Innovation in ministry: Helping people who struggle with addiction

Jul 14, 2016

By Rik Danielsen

“Sober Project saved my life.” These are the words of a man who is known as Smiley who came to Sober Project in Tucson in 2006 where he found Christ and a life of sobriety — and he also met his wife Bianca. She had been referred to Sober Project because of a relative who was abusing drugs. She found hope and healing and became an active servant of Christ.

A number of churches in the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention are finding a fertile field of ministry among the estimated one-and-a-half million drug and alcohol abusers in our state. Time and space do not allow us to share the story of every church in Arizona with this type of ministry, so we are focusing on three churches. These were chosen because they are in different cities and have different approaches to this ministry. What they all have in common is their message: “There is hope for addicts in the person of Jesus Christ.”

In Phoenix, I found the men at Set Free Church who said, “We go where the pizza guy won’t.” They go out every Tuesday and Friday night to minister to the people in neighborhoods where the pizza guy won’t go to deliver. They take food and water and a message of hope.

Some of the people they encounter will get in the van and enter the Set Free residential program. There, they will find a place to sleep, three meals a day and a program called “The Most Excellent Way,” which is based on “Ten Attitudes” taught in The Beatitudes in Matthew 5. A few will only come to get off the street for a night, but 75 percent of those who are serious about getting help will finish the program. Pastors Joseph Still and Arthur Hisey both told me, “The men come in broken, but leave with their heads held high.”

Jared is another of the pastors at Set Free and was one of those men who encountered Set Free in their street ministry. He got out of prison in August 2008 and ended up sleeping in a park in downtown Phoenix. Set Free came to the park with food and water and invited him to come to Set Free. He found more than a place to sleep. He found hope and life there, and he has given himself to the Lord and the ministry of Set Free. All of the pastors of Set Free have a similar story, because all of them have come through the ministry of Set Free.

David Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, has been involved with Set Free from its beginning in Arizona. He told me that Wade McKinley, a retired pastor and director of missions from San Diego, had personal experience with Set Free in San Diego and suggested that we needed a ministry like that in Phoenix. David agreed and said that Set Free is the only residential program of its kind in Phoenix that doesn’t charge a dime to those who seek help. David currently goes to Set Free once a month to lead the Wednesday evening Bible study.

Sober Project in Tucson is a church for addicts that is not a residential program like Set Free, but is one that also ministers to people with addiction issues. Pastor Larry Munguia and his wife, Bobbi, met when they were 11 years old and later married. Their marriage was on the rocks because of Larry’s problems with addiction. Bobbi was skeptical when Larry professed his faith in Christ in 1997, but when she saw the genuine change in his life, she came to know the Lord also, and their marriage was healed.

The Munguias lived in the neighborhood around Calvary Baptist Church, on Columbus Blvd., and saw a need to minister to people with substance abuse problems. Larry says he “took the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and put Jesus right in the middle of it.” They started having Bible studies at Calvary in 2003 and launched their church in 2004. In the years since starting Sober Project, hundreds have come to know Christ.

Bobbi said the greatest joy in this ministry is in seeing how the church is able to bring people together. Bianca agreed and said that when you come to Sober Project, you have a name and there is a great sense of community.

The average Arizona Southern Baptist church member might not feel comfortable in a church where the pastor plays the drums and preaches barefooted, but Sober Project doesn’t exist for the average church member. They exist to rescue those who know they are perishing.

Ted Kamena is the recovery pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Lake Havasu City. When Ted was 16 years old, a neighbor gave him his first beer. At the age of 17, he joined the Army, where he could drink legally. As a result, Ted became a lifelong alcoholic. Today, Ted is a retired police officer and a recovered alcoholic.

Calvary is not an addicts’ church. It is a church that has identified recovery ministry as one of its seven core ministries. Currently, about 70 people are involved in the Celebrate Recovery ministry of Calvary. Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered Twelve Step Program.

When asked to share a success story from Celebrate Recovery, Ted told me about a woman who started coming to the “step study.” Her life was a real mess, but she came to know Christ and her life was completely changed. A few years ago, Ted had the privilege of performing her wedding.

When I asked what he would say to a pastor considering starting a Celebrate Recovery ministry in his church, Ted said, “It is a leadership machine.” He explained that Celebrate Recovery really produces leaders for other ministries in the church.

Several of the Celebrate Recovery leaders told me that any church thinking about starting a Celebrate Recovery program must have the support of the senior pastor. Without that support, the ministry will not succeed. Calvary’s senior pastor, Chad Garrison, is fully supportive of this ministry.

These ministries have very different approaches to addiction recovery ministries, but they are all involved in helping the people in their communities.

An example of the kind of helping ministries they conduct is seen in Set Free opening its doors to the community when they serve meals. The church serves their residents three meals a day, but also opens the doors to the whole community when they serve those meals. Anyone can come and get a free meal at Set Free. Imagine this, if you can: their small kitchen is a typical church kitchen — not very big — but that kitchen serves <i>10,000 meals a month</i> to their residents and the people in the neighborhood who know they will get a meal if they simply show up.

Because of their caring ministries, and because of the way people’s lives are changed by their ministries, each of these churches has a very positive image in the communities where they serve. The people of their communities would care deeply, if their doors closed tomorrow.

One of the most impressive things about these recovery ministries is the fact that they don’t believe a person is an addict or an alcoholic for life. When you come to know Christ and experience the freedom He gives you, your identity is in Christ, not your addiction.

“Hi, my name is Rik and I’m a follower of Christ.” (Oh, by the way — God released me from alcoholism and drug abuse in 1971. I thank the Lord and the wonderful people at Renewal House in Los Angeles for helping me in my journey to discipleship and sobriety.)

Rik Danielsen is director of evangelism and missions, Yavapai Baptist Association and Leader Care facilitator, Arizona Baptist Children’s Services and Family Ministries.

Get Involved

–Pray for ministries like Set Free, Sober Project and Celebrate Recovery. Ask God to bless them and ask Him how you might get involved.

–For more information about Set Free Church or Sober Project, please go to their websites and

–If you would like information about starting a Celebrate Recovery ministry in your church, please contact Pastor Ted Kamena who also serves as the Arizona state tepresentative for Celebrate Recovery. His email address is . Calvary Baptist Church’s website is .

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