COLUMBIA, S.C. (courtesy ciu.edu) — There are probably few ministries in the Columbia area that have felt the positive, powerful impact of Columbia International University more than Providence Home, a transitional home for men in recovery who desire to overcome substance abuse.
For the last 16 years, the 57-year-old ministry on North Main Street has been under the direction of two CIU alumni. Ken Ritchie, a former CIU staff member who graduated from the Seminary in 1990, served as Providence Home executive director from 2004 until his retirement in 2013. Rob Settle was then appointed to take his place. Settle earned a bachelor’s degree in 1982 and Seminary degree in 2000. He would later serve as an administrator at Ben Lippen School before coming to Providence Home.
“God has always developed me and called me to be a shepherd,” Settle said when asked why he serves at Providence Home. “Anywhere I’ve gone I’ve had that shepherding aspect in my life.”
But he says another part of his background also helps at a place like Providence Home. He studied Law Enforcement in junior college and used to be the police chief and a pastor at the same time in the small town of Cameron, South Carolina.
“The joke was that if Rob stops you, do you know what happens? You have to listen to four of Rob’s messages,” Settle recalled with a laugh.
At Providence Home, Settle says he ministers to guys he would have stopped as a police chief. When he interviewed for the Providence Home position, Ritchie, the outgoing executive director, told him he was “perfect for the job” because he understood both criminal justice and Christianity.
“So for me to come in here and minister to guys who have been in prison, minister to guys who have been in trouble with the law, to have a shepherd’s heart and a law enforcement background is a comfort for the guys,” Settle said. “I love these men, no matter what background they’ve come from. But I still believe in justice and mercy, but if I err, I err on the side of mercy.”
From Homeless to Board Member
A longtime CIU influence at Providence Home is a man who used to be on the receiving end of the ministry. CIU Postmaster J.W. Hayes is on the Providence Home Board of Directors. But his introduction to Providence Home was a need to stave off hunger in the days when the ministry offered daily meals to the homeless. Hayes had addictions that led him to live on the streets until New Year’s Eve 1989 when he came to repentance through Christ in a jail cell. Now, he often speaks to the Providence Home residents from personal experience.
“I was there, right where they’re at,” Hayes says. “And I am where I am now, so I know what God can do.”
Hayes has had a steady job in CIU’s post office for 28 years, offering a living example of God’s grace to the Providence Home residents.
“I’ve come full circle. I’m a tax paying, law-abiding citizen. I’m real proud of that,” Hayes says. “I don’t take that lightly. The Lord just changed my whole insight.”
A Female Perspective
A newer Providence Home Board member is CIU Assistant Athletics Director Kim Abbott who says in a YouTube video on the Providence Home website that she is “all in” at the ministry. Abbott joined the board in 2019 soon after the death of her father, John Erickson, who had a big influence on her life. Erickson was a former University of Wisconsin basketball coach and former president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).
“I’m sensitive to the role of my father as he was a protector, and a provider, and an encourager,” Abbott said. “There are men who come to Providence Home that have lost that, and are seeking that, and they can find that in their heavenly Father (at Providence Home). It’s a special ministry, very practical, for men.”
Other CIU influence past and present include:
- Chas Sulita, a 1982 alumnus, is a Providence Home case worker
- The late Dr. Bob Kallgren, who served at CIU as a vice president, was the chairman of the Providence Home Board for several years
- Henry Hennagan, a former CIU staff member, is a current Providence Home Board member
- Ken Ritchie is still involved as a board member.
An Even Greater Love
As Providence Home celebrates the dedication of a new modern dorm and the expansion of other facilities on its growing campus, Settle says God is teaching him more important lessons than how to read architectural drawings.
“I almost get a little teary-eyed when I think about some of this,” Settle begins, saying that his shepherd’s heart “has gone to a new level,” and noting the deaths of some current and former Providence Home residents.
“I have a greater love for men like these, much more than when I first came in. It’s much deeper now. Life is short. My heart is so much more compassionate for them. None of us are promised tomorrow.”