Posts Tagged God

Beauty Out of Ashes (Part I)

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arlier this year, my husband had agreed to do a full-time assignment for seven weeks in addition to his  permanent full-time job.  During that time, I was so overwhelmed by my three children that I was sure I was  experiencing emotions I thought any single parent would.  And I thought to myself not only then, but many times in the past:  how does a single mother (or father) do it?  How does one provide for their children, care for them and all of their needs (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually), and still manage to stay balanced?  It was the last time I would secretly ponder these questions before I contacted Melanie who graciously introduced me to her previous life of single parenting.

A beautiful red-head and just eighteen years old, Melanie married the kind of man most teenagers her age dreamt of marrying – the kind that smitten girls would describe as the tall, dark, and handsome type.  Gradually, the couple had three children and a successful business operated by Melanie in their million-dollar home.  On the outside, they appeared to be the quintessential picture perfect family.  But after enduring over nine years of pain, the verge of collapse abruptly came to a head.  On an ordinary April afternoon, Melanie’s estranged husband took his belongings and left her behind with their three children, setting into motion a bitter process toward divorce.

"This picture perfectly represents us during that time.  I was leading three innocent children with the wind in our face and the unknown before us."  - Melanie

“This picture perfectly represents us during that time. I was leading three innocent children with the wind in our face and the unknown before us.” – Melanie

Needless to say, Melanie was overcome by a myriad of fears and worries.  Finding a new home and earning an income to pay the bills while raising and supporting her young children was downright overwhelming.  But that was just the beginning.  Melanie was afraid of the repercussions she felt her ex-husband was capable of or might inflict upon her person and her reputation.  She dreaded humiliating her parents knowing how much her sister’s divorce almost a decade before had devastated them.  She feared being despised by the church she had grown up in and belonged to for over twenty years.  And she worried that she would be rejected by her friends and her children treated as outcasts.

At only twenty eight years old, Melanie officially had sole custody of the couples’ children (ages 7, 5, and 2), tarnished credit due to her ex-husband’s poor financial decisions, and a profitable business she was forced to gradually shut down.  Melanie desperately searched for spiritual guidance to help navigate her young family through the uncertainties of their fragile situation.

Adjusting to her new role as a single mother was extremely difficult.  Stress was at an all-time high in the beginning.  Tardiness and speeding tickets became the norm for a time.  Car collisions were miraculously avoided as she tended to her fighting children in the backseat.  That first summer on her own, Melanie realized few outdoor activities were as appealing as they were low maintenance, so she planned park excursions with her kids and enjoyed picnics together.  Sometimes, she took her children on walks or visited their grandparents.  But for every good moment Melanie had, she had several moments where she was tired, sad, and lonely.

The family pictured together on the day Melanie taught her youngest, Timothy (5), to ride his bike without training wheels.

The family pictured together on the day Melanie taught her youngest, Timothy (5), to ride his bike without training wheels.

“Holidays used to be the worst because I knew that everybody was going to hang out somewhere and I was the oddball.  When you are involved in a tight-knit community, you don’t really have a place.  Suddenly, wives were holding on a little tighter to their husbands.  When I saw this, it was hurtful, but I couldn’t react to it because I felt like these were the consequences of divorce.  And there are consequences.­­  But I went through them as best I could.”

As she might have expected, Melanie did lose some friendships, but she was determined to protect her children from the typical stereotypes placed on broken families.  Melanie made a conscious decision to intentionally focus on her children and their well-being.  Throughout the ordeal, she continued attending her home church but with some feedback from her children, kept an open mind and explored other area churches also.  Her immediate family was her main source of moral support.  Melanie’s eldest sister reminded her of an exemplary woman, wife, and mother – the woman described in Proverbs 31.  “I posted the passage on my refrigerator and memorized it.  I thought this was a very wise and business savvy woman.  God was with this woman and if He was with her, then God would be with me too,” says Melanie.

(L to R):  Faith, Timothy, Melanie, and Anthony enjoyed a Sunday afternoon meal with their aunt and grandparents.

Faith, Timothy, Melanie, and Anthony meet her parents and sister for lunch on a Sunday afternoon.

In the years following the divorce, Melanie describes developing a sincere dependence upon and a close relationship with the Lord like she had never experienced before:

“I didn’t know God the way I knew Him when I went through my divorce.  I fell in such a deep love with this Jesus and I wanted Him in every aspect of my life.  He brought the right books for me to read, the right music to encourage me.  I was so hungry that I would download podcasts of sermons and listen to them after I put Timothy [Melanie’s youngest child] down for a nap.  I would drink my coffee while I listened to the Word and absorbed everything like a sponge.

He met me in my brokenness and revealed Himself in a TOTALLY different way and it was like an adventure…  I always prayed, ‘God, if I don’t have a provider, You be my Provider.  If I don’t have a husband, You provide for me the way a husband would provide.’  I didn’t get any handouts.  Not even from my family.  It truly was God providing for me in a supernatural way.”

She had just six short months to make some critical decisions before her ex-husband permitted their home to go into foreclosure.   Finally, just before the house was taken away by the bank, Melanie found a residential home for lease.  It was the only option she had at the time and was convinced she was destined to move her family there.  The family packed their possessions and moved into the rental where she was permitted to launch an elderly care home for the second time.  Her vacancies quickly filled and her business grew – a feat she credits to her heavenly Provider.

“Hauling and loading groceries for the business and the kids in the pouring rain, alone, was very overwhelming sometimes.  There would be times when I would just sit in the car and rest my head on the steering wheel and I’d pray, ‘God, I don’t have anymore strength.  Please, help me!’”  On numerous occasions, Melanie locked herself in the bathroom and wept in desperation believing that life with three small children was not meant to be lived alone.

“When your spouse dies, it’s so horrible.  But it’s a clean cut and you have everybody coming around you, consoling you and praying for you and having compassion on your children.  When you go through a divorce, it’s like a jagged tear and everybody walks away because they don’t want to be associated with you and you’re left alone with the pieces.”

Sadly, one of the most heartbreaking pieces was Melanie watching the aftermath of her ex-husband’s complete withdrawal from his children impact them negatively.  Rejection led to severe anxiety issues that influenced their behavior at school and at home.  When Melanie occasionally scheduled a break for herself, her children would call her from their grandparents’ home begging her to take them with her.  In her words, Melanie was “their everything.”

