“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Psalm 133
I recently returned from a short-term mission trip. As with all my trips it takes a week or two of processing in my (hopefully) Spirit-led unconscious to make sense out of it all. The images and conversations have to slowly settle in before their present meaning, and impact on my future, begin to clarify.
These journeys are always disorienting in some very good fashion. They are far less about what we accomplish than who we meet along the way–and, of course, the Lord’s transforming work in us. This trip wasn’t to some heathen Third World country–streets teeming with diseased, starving beggars. It was to Scotland, a country arguably more civilized than our own. Their quality of life in terms of modern conveniences and material goods compares favorably with ours. Rural Aberdeenshire doesn’t look much like central Florida–and that’s a good thing. One of the few resemblances is the 200-year-old stone houses with their curious little smokestacks looking much like Hogwarts, the Harry Potter attraction at Universal. However, that’s surface appearances. As for Christianity, the Scots practically invented theology.
So what were five missioners doing in Aberdeenshire? We spent 8-days living and working in a drug rehab program. It’s called Sunnybrae and it’s run by Teen Challenge of NE Scotland. Teen Challenge was established decades ago by the Rev. David Wilkerson and their residential rehab programs span the globe. The five of us: Laurie Jean, Nina, Kelli, Susan and me were representing a Celebrate Recovery program from Northland, a mega-church in the Orlando area.
Celebrate Recovery (CR) is a completely Christ-centered 8-principle program resembling the 12-steps of AA. It was founded about 20 years ago by John Baker at Saddleback Church in Orange County, California. Saddleback is Rick Warren’s mega-church. Rick Warren is The Purpose Driven Life guy and his name and his book are known world-wide. The Reverend Rick has publically stated that CR is his personal favorite of the dozens of ministries that Saddleback sponsors. He’s also said that he wants the pastors and leaders at Saddleback to be men who have had real life struggles with problems like addiction and depression. How’s that for honesty? Compare that with the excessive vetting of pastoral candidates that most denominational churches engage in when trying to find the just-right plastic smile and empty suit to grace their pulpit or website mission statement. When I first heard Rev. Rick speak at the CR Summit last August I immediately liked him and could see why he’s been so immensely successful
I started attending Northland’s CR program a little over two years ago. I initially went out of curiosity. I’m a licensed mental health counselor and I thought CR might be a good resource for some of my addict client’s continuing recovery. However, I was immediately captured by the program. I enjoyed the worship and fellowship, and I also realized that I still had unresolved issues with codependency, anger and lust. CR is about much more than addictions. As their books and brochures point out, we all have “hurts, habits and hangups.” And so most Friday nights, after dinner and worship, and after the teachings and testimonies in the big meeting, I sit in the men’s codependency group. Who and how many attend varies from week to week, but it’s usually about a dozen guys sitting in a circle sharing about the impact of the night’s lesson or about their struggles during the previous week. The one or two trained facilitators are simply rule keepers. They lead the prayers and read the guidelines for sharing in the group. Members are given 3 to 5 minutes to talk about themselves. Cross talk or commenting about other’s issues is not allowed. It’s pointed out in the guidelines that “we are not there to fix each other.”
I’ve conducted literally thousands of groups in my 40-year career as a counselor. CR’s small group sharing is not group therapy. What it is, is far better. Per James 5:16, we are confessing our sins and the group (Christ’s Body) and His Holy Spirit is doing the healing. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but after only two or three small group sharing sessions it was apparent to me what was happening in terms of healing.
The five in our team were at Sunnybrae to teach the CR principles to the staff, and its 16 residents, and to meet with some area pastors in hopes of establishing CR programs in their churches. Myself and Laurie Jean, our team leader, were in Scotland last summer as part of a larger team to work strictly with the residents. Last summer the ladies in our team stayed at Benaiah, a sister Teen Challenge residential rehab 30 miles away. This year we all stayed at Sunnybrae, the men’s residential campus. Usually, Teen Challenge programs, and the CR small sharing groups are strictly segregated by gender, but in the interest of efficiency, the rules were stretched just a bit.
Last week in our team debrief the five of us were in accord that what had happened the previous week was pretty much sheer magic (compliments of the Holy Spirit). It’s truly amazing how much our team would find ourselves caring so deeply about the lives of the sixteen 20 and 30-year old addicts–mostly heroin addicts. And conversely how plainly obvious they were in caring for us. On the Sunday evening before we left it was tough to say goodbye. The five in our team sat around a table in the dinning room with 6 or 7 of the residents and talked well past their mandatory lights out.
Was what was happening just a dozen people who’d grown rather fond of each other sitting around a table having a late-night gabfest? Or was something more important occurring? What I think: God’s Kingdom and the Church, Christ’s Body, was being constructed as we spoke, being built before our very eyes. In First Corinthians, chapters 12, 13 and 14, Paul teaches about the building of Christ’s Body and our importance, nay absolute necessity, to each other in the Body–how indispensable we are to each other and how love is what binds us all together. That’s what was going on that Sunday night. We were discovering that we needed them as much as they needed us. And it was certainly all bound together in love.
What happened during week as we taught, shared testimonies and led worship was confirmation to me that the Holy Spirit was indeed a healing Spirit. In I Cor. 12:9 healing is listed among the Spirit’s various functions. And consider v. 22, “… much more those members of the Body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary…” Feeble as in broken, feeble as in abused, feeble as in addicts, feeble as in depressed?
But the eight magical days ended. Martin, our driver, roused the team at 2:30 a.m. on Monday morning to begin the trek back to real life. As always it was gently raining and the multi-green landscape of Aberdeenshire was just coming alive as we arrived at Dyce, the airport near Aberdeen. We were there by 4:30 for our 6 a.m KLM flight to Amsterdam– and then on to Orlando via Detroit–18 hrs of travel on that return to real life Monday.
The first couple days back were disorienting–far more disorienting than the first couple days at Sunnybrae. It was tough because we had breathed in a bit of God’s Kingdom–that place or state sometimes called Heaven. For the nine days of our journey I had been set free from real life, or at least my real life, and I know now that my job is to keep reminding myself and others that a foretaste of Heaven exists right here and now when we believe that those of us who Jesus sets free are free indeed.