a Fix at Hope Caf?
by LeAnn Corn
The Hope Caf? in Akron, Ohio serves up hope to bikers, dopers, drunks
and anyone else in need of a fix. This very unusual place gives new
meaning to the phrase ?Hog Heaven?.
Dana Hughes turned his car
onto East South Street in Akron and saw a line of motorcycles parked
outside what he thought was one of the local beer joints.
"Hope Cafe." The
lighted sign hovered over jeans-and-leather-clad patrons as they mingled
on the sidewalk in front of the open door. Hughes thought he may as well
go in and get something to drink, but he was sure he wouldn?t find any
A 30-year-old crack addict and
alcoholic living in his car, Hughes had nearly given up on ever being able
to turn his life around.
As soon as he walked through
the door, Hughes noticed something was different about Hope Cafe. He
spotted a "no smoking" sign instead of the typical beer signs
and a menu for specialty coffees posted beside a Bible study schedule.
Harley-Davidson coffee mugs
lined the shelves behind the counter along with mugs printed with the
"Serenity Prayer." He heard people talking about motorcycles and
Jesus, but they weren?t taking that name in vain as he was used to
A small band in the corner was
playing what sounded like rock-n-roll, but the words were unfamiliar,
something about Heaven maybe?
"Bikers hang out
here?" Hughes thought incredulously to himself. "No way."
Then a man approached him and
struck up a conversation. People here seemed genuinely interested and didn?t
seem to judge him. He quickly learned Hope Cafe was a place where everyone
is shown respect in the name of Christ. That was back in 1993, and Hughes
hasn?t left yet.
In 1987 Akron Bible Church and
the Revs. Lee Miller and Howard Duma started a drug and alcohol recovery
outreach and a motorcycle ministry in this inner-city Akron neighborhood.
In 1991 the church acquired the property at 335 E. South St., formerly a
run-down pub, as a permanent home for the ministry?s new Hope Cafe.
The obscure coffeehouse has
become a major hangout for Christian bikers who keep coming back for the
fellowship and to subtly tell newcomers about how Christ has changed their
lives. They may appear the stereotypical biker gangs, but a closer look
reveals these men and women have only a Biblical high.
As part of the Hope Cafe
ministry, Hope House and Hope Home, two residential properties, have also
been opened to help homeless men with drug and alcohol addictions find
healing by providing a safe place to live.
"Forget 12 steps,"
Hughes says. "We show these men the one-step program: Jesus
Hughes knows first-hand,
turning his life over to Jesus is the only thing that saved him from dying
a drunken crack addict in the gutter.
"I spent more than 17
years as an addict," Hughes said. "Then God delivered me."
became an ordained minister and was named director of Hope Cafe in 1999.
He also met his wife,
Anne-Marie, there, and they were married in 1995. They now have two young
daughters, Britny and Beth, and recently purchased their first home.
He ended up finding hope in
this unlikely place after all.
"Keep plugging away at
it," Hughes told a young man who came in chatting about repairs
needed to be done on his bike. He asked for some water, which Hughes
provided along with a few encouraging words.
"I didn?t have to thump
him over the head with a Bible or throw my testimony at him the first time
he walked in," Hughes said. "But because he saw we weren?t
going to judge him, I know he?ll be back."
When people come back ?
leather, chains, tattoos and all ? Hughes and staff member Rev. Gary
Brancho are able to develop personal relationships that point others to
Frank Smith had just been
released from prison three years ago when a minister from Akron Bible
Church recognized him on the street and invited him to Hope Cafe.
"I had already made up my
mind I was tired of my drinking and carousing, but I had no real
plan," Smith said. "Here they let me do my own thing but
insisted I at least attend Bible studies. And they were real
Smith was soon living at Hope
House and was dealing with the fact that he had abused every kind of drug
available for almost 40 years. He was also a notorious Akron drug lord
much of that time.
"I kept to myself a lot
that first year here," Smith said. "I?m in my 50s, I?m
black, and I didn?t really think I had much in common with a bunch of
bikers. But I gradually started filling in at the cafe and started talking
with some of the guys."
Now Smith serves full-time as
a night supervisor at Haven of Rest homeless shelter in Akron.
"I constantly come across
that same self-defeated attitude that I once had. But I play hardball with
them," Smith said. "I ran from the Lord as hard as I could for
36 years ... my father was a minister, my whole family was Christian, but
I thought I was too smart for that.
"I want people to know,
nothing anybody has done is any more despicable than what I?ve done.
Saying you?re too bad to turn around is just an excuse. If you choose to
call on the Lord, He?s waiting for you."
Ray and Melissa Kitchen found
that to be true. They were on the verge of divorce when Ray began to stop
by Hope Cafe. Night after night he saw God in the people there, and he
wanted that life-changing peace. He started asking questions, and got
answers without feeling shame or embarrassment. One night he called out to
Jesus, and later his wife did the same. The Kitchens are now involved in a
church ministry and rebuilding their marriage.
Another couple got off the bus
from California with just the clothes on their backs. They saw the bikes
out front, and curiosity led them into Hope Cafe. Hughes was able to help
them find food and shelter as well as provide free Gospel concert tickets.
They assured him they would be back.
The Rev. Earl Thomas of
Community Fellowship Chapel is one of many Akron area ministers who stop
by Hope Cafe regularly to chat with people like these couples.
"We don?t come here to
preach but just to share openly of ourselves over a cup of coffee,"
"A lot of Christians come
down here just for fellowship," Hughes added. "Most of them are
real down to-earth and are being used by God here."
When non-Christian bikers,
streetwalkers, college students and others see the motorcycles lined up
outside, they stop in just to see what this place is. That?s the staff?s
chance to get to know them.
"Because I came from
there (drug addiction), it?s very easy for me to share how God delivered
me," Hughes said. "And because we?re in the inner city, we see
very lost and very addicted people."
As Hope Cafe?s evening staff
member, Brancho is another member of the crew able to really relate to
people right where they are.
A former heroine addict,
Brancho became a Christian in the 1970s while serving a long jail
sentence. He was released from prison in 1999 and found employment and
acceptance at Hope Cafe.
At the very least, visitors to
Hope Cafe leave with a Gospel tract and a few words of encouragement.
"We just want to help
people realize the only way they?re going to have a victorious life is
if they accept Jesus Christ and apply the principles of: His Word to their
lives," Hughes said. "It?s possible. I?m proof."
Hope Cafe is open every day of
the week and is funded totally by faith. God has provided needs beyond
what they could ever have imagined, so much that they hope to expand the
Hope Cafe concept to cities worldwide.
"God has always been
faithful to keep the doors open," Hughes said. "We not only are
able to serve coffee and meals here, but the biggest thing is that we are
a soul-winning station."
Being on the front lines of
the ministry battlefield is not a walk in the park, though, Hughes
confided. "I put my life on the line for Christ every day. We?re
not just playing church down here, we?re in real spiritual
If you or someone you know wants help to break the chains of
alcohol or drug addiction, contact Gary Brancho.Call