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“All your children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace.” Isaiah 54:13

Not only was she terribly needed by her children, but she was the primary caregiver of five elderly clients.  Melanie’s business was running steady, but a year later, the owners asked her to consider purchasing the home or relocate.  Because the home was priced beyond her budget, she found herself standing at the crossroads again.  Instead, she sold the business to the owners and once more, the Lord was her guide.  He led her to a home that was not her preferred choice, a fixer-upper, but it didn’t require a down payment.  Only at the insistence of her parents, Melanie warily agreed to proceed with the deal.  More and more, Melanie realized how gracious the Lord was with her, not because of what she did, but because of Who He is.  She started her business a third time, her expertise and savvy skills more refined than years past, and her earnings surpassed those of the days when she lived in her grand manor with her ex-husband.  The increased revenue enabled her to refurbish the home while providing the best care for her family and her elderly residents.

By this time, Melanie had a revelation that changed her mind about the God she thought she knew.

“He wasn’t this God just waiting to get down on me every time I messed up.  He was comforting me when there was nobody else.  Alone, at night when I was bawling my eyes out – not because I missed my ex-husband – but because people had their own families and I had to respect that.  And then the next day, I had to hold it together for my kids and for everybody else and act like I’m strong when inside I was thinking, what am I doing?   But He supernaturally came through for me emotionally and financially.”

At times, comfort for Melanie came in the form of passages from Scripture (Isaiah 54:4-17, specifically) or from pages in books written by inspirational authors like C.S. Lewis.  Other times, lyrics from a worship song struck a chord in her heart.  But perhaps the most influential instruments the Lord used to encourage Melanie were people.

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Melanie met ladies at her children’s school that held regular prayer meetings and spoke words of truth into her life.  She hired a humble and courteous couple to help her with her business, but quickly became like guardian angels over her curious children.  A thoughtful friend drew close to her during her hardship and occasionally invited her to lunch or offered to take the young family boating. Still, others stepped in with random acts of kindness and provided charitable gifts, like bicycles.  Outnumbered by her children and limited by her business at home, trusted friends helped Melanie by taking the kids on spontaneous trips to the Lego store and other little outings that her children looked forward to visiting.  “God pulled away some people and brought near some people.  As I went through those four years, He brought in individuals at just the right season – the perfect counsel and the perfect help.  They are the kind you just can’t find on your own; they were the hands and feet of Jesus.  I can’t overstate how much God used them to touch my life.”  Then finally, one individual in particular entered Melanie’s mending world, forever changing the seasons and dynamics of her maturing little family.

[…to be continued…]

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She is More Than a Conqueror

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walked up to Diana’s doorstep with her cousin and my best friend, Emma, beside me on a  blustery Friday night.  It was September  27th.  We had planned a surprise bash for Emma’s  30th birthday with her closest family and friends; Diana and her husband, Beni,  were very kind  to host the celebration.  The 28-year-old slender brunette who is typically chatty and cheerful  just didn’t seem  quite herself that night, however.  I sensed something was amiss, but assumed  that by the time all the guests appeared, Diana was  just exhausted from a full day of preparation  for the occasion.  What we didn’t know was that Diana and Beni received upsetting  news earlier  that afternoon.

Autumn 2013. Beni, Diana, and their darling two year old son, Noah.  (Photo courtesy of Bobi Crisan Photography).

Autumn 2013. Beni, Diana, and their darling two year old son, Noah. (Photo courtesy of Bobi Crisan Photography).

It began one week prior to the birthday celebration when Diana had an appointment with her primary care physician.  She was scheduled to discuss stones in her tonsils.  In passing, she mentioned a lingering cough that continued for six months.  Dr. June prescribed Prilosec; a tablet used to alleviate gastric reflux, and intuitively ordered a chest x-ray as well.  An experienced respiratory therapist herself, Diana was surprised that her doctor referred her to radiology without waiting to assess potential improvement with Prilosec alone.  Still, Diana headed to the imaging department as soon as she was released from her appointment.

The following Tuesday, Diana received a call from her physician.  The x-ray revealed a shadow in Diana’s chest but there was not enough information on the radiographs to determine what the shadow indicated.  Consequently, the radiologist recommended a CT scan.  It was during this particular exam when Diana began to feel uneasy.  “That’s when I started thinking things might not be good.   I didn’t know what it was, but they found something.”

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Several hours later, Dr. Phillips, a veteran pulmonologist, phoned Diana at home.  Dr. Phillips explained the CT scan demonstrated a 6cm mass on the right side of Diana’s chest and enlarged lymph nodes in her neck.  The presence of lymph nodes is typical on a normal CT exam, but when they are enlarged, there is cause for concern.  “He was kind of beating around the bush with me for a while, but then he finally used the word ‘cancer.’  [‘It looks an awful lot like cancer…’]  Doctors don’t really say ‘cancer’ unless they REALLY think that’s probably what it is,” Diana clarifies.  Upon hearing the devastating news, Beni shook his head in disbelief.  “I remember Beni just giving me a kiss on the head and just kind of hugging me while I was still on the phone with Dr. Phillips.”  She sat at the bottom of the stairwell, their two-year old son nearby, and cried in Beni’s arms as her mind processed the shocking results.  Naturally, thoughts began to fill her mind.  “I can’t believe it.  I’m so young!  Wow, this means that I could lose my hair – I was thinking I’m losing my hair – I wasn’t thinking that I could die.  I didn’t think about that until much later.”  That night, she slept very little – maybe two hours at most.

The family enjoys the great outdoors. Diana, Beni, and their son, Noah, are pictured at Yellowstone Park last summer. (Photo courtesy of Diana).

The next morning, Friday, September 27th, Diana, accompanied by her husband, was scheduled to see Dr. Wilson, another skilled pulmonologist.  Her experience as a pulmonology patient brought a whole new dimension to her career as a professional.  “I feel for the patients so much more.  I really understand what they’re going through.  Now I think to myself, Oh, wow!  They have that kind of cancer?  Wow!  I’m so sad for them.  I know what pain is and I know what they’re going through.”  Dr. Wilson assessed the CT images with the pair explaining in detail the abnormalities found on Diana’s scan.  He maintained the findings could be nothing less than cancer.

