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Help for Up and Outers

Living Free nonresidential recovery program assists people with life-controlling issues through church-based Insight groups.
Steve H. Bellman consumed alcohol and drugs heavily before he gave his life to Jesus. However, Bellman, now an ordained Pentecostal minister, struggled over the years with temptation and an occasional relapse.

“Pastors are not supposed to have those problems, so I threw the struggles in the closet and built walls around them,” Bellman, 70, explains. “The guilt, shame, and feeling like a hypocrite kept me from revealing my problem.”

But in January, Bellman learned about a Living Free Insight group in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Living Free is a ministry program that assists churches in reaching out to people struggling with life-controlling issues, including substance abuse, to discover Christ-centered answers.

“The Insight group helped me understand that I am not alone, nor am I an exception in my struggle,” Bellman says. “It enabled me to see how I suppressed my feelings, hid my secret, isolated myself, and eventually went into denial.”

By facilitating an Insight group, which included a pastor friend, Bellman realized he needed to confront his life-controlling problem honestly and openly. His minister colleague did the same with the depression that had bound him.

“I am grateful for the ministry of Living Free,” Bellman says.

Based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Living Free is an alternative for the majority of addicts who can’t or won’t go through the Adult & Teen Challenge residential program.

“Living Free is an excellent resource for churches and communities to meet the needs found within the church walls and across the many facets of the community,” says Teen Challenge International U.S.A. President and CEO Gary W. Blackard. “People need connection as they migrate through recovery. Jesus transforms lives through Christ-centered organizations like Living Free.”

The Living Free model is required to be in place in a community for two years before opening a residential U.S. Missions Teen Challenge facility, adds Blackard. The program became the preferred nonresident ministry model for Teen Challenge in 2005.

Now-retired U.S. missionary Jimmy Ray Lee created Living