By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
RAYVILLE – Every Thursday evening at the First Baptist Church in Rayville, up to 150 people with hurts, habits and hang-ups are celebrating victory found in Christ.
Through the church’s Christ-centered Celebrate Recovery ministry, modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, individuals are breaking the chains of bondage to alcoholism, compulsive overeating, drug use and other addictions and dysfunctional behaviors. Additionally, many are repenting for salvation and making commitments to live for Jesus.
After enjoying a meal, participants gather inside the First Rayville youth room for worship, music and a time of celebrating milestones on the journey to recovery and healing. Once a month, individuals are given the opportunity to come forward to commemorate a certain number of days they have been clean from their addiction – some 30 days, some three months and some even several years. The service concludes with an evangelistic message and invitation.
After the hour-long worship service, participants gather into gender-specific smaller groups to address dependency issues.
Eddie Wren, pastor of First Rayville, said the program strives to show the love of Christ to those who are struggling with life’s many issues.
“Celebrate Recovery has thrived because of the church’s love and commitment,” he said. “Our members serve every Thursday night 52 weeks a year, including holidays. Our people love those who attend CR from the community, in-house addiction facilities or sober living houses and are excited when they come back for Sunday worship and Sunday school. This is a place where those who are struggling with drugs, alcohol, or any type hang-up can come and find hope and encouragement in Jesus Christ. We are grateful the Lord chooses to use us this way.”
Celebrate Recovery was launched in 1991 at SaddleBack Church in Lake Forest, California, and that first meeting drew 43 people. Since then, more than 27,000 people have participated in that one ministry. But more than 5 million have participated worldwide, and today, nearly 35,000 churches host a Celebrate Recovery group, according to the Celebrate Recovery website.
First Rayville started its Celebrate Recovery ministry in September 2011 with 15 participants, and has seen attendance reach as high as 180 guests, most without a home church.
Claude Mercer, one of the coordinators of Celebrate Recovery at First Rayville, has been amazed at how God has allowed the congregation to be a part of so many healed bodies and souls, hundreds so far.
“People I have dealt with while working in the sheriff’s department have come here and turned their lives around,” he said. “It’s a great ministry program that God uses to change lives through the power of Jesus Christ. This program has a higher power of Jesus Christ and that’s who changes the lives, and we do what we can to see that God’s work is done here.”
Joseph Michael was among those lost when he entered Celebrate Recovery in 2016. At the time, Michael was addicted to alcohol and estranged from his family. Nearly three years later, Christ has transformed his life.
“These people loved me and were encouraging me to do the right thing,” Michael said. “I hadn’t talked to my Dad in a long time when I first came to Celebrate Recovery and now we are best friends. This has given me something to look forward to in life.”
Jacqueline Mason became a small group leader after struggling with alcohol addiction for many years; and, she is thankful how Celebrate Recovery allows her to use her past to relate to women in need.
“This is the perfect outlet for me to give back,” Mason said. “I enjoy talking to the girls and showing them there is a better way.”
Stewart Bedillion accompanies patients from the Palmetto Addiction Recovery Center in Rayville, where he serves as a spiritual counselor.
He has seen their spiritual hunger and watched them search for a better way.
“They are so broken because of the addiction that is weighing down on them,” said Bedillion, also senior pastor at Riverside Baptist Church in Bastrop. “The messages here speak directly to where they are living. This ministry is helping to give them hope and God is healing them, despite the choices they previously made.”