The man was awash in brokenness and shame. His eyes were watery, flitting back and forth as he struggled with words to tell me his story. His father and uncle had introduced him to alcohol when he was twelve years old, which triggered a cycle of dependency that resulted in him experiencing life from the inside of a jail cell much more than outside.
Now, in his mid-thirties, pain poured out of him in ragged snippets. Desperate and significantly dysfunctional, he sought a new beginning by changing his way of thinking and embracing hope at the Navajo BIC Overcomers Program, south of Bloomfield, NM.
His story is all too typical of those who enroll in the residential rehab, which has the goal of giving flight to the Native American spirit one family at a time. Whether it is alcohol or drugs, or a smorgasbord combination that has derailed lives, the program strives to embody and model reconciliation for First Nation families by promoting wholeness and restoration.
Founded in 1997, BIC Overcomers is directed primarily, but not exclusively, to Navajo men who have succumbed to the ravages of addiction. It consists of a three-month concentrated in-house session followed by three months of aftercare. It merges a clinical approach with a faith-based core.
Conduits of Grace
The family dynamic is an essential element of our success because of husband and wife servant workers who come as Home Living Coordinators. They are to be conduits of grace who nurture rapport and are available to simply listen when the men need to talk to someone.
It is an opportunity to do the most elemental aspect of our faith by reaching out to others who are hurting and looking for a helping hand. There is nothing ordinary about the challenge. I refer to it as Friendship Evangelism on steroids. My wife Anita and I have served in this role for three years. It’s the most fulfilling ministry we have done in our four decade journey together.
For ninety days, Home Living Coordinator couples are house parents to men fully acquainted with heartbreaking difficulties. We eat meals, go on field trips and excursions, and foster camaraderie in all the activities we do together. It’s an intense people-to-people adventure; developing relationships with men who have become accustomed to relational chaos. Literally and metaphorically, we travel alongside as fellow sojourners seeking to understand our spiritual dimension and spur each other onward. We offer unconditional love and acceptance to those who have known much rejection.
The men arrive on a Monday morning, usually from jail or prison. At first, they are wary and standoffish. Their defensive walls are high, but as days turn into weeks, and the staff remains consistently open-armed, those self-preservation barriers begin to crack and crumble. Then, God the Holy Spirit gets down to the serious business of conviction and redemption.
The gospel is presented within the context of Native American culture. Two verses are intentionally linked together as a foundation: Genesis 1:1—“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” John 1:1—“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
It is a return to the Navajo concept of hozhó. The Creator (Jesus) is at the center of a wheel that has four quadrants: Spiritual, Physical, Emotional, Mental. Hozhó is walking in beauty, which means taking steps to bring all aspects of life into proper alignment to be in balance and harmony with the Creator.
Men are encouraged to get to know the character of God and who he created them to be. It’s out of this identity and the overwhelming grace of God that bondage can be overcome. We endeavor to introduce clients to Jesus because it is only in a transformational encounter with the risen Christ that the chains of past choices and behavior patterns can be shattered.
Every morning begins with praise and a devotional. The songs sung around a powwow drum honor the Creator because the lyrics are rooted in Biblical truth. Sometimes there is resistance to drumming because of past teachings, but much more often, men come alive spiritually as their hearts worship and beat to ancient rhythms.
Sage and other botanicals are smudged, with the smoke representative of cleansing prayers rising heavenward. A catharsis takes place as enlightenment comes and men realize that the traditions in their bloodstream are not evil or detrimental to faith; their culture does not have to be trashed or jettisoned to walk the red road with Jesus and worship the Creator.
Every group of men have several chances to participate in a sweat lodge. Casey Church, a Pokagan Band of Potawatomi on staff with Wiconi International, comes to facilitate and provide contextual ministry guidance. While the fire heats the rocks, we gather outside to sing and begin the process of sharing. Casey performs a pipe ceremony, in which streamers of smoke are blown to the four directions in honor and thanksgiving for God’s gift of life. He then proceeds to go around the circle to pray a blessing on each person. Inside the lodge, Casey imparts relevant portions of his testimony, and asks questions designed to generate self-examination. Frequently, the initial responses are pat or superficial, but as the evening continues, pretense and layers of denial are peeled away like the skin of an onion.
Wounds are split open and emotions are laid bare; along with perspiration, the spiritual sweat of tears are shed and the salve of healing prayers are applied. It is beyond awesome to walk a thirty-something man through the muck and mire of hard consequences, and be present when he comes to grip with reality to have a perspective and life-altering connection with the One who hung the stars in place. There is excitement on earth and rejoicing in heaven.
The Overcomers Program requires two Home Living Coordinator couples for each session, Spring and Fall. We are always actively enlisting prospects and would like to cultivate a list of potential volunteers for the years ahead. It would be extremely beneficial and encouraging if we could make inroads to recruit Native American couples. The need is great—some may even say urgent or desperate. Does investing in others and watching God change lives motivate and thrill you? If so, prayerfully consider a three-month term of service to build relationships that most definitely will echo in eternity.