Recovery takes step of faith

Minot churches bring addiction help to community

Aaron Witmer, left, and Albert Starr of Apostolic Faith Church work with ministries to reach individuals and families affected by addiction. The church’s Recovery Point program assists with addiction recovery. Photosby Jill Schramm/MDN

Addiction touches nearly everyone in some way, and the church isn’t exempt.

That reality has led a number of Minot churches to open their doors to recovery programs and, in some cases, take an active role in supporting recovery ministry, both within their congregations and within the community.

When Heather Leier’s Facebook support group for people in recovery and their families needed space to begin in-person meetings, she found that place at her church. Embrace ND has been meeting at Eagle’s Wings Community Fellowship since September 2017.

The church not only provides space and free coffee on Monday nights but gives any needed financial assistance. Although separate from the church, Embrace ND has been welcomed by Eagle’s Wings as part of its outreach to the community.

“It’s something that’s important, and I think it’s something that for too long is something we kind of ignored,” said Travis Hovde, lead pastor at Eagle’s Wings. “It’s something there’s a great need for in the community. Heather is just an awesome person for others to go to because she’s been through this.”

The Rev. Kent Hinkel of First Baptist Church and Susan Ladlee with Celebrate Recovery stand by a banner welcoming participants to the recovery program held Fridays in the church. Jill Schramm/MDN

“One thing people need to realize is that faith-based recovery isn’t shoving religion down your throat,” said Leier, who has family members in addiction. “We talk about our fears and our hopes and scripture that may pertain to that – just something to give us hope.”

Although it’s not a Bible study, Leier added, “That’s where we found our healing was through God’s Word, and we try to share those experiences.”

Recovery Point, offered at Apostolic Faith Church, includes a traditional 12 Step program but also includes biblical principles and brings in lessons tailored to the needs of the group. Program leader Aaron Witmer said even if people don’t embrace the faith, they can still embrace the principles of recovery.

Witmer had gone through Teen Challenge in his home state of Arizona for a drug addiction that began at age 12. Following a relapse, he moved to Oregon and transitioned back into the church. It was that church community that fueled his recovery.

“It’s a community of people that will surround you and love on you and walk with you,” he said. That’s the role Apostolic Faith is taking in its recovery ministry started about four years ago.

The church is seeking certification through the state’s Free Through Recovery to be able to make its services available to people coming out of the criminal justice system. It also hopes to be better able to connect people with other community resources and provide additional services, such as a clothing closet or resume-writing assistance.

“We want to be able to be the biggest resource for our community that we can be,” Witmer said.

As of now, the church has let people know of its program through its other outreach areas. It has a bus ministry to bring children from mobile home parks to its Sunday school and a meal, which has been a way to connect with families in need or families facing addiction issues, opening doors to home Bible studies or to bring people to Recovery Point.

“By seeing the addiction addressed, it is not only affecting the lives of these parents, which is important, but it’s giving a future for these children,” Pastor Jesse Starr said. “It takes a commitment from a church because it takes resources to make this happen. But if you are going to reach your community, it’s going to cost money.”

Apostolic Faith’s volunteers also offer Bible studies in the county jail and welcome inmates to participate in its Recovery Point once released. Volunteers conduct Bible studies for residents at the YWCA and draw some to Recovery Point.

Recovery Point is held Sunday afternoons, followed by a social gathering that enables those in the recovery class to meet members of the congregation or attend the afternoon church service. Because Apostolic Faith includes a number of members walking the road of recovery, Recovery Point participants can feel comfortable there and see examples of recovery success, Witmer said.

“We’re here to offer hope. And we’re here to help them, show them that there is an alternate path. They don’t have to live according to their will, that there is another will that they can live by that is fulfilling, that is life giving,” Witmer said. “We’ve walked in our own ways for so long, and we realize that our own ways didn’t work. And so there is a different way and that’s what we’re offering them.”

Another faith-based approach is the Celebrate Recovery program that First Baptist Church brought to Minot in April 2018.

“A good church is about its community, not just about itself,” said Senior Pastor Kent Hinkel. “Celebrate Recovery has the potential to put us on the leading edge of service to this community over the long haul. It really can help change lives.”

