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By Ray Robinette

Journey to Faith

My childhood was a disaster. My dad was a pedophile and alcoholic. After he had been exposed and everything had fallen apart, my parents divorced. Mom was left to raise four out of the five of us children while going to school full time and working. My sisters and I were easily swept into the darkness around us. As a teenager, I started down a road of destruction. Eventually I was in so much legal trouble that my mom told me to move in with my dad.

A homeless population of thousands live in empty buildings, alleys, and along the river banks in the Aberdeen/Hoquiam area.

A homeless population of thousands live in empty buildings, alleys, and along the river banks in the Aberdeen/Hoquiam area.

By this time my dad had moved forward with his life, gotten reestablished in church, and married a woman with two kids of her own. His new life was merely a façade that lasted about eight years. His drinking and abusiveness destroyed this family as well and led to his untimely death at the age of 48.

MSG-Robinette2-webIn 1992, while still living with my dad, I visited a little church where an evangelist was speaking. I don’t remember the words he said, but something happened inside me that I couldn’t explain. I felt like all I wanted to do was cry. My uncle, who “happened” to be at our house that night, explained Christ to me and asked me if I wanted to accept Him. As I did, joy flooded my soul.

Sadly, my life didn’t change much at first. I continued down a very dark path. The first eight years of my marriage were rough because I was still chasing all of that “stupid stuff.” Finally I experienced an “ah-ha” moment where I knew I needed to do something different or my wife, Shelly, and I needed to go our separate ways.

MSG-Robinette-sleeping-man-webShelly had been brought up in church. Her parents were an absolute rock in their faith. When everything came crumbling down for us, I found myself sitting in front of them. My mother-in-law looked at me and said, “Ray, you want to fix things, but you are not going to be able to fix them the way you think. The only way is to get yourself right with God.” I didn’t quite understand that, but I knew there was truth in it. I had tried everything else and had failed over and over again.

Shelly and I moved to Washington in 2002. Although I had prayed for salvation in 1992, I didn’t give my life to the Lord until that move. Shelly and I made a commitment to do things differently. I decided to quit chasing the world and instead live a godly life by developing a real relationship with Christ, going to church, reading the Word, and following the disciplines of a Christian life.

MSG-Robinette-man-w-bandana-webAlcohol use was a problem back then, but the biggest struggle had been methamphetamine. The day we arrived in Washington I gave all my drugs and paraphernalia to the friends who helped us move and walked away from it all. The temptation was there but I stayed away from it. Shelly and I dove into church headlong. It was a total God intervention. We were surrounded by a number of counselors who used various approaches. We went to counseling for our marriage and counseling as individuals. We completely invested in developing our relationship with God. If the church doors were open, we were there. If there was a retreat, we went. We took opportunities to get involved in working with youth, children’s ministry, and worship. Any way we could serve, we did. Seven years later, with my spiritual heart transformation and by God’s grace, He placed us in an interim pastorship.

I had worked in construction my entire adult life. As God moved in my life, I became conflicted by working all day at construction and then moving into a pastoral counseling role in the evenings. I prayed that I could get out of construction and move solely into a counseling role. Through an incredible set of circumstances at my job, I was able to get the schooling I needed. I now work as a chemical dependency professional at our community health center. I get to serve addicts on a daily basis, teach them that there is a way to do life differently, give them hope, and walk with them as they start their journey to become productive members of society.

As a chemical dependency professional, I am not allowed to teach or preach my faith. However, research has shown a huge success rate with bringing spirituality into recovery. For this reason I am permitted to discuss spirituality in general as long as I don’t try to push somebody into my faith. I can tell clients “this is what I do” and share what works for me.

Culture of Oppression

Located at the southern edge of the Olympic Peninsula at the convergence of the Wishkah and Chehalis Rivers, the Aberdeen/Hoquiam area where we live is a highly depressed area. We experience spiritual oppression unique to this area. We have a fifteen percent poverty rate. We have a high unemployment rate and a homeless population of thousands living in empty buildings, alleys, and along the river banks. Underlying issues are the culture of drugs and a poverty mindset which manifests itself in domestic violence, teen pregnancies, and school absenteeism. Mental health issues serve to create more drug-seeking behaviors. Statistics show that people actually die younger in Grays Harbor County than in any other county in the state of Washington.

MSG-Robinette-building-webThe mental health conditions are often combined with a substance use disorder, making treatment quite challenging. The level of cognitive function and inability to comprehend the principles of recovery leaves little room for progress. It is common for some clients to need eight or more months to complete a typical three-month program.

Because Aberdeen is such a depressed area economically, our port has been pretty empty with little to no security. Illegal product gets in and goes out unmonitored. Drugs also come from other unique places. Some elderly people in our community are actually distributing their Percocet (at $40 a pill) to subsidize their income. The recent legalization of marijuana in the state of Washington has created a new pile of problems.
Trying to transform this culture can be stressful and overwhelming. The recidivism rates are high, and the flow of clients seems never to end. There are times when I’m buried under a stack of papers and have had nothing but disappointments for a week but then a former client comes in holding their child (of whom they now have custody) just to tell me that they’re doing well. That keeps me going. And thanks to the Lord, I am living proof that recovery is possible.

For those struggling with addiction:

1) Ask for help. Call the 1-800 hotline numbers.
2) Know there is freedom in Christ. I love that our nation is working with people through chemical dependency treatment centers; nonetheless, multitudes of us have found that recovery without Christ is much more difficult.
3) Cleanse your mind by reading Scriptures. We all need to know who we are in Christ and have knowledge of who God is. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

Tips for church leaders and others dealing with someone with addictive behavior:

1) Encourage the individual to find someone to whom they are accountable. If an individual is not willing to be open and honest, there is no chance for recovery. Remember that addicts are not rational in their thinking. They don’t understand boundaries and think nothing of calling in the middle of the night or in the middle of your workday. In the mind of the addict his or her substance equals survival. They will always put getting and using their substance ahead of everything else. To them “using” is the answer for everything that comes up in life, good or bad.
2) Understand the neurological side of things. The brain chemistry of a person who has abused substances for a period of time has been altered. If an addict is in recovery and uses again (lapses/relapses), it’s not the end of the world. Examine the relapse. The substance abuse isn’t the core issue. The core issue is why the substance is being used. Determine the core issues and help the person figure out how to deal with those issues. There may be generational factors involved. For people who were brought up in this way of life, it’s normal. They have to be taught what a healthy way of life looks like.
3) Teach the individual communication skills and help them in developing the ability to think relationally.
4) Do your best to include the whole family in counseling. If the addict is still in the same family unit, working only with the addict will produce little progress. A chemically dependent family has learned to adapt to that person. If the family does not change the relational dynamics of the home, they will unknowingly pressure the addict back into using.
5) Ensure that your church has a community resource list available so you can refer people who need assistance.

MSG-Robinette-Ray-authorboxRay Robinette is the associate pastor of New Beginnings Community Fellowship in Aberdeen, Washington, and also works in a community health center as a chemical dependency professional. He and his wife, Shelly, are both credentialed pastors with Open Bible Churches.

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