Tears filled their eyes as they slowly came to the realization of what this diagnosis meant.  Unquestionably, Diana felt despondent and uncertain about her future.  “I was thinking about my son, Noah.  What am I going to do with my son?  I have to go through cancer.  And then Beni – I’m so glad he was there – he just kind of held me, held my hand quietly telling me we’ll get through this.  He’s been my rock this whole time.”

To confirm the diagnosis, Dr. Wilson ordered a biopsy of one of Diana’s lymph nodes in her neck.  During the biopsy, the pathologist insinuated it could be Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  “It was nice to just know something about it,” Diana explains.  “Looking back, that was the hardest day for me – just finding out I have cancer.  That was really difficult to swallow.”  She would not be notified with a definitive answer as to which cancer she had until the following week.  “The hardest part was not knowing what kind of cancer it was,” she recalls.

Beni embraces his wife just before she is taken back for port placement surgery.  (Photo courtesy of Diana).

Beni embraces his wife just before she is taken back for port placement surgery. (Photo courtesy of Diana).

As they grappled with the news, Diana and Beni determined they would try to keep things “as normal as possible” for as long as they could beginning with hosting Emma’s party.  Below is an excerpt from Diana’s journal regarding that day:

As much as I wasn’t in any mood for a party, it was too late to cancel and we thought that it would be best for us to carry on as usual.  The party went well other than the fact that it was soo late and since I hadn’t slept well the night before, I was really tired.  And my neck was sore from the biopsy that morning.  I was relieved when everyone left.  This was a dark, dark day.

In an effort to continue their daily lives, Diana remained an active vocalist on the worship team at her local church, continued leading a young couple’s fellowship group with Beni, and reported to her part-time job as usual.

While Diana contemplates the symptoms she was initially experiencing (chronic cough, night sweats, itchy legs, and shortness of breath upon exertion), she didn’t consider them serious enough to be addressed urgently.  She certainly didn’t believe they could be a result of cancer.  As was established later, her lymph nodes, upper spine, pelvis, and spleen were affected by cancer.  Because she presented with symptoms and the fact that other regions were involved outside of her lymph system, Diana was officially diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma 4B – essentially, stage IV cancer.  She would be required to undergo chemotherapy once every two weeks for approximately six to eight months.

Noah loves and supports his Mommy. (Photo courtesy of Diana).

Noah loves and supports his Mommy. (Photo courtesy of Diana).

Once more, the following excerpt from Diana’s journal entails hers and Beni’s reaction to the final diagnosis:

…We kept thinking, God is in control and His will be done in our lives.  Lord, help us to continue to say that,even when it gets tough.  Anyway, we prayed together facing each other with our knees touching.  I’m so grateful for my husband!  I love being able to share all my thoughts and worries with him.  And I’m glad that we can still smile and laugh even during this time!  Lord, thank You for giving us peace and even joy during this time…

With a name to match the illness, Diana began the painful process of informing her family and friends.  She was mostly nervous about sharing the news with her mother.  Eighteen years ago, Diana’s father was diagnosed with stomach cancer and doctors gave him a 40% chance of surviving.  After sixteen chemotherapy treatments and a very critical surgery, the abundant prayers of family, friends, and fellow Christian believers were miraculously answered.  Her father still lives today.  Nonetheless, Diana just couldn’t bear to face her mother and tell her that she now had cancer.  “That word, cancer, I think for my mom is very scary.”  Just as Diana had expected, her mother took the news very hard.  Diana tried to comfort and reassure her mother that Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a very treatable disease and that medicine has improved drastically in the last twenty years.

Diana pictured with her parents while celebrating her father's birthday.  He turned 64 this month.  (Photo courtesy of Diana).

Diana pictured with her parents while celebrating her father’s birthday. He turned 64 this month. (Photo courtesy of Diana).

Diana expressed her long existing desire to share a deeper relationship with her father.  “Now, it is not like what it used to be.  He can say ‘I love you’ without reservation.  He always gives me hugs and always has something encouraging to say to me.”  Unless a friend or relative attends chemotherapy with Diana, her father is always beside her, lending his moral support.  Whether he reads a book aloud or imparts an encouraging passage from the Bible to her, she feels a stronger connection with her father like never before.  “He knows more than anybody what I’m going through.  If this is the only benefit from all of this, I’m happy.  I’m closer to my dad because of it.”

In addition to her father, Diana has a large group of supporters.  Two of her younger sisters voluntarily cut several inches off of their long locks to support their big sister and her cause.  (Diana strategically cut her hair to chin length first and eventually trimmed it down to a buzz cut, intending to avoid the possibility of her son being frightened by her new appearance.  It was an answer to her prayers when he wasn’t affected by her outward changes).  Beni, her biggest fan and the love of her life, even buzzed his hair short just minutes before her second haircut since learning of her diagnosis.  It was his way of helping her determine how short she wanted to clip her hair.  She has also welcomed many friends who wished to join her during her chemotherapy treatment.  Numerous prayers have been lifted on her behalf and with tear-filled eyes, she describes how extremely proud she is to be a part of her church, an extension of a family, who has overwhelmed her and her family with kind and generous support.  Diana has also found comfort and consolation through a co-worker’s daughter who is a recent breast cancer survivor.  She feels each positive person has notably contributed to helping her cope during this difficult time.

Precious Noah rubbing Mommy and Daddy's heads. (Photo courtesy of Diana).

Precious Noah rubbing Mommy and Daddy’s heads. (Photo courtesy of Diana).

But mostly, she gives the greatest credit to God for coaching her well in advance for her hardship.  “God always put it on my heart to pray that if I ever go through a trial or a tribulation, He would help me endure the way He would want me to.  And I was praying this for a long time and I didn’t understand why until I got the news about cancer.  Then it totally made sense.  God prepared me more than I ever could be to go through this.”

