TGIF: Thank God I’m Free
Hopkins County faith-based recovery programs offer help, hope and healing
BY PATTI SELLS | News-Telegram Feature Writer
June 4, 2007 - Faith-based recovery groups that offer help, hope and healing to recovering drug addicts and alcoholics are experiencing life- changing results and attracting attention from the community as well as court and county officials.
This week we introduce TGIF (Thank God I’m Free), the recovery group from New Beginnings Fellowship Baptist Church.
�Change has been phenomenal. To the point that probation officers and the court system in this area are not only taking notice-they want to be a part of it,� said Jon Nesbitt, former TGIF recovery group leader as well as a former addict who surrendered his life to the Lord in 1990.
TGIF actually began as a home group in 1996 and later developed into the recovery group in 2000 when Nesbitt came to New Beginnings after resigning from a pastoral position at a church in Commerce due to some personal trials and tribulations which left him broken and hurting.
�I needed to be in recovery,� Nesbitt said. �I needed a support system myself. Instead of excluding me, they involved me in a big way. I was able to come in as a minister saying, �I�ve got problems.� Not saying, �I�m perfect and have all the answers.� As a matter of fact, I didn�t have any answers.�
�I told the Lord when I accepted this responsibility that I wasn�t coming up with any ideas. He would have to do that. I was here just to unlock the door and turn on the coffee pot. Everything that has happened here He has provided, and it�s grown into an infectious ministry.�
New Beginnings has a different vision than most churches, according to Nesbitt. They minister to the lost in a non-judgmental way, and help people through their struggles by accepting them and loving them just as they are.
�This group helped me personally,� Nesbitt said. �It isn�t about religion. It�s about relationships. It�s about a relationship with Jesus Christ.��
�I started coming here for all the wrong reasons,� said George Fletcher, who was facing 25 years for felony possession of a controlled substance at the time he began attending the recovery group. �But somewhere along the way I experienced the truth for myself, and my life was changed. Now I tell Butch Adams, �You didn�t arrest me. You rescued me.� The pen didn�t rehabilitate me, but the Word of God did. You see, God loved me the way I was, but he didn�t leave me the way I was. I still need prayer everyday in order not to lose my testimony.�
And the support of a recovery group of like-minded individuals is a key to personal success, according to Fletcher.
�After monitoring from afar for several years, we were very encouraged by the success of this group,� said Hopkins County District Attorney Martin Braddy.�
Seeing such dramatic changes in the lives of those who have been participating in TGIF ministry, Braddy’s office funded the training to get other churches involved due to the fact that the court system could not legally order those on probation to participate unless there were several groups for them to choose from.
�Until we could get others going, it was just �highly suggested� through the probation office (that parolees attend the meetings),� said Nesbitt, laughing.
It became a combined effort of the Adult Probation office, District Attorney, District Court and New Beginnings to provide parolees and probationers with that life changing opportunity. Nesbitt was named the District Coordinator over all recovery groups in the area and put in charge of training leaders throughout the community.
�You can not lead where you have not been,� said Nesbitt, who trained volunteers during a two-month period in the summer of 2005 by having them apply the curriculum to their own lives.�
The program is similar to that of Alcoholics Anonymous, according to Nesbitt, but with the addition of practicing the eight principles of the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5.
�We went through some deep training,� said Chuck Lawrence, an adult probation officer and the recovery leader at League Street Church of Christ for the group called WAVES (Working Against Vices for Eternal Salvation). �It made me take a look at my own self. My life. My issues. And I realized that I can relate. This program can be used for anything-food addictions, sexual addictions- any hang-up or problem that separates a person from Christ.�
According to Nesbitt, many of the leaders experienced their own personal breakthroughs as they applied the principles to their daily living.
�Many of them, even though they had been in church most of their lives, realized that they had not grown spiritually,� he explained. �They had problems and issues they were dealing with and confronting for the first time. In surrendering to be leaders, they found out they really needed to be followers themselves-followers of Christ.��
Most people perceive that recovery is just for addicts, according to Nesbitt, but he said that recovery is for anyone that has a hurt, habit or hang-up.
�That pretty much includes everybody at one time or another,� he said. �Recovery is for people who need support of any kind, whether going through a divorce or separation or whatever. It puts you in a group of people with like experiences where you can talk, be held accountable for your actions, and know that people care about you and pray for you. The small groups are really the heart of the program. That�s were you make your connection.�
The focus of recovery programs, however, remains fighting against the war on drugs and rehabilitating addicts and alcoholics.
Drug abuse and drug related crime has reached epidemic levels, according to Lawrence, who said you only have to read the paper or listen to the news to find evidence to support that fact.
�It may not be as bad in our community as it is in others, but it�s worse than what people want to admit,� he said. �Drugs are the root of most crime that takes place in this community.�
Lawrence, an adult probation officer for the past 14 years, said that he believes Christ-centered recovery is the only way to approach truly helping people turn their lives around.
�These groups are helping,� he said. �We are seeing significant results. The rate of recidivism is going down among those who are participating. Not as low as we want it to be, but down considerably thanks to the recovery programs.�
�Having several groups to choose from allows the court to make it a highly recommended condition of probation, according to Braddy, who has now helped implement seven other groups throughout the area.
�Now, they have a choice,� Nesbitt said. �They can go to one of them or they can go to all of them. There is one somewhere every night of the week, except Wednesday and Sunday.�
�This is a voluntary program that provides people with the opportunity to change their lives and get involved in something positive,� said Braddy. �This is a proactive approach combating the drug problem. We�re not just interested in punishing those who commit crimes. We�re interested in providing opportunities to change their lives, so that we don�t have to punish them any more. Hopkins County has the reputation of caring, compassionate, Christian people. This says, �We want the best for you,� while at the same time letting them know we won�t put up with drug abuse and crime in our community. These groups are making a difference. You can see the difference in people. Lives are changing.