Five years ago, R. Forest Quillen prayed the first sincere prayer in his life. A series of felonies had landed him in prison; psychosis from illicit drug use had caused him to become suicidal.
“I was literally out of my mind,” says Quillen, 26. Locked in solitary confinement, Quillen contemplated suicide. He had a plan and was ready to carry it out.
Quillen’s struggle began in childhood, where his Letcher County home in Kentucky was the scene of many cocaine-fueled parties. After his parents divorced, Quillen and his sister went into foster care.
“I bounced around from home to home to home,” he remembers. “I ended up getting kicked out of high school and put into disciplinary homes and alternative centers.”
At 18, Quillen robbed a store with a group of friends. After being caught, he served two years in prison. When released, he went back to his lifestyle of drugs and other illegal activities, including manufacturing methamphetamines. He spent another two years incarcerated. Mental health workers diagnosed him with bipolar disorder, depression, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. They told Quillen he had no hope of recovery because of his heavy drug use.
In solitary confinement, preparing to end his life, Quillen realized he had one avenue left to try for help.
“I cried out to God to save me,” he says. Quillen’s grandmother had taken him to church many times during his childhood, but he had never considered following Jesus until that moment. “It was the first sincere prayer that I ever prayed.”
When released again from imprisonment, Quillen knew he needed to be surrounded by godly people. He started attending Calvary Assembly of God in Cynthiana, Kentucky. Quillen faithfully attended church, but he still battled old temptations. Michael L. Barres, who served as pastor of Calvary AG at the time and is now the director of Teen Challenge of the Smokies, knew Quillen needed more help than what the church could offer.
“I told Forest, You’re weak, you’re messed up, and you need to get help,” says Barres, 63. He encouraged Quillen to enroll in Chad’s Hope, a Teen Challenge program for men in Manchester, Kentucky. Teen Challenge International USA is a department of U.S. Missions.
“I went to Teen Challenge to follow Jesus,” Quillen says. Through Chad’s Hope, his life transformed radically. After graduating from the program, Quillen became an intern and is now the outreach director at Chad’s Hope. He is also youth pastor at City of Hope Church in Manchester.
Drawing on his past life experiences, Quillen developed a program called Be Somebody. Be Somebody uses biblical principles to encourage high school seniors to make good life choices. Be Somebody allows Quillen to build relationships with students and school officials. He is often invited back to give additional talks to students using Teen Challenge’s Stay Sharp. Quillen has presented his Be Somebody program to nearly 50,000 teens in schools across Kentucky.
As outreach director of Chad’s Hope, Quillen gets to minister directly to the men in the program. He speaks at chapel services and mentors them through their recovery process.
“He knows what it’s like to be where those men are and to help them walk that path,” says Duvall.
“I get to do what I love to do because of putting God first,” says Quillen.