"Whatever it took." That was Jared Bellan′s mantra as a 22-year-old drug dealer with a 10-bag- a-day heroin habit.
Before he was given new hope in Christ, Jared Bellan was the go-to drug runner between Pittsburgh and all of Beaver County. Today he′s clean and, following graduation from Geneva College′s Adult Degree Completion Program (ADCP), has become the pastor in charge of the City Reach Church-Monaca, a branch of the City Reach Network.
"I started using at 11 years old and started selling drugs at 13 or 14 years old," Jared says, recounting his life. His family was Catholic, but he preferred doing drugs to attending church. By the time Jared was 17 or 18 years old, he was a major dealer, continuing until he was 22. "That′s a decade of life just gone," he says, "trying to climb up the drug ladder to be the top guy."
Around 11 o′clock one night, Jared was driving through Beaver Falls Hill on a drug run. He heard sirens behind him just as he began driving up the hill beside Geneva. He was arrested just outside Geneva′s McCartney Library, where police found him in possession of large amounts of cash and nearly 200 bags of heroin.
"Part of me was glad the running was over," Jared says in retrospect. At the time, he was suffering from a stress fracture in his back, caused by a car accident a few years earlier, and moving aimlessly from hotel to hotel, living with a pregnant drug-addicted girlfriend in what he terms a "hopeless life."
In prison, withdrawn from drugs and with a fractured spine, Jared could only think about getting away from it all. When the prison chaplain gave Jared a Bible and pointed him to Matthew 7:7-"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you"-the passage hit home.
"It blew me away," Jared explains, "because he was asking me to ask him for something. Who was this God? Why does he even care about me? I always tell people that nothing really magical happened to me that day, I was just sobbing before the Lord with a seven-foot-guy bunked beneath me."
Jared woke up the next morning without any pain in his body. The spinal fracture, which would have led him to pain medication and possibly back to his old life, no longer hurt. "It was pretty weird," Jared says. He has a humble attitude towards the extraordinary events that have shaped his life for the better. He notes that the God-ordained events were "pretty interesting" or "pretty weird," and is amazed that God lined up events exactly the way that he wanted.
Thirty days later, Jared was out on bond to await a trial that might put him in federal prison for up to 10 years. He got a job at a restaurant, started attending church and lost many of the people he had previously considered his friends. In the midst of the turmoil, Jared turned to God and prayed, saying, "Lord, whatever you want from my life, I told you I′d do it."
At that moment, he heard the mail drop into the mailbox. "Normally you don′t stop praying to get the mail, but I felt this tug," Jared says, shrugging. It was a letter from Geneva College to go to school for ministry.
"I had never applied to go to Geneva for ministry, and I hadn′t mentioned anything to anybody. So it was definitely a God-ordained moment," Jared said. "I grabbed it." Jared applied as a community ministry major even though his prison sentence was still undetermined.
At first, Jared was excited that he managed to get his sentence down to 16 months in a county jail, as he knew it was far less than his crimes merited. But at his hearing, the district attorney failed to show up. Then, in what Jared calls "another God moment," the judge grew lenient at the sight of Jared′s son, Jayden, and decided on intensive probation. For six months, Jared kept curfew and took daily drug tests until his probation officer, citing Jared′s character, told him "I normally don′t do this, but if you pay off your fine, you′re done." By the time Jared started at Geneva, he was an entirely free man. He still chuckles in disbelief at the prison time he avoided against all expectations.
Jared′s experience at Geneva helped him grow in his understanding of how to be missions- minded. "That′s one thing I really like about Geneva," he says, "they wrap it all back around to the main thing, which is a relationship with Jesus Christ."
Jared is also fascinated by the fact that he was first arrested in front of Geneva, only to return to it while remaking his life. "It was like God said, âthis is my college, boy. It′s time that I intervene in your life,′" he says wryly.
While working through the ADCP, Jared served on the staff at Beaver Falls First Assembly of God. He met his wife, Melissa, at Geneva, marrying her the month after his graduation. He pastored at several churches, moving out to the middle of the state, but soon felt a call to move back to the site of his worst memories: Beaver County.
There, Jared found the City Reach Network, which has opened six churches in Beaver County to date. Jared will soon be opening his own, the City Reach Church-Monaca. He will run compassion-based ministries, such as giving away school supplies, Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas gifts, while partnering with a pre-existing church, North Branch Presbyterian Church, located at 139 North Branch Road Monaca, Pa. The church website is www.crcmonaca.org.
He hopes to reach out to the drug-addicts of Beaver County in an act completely opposing his drug-enabling career eight years prior. Jared stresses that he isn′t trying to do it all alone: "It′s been very kingdom-minded," Jared says. "It′s the body of Christ working together. It′s not about us, it′s about Jesus. Every church is God′s church."
Jared Bellan can sum up City Reach′s vision in a simple sentence: "We want to reach the one who is far from God, and make him a passionate follower of Jesus Christ." The process certainly worked for Jared.
-Adam Rowe ′14