Susan Ladlee and her husband had been involved with Celebrate Recovery before coming to Minot and joining First Baptist. After another woman in the church became interested in Celebrate Recovery and approached Ladlee, they together went to church leaders about starting a local program. The church hosts the program with space, finances and pastoral support.

The Friday night program is open to the community and includes child care. It is designed to accommodate people struggling with not just alcohol or drugs but also anger, co-dependency or any issue from which they want to break free. The program is suitable for someone who wants to come once a week or the person who can only come once a month or sporadically. It lists its purpose as fellowship and celebration of God’s healing power through the 12 Steps and eight recovery principles, based on the biblical Beatitudes. Celebrate Recovery can help with healing even if people don’t take hold of the faith, but the strength of the program is its spiritual aspect, Ladlee said.

“A lot of programs have a higher power, but in our program, Jesus is our higher power,” she said. “A really important part of Celebrate Recovery is walking the faith and knowing that we’re not alone in this – whatever we’re struggling with.”

Celebrate Recovery was developed by John Baker and Rick Warren in 1991 at Saddleback Church in California.

“We have been aware of Celebrate Recovery for many years and we knew of its reliability, credibility,” Hinkel said. “We knew its success here in Minot would rise or fall on leadership – responsible, capable, local leadership.”

The leader-intensive program consists of a large group meeting with worship and a lesson or testimonial, step studies for more in-depth work and gender-specific small groups on different issues.

“The small group is where people have an opportunity to share,” Ladlee said. “The opportunity to share is really important because when people can talk about what’s going on in their mind and they can get it out and see it for what it is, it’s not so scary anymore. It’s not so hard because now it’s something that we can work on.”

Celebrate Recovery has recruited a group of dedicated leaders from First Baptist and other churches. It also has obtained volunteer helpers and attracted participants from other churches. Ladlee said the goal is to give people a safe place in their recoveries and send them back stronger to their churches. The hope is to someday have Celebrate Recovery programs throughout the week in different churches, she said.

Some Minot churches are lending their facilities to groups such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous. Vincent United Methodist Church, Congregational United Church of Christ, Living Word Lutheran Church, Our Redeemer’s Church and the Salvation Army all host groups.

Nationally, the Salvation Army operates no-fee rehabilitation centers. Capt. Debbie Stahl, Salvation Army said the local chapter has assisted a couple of people in the past two years by arranging attendance in programs in Chicago and Minneapolis.

The rehabilitation centers are spiritually based, residential programs structured to be completed within six months to a year. Residents gain access to job training, transitional housing and guidance in job-seeking skills. Locally, the Salvation Army also has made referrals to North Central Human Services.

“There’s resources out there. It’s just a matter of them being ready and willing. Even when the resources are available, it’s a matter of keeping them sober until they can get in,” Stahl said.

An estimated 10% to 12% of people using the Salvation Army’s social services have addiction issues, while the food pantry sees two or three such individuals a day. Those ministries present opportunities to build relationships that might influence people to turn their lives around, Stahl said.

Pete Pederson, executive pastor at Our Redeemer’s Church, worked for 15 years with individuals in a hospital addiction program, and through that work made connections that have attracted people to Our Redeemer’s who have addiction histories and a desire to bring addiction ministry to the church. Several weeks ago, the church began supporting North Dakota’s first chapter of PAL (Parents of Addicted Loved Ones) for family members of people battling addiction.

There’s been a mindset shift as the church has realized that addiction isn’t a choice, Pederson said. In more recent years, he’s seen an increasing openness about addiction.

“There was just a lot of shame. Part of that was from the church. We have to own that,” he said. “I think the church has changed in recognizing that we all have something we are struggling with.”

Leier said she is encouraged to see churches develop recovery ministries but believes all churches need to be prepared to respond.

“People talk about the stigma on those in recovery. The stigma on the family is just as bad. The support services for the family are not there. So a lot of the times, these families are looking to their pastors for guidance,” she said. “It’s going to take all of us coming together to create a recovery community. That’s the only way that people are going to successfully recover in Minot is to give them all sorts of options and routes to go. Because if everywhere they’re turning, they’re seeing something that supports recovery, it’s going to be less likely they’re going to go back to where they were.”

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