Jim said. “God didn’t give up on anybody.”
It was an encounter with a prisoner Jim met through his work with the court system that saved Jim’s life. It took more than 30 years to come full circle, but he wouldn’t be here to tell the story if it hadn’t taken that one strange turn so long ago.
From Drug Deals to Mission Work
Picture this: It’s 1975 and Huntsville is booming. Gerald Ford is President. Jimmy Hoffa is missing. Patty Hearst had been kidnapped, and Jim Summers was six years into his work with addicts. One day, he went to get Steve Hill out of prison. He’d been arrested on a handful of drug charges. Jim says Steve was one of Huntsville’s biggest drug dealers at the time.
But Steve went through Jim’s program and turned his life around.
He went on to become a missionary, while Jim spent the next few decades helping people like Steve. In fact, Jim’s now-son-in-law is a graduate from the Outreach Ministries of Alabama program. The two men kept in touch.
Then Steve invited Jim to go with him on a crusade around the world to plant churches and teen programs in underserved areas. For seven years, the two men traveled all over creation—Russia, England, Indonesia, Africa, Germany, France and all over the United States.
But when they returned home in 2002, Jim got some troubling news about his health.
Jim learned he had diabetes, an infection in his foot and was in renal failure. Diabetes was manageable and the infection was treatable, but the renal failure was a serious concern.
“It was a shock, but it was something that I couldn’t do anything about,” Jim said. “They told me that (my kidneys) were slowly going down.”
His kidneys worsened, and doctors told Jim he would need a transplant. Friends and family members lined up to see if they were a donor match. Jim’s son was a match, but he had a slight heart murmur that took him out of the running.
While Jim and his family were going through all of the trials of finding a match, they got a phone call from Steve Hill’s sister. Jim’s wife answered and told the woman they hadn’t found a kidney for Jim.
“(My wife) told her, ‘We’re discouraged, but we believe God is going to do something,’” Jim said.
God did do something.
Turns out, Steve’s sister was a match for Jim, and on August 14, 2006, Jim got his new kidney.
That was 11 years ago, and Jim hasn’t taken one day for granted. As soon as he recovered, he went right back to helping drug addicts and alcoholics.
Handing His Ministry Over
After 48 years running Outreach Ministries of Alabama, Jim is ready for a little change. He’s handing operations over to his daughter and son-in-law while he opens a counseling ministry for parents of addicts.
The goal is to help parents know what to do and what not to do when they find out one of their children is on drugs. They’ll have a lot of emotions, and Jim’s five-decade career in helping addicts qualifies him to answer some of their questions.
“With all the years I’ve been in it, I know that parents suffer as much as their children do, if not more,” Jim said. “They don’t know what to do. … They all blame themselves.”
While Jim’s life includes some incredible successes in helping others, he’s quick to note he doesn’t take credit for any of it.
“It’s all what God did in their lives,” Jim said. “All that glory goes to God. It has nothing to do with man.”
For more information on Outreach Ministry of Alabama, check out their website. Jim and his new kidney will be launching his counseling ministry in the next few months, so check back with the Community Journal for details on how he is helping parents of drug addicts and alcoholics.
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