Once we establish this community, we can begin to fulfill God's command of love for the Brethren found in 1 John 3:16 which states, "This is how we know that the love of God has been manifested in our lives; Christ Jesus laid down His life for us. Likewise we ought to lay down our lives for each other." This will then become the vehicle of our proclamation of the Gospel as Jesus stated in John 13:34-35, "They will know that you are My disciples by the love that you have for each other."
The core of our program is to invite residents into this relationship and to meet as many of their needs as God grants us the resources. Since most of the struggles these men are dealing with stem from addictions to drugs and alcohol, we combine the AA model with the Scriptures. As we all work through the "steps" together, we believe that developing relationships between the staff and clients will enable all of us to deal with addiction in a more healthy and hopeful way.
To the addict who is looking for help and sobriety, AA is a place of safety and employs a language and conveys a message that he already accepts and appreciates. To abruptly ask this man to denounce what he is comfortable with and to learn a new set of principles and ideas that is presented to him as "different" is in my opinion the wrong place to start. Rather we look to the similarities and the overlaps of Christian Theology as seen through the Steps. We try to take the knowledge that the individual already has, and build an introduction to God through the person of Jesus Christ.
We rely heavily on the Christian experience of the staff member who has successfully, through Christ, combated addiction and homelessness and is now reconnected to society, his family and God. I also believe that if one bases this new relationship between staff and client in friendship and in the spirit of Christ, much can be accomplished. The key is a relational approach and not on the acceptance of the individual based on a shared belief system. Once we are on the right path in fulfilling Christ's command to love our neighbor, the soil is fertile for evangelism. This holistic approach incorporates a value of the person being expressed in a supported community context.
AA has a sixty-one year track record of bringing hopeless men and women into awareness of sin and reliance on God as a way to live the abundant life. At BMTC we take what is useful from AA's methods, but aim much higher--to bring our clients directly to Christ. Although we are not an AA house, we do think some of its methods are useful in calling homeless addicts to Christ. Our approach is scripturally linked to the Apostle Paul's method of evangelism, "becoming all things to all men in order to win a few" 1 Corinthians 9:22.
Our commitment as a staff to the mandate of Matt. 25:31-40 (Parable of the sheep and goats) represents the tangible expression of love that opens hearts to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, ". . . for I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me. . ." We also believe in extending this passage to: "when I was uneducated you educated me, when I was confused you counseled me, when I was unemployed you trained me and helped me get a job, when I was homeless you found me a home, etc."
To us this indicates that Christ Himself understands the priority for first addressing the basic needs of the individual. The importance of first meeting a man's physical needs then turning his attention to his spiritual condition cannot be understated. Once this task is complete, we can then introduce our Christian message. We often hear from our men, "why do you love me" and our response is because He first loved us. They understand as we do that love comes from sacrifice, that Christ's love for us is sacrificial. The embodiment of this agape love is seen supremely in the Cross. Our men begin to understand His sacrifice through our giving of our lives to them. We affirm the dignity and worth of each individual regardless of their societal failure, and in so doing they begin to accept their moral responsibility to others and to God.
Just like an expert chess player knows the proper order in which to strategize his moves, we evangelize first, building a dialogue of trust, then initiate discipleship when appropriate. After a man evidences authentic Christian conversion, our discipleship efforts include a more traditional approach. We believe in the necessity of church membership, attendance of Bible studies, gaining a spiritual mentor, as well as some more non-traditional aspects.
In the past seven years I have seen the obvious ways the outside community can be of benefit to us. But the more interesting dynamic is to see faith expressing itself in love through social action that grows to become the embodiment of the Gospel. The Gospel does not manifest its power until the men of faith leave their individual experience with God and are called to love throughout the world to the least of these. See Isaiah 6:1-8.
Our goal is to see every graduate become a member of a church, attend Bible studies, gain a spiritual advisor, and whenever possible, obtain Christian counseling services. For the men who have not yet experienced Christ's redemption, we insist that they get involved in outside AA meetings, find a "home group" and obtain a sponsor. Our hope in these cases is that their recovery will remain intact and at the very least they will still be exposed to an invitation to God, understanding that they probably will not step foot in a church.
Even for the recovering addict who is now Christian, he continues to have a need for an environment of acceptance, in the midst of his particular sin patterns and temptations. It is our experience that most church groups or even Pastors do not have the ability to hear the confession of recovering addicts without judgment or condemnation. They certainly can celebrate their conversion, but seldom have the wisdom or insight to handle their struggles. We believe that the ministry of confession is foundational to the success of any recovery program. Therefore in these cases we refer our graduates to an AA community as well as a church community.
There must be a healthy tension that is respected between addiction and the new life that God calls us to, especially for the newcomers. The addict deals with strong temptations to cope with the problems of life through his addiction. Again, we believe in the ministry of confession and creating an environment where one will not feel judged or condemned. We want to build an open dialogue in order to communicate God's love and concern while hearing their confession. We cannot create and [sic] environment where a man feels that if he shares honestly the problem of wanting to drink or drug again that he will be labeled as a second class Christian. The danger of doing this cannot be overstated.
As a result of this tension there are many questions with regard to Christian liberty that we simply must continue to wrestle with. Of course none of us would suggest that because we are now "new creatures in Christ," that we can now drink alcohol responsibly or continue to be associated with people and places where we were active in our addiction. One problem that often occurs when this new Christian comes to believe that struggle is over, that the recovery process is canceled when he comes to Christ. At this point there is no respect for any practical tools in order to defend himself from the power of addiction. Time goes on and temptation comes and of course he does not have any systems in place where he can run for help. He then relapses, back on the street disconnected from God and the Church because he does not understand he [sic] vulnerability to addiction and his new life as a Christian.
I believe the combative tools that God calls us to use is building a community where friendship is primary and its fruit are: honesty, confession, vulnerability, loyalty, acceptance and forgiveness. Saint Augustine said, "The knowledge of yourself produces humility, and the knowledge of God produces love."
The addict learns that he had a deep "soul sickness," and it is only by connecting to God through profession, confession, prayer and involvement in a worshipping community that he has any hope of sustaining a life in recovery. AA teaches this but stops short of recommending Christ to all. However, at FaithWorks we do.
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