IMG_20140129_110505 Naturally, she experienced days when she would wrestle with uncertainty.  She didn’t always  feel so strong so she would remind herself of God’s assurances throughout the Bible.  “I believe  God is with me.  He has come to give life and to give it abundantly.  He’s not going to leave me or  forsake me.  That’s what His promise says in the Bible.  I would remember those verses every  time that I felt a little bit of doubt and a little bit scared – I’d say, ‘No.  I choose to believe that  You have life for me, God – that I’m not going to heaven yet, and if I do have to go to heaven,  it’s to give You the glory.  I know and trust that You hold me in Your hands and that You’re  here with me.”  Scripture passages like Job 23:10, (“But He knows the way that I take; when He  has tested me, I will come forth as gold), and 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, (Therefore we do not lose  heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.    For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs  them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is  temporary, but what is unseen is eternal), have been especially reassuring to her throughout this journey.

One day in particular, however, she experienced a meltdown.  On December 17th, she was in the  restroom at work.  She noticed in the mirror that the lymph nodes in her neck appeared  inflamed again.  Her cough and itchy legs still had not resolved.  She was petrified.  “I freaked  out.  I was thinking, Oh my gosh!  I’m not responding to treatment.  I can’t believe this!   I was  100% sure that I hadn’t responded to treatment.  That was the second day, I can say, was one of  the worst days I’ve had since learning of my diagnosis.”  In her anguish, she prayed intensely.    In a sermon she randomly selected on her phone from an app called OnePlace , Jeremiah 29:11  was the text on which the message was founded on:  “For I know the plans I have for You,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Diana remembers being very encouraged by the message but she was still fighting with doubt.  “I was thinking, Ok, God, I don’t understand – I think this was the first time that I ever used the word why?  I don’t understand why You want me to go through this and it’s bad enough that I have cancer, but You want me to go down this road?  Where I’m not responding?  And I will have to do more:  a bone marrow transplant and I will have to be hospitalized for a month and You just really want me to go down this road – not just cancer – but not respond to treatment, too?”  On her lengthy drive home from work, she had time to continue her discussion with the Lord.  “Ok, God, if this is what You want me to go through, then this is what You want me to go through.  And I know that You’re not going to give me more than I can handle.  So I trust that and I place it in Your hands.

The next day, on December 18th, after completing four sessions of chemotherapy, Diana had a PET scan scheduled to determine if her body was in fact responding to treatment.  The following morning, on the 19th, the oncology nurse called with results from the PET scan.  Diana’s journal entry depicts her emotions best after she had heard the latest information:

It’s completely clear.  There is NO CANCER anywhere in my body!  This is the BEST news I have ever received!  Better than a pass on a board exam or finding out I’m pregnant… I can’t describe how happy I am!!  I called Beni at work and told him and I texted everyone else…  It’s amazing how one day you can be SO LOW and the next, so high!  Thank You, God, for Your faithfulness!  And that You’ve answered our prayers.  I thank You that I don’t have to do extra treatments or a stem cell transplant since I’m responding so well!  YAY!!!

The personal battle was a significant milestone in her walk with the Lord.  Even though things didn’t appear in Diana’s favor two days prior to hearing the exciting update, she decided she would trust God, believing He was in control of her situation.  “It made me so happy that I actually resolved that with God before I found out the good news because I just feel closer to Him now.”  That bleak afternoon on December 17th, her faith, perhaps the size of a small mustard seed, began to flourish once again.

Even though Diana’s PET scan doesn’t show any indication of cancer left in her body, she is still advised to continue chemotherapy for another three months to ensure the disease doesn’t return.

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A family picture taken just days after Diana received news that she is cancer-free. (Photo courtesy of Diana).

Ultimately, Diana feels this was a trial to draw her closer to the Lord.  Her prayers often requested that the Lord would reveal Himself to her.  At first, she was unsure how cancer would do that.  But she is now confident that it worked.  “Because when you’re broken, there is nothing else but God’s Word and me and Him.  I have nothing else.  I have nowhere else to turn.  Why does it take suffering for us to actually do what we have to do and pray more and read the Bible more and really do what we should be doing in the first place?  Why?  Why can’t we be like Joshua where he’d stay in that tent after Moses left just simply because he wanted to know more of God?”

I asked Diana to share some words of advice for anyone who is currently affected by cancer or even a reader who has a relative or friend living with cancer.  Her pearls of wisdom:  “Really try to get close to the Lord.  Read the Bible if you can.  That’s what has really encouraged me a lot.  Remember that God will never leave you or forsake you during this time.  That’s what He promises to all His children.  And He will never give you more than you can handle.”

I personally had the privilege of reading each carefully typed journal entry, a practice Diana doesn’t normally engage in.  But her diary serves as a record to remind her of how close and near the Lord has been to her through this difficult time.  Her little light shines so brightly in the simplest of ways but speaks volumes to believers and unbelievers alike.  Her victorious smile illuminates pictures of herself as she sits in her seat before or after receiving chemotherapy.  She continues to passionately worship the Lord with her voice, heart, soul, and mind, knowing that the God of the mountain is still God in the valley.  Just as her intimate prayers are neatly inserted on the pages of her journal, she has the Lord’s promises inscribed on the tablet of her heart.

Diana at her most recent appointment, 1/30/14.  (Photo courtesy of Diana).

Diana with Noah at her most recent medical appointment, 1/30/14. (Photo courtesy of Diana).

“It really encourages me to think that in some way, I’m making a difference in someone else’s life.  It makes me so happy.  I would pray about that.  God, I don’t want to just be the one that is called for something.  I want to be chosen because I’m ready to do something for You.  And it’s amazing to see that He used someone that I feel is a nobody.  I’m in awe that He could use me.”

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(Photo courtesy of Diana and Portrait Innovations, 2014).

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Note:  Each physician’s name has been altered to protect their identity.

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A Struggling Addict Finds Renewal Through ‘God Will Provide’ – Part II

[…continued from Part I…]

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od Will Provide began in a living room with five recovering addicts, or students, and two pastors in 2005.  It has   multiplied since, first establishing the men’s rehabilitation facility, followed by a women’s center, and missionary college.  Based largely on donations from local churches, fundraisers, and missionary services held by Fountain of Life Church, God Will Provide has expanded orphanages and/or churches in countries worldwide including Austria, Honduras, India, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Kenya, and Ukraine; plans for Somalia are in its early stages.  Interestingly, “every single one of these [establishments was started] by people who were ex-addicts…  Every single one of them were all students in the program at one point,” reveals Andy.

