Ministering in the grip of addiction
I believe that unless a person has lived in the grip of an addiction or witnessed it in a family member or close friend, it will be very hard for them to appreciate the gift of true freedom in one’s life.
For almost seven years I have lived a life that I never knew existed. That’s because in 2014 I began my journey of recovery from a 41-year drug and alcohol addiction.
I will never, ever take this life of freedom for granted. My relationship with my family and friends has been restored and today, life is good.
My story began in the summer of 1973 when my father died of lung cancer. Those were the days when doctor’s made house calls, and because of the severe pain he endured due to his condition, there was a huge amount of pain meds in our family medicine cabinet.
I found some Morphine and shot it up, and that is when my addiction began. For the next 40-plus years. I was consumed by a substance abuse disorder that controlled every aspect of my existence.
It wasn’t until February 2014 that I finally became clean and sober for more than nine months at one time. Almost every day that I can recall, I was either using drugs or alcohol or searching for it. This compulsion came at a terrible price and eventually cost me everything that was precious to me, and almost took my life.
During the final year of my active addiction, I became aware that several friends locally were praying for my deliverance. One of those people was Lee Ann Fulton, a retired school principal. In December of 2013, she and her husband Jim send me a Christmas card that had listed on the back every day of that year she had prayed for me.
I had entered my last treatment facility and started, in earnest, my journey to recovery.
It was only two years later that I was called into the ministry. I had recently completed several drug and alcohol counseling classes. Our priority was to spread the Gospel, but to also reach out to a community of people in our midst who were broken by addiction and fighting for survival. I knew how bad these people were hurting, and I had a tremendous compassion and love for them.
My wife Joy and I both knew immediately that we were being called to minister to these people. Why? Because I was one of them. They were like me, and I was like them. The difference was that I had the remedy that would prevent this deadly disease from consuming them, and I wanted to share it.
It was then that I began to focus on the words of Jesus found in Matthew 25: 35-40. He spoke of six conditions of humanity that were consistent in people with addictions: 1) hunger 2) thirst 3) stranger (isolation) 4) nakedness 5) sick (multiple illnesses), and 6) prison. In this passage, Jesus was telling us that when we reach out and help those suffering in these conditions, and others in need, we are doing it for Him. It became clear that God wanted a local ministry that would embrace the people who most everyone else didn’t want to bother with, the ones who existed in the “margins”, the troubled and broken, the down and out, or those whom He described as “the least of these My brothers”.
We opened The River in the fall of 2017. My guess is the majority of people in our community (of Philadelphia) thought we were some kind of fly-by-night storefront church that would exist for only a few months. There were two things I knew: first, there is an incredible illegal and legal drug addiction problem in our area, and secondly, I knew exactly what needed to be done to help the people of my community who struggled with addictions.
Joy and I, along with Debra Stribling and Cheryl Mars, two retired teachers who are well known in Philadelphia, started a place for addicts and alcoholics to come to for help. We were committed to bringing the quality speakers who had themselves struggled and overcome addiction. We set out to offer the best classes, beginning with Brother Dwight Faulkenbery’s class, and to hold the meetings that would target the court-appointed men and women of our town.
Soon, Mrs. Bavetta and Mr. Ellis from the 8th District Judicial Drug Court, Hillery Atkins from MDOC, and other began to send the court-ordered to us for help.
The Recovery Bible says, “Nobody set out to become addicted to something. We were seeking something else — scape from pain, perhaps, or something to make up for our losses and brokenness — or maybe we had a subconscious desire for self-destruction”.
At The River, we have a staff who understands this and will address these issues. I believe nothing that happens in this world surprises God, and furthermore, every problem that mankind will face, God has already addressed in His Word.
Our message today to those people who struggle with addictions or other compulsions that control your life is: Don’t ever lose hope. Don’t ever give in to the discouraging words, or opinions of other people. Don’t ever give up on the opportunity of a better future.
We believe the person who has lived in the brokenness and bondage of addictions is not defined by the things he or she did, or the behavior displayed while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. No, those are simply things you did, but those things do not define you. God determines who you are, not man.
If you or someone you know and care for has fallen victim to the terrible clutches of an addiction, please don’t wait to seek help. Don’t suffer in isolation or try and convince yourself that you can quit on your own, with no outside help. That just doesn’t typically happen. Reach out to us, or someone who can help you.
The people of The River are committed to lifting up those among us who have been damaged by the ravages of addiction. We are for those people, and it is our privilege to minister to “the least of these, My brothers”.