In process “We keep it by giving it away “

By Glen Doss, Major

No scar is etched so deeply and no blow is dealt so deftly that the love of Jesus can’t heal! I am strikingly reminded of this truth every day in my ministry. Nightly I pray, “Thank you, Lord, for your miracles.”

Today I want to share with you how much I delight in serving as an adult rehabilitation center (ARC) chaplain. Working alongside desperate men, doing my best to help them find the light of God, has become a passion for me. In post-retirement service now, as I reflect back over my years as an active officer, I realize that I experienced nothing that offered such a rich opportunity to directly make a real difference in another human life. Having another person do this for you is very different from doing it yourself. As we ministers get personally involved, we are deeply enriched. The Alcoholics Anonymous slogan, “We keep it by giving it away,” is a valid spiritual principle when applied to our faith as well.

Lost, anxious, our spiritually, emotionally ill people are brought to us by the county jail bus, their pastor, spouse, brother, sister or parents. I have known them to hike for as long as 36 hours along a railroad track, then sleep overnight out in the dark and damp just to be at our front door when it opens.

These hungry people come to us for a new chance at life. What they find when they arrive is a safe place where they can regroup, reflect, and start their lives over again. The chaplain has a narrow window of opportunity, not only to save a life—preventing a person from going to an early grave or spending a lifetime behind bars—but to save that person’s soul as well. Addicted to drugs, alcohol and other enchaining habits, our applicants have lost all control. They come desperate for help.

One man shared his story like this: “My life was in rubbles. I was caught in a compulsion. There was nothing I could do. After entering the ARC, I became engrossed in the message of the cross. I had never even been in a church before. But I remember the physical, mental and emotional change I felt, and I knew I had been given the gift of sobriety…I realized Christ had died for a suffering alcoholic like me.”

Another told me: “I grew up in an unreligious household. But then, as I watched the men file up to the altar after the sermon, I asked myself: ‘Should I give my heart to Jesus?’ Eventually I did, and soon I was praying each morning and evening alone in the chapel: ‘Dear God, keep me sober today and tomorrow.’”

In my first meeting with them, the majority of our men tell me bluntly they are hoping to “get God” into their lives. It’s often a last ditch effort for them. “I have tried everything else,” they tell me. These men desperately seek salvation from their predicaments. Such fertile ground for the Word of God is a joy to cultivate and tend.

Most of our applicants are already acquainted with the 12-Step Programs of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). These programs are complementary to the Christian faith—making it especially easy for chaplains to witness effectively for Christ within the context of recovery. The 12-Step Program is nothing if not spiritual at its core. The volume Alcoholics Anonymous, often referred to as the Big Book of AA, reads, “We have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically” (p. 64).

The majority of the men and women checking into our facilities have learned this. They have reached the conclusion that under their own power they are completely helpless over their addictions and have heard that there is a “Higher Power” somewhere who can set them free. Occasionally, they look me directly in the eye and declare,“I’m completely lost. Tell me about this Higher Power I keep hearing about at meetings.” They can’t be any more honest than that.

As chaplains we now guide our people into a new lifestyle, picking up where AA and NA leave off, showing them that this “God of their own understanding” is Jesus Christ. This connection between recovery and spirituality needs to be handled with compassion, sensitivity, understanding and competence. If you have been broken like them, and God has saved you, you see them as beautiful—and are excited at the prospect. Our challenge lies before us. It is clear: We must not let these beloved, desperate people down. And we need far more ministers in this vineyard: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matt. 9:37 NIV).


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