The organization is operated primarily by volunteers while food and supplies are provided by means of the community through donations.  Local restaurants and grocery stores have donated food and groceries in the past.  At times, family and friends of the GWP students have prepared meals to feed the staff and students at the Men’s Center.

The rehabilitation center has a built-in schedule keeping the students distracted from their old habits and their hands continuously occupied.  They are assigned different tasks and projects, enabling them to learn and practice everyday skills while maintaining order and cleanliness of their living space.  The following schedule resembles a regular day in Andy’s life as a student in rehab at the Men’s Center:

6:45am – Day begins

7:00am – Morning Prayer & blessing over breakfast

8:00am – 9:00am – Bible study

9:00am – Daily duties are delegated to each of the students.  Once assigned, students work until 11:45am.

12:00pm – Afternoon Prayer & blessing over lunch

1:00pm – 3:00pm – Resume daily duties

3:00pm – 4:00pm – Recreational activities

4:00pm – 5:00pm – Bible Study

5:00pm – Evening Prayer & blessing over dinner

6:00pm – 8:15pm – Recreational activities

8:30pm – 9pm – Teatime/Dessert & Fellowship

10:00pm – Evening Prayer

On Tuesday evenings, the youth gathers together to fellowship, Wednesday evenings are reserved for prayer meetings, and on Friday and Sunday evenings, the congregation unites for a weeknight church service.  On these days, the students prepare to leave for church immediately after dinner.

I asked Andy if he felt like he was in boot camp.  Without any hesitation, Andy answers, “No.  Absolutely not…  That’s what I thought I was going to think because [of the schedule].”  Instead, Andy frequently caught himself looking forward to prayer meetings, waiting on God and expecting to meet with Him.

It was at one of those prayer meetings that the lead pastor of Fountain of Life Church had a vision of beginning a project in Kenya.  With Kenya on the horizon, the pastor prayed for wisdom and direction as to who the Lord would send to begin the mission in Kenya.  “You are going to see these youth that are very dedicated in a project and they’re not going to do what they were asked.  They’re going to do a lot more than they were asked.  These are the people [who] are going to take over this project,” summarizes Andy of the pastor’s subsequent divine answer.

In the meantime, Andy and Johnny, another graduate of the program, shared a room together while at the Men’s Center.  They would often have private bible studies in their room and frequently shared what the Lord would speak to them.  They dreamt of going on mission trips together.  During one of their conversations, Andy told Johnny, “… the place we’re gonna go, they’re gonna need courageous people […] that are not afraid of nothing…   And that’s gonna be us.  That’s where I wanna go with you.”

The stove at the Men's Center (Photo courtesy of Nadja).

The stove at the Men’s Center (Photo courtesy of Nadja).

The two friends were on their third day of fasting when the pastor approached them outside.  Johnny was in charge of developing an outdoor area with Andy’s help; a setting that Johnny envisioned would one day become a large gathering place where many people would repent.  It would include a basketball hoop, a fire pit, an outdoor brick oven with a chimney, and a barbecue.  Without the proper resources available, the two friends were digging dirt with shovels to level the ground.  While they were still digging, they heard the pastor call out to them.  “…Get ready for Kenya!”  Because the friends were inseparable, he knew Johnny would lead the mission in Kenya and Andy would be his partner.

Still, it wasn’t enough to convince Andy he was going to Kenya and he prayed that the Lord  would reveal His plans for Andy soon.

How do I know that You want me to go and it’s not just me?  I don’t want to go if I’m not  going to be used by You [in Kenya].   If you have a different plan for me, I want to go  somewhere else…  Confirm [Your plans] for me through a random person [who] has  absolutely no idea that You want me to go to Kenya or that I want to go to Kenya,” he  prayed.

One evening, Andy had delivered a message to the youth for the first time.  After the service,  he walked into the foyer to socialize.  Though he was standing with a group of people, he was inattentive to the discussion at hand.  His mind distant from his surroundings, a thought sprung  to his mind, “Remember you wanted your answer.”  Andy turned and looked across the lobby only to see Justina headed in his direction.  He watched as he locked eyes with the answer he had been awaiting, making its way to him.  Once she was standing in front of him, Justina and Andy exchanged greetings before she made her intentions known.  “Andy, I’ve gotta tell you something!”  “You don’t even need to tell me,” he replied abruptly.  Puzzled, she asked him what he was talking about.  “Am I going somewhere?” he inquired expectantly.  Her bewildered countenance became frightened.  “Andy, I wanted to tell you that I had a dream last night that you had your bags packed and you had a sticker that said Kenya on it and you were going to Kenya!”  It was the exact response Andy needed to finally believe he was destined to leave for Kenya.

(Photo courtesy of Nadja).

(Photo courtesy of Nadja).

“I had many, many, many confirmations of where God wanted to use me and lead me and I guess without these confirmations, I wouldn’t be where I am today…  It’s [amazing] to see God’s hand at work and how He leads the people [who] are willing to sacrifice their life and do whatever they can for Him.”

On the left, Andy, pictured with Johnny in Kenya (Photo courtesy of Nadja).

On the left, Andy, pictured with Johnny in Kenya (Photo courtesy of Nadja).

The first day Andy and Johnny decided to hold a church meeting on African soil, in a town called Oyugis, Johnny was meditating and preparing a message for the community.  Overwhelmed and uncertain of what the people needed to hear most, he determined to share the promise that only Jesus gives true rest:

Matthew 11:28-30:

‘8 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Andy encouraged Johnny to proceed with the message, trusting the locals would welcome the message wholeheartedly.

Andy remembers precisely when Johnny preached the message; he waited and thought to himself, “There it is.  [The message is] out there.”  He watched his friend pause to scan the room and then he repeated the Scripture, this time louder.  Just a short time later, the team noticed a native woman walk into the building they were renting.  She was wearing a head scarf with a skull pattern printed on the fabric.  They concluded the service with the opportunity to pray together, fellowship with another, and share testimonies.

