Martin was running through some announcements as everyone got settled for the Sunday service.
He scanned the audience, took a breath and held it briefly. “I think it’s time to announce our new recovery meeting,” he said.
That’s how it started—how SJOC was introduced to Cocaine Anonymous (CA), a 12-Step recovery program open to alcoholics, addicts, families, friends —most importantly, open to everyone.
Martin hadn’t mentioned to me that he was going to announce the meeting. But it’s difficult to comprehend what would NOT have happened...without his unscheduled announcement.
Before we go on with the story, let’s celebrate a milestone. It was about one year ago that The Newcomers’ CA Group opened its doors in Oak Cliff, in the SJOC office at 1300 S. Polk. Since Sept. 9, 2018, we’ve hosted an open CA meeting at 6:30 pm every Sunday. We’ve since added a 6:30 pm meeting on Friday.
(The way our CA meeting so graciously found a home at the SJOC office is another story; for another time, maybe.)
After the Sunday service when Martin announced the new meeting, the congregation was dismissed to the courtyard for a reception. A woman walked up to me and asked, “Are you the guy who’s starting the new CA meeting?” “Yes, I and some other folks,” I replied.
She explained she was a long-time counselor in the recovery field. She recently changed jobs, and was now working with addicts and alcoholics who—quite literally—had very few options to recover. Many of these men had served time in the penitentiary; most had been homeless. She had recently joined The Men of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah had operated for almost 10 years. It relied on financial contributions and on a stable of dedicated staff, volunteers, and a founder whose spirit fills a room with compassion and commitment. Together, they taught the men Bible principles, life skills, discipline, and how to get closer to God.
After almost 10 years of serving the community, the leaders at Nehemiah courageously faced a disturbing conclusion: too many former residents were going back to drugs and alcohol after graduation.
That’s why the counselor (and other professionals) had joined Nehemiah, to introduce the 12 Steps of recovery—and to add volunteers who themselves had recovered by working the Steps.
At the courtyard reception after church, she and I arranged to talk more by phone the following week.
That call resulted in an invitation that changed my life. That may sound trite, but if anything, it’s an understatement.
The counselor asked whether a friend and I would teach a class about recovery each week at Nehemiah. She also asked us to serve as “sponsors”—people who have recovered from addiction via the 12 Steps—to work one-on-one with residents. We jumped at the chance to participate.
After volunteering there for a few months, the counselor said she wanted the men to attend an outside recovery meeting—preferably CA—once a week. Established schedules prohibited the men from attending our Sunday meeting. After checking with Martin, we added the second CA meeting—at 6:30 pm Friday.
So...on any given Friday night, you’ll find 10-15 men from Nehemiah huddled together to learn more about the 12 Steps. They openly share the misery of life before recovery, and we talk about how the Steps helped us accept a “Higher Power” that saved us from the ravages of addiction—and taught us how to live with a measure of peace and faith.
Others visit the meeting, some come regularly. In short, a recovery community is grounded and growing thanks to SJOC.
Not long ago, I was talking to the counselor. It was important for her to know what the opportunity to volunteer at Nehemiah has meant in my life.
I explained that the work has deepened my faith in the power of God to heal the most broken parts of ourselves. It constantly shouts that if I want to feel the presence of God...just look into the eyes of a man or woman who needs help. And Nehemiah teaches that we’re all broken, and need the lift of Love in our hearts.
“I’m so glad you like it here,” she told me. “We are grateful to have volunteers to teach our guys about recovery.”
“By the way,” I said. “I must be such a creature of habit because we always sit in the same section at church. I never see y’all there. Where do you usually sit?”
She looked at me with a puzzled expression.
“We’ve only been to St. Jude the one time.”
“Yes, some of us from our home church visited to show support for what y’all were doing as a church plant.”
“So the only time you were there...was the day Martin announced the CA meeting?” I asked with obvious disbelief in my voice.
“Yes,” she said with a smile. “I think maybe we were supposed to be there when Martin made that announcement.”
I think so, too.
And I think about it almost every time we bow our heads, quiet our minds and open the CA meeting that Martin announced that Sunday.
So many of you have welcomed and embraced residents of The Men of Nehemiah at our Sunday services. SJOC volunteers pick up the men, bring them to church and then host them for lunch at El Taxqueño Taquería. If you’d like to be a part of this, we’d love to have you! Either way, thank you. Our friends are amazed at how welcomed and loved you make them feel.