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Hurting women find compassion, healing through Bruised Reed ministry
November 10, 2008
By Kay Adkins

Donna, a young mother seeking to rebuild her life, is baptized at First Baptist Church in Russellville, Ark. BP photo

An atypical group of women gathered for the afternoon in an upscale neighborhood fronting Lake Dardanelle, inside the home of Vickie Henderson, an OB/GYN physician.

From a worldly perspective, the gathering could not be explained — it would seem there was no common ground for fellowship.

But through the eyes of Christ, they had all things in common. All were sinners, saved by grace, seeking victory over life's "hurts, hang-ups and habits."

Chey, one of the women attending the gathering in Russellville, Ark., had only known demonic turmoil in her 30-plus years of life.

"I can remember drinking alcohol from the age of 4. And I basically raised myself," she said. Her story included repeated cycles of drug, alcohol and sexual addictions, criminal activities and failed attempts to break free of it all. She often sought help in churches but did not find many who would even look her direction.

"Six months ago I would never have imagined that at this moment I would be sitting in this kind of house with these people, sharing my story. That just shows God is good. He's good," Chey marveled, adding, "I don't always know how to act like a lady, and I never know what is going to come out of my mouth. I sat at the table earlier just hoping I was using the right fork!"

Everyone present laughed a knowing laugh. More than half of the women in Henderson's home that day had life stories of pain, brokenness and self-destructive behaviors similar to Chey's. They are now working on healing through a God-orchestrated amalgam of faith-based recovery ministries at First Baptist Church in Russellville, spearheaded mainly by Henderson and two other women, Nelda Alexander and Sheila Lambert.

Alexander operates Bruised Reed Ministries, a home for women yearning to break free from self-destructive behaviors of most any kind. She also directs the church's Celebrate Recovery (CR) ministry and serves as Arkansas' CR state representative. Lambert facilitates a group in CR and teaches weekly Bible studies at the Bruised Reed. Henderson teaches the Heartlifters Sunday School class, a group of very diverse women attended by Bruised Reed and CR clients, among other women.

Greg Sykes, the church's associate pastor, remarked, "The main thing we are seeing is changed lives way beyond what you would typically see in most churches. Women, many of whom are at the bottom of the barrel due to issues like collapsed marriages, physical abuse, substance addictions — we're seeing them come in and change and grow and go out into ministry areas and become fully assimilated in the life of our church."

Noelle and Randi, who currently reside at the Bruised Reed Ministries home, are both single moms working on recovery from substance abuse. Both women agree that any one part of the ministry probably would not be enough to keep them on track with their recovery. "But having Nelda — Nelda is great — and Celebrate Recovery and Vickie's Bible study — all of those support groups, including church, is like the balanced package needed for healthy recovery," Noelle said.

"We're not a lockdown facility," Alexander noted. "The women have to be motivated. They have to want to be here."

Commenting on common fears people have of ministry to recovering addicts, Alexander said, "You have to realize, it isn't about you. All Jesus did was tell people the truth and ask them to follow Him. Plus, we all have sinful issues. When we fear ministering to people with problems, we should include ourselves. This is what the church is supposed to be about — helping people find affirmation, acceptance and healing in Jesus Christ."

To make right choices, Alexander knows that Scripture is the key. As associate pastor Sykes noted, "The ladies that come to that house submit to some high standards. It's a total separation from your past and a total restart of your life. That's essential for what a lot of them have been through. And they develop a new relationship with the Lord."

Bruised Reed Ministries' clients must agree to spend lots of time digesting God's Word, including three weekly Bible studies, two worship services and weekly participation in the church's Friday night Celebrate Recovery program.

Lambert, who leads the weekly Bible studies at Bruised Reed, also has been part of Celebrate Recovery since it began in 2005. Having firsthand experience as the mother of an alcohol-dependent son, she facilitates the codependent women's group. Celebrate Recovery is not just for drug or alcohol addicts, Lambert noted, but for anyone struggling with any kind of bondage. Examples of other struggles include compulsive eating, gambling or pornography.

"A typical group like my group — the co-dependent women — has a young woman who is a meth addict and who grew up in a family of addicts," Lambert said. "Another woman lost her husband and is just grieving. Another is married to an alcoholic and going through a divorce. A few of us are there just because we want to be available."

About 30-40 men and women regularly attend CR meetings, which begin with a meal together, followed by a time of worship and teaching. They then break up into smaller groups for sharing, and each person has three to five minutes to express something about their problem and how they are reacting. Then they have dessert and converse about the things shared in the group.

"I can say that on some Friday nights, I'm the one who needs it," Lambert confessed.

Sykes believes the honesty and transparency in Lambert, Alexander and Henderson are qualities that have made them effective leaders in the recovery ministry. "Nelda is a special lady who is able to handle situations not all of us can," he said. "No matter how dark, she's not afraid of stuff and she just jumps in."

At Bruised Reed Ministries 23 women have been helped over the last two years. Sykes estimated that 80 percent of the Bruised Reed clients are able to successfully "restart" their lives.

Kimberlee, the newest resident at Bruised Reed, recently was paroled and hopes to return soon to her fiancι in Texas. She received Christ while in prison and wanted a program that would help her grow spiritually. "I desperately needed structure," Kimberlee said, "and guidance, and a loving family which I've never had" — all necessary elements to recovery that she has found at Bruised Reed Ministries.

Alexander said it is a wonderful thing to watch the women's transformation when God begins to work in their lives. "They come in with such hard faces. Most are emaciated when they arrive. Then their faces begin to change — they become brighter. They become the beautiful women they are," she said. For more information, visit www.celebraterecovery.com. (BP)


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