Stephen Sutter: “I’ve come light years”
Disoriented and confused, the man, 37, checking into the ARC program, glanced cautiously in at the chapel door, then stepped inside. Spying the cross looming large above the platform, he paused. The cross still engaging his attention, he slipped lightly into one of the pews.
Alone in the chapel (“It was just me and the cross,” Stephen Sutter recalls), he felt himself being enveloped by an “overwhelming sensation” of “the forgiveness of God.”
“My life was in rubbles” in 1995, Steve remembers. “I had nothing left to stand on. In incredible misery, I really thought I was dying. Now, gazing at the cross, all the things I used to have hints of…kind of folded in, and I realized that it was about the death of Christ on the Cross!
“I didn’t know anything about Christianity. I had never even been in a church before–literally! But I remember the physical, the mental, and the emotional change I felt, and I knew I had been given the gift of sobriety. I left that chapel rejuvenated. I had hope. Later that night during the worship service, I went forward to the penitent form.”
Captain Stephen Sutter
Steve terms his past life as “years of searching for God.” Reflecting on the “nonreligious household” in which he grew up, he recalls becoming aware early on that something vital was missing. “There was a time when I realized there was more to life than what I was experiencing.”
Born in Hollywood, Calif., to parents who divorced not long afterwards, Steve began experimenting with marijuana and alcohol in his early teens. After high school he enrolled in the University of California, Santa Barbara. “I was a hippie, very counterculture.” However, he “put (his) education on hold” when offered a job as a geology lab tech at the school. At the same time, Steve adds, he was also “pretty involved with drugs and alcohol.”
By his late twenties, however, his lifestyle was catching up with him, and in 1978 he received the first of several DUIs (“driving under the influence”). At 30, Steve met and married “a beautiful woman” who “ended up throwing me out of the house–she just was fed up.” Then one day “I was really drunk on the job.” Eventually, after twelve years at the same job, he was fired.
As the alcoholism progressed, Steve was growing terrified at the increasing severity of the addiction. As he puts it, “I was caught in the grip of alcohol. It was a compulsion. There was nothing I could do. I thought I was dying, going insane.”
Moving to Denver, Colo., to be near his family, his problems followed him. “I kept drinking and getting fired. I had hit bottom.” After “ten years of heavy drinking,” Steve moved in with his mother with the understanding that “if she caught (him) drinking in the house she would call the police.” But when it did happen, Steve recalls, “I wanted to get sober. I’d had enough.” In August 1995, he checked into the Denver ARC.
“I remember putting on the application that I was an agnostic,” he notes. However, that same afternoon, losing himself in the wonder of the chapel cross, “I knew that Christ had died for a suffering alcoholic like me.”
Steve aggressively plunged into a study of the Scriptures. “As I grew in Christ I began to know the joy of Christ.” Becoming more and more involved with The Salvation Army, one day Steve heard God’s call to officership. “It was about how I could say thank you to my Lord who had given me such a wonderful gift.”
Today a Salvation Army captain on the staff of the School for Officer Training at Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., Steve observes, “I’ve come light years, and, even though it was seven years ago, it’s a very fresh image in my mind. I want to keep it fresh because we live by grace. (Being a Salvation Army officer) is my response to what Christ has done for me.”