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In North America, a renewed focus on addiction recovery The “Journey to Life” newsletter is among new resources available from Adventist Recovery Ministries. Church heath leaders say they hope the program raises awareness of addiction within the church and community. [photo: Brandan Roberts]

Feb. 14, 2013
Silver Spring, Maryland, United States
Elizabeth Lechleitner/ANN

Seventh-day Adventists battling addiction and compulsive behavior are not alone in their struggle.

That’s a message Adventist health professionals are promoting as a new phase of the church’s addiction recovery ministry finds traction in North America.

Through resources and training, Adventist Recovery Ministries provides a pathway toward healing and freedom from harmful behaviors, church health leaders say.

“We really want to support everyone who wants to move beyond that feeling of being trapped in an unhealthy behavior, to find freedom in Christ to make a different choice,” says Katia Reinert, Health Ministries director for the church’s North American Division.

Adventist Recovery Ministries offers a spiritual take on the traditional twelve-step program used by Alcoholics Anonymous. The revised program matches each step with Bible verses and themes from the writings of church co-founder Ellen White that illustrate Christian principles such as surrender, confession and reconciliation. It also defines Jesus as the “highest power,” replacing the “higher power” recognized by traditional twelve-step programs as a source of strength.

The model dates back to the mid-1980s, when Adventist attorney Hal Gates, himself a recovered alcoholic, felt called to develop a recovery ministry anchored in Christ’s healing power. Shortly afterward, so-called “Regenerations” support groups sprung up across North America and later worldwide.

While the Adventist Church was supportive of Gates’ ministry, it wasn’t until two years ago that the church in North America voted to change its name and make Adventist Recovery Ministries a Health Ministries initiative.

Now, with new resources available, church health leaders are offering training programs at the annual Health Ministries Health Summit and locally. A typical training seminar runs during a weekend and equips healthcare leaders, clergy and lay people to oversee a support group in their church or community, Reinert says.

“Traditionally facilitators have themselves gone through the recovery process, but we want everybody to be equipped to facilitate a recovery group,” she says.

Knowledge and understanding of addiction is a crucial step in removing the stigma often associated with recovery, Reinert says.

“We want to show that addiction is common, like diabetes—something a lot of people deal with,” she says. “People don’t want to say, ‘I’m an addict,’ but all of us have some form of compulsive behavior. It’s not just about alcohol or tobacco or gambling. It’s about many other kinds of behaviors that can be unhealthy, from the food we eat to the entertainment we choose.”

Ahead of Health Sabbath, celebrated on February 16 in churches across North America, Reinert and other health leaders are encouraging local churches to offer a recovery-themed worship service. Resources—available for download online—include sample sermons, presentations, a children’s story and a trailer of “Unhooked,” a new television series produced by Hope Channel about addiction prevention and recovery.

As Adventist health leaders continue to raise awareness of addiction recovery, Reinert says she’s optimistic that the program will expand outside of North America. Already, the ministry translates its “Journey to Life” newsletter into Spanish, Portuguese, French and Russian. Plans are in place to translate training resources as well.

“Addictions are sadly one of the ‘best kept secrets’ of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” says Peter Landless, Health Ministries associate director for the Adventist world church.

“Adventist Recovery Ministries is an intervention I pray that the world church will embrace, making our churches community health centers where people in recovery may find a haven of safety and experience the love and grace of Jesus.”