(Names have been changed to preserve privacy)

It was fall of 2022, and already dark as I got out of my car in the church parking lot. I could just make out that people were already sitting around the bonfire that was spitting out little golden sparks into the night sky. Walking quickly, I realized as I got closer that some of the women had come from one of the cities Christian addiction rehabilitation homes.

Happiness shot through me. I am always happy when I see them!  I waved and headed over. During church services it’s rare to get a chance to just relax and talk with people. And that’s what this night was all about. A night for the church family and new members to bond.

I sat down and we started chatting, watching the fire. At some point in the evening, I asked the two young women sitting near me how long they had been drug free. They both said around 9 months. I was shocked that it had only been that short of time, because their skin so fresh and clear and their hair was so shiny. You would never have guessed just looking at them that they had been a drug addict just that short time ago.

But the one sitting closest to me you couldn’t help but notice had many deep scars up and down her arms from wrist to elbow still reddish colored, as scars tend to do for the first year or two. I’m going to call her Anne. She began to tell me how she had been locked up in prison four days due to drug use. But on the fourth day she got accepted into the Christian rehabilitation home.  She was feeling so sick from no drugs, when she got picked up by Valerie, another of the rehab success story, who had graduated and was now a teacher.

Anne quickly unpacked her stuff at the rehab and Valerie brought her to our, Friday night Take it Outside downtown service, which Anne called “the corner.” I smiled once I figured out that they were talking about the street service when they called it the corner. We do have services on the corner of a downtown street.

Anne who was not feeling good said Valerie kept saying her, “you just wait, you’re going to fall in love with Jesus.” And Anne thought Valerie was crazy. But the truth is, Anne did fall in love with Jesus. She loves to worship.

The girl next to Anne sat gazing into the fire. She was a pretty dark-haired girl, I will call her Laura. I asked Laura her story, and I smiled again as she told of first time she was also brought to “the corner.”  She was sick from no drugs, when Valerie brought her downtown.

That night due to some setup issues we started later than usual. And while she was waiting she began to get worried because she could feel herself getting triggered, seeing all the expensive cars driving down the streets, and the rap music playing loudly. She could feel herself starting to want to want to party, do drugs and work the night. But as soon as our music started, she said all that desire just floated away, and she began feel the love the Lord.

Valerie, a graduate, and teacher for the rehab, had brought both women to our corner. A former prostitute and addict for 30 years. The Lord led her in one of our services, to leave me her card and ask me if I could meet with her for inner healing. And believe me when I tell you, it was my great pleasure. God did such a beautiful delivering healing work in her week after week.

Debbie, the woman who was sitting the farthest away from me, hadn’t said a word all evening. But she was listening intently to everything that was being said. Finally, I asked her what her story was. When I asked her, she paused, and stared at me for a few seconds with big eyes.

Anne next to me, surprised me when she said, “Tell her. Don’t be ashamed.”

Debbie slowly said, “I was locked up in a mental institution.”

My heart broke because of the look in her eyes. And I recognized the vulnerability of not knowing how she would be perceived. She could not have known, that her story would only make her more valuable to me. But it did.

Determined she would feel no shame by sharing something personal, I casually laughed and said, “Shoot! I should have taken myself there 2 or 3 times!” And slowly she smiled. The rehab had refused her and was not going to accept her because her history on paper, looked so bad. Though she was getting well she had no one to vouch for her so she couldn’t get out.  It was her doctor in the mental institution, who kept calling the rehab saying, “Yes she looks bad on paper, but this paper of her history does not represent who she is.” And somehow by the grace of God they took her in.

Sitting there watching her talk, it broke my heart that someone like her, so present, so bright eyed now, could have been locked up in a mental institution, with nowhere to go and no one to help her get out. I thank God for that doctor who fought for her. The depression is palpable in those places.

These stories, and these women’s precious smiling faces had nourished my heart so much that night that I had spent the whole evening right there.

And as it grew time to leave, I got up and I walked over to Debbie and hugged her and said, “Thank God you are here. I thank God you are here.”

And as I hugged each one down the line, Laura and the rest thanked me for my words. They literally said, “thank you for your words.”

And as I left, all I could think about, is where do we find some more…

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