Henry and I didn’t set out to minister to men in recovery. Eighteen years ago, we gave ourselves to full-time ministry in The Salvation Army. That was it. It was where we felt God was calling our family at that time. It is still where we believe God has called us. We had a fair idea of what would be involved. As much as one can without being in that exact place. We’d grown up in The Salvation Army with our parents being pastors in it and knew the basics. Especially the part about moving. That’s the big one.
God being God and all he radically altered our area of ministry seven years ago and placed us squarely in the midst of a population of men whose lives have become so messy they’ve ended up at The Salvation Army. Ironic in that we planned on ending up here and it was their last choice. Or only choice when you consider the other was on the street.
I have become protective of this ministry in the way I am protective of my children. The funny thing is, I find myself protecting “it” from other Christians. From friends. From Salvation Army officers even.
Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m too sensitive about things. Maybe when I told someone about a mutual friend that had relapsed, maybe I took it too personally when she said “He’s an addict!” (As in, what did I expect?)
Maybe I was a bit touchy when a friend made the insinuation that attending a worship service with the men in our program was not church.
Yes, maybe it’s me.
In the words of basketball player Charles Barkley, “I may be wrong, but I doubt it.”
I understand that relapse is a part of the addiction. And so is sin part of redemption. I get that having a church service where the majority of attendees are there because it’s a requirement is not the norm. They live on the floor above the chapel. We don’t have a youth group or pancake breakfasts. Is that what makes it a church? Or maybe it’s the people who live like hell Monday through Saturday and put on their best face Sunday morning? Too harsh?
Yes, I am offended. I am protective of this group of misfits. But I’ve seen it from both sides. I’ve stood in the pulpit looking down to a small group of people with earnest hearts and a handful of rowdy children whose parents just wanted to get them out of the house on Sunday morning.
I’ve sat in the church council meetings where ridiculous things were discussed like paint colors. We’ve had congregants who made the hair on my neck stand on end at the sound of their voice and we’ve had some of the most wonderful caring and giving people.
I have learned about real church from these men called addicts, drunks, convicts, lost, lonely, angry. They have taught me about perseverance. About hardships I can’t fathom. About hope they haven’t lost.
I am in the company of sinners and there I have found home.