Andy recounts the translation of the woman’s words after she stepped forward to speak:

‘Well, I have a testimony…  My son is in prison for life [and] my husband died of HIV.  I have no money to eat [and] I have nowhere to go…  I woke up this morning [intending] to commit suicide.  I was [on my way] to kill myself.  I’m a witch doctor – [I knew] my life [was] over.  So I decided to walk and I looked over and I saw the sign [on the building]:  God Will Provide…’  The woman stopped to listen.  ‘God, if you exist, then speak to me.’  At that exact moment, Johnny said ‘Come to Me…’ from inside the building.  She continued, ‘God, if that’s you talking, I want You to say it again.’  Once more, as if on cue, Johnny repeated the Scripture.  Once she heard the message from outside the building, she knew that God was speaking to her through somebody else.  She prayed and repented, dedicating her life to the Lord.

That was the defining moment when Andy and Johnny realized the need to build a church in Oyugis.  30% of the population is Muslim while the remainder claim to be Christians.  However, the ‘Christians’ do as they please just as long as they come to church to repent on Sunday.  Polygamy is the norm.  The Bible is read and taught religiously instead of allowing it to transform their minds and their lifestyles.  The church in Kenya has developed church meetings into a business, demanding those who attend to pay a fee.  The people have been blinded by the lie that one must be rich to be a Christian.  Otherwise, they are not accepted.  Andy and Johnny saw the need to tell the people the truth about what it means to follow Jesus.

Two acres of land were leveled with shovels in Oyugis - Kenya (Photo courtesy of Nadja).

Two acres of land were leveled with shovels in Oyugis – Kenya (Photo courtesy of Nadja).

The pastor prayerfully determined where the project would be developed.  The time had come to get to work.  Andy and Johnny, combined with their team and the locals, leveled two acres of land using shovels alone, built a brick fence around the property, dug a well about thirty feet under the ground and installed a water tower for a shower.  The crew also built a small dirt hut for shelter from the scorching heat.  More recently, the cement foundation of the orphanage was laid.  Because tools in Kenya are low quality and expensive, Andy packs a lightweight backpack for his personal belongings to last him a month.  Every time he leaves for Kenya, his two checked bags are filled with supplies consisting of solar panels, inverters, converters, shovels and more.  Just this month, the group arrived in Kenya with backpacks stocked full of school supplies and personal hygiene items for the orphans.  They also have a large container about the size of a semi-truck’s trailer waiting to be filled from brim to brim with equipment and materials.  Anything from rugs and dishes to clothing and furniture are readily accepted.

Laying the cement foundation for the orphanage (Photo courtesy of Nadja).

Laying the cement foundation for the orphanage (Photo courtesy of Nadja).

Andy returns home for two months at a time to earn money and help raise funds and awareness to further the project that he and Johnny began just over a year ago.  The success of this project is directly proportional to the donations given toward this specific mission.  If there is no money, there are no supplies; therefore, progress cannot be made.  Still, many times Andy and Nadja have witnessed the provision of the Lord.  Having little money to begin with and school loans to pay off, Andy would not be able to go to Kenya if not for the donations that trickle in just days before his departure.  And for the first time, Nadja will be joining Andy in Kenya for three weeks at the end of the month.

During the triumphs and even the trials, including Andy becoming ill with typhoid fever, the couple has witnessed God’s hand in motion through it all.

“[We] do see God leading it.  He does it so you can’t say, ‘Look!  I did this!   I worked and I made the money so we can go.’  That’s why He puts you in a situation where you […] have no way out.  After seeing all this […], now I understand why I went to jail…  So I can never say I got myself out of it…  It’s just God at work and that’s it.”

Andy plans to continue working alongside Johnny until the project is brought to completion.  They have a desire to help educate the orphans and teach them basic life skills.  Eventually, they want to disciple the children and ultimately train them to become future leaders over the mission.   At some point, they hope to have a doctor come and operate a health clinic for the community.  But if it were up to Andy, he “would move all of Africa to America.”

Andy surrounded by a group of orphans in Kenya (Photo courtesy of Nadja).

Andy surrounded by a group of orphans in Kenya (Photo courtesy of Nadja).

Coping with Andy’s addiction and getting him the help he needed to clear his system was no easy task for Nadja.  However, the experience has brought them closer together and made them stronger as a unit.  “I’m [even more] in love with him,” she says as she longingly gazes at her husband.  Andy has remained cleaned for the last two and a half years.  His family and friends consider Andy’s recovery a miracle.

“My lifestyle [has] changed so dramatically that they’re not really expecting [me to] slip…  There are some people [who] go through the program that fall, of course.  They’re hoping I’d never be one of them and I know I’ll never be one of them…  Every time I would even get a thought [to use], I’d think of the nightmare that it was.  It was a nightmare.  Never again…  Never, never, ever, ever.”

– – –

Note:  Justina’s real name has been altered to protect her identity at her request.

To make a donation, please click here and/or to receive updates from Andy and Johnny’s team in Kenya, like their Facebook page at God Will Provide Kenya.

For more information on Drug Rehabilitation at God Will Provide International Mission, please visit their website here.

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A Struggling Addict Finds Renewal Through ‘God Will Provide’ – Part I

ight days ago, I met with a charming couple who had a remarkable story to tell; another example among many, I’m   sure,  as to why I believe that with God, all things are possible.  I couldn’t have been more excited when Andy accepted my request to meet, especially on such short notice.  He was scheduled to leave the country just a few short days   later.  I was honored to sit down and listen to him and his devoted wife bravely share in detail about his life-changing story.  I am even more humbled and very grateful that they entrusted me with their fragile and touching testimony.

You see, Andy is no stranger to me.  In fact, I sat  in the same fourth grade class as his eldest sister after my family had moved to Oregon in the early summer of 1992.  To keep the long story short, I recognized Andy’s sister in Sunday school one morning many years ago and our worlds collided.  I went to their house before and after school for the rest of that school year.  Some of our greatest memories were during our preteen and teenage years when we each played an instrument in the church orchestra.  I have remained friends of the family ever since.

