Missouri group helps people cope with daily struggles

Monday, March 29, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

CAPE GIRARDEAU — We all face battles within ourselves, and local churches believe there's no shame in asking for help. That's why five southeast Missouri churches are now offering Celebrate Recovery meetings, where attendees are encouraged to share their struggles and rely on others for moral support.

"We don't deny Jesus Christ, his work on the cross, or his grace," Mark Rankin, a Celebrate Recovery leader at Unity Baptist Church of Benton, said. "When we come to the Lord, we heal the relationship between man and God. He already paid the price for our sins, and if we forgive ourselves and others, that's when the healing takes place."

Celebrate Recovery meetings aim to heal all "hurts, hangups and habits," Rankin said. Many attendees are dealing with substance abuse, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, anger control, the loss of a spouse, difficulty building relationships or holding jobs — "anything that's been detrimental to being personally successful," said Judy Nilsen, outreach ministry director at Christ Church of the Heartland in Cape Girardeau, which hosts meetings on Friday nights. The 12-step recovery program is Christ-centered and Biblically-based, she said, because all the answers and life solutions we need are already in the Bible.

"It does help people change their lives through Jesus Christ and the principles based in the gospels, especially Matthew," Nilsen said. The Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-10 are a major component of the program.

John Baker, a preacher at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., began the Celebrate Recovery program in 1991. Since then, more than 10,000 people at Saddleback have completed the program, and more than 10,000 churches and 500,000 individuals have participated.

In southeast Missouri, Celebrate Recovery meetings are held five nights a week, rotating between five churches. All are welcome to attend as many meetings as they like. Each meeting begins with large group worship, then transitions into small groups and ends with dinner and fellowship. Some meetings include a lesson, while others focus on personal testimonies. Those who are successful at recovery for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, six months and one year are recognized for their progress.

"We find that when they praise the Lord, their hearts and minds are in the right attitude to accept Biblical teaching, renewal and strength," Rankin said.

Unity Baptist has participated in Celebrate Recovery since January 2009, with eight to 16 people attending each meeting. Christ Church of the Heartland, which began hosting meetings in July 2009, is one of the newest churches to participate in the program. So far, Nilsen said, attendance has ranged from 30 to 55 people each week.

"In a very short time, I have already seen major changes that I thought it would take a while to see," Nilsen said. "Even people who don't come to Christ Church will come to this because it's smaller, someone invited them, and there's a good meal."

Nilson and Rankin emphasize that Celebrate Recovery is not rehab or counseling, but group support.

"It's good to meet other people who have changed and to develop relationships through fellowship and encourage each other to success," Nilsen said. "It doesn't hurt to meet with others who have gone through the same thing you are and have come through it."

Rankin cites James 5:16 in the Bible, which says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

Once attendees complete the program, many continue to attend meetings and become active in other areas of the church, thereby growing in their faith and encouraging others.

"We've seen a wide variety of people, and I'm really excited about how their attitudes have changed and they've developed a sense of worth," Nilsen said. "They realize, 'I can do this. I can make good changes.'"

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