*This story first appeared in The Budget’s May 23, 2018, Local Edition.
By Stacey Carmany
Inspired by its founder’s own journey through addiction, Operation 6:12 serves as a place of refuge where men from all walks of life work together to overcome their challenges, restore their lives and reconnect with their higher power.
“Battling my own problems, I realized how difficult it is,” said Operation 6:12 founder and Executive Director Paul Fehr. “It’s a life-or-death situation, and while most people think you should just quit. It’s not that easy.”
Born in Berlin to loving parents in an Amish household with nine siblings, Fehr enjoyed a pleasant childhood but often felt like an outsider among his peers. At age 15, he began smoking marijuana before moving on to alcohol, cocaine and later methamphetamine and eventually began selling drugs to support his habit.
Plagued by extreme guilt and shame for what he had done to his life and family, Fehr wanted to turn things around but felt hopeless and enslaved by his addiction. He begged God every night to help him escape from his demons. An opportunity for redemption presented itself when he was arrested for selling narcotics.
While incarcerated, Fehr began to praise God every day for the opportunity to turn his life around. At the same time, he also began to feel a heavy burden on his heart to help lead others experiencing similar struggles to a life of redemption and the love of Jesus Christ.
After being released, Fehr began working to develop a peer-supported, Christian faith-based men’s sober living program that would ultimately become known as Operation 6:12, a name derived from the Biblical passage Ephesians 6:12.
In 2013, he found a home for the program in a residential neighborhood in Canton. From there, the program moved to Millersburg and then to Winesburg before finding a permanent home last spring on County Road 70, just outside of Sugarcreek.
Fehr noted that the reason Operation 6:12 was started in Canton was because there was a house available for rent at that time, however, the goal had always been to move closer to home and make the program available to the area’s Plain communities.
“Our passion was always to help the local Plain community because I was raised Amish,” he shared. “My heart really went out to people that are struggling around here to make sure they get the help that they need.”
One of the things that sets Operation 6:12 apart from other faith-based sober living facilities, according to Fehr, is its tight-knit, family-oriented environment in which participants become more than just peers but also brothers. “We operate as a family, and people feel loved, which makes them feel safe enough to work on their problems,” he explained.
While the living environment was designed to be laid back, Fehr noted the program itself is actually quite strict, and men are held accountable for their progress and behavior on a very personal level.
“If someone is struggling getting along with someone else, we’ re going to make sure that we get to the bottom of that, and they’re going to work that out,” he explained. “Sometimes it takes a few months for those issues to actually come to the surface. When they do, they’re going to deal with it or they’re no longer going to be welcome here. We’re very strict on them working on themselves but very relaxed on our overall atmosphere, and the reason we can pull that off is because we’re a tight-knit family.”
Over the course of the seven- month program, participants take part in daily Bible studies while also working through a 12-step program and the Purpose-Driven Life small group curriculum, designed to help participants discover a deeper sense of meaning in their lives.
“The purpose, for men especially, is 100 percent key,” Fehr explained. “If you don’t live by purpose, you will fall into default. Default always takes you the wrong way.”
There is no cost for individuals to take part in the program, however, participants are required to earn their keep by pitching in to help with household responsibilities and working alternating weeks at partnering community job sites to help cover the cost of the program. “That goes to pay for their stay, and then at the end when they transition, they get a paycheck,” Fehr explained.
While many graduates either move on or return home to their families, others stick around to help run the program. “We have a really good team of graduates,” Fehr said. “They help so much it’s unbelievable. They just pour into this program.”
One such graduate is Dan Molzan, a Parma native who came to Operation 6:12 as a last-ditch effort to escape his addiction and turn his life around before he ended up dead or in prison.
Through hard work and a willingness to surrender himself to God and fully commit to the program, Molzan was able to complete his recovery and is now helping others do the same as the program’s house manager.
“All these guys here are under my wing, and I help them walk through recovery and I help introduce them to God because a lot of people have deep-seated resentments towards God because they like to blame Him for all the stuff that had happened,” he explained. “Then, when we break it down, we see that God is the one who got you to where you’re still here right now. Without Him, we all could have ended up dead. I know I should have been dead six or seven times, just through overdoses or driving drunk.”
Before Tim Cohen of Columbus came to Operation 6:12, he was homeless and in active addiction. A rebel by nature, Cohen said it took awhile for him to acclimate to the program, but when he did, it was worth it.
“I would recommend this program because it has a family environment, and it definitely helped me find my faith,” he shared. “There’s something to be said about being in a place where everybody is on the same page, everybody wants to succeed, everybody’s pushing everybody to do better. It’s a wonderful program. I would definitely suggest it to anybody who’s trying to get clean.”
In addition to its program for men, Operation 6:12 also helped launch Rubies House, a Millersburg-based sober-living facility for women.
The Rubies program recently came back under the Operation 6:12 umbrella and is being moved to a 117-acre wooded property in Sturgis, Michigan, 20 miles north of Shipshewana, Indiana, with enough space to accommodate both women and their children.
Fehr shared that he is excited about the new opportunity, which will also help Operation 6:12 fulfill its underlying mission of helping children and families in crisis. “That’s where my passion is,” he said. “When I’m working with the men, I tell them sometimes, ‘I’ m not working for you. I’m working for your wife. I’m working for your three children. I’m working for your mom and dad. That’s who I’m working for.’”
The Sturgis property is currently being renovated, and the organization is seeking donations to help fund the project. Checks made payable to Operation 6:12 can be mailed to 415 Rhine St. SW, Sugarcreek, OH 44681.
For more information about the organization, call 330-600-0072.