This particular Sunday night, we arranged to meet in the café at Barnes & Noble.  As I nervously scanned the area looking for an appropriate area for our conversation, I noticed the striking couple heading in my direction.  At least a couple of years have passed since I last saw Andy and I was genuinely happy to see him.  I greeted Andy and Nadja with hugs and afterward, we found a remote table to sit down at.  Once we were settled, we shared a few brief recollections of our childhood mixed with spouts of laughter.  Thinking back to that Sunday night, it was just what we needed before we submerged into the personal darkness that led Andy into his vicious drug addiction.

andyfourwheeling

Andy being himself (Photo courtesy of Andy)

For as long as I can remember, I found Andy to be a very energetic and adventurous individual.  A risk-taker.  Loud and proud.  He loved to perform stunts on 4-wheelers and I have seen a picture or two of him jumping off a dangerous cliff into a rapid current of water.  He liked and even preferred being the center of attention.  In Andy’s words, “Pride was [my biggest problem].  [Pride is] what got me in from the beginning.  I realized that if I became the person that never backed down to any dare, people [trusted] me…  This led me into the party scene.”  Within this scene, he was introduced to opiates.  Believing they were harmless, Andy consumed them occasionally.

One fateful October evening, Andy’s pride turned against him, implicating him into a “serious fight.”  As a result of his actions, Andy explained he “was supposed to [serve] fifteen years in prison.  The judge gave me a chance to [redeem] myself… and he […] put me on probation.  Five years.  I was just going to stay out of trouble.”

The aftermath of Andy’s actions took place just after Andy had proposed for Nadja’s hand in marriage.

In a complicated sequence of events surrounding Andy and Nadja’s official engagement ceremony and wedding, Andy served approximately forty-five days in jail in addition to paying a generous amount of money in restitution – money Andy had collected in savings.

Andy’s mistake that late autumn night regrettably cost him a clean record making it extremely difficult for him to find a job.  In Andy’s despair, his occasional encounters with opiates increasingly became habitual.

Photo courtesy of 4tonphotography

Photo courtesy of 4tonphotography

Andy and Nadja were married in the summer of 2009.  They moved about sixty miles southwest of their hometown, leaving behind their family and friends so that Nadja could pursue a nursing career.  Finances were tight.  Andy managed to get a siding job but was unhappy with his wages as it was the least paid job he ever held.  To support his expensive habit, he worked extra hours and would reserve some of his earnings.  A newlywed and a full-time student, Nadja was unaware of Andy’s addiction with narcotics.  Nadja explains, “[Our] first year of marriage, [we were] still getting used to each other.  Everything was fine-”

Andy interrupts.  “I wasn’t that out of control.  I was keeping it under control as much as I could,” he adds.  Andy elaborates.

“Addicts are like master manipulators.  They’re smooth with their words.  They’re very careful to be very sneaky…  I didn’t want to be [an addict].  I really didn’t…  I would feel so guilty.  I would literally be up most of the night…crying by myself, sitting on the couch and crying, ‘What am I doing?  I can’t stop now.  I can’t stop.’  [I reasoned that] if I [didn’t] do this, [she would] know something [was] wrong because I [would] be sick.  I felt that I [was] bettering our relationship by continuing to do [drugs] because [I felt I was] still normal.  So at this point, I [wasn’t] doing it to get high.  I [was] doing it to maintain.  I couldn’t function… I [couldn’t] sleep without it. I [couldn’t] wake up without it. I [couldn’t] work without it.  I [couldn’t] eat without it…  It took control of my life.  I was always so against it. I was shocked [with] myself. I thought I was the strongest willed person in the world.  I didn’t think anybody was like me in the world.  But somehow I got pulled into it too.”

Two years into their marriage, Nadja learned in part what Andy had been secretly involved in.

“I noticed [Andy] was acting differently and I kept asking him what was going on…”

“…I was just fed up and I had to tell [Nadja…]:  ‘I have a problem.  Sometimes I do [drugs] and I can’t stop.’  I didn’t want to tell her I was fully addicted because I wanted to get clean and then tell her…”  Andy didn’t want to worry his bride.

Nadja struggled to comprehend her husband’s addiction.  “After he told me he had a problem, I didn’t understand why he couldn’t stop if he knew it hurt me.  And it was hard to believe that a person [I] loved and trusted had been lying to [me]…  I didn’t know where to turn.  I felt helpless and I prayed every night for him; sometimes, just [cried] alone asking God to change him, help him – and us.  It was the hardest time of my life.”

Nadja “realized that when an addiction consumes [someone], [they] can’t stop for anyone – not [their] parents, brother, or wife.  Andy [needed] to do it for himself and only with God’s help.”

Andy planned to change and he was determined to do it on his own.

“…he literally stayed up all night long,” remembers Nadja.  “I sat there on the bed with him and he went through the withdrawals… [it was] the worst thing in the world and-”

“-you feel like dying when you come off this stuff.  It’s not only physical.  It’s mental. It’s everything.  You feel like you want to commit suicide…” remarks Andy.

Nadja was desperate for help and with little money to spare, she didn’t know where to begin.  “I didn’t know what to do, where to go.  Everything […] was expensive.  I called everywhere […] ‘cause I wanted to be by his side.  I wanted him to get help…  If he [was] willing to get help, then I [was] going to be there with him.  […] I called everywhere and everything was booked up…  It was so hard to […] find a place for help.  And so I found, finally, this place…”

Andy was intermittently using narcotics for about five years before checking himself into a non-religious detox center for the first time.  He was there for about five days.  Because he was still having trouble with sleepless nights and wanted to improve his chances of recovery, Andy and Nadja reached out to NA (Narcotics Anonymous).  According to Andy, the support group constantly discussed “using,” reminding him of the sensations he felt when he was using drugs, causing him to crave it.

He appeared to be doing better for a short time, but the withdrawals were too overwhelming for Andy to bear any longer.  Nadja didn’t know it at the time, but Andy returned to his addictive habits in search of relief, even if it was only temporary.

“So I had this crazy idea […]:  I’ll just do just a little bit so I can sleep and that’s it.  Then I woke up and I was still kind of sick.  [I figured] I’ll do just a little bit [more]…”  As it turns out, an acquaintance convinced him to try this method, assuring Andy he could wean himself off the drugs a little at a time.  “I got back into it ’cause I had to take it to go to sleep; I had to take it to wake up.  I had to take it ’cause it wore off halfway through the day and before I knew it, I was doing it four, five, or six times a day again.”  Sadly, he ended up right back where he started.

