It's seven on a Monday night. Inside, church is about to start. It's a non-traditional night and certainly a non-traditional congregation. This is the weekly worship service for a ministry called Celebrate Recovery. Substance abuse, depression, sexual abuse, grief, anger are just some of the issues that find there way into the door. All of them looking for one thing.
"When I started coming here it started giving me hope, because everything was hopeless," says recovering drug addict Don Wells.
On his way to jail, or death. Don Wells came to Celebrate Recovery after 40 years of drug and alcohol addiction.
"It gave me hope," says Wells, "because I was able to relate to other people that had already been there. And they had had ten or twelve years of success. Now that I have three it is an absolute miracle."
There are no counselors here on Monday nights. And while this is a ministry, it's not church as most folks expect it.
"Church folks... They found out that I had been to prison and I'm a recovering drug addict and they didn't know how to take me, you know. They didn't know what to say to me or really how to minister to me because they had never been there," says recovering addict and Celebrate Recovery coordinator Marty Kennedy.
Marty Kennedy leads this ministry. It might surprise some to know this is the largest out reach program of the largest church in East Texas, Green Acres Baptist. Maybe that's because there are no preachers here. There are no denominations. Everyone, even the leaders, are nothing more recovering addicts who are strictly volunteers.
And they believe only a faith in Jesus can lead to true recovery.
"We don't try to counsel people," says Kennedy. "We share what it was like and what happened and what its like now. That transformed life, the power of our testimony is probably the most powerful thing here. How God changed our lives. That is the hope."
Tammy Vickery found hope at Celebrate Recovery. Molested as a child, abused as a wife, Tammy attempted suicide a number of times. She says she literally crawled through the doors one Monday night.
"I had so wanted to die. And had so many suicide attempts. That I could never imagine that my life could ever be happy," says recovering addict Tammy Vickery. "You almost see it in someone's eyes who've been there. Its not something everyone can relate to. But we know each other in a different personal level. And you can share on a much deeper personal level with someone whose walked in your shoes. I just thought there was no happiness in life. Life was something you just survived. That you made from one day to the next. Now I'm living life to the fullest."
Celebrate Recovery is a nationwide ministry that assists local groups like this one in Tyler. This January marks the Tyler group's fourth anniversary. Meetings that have grown from a few folks four years ago to crowds that reach up to 250 or 300 on some Monday nights. They do work through a modified 12 step program based on eight biblical principals. But its not the study or teaching or music that is saving lives here. Its about relationships and real life experience of the power of prayer.
"The power of Jesus Christ here. Every week when we meet we pray before we do everything. Prayer is so important here to us," says Kennedy. I want them to know that there is hope. I tell you if God can change my life and he can change the other people who are here on Monday nights life that have been just to the utter brink of destruction. That are desperate that are hopeless, that He can change their life.
In Tyler, Clint Yeatts, East Texas News.