Throughout this process, Andy was associated with a mischievous group of individuals that eventually led to a warrant for his arrest.  The consequences of choosing poor company and making poor decisions were rapidly escalating.

Andy found himself sitting in jail for the second time, confused at the events leading up to his latest incarceration, and struggled with the reality of serving fifteen years in prison for a supposed violation of his probation.  Nadja received word that Andy was in jail.  “I was shocked that he got into trouble again.  I didn’t know the whole story.  I didn’t know what was happening.”

While awaiting his scheduled trial, Andy was placed in a very large room, similar to a dormitory, with over seventy other inmates considered “high risk” (i.e. robbers, attempted murderers, and even murderers) – individuals facing at least ten years in penitentiary.  Andy recollects thinking to himself, “I don’t belong here.  I don’t belong here!  Why am I here?”

One day, Andy was sitting in his bunk reading a Bible.  “I [was] praying to God…to help me get out of my addiction.  [I prayed], ‘…God, I can’t do this on my own.  If You do exist, I want You to help me… ‘Cause I can’t do this on my own.  I tried – I tried everything!’”

Later, he called his mother who reminded him of God Will Provide, a non-profit Christian rehabilitation center, that she had informed him about in the past.  Believing he could do it on his own, Andy refused the opportunity to check himself in.  After learning of Andy’s situation, two counselors from the God Will Provide center planned to attend the hearing and support Andy.

The day of the hearing, Andy’s wife, family and friends, and the two mentors from God Will Provide were in the courtroom awaiting Andy’s sentencing from his first arrest.  The judge encouraged Andy to tell him the truth, etching the phrase, “Only the truth can set you free,” into Andy’s memory.  In shackles at the legs and arms, embarrassed, Andy confessed to the judge that he became involved with narcotics.  He expected to receive the full penalty of fifteen years of confinement.  At some point during Andy’s dialogue with the judge, a gentleman asked for permission to speak.  Surprised, the magistrate curiously approved his request.

The man introduced himself as a counselor at the God Will Provide International Mission and described the program to the judge.  Andy retells the advisor’s proposition to the judge:

“Your Honour, just give us a chance to clean him up before you send him away…because he’s going to go to prison, he’s going to get institutionalized, {and he will] come out even worse.  Let him change his life… and then send him away.”

The judge gave Andy a chance to speak in response to the counselor’s suggestion.  Andy remembers asking the judge to give him a chance.  “…It’s a Christian-based program…  I know God can change me.  And He’s the only One that can because I was born and raised – I was blessed in a church.  That’s the only reason why I know this will work.  And nothing else will.”

Andy and Nadja pictured together at a church baptism some time prior to Andy going to the men's center. (Photo courtesy of Nadja).

Andy and Nadja pictured together at a church baptism some time prior to Andy going to the Men’s Center. (Photo courtesy of Nadja).

Andy had forty days until his next hearing and the judge miraculously answered many prayers by agreeing to release Andy, under very strict regulations, to the God Will Provide rehabilitation center.

After gathering his belongings from his jail cell, Andy was transported to the Men’s Center.  The first month, he was not allowed contact with anyone outside of the center including his wife.  From a distance, Nadja was able to see Andy during gatherings at The Fountain of Life church, the founding church of the God Will Provide International Mission.

The God Will Provide Men's Center (Photo courtesy of Nadja)

The God Will Provide Men’s Center (Photo courtesy of Nadja).

“It was hard [not being able to speak with Andy], but… I would rather have him go through this than not see him [potentially] for years,” replies Nadja.  She was nearing the end of her nursing education and had about six months of clinical experience to complete.  After the first thirty days, Andy was allowed to make calls home three times a week in fifteen minute increments and they were finally able to sit together in church meetings.  These freedoms might seem insignificant to others, but to Andy and Nadja, they were important milestones.

Andy improved in many areas while in rehab including gaining a staggering fifty pounds in just over one month.  After forty days, he faced the magistrate assigned to his case once more.  Shocked by Andy’s progress, the judge released Andy back to the center to continue his treatment with orders to return for another follow-up.

New Year's Day - 2012.  Andy was at the Men's Center at this time.  (Photo courtesy of Nadja).

New Year’s Day – 2012. Andy was at the Men’s Center at this time. (Photo courtesy of Nadja).

As Andy continued to progress, he was “considered an elder to the students” while still a student himself, encouraging his peers in their process of recovery.  He cooked meals for over thirty males three times a day with some help from an assistant and a dishwasher, absorbing humility and learning patience.  He also served as a mechanic for the men’s center, making repairs on vehicles donated to the facility.

At Andy’s final hearing for sentencing, the judge wanted to listen to Andy speak.  Stunned and unprepared, Andy meekly revealed his transformed heart:

“Who am I to say anything?  I’ve proven many times that I can fail.  I [made] many mistakes… First, I want to thank you…for giving me the opportunity to [go to God Will Provide].  I learned a lot.  This is the first Thanksgiving… when I couldn’t stop saying what I was thankful for.  I actually have feelings now.  I have emotions.  I can talk to my parents.  I have a good relationship with my wife.  This is because of you.  God used you to bring me to [God Will Provide]…  If you [will] send me to jail, I [am] ready knowing that one day I will be out and one day, I will be used again and I am [valuable].  I’m not that person that I used to be.  I learned to associate with the right people…”

After listening to Andy’s testimony, the judge debated with the District Attorney.  Though the DA’s job is to convict offenders, she acknowledged that Andy’s statement moved her, causing her to believe he didn’t deserve another day in jail.

Once again, the judge miraculously agreed and freed Andy to return to rehab to complete his recovery program.  He was no longer obligated to serve fifteen years in prison and the remainder of his five-year probation would conclude the final sentencing.

Andy lived on site at the Men’s Center for about six months.  “It seemed liked the longest six months of my life [as I] waited for him to complete the program, but in the end, I knew it was worth the wait,” explains Nadja.  After four months of therapy at God Will Provide, Andy was able to return home on the weekends with supervision.  Later, he became a counselor at the God Will Provide Men’s Center and thereafter, he collaborated with a fellow advisor to organize and build an inviting outdoor space at the rehab center.  It was through this project that Andy discovered his calling to co-lead a mission in Kenya.

[…to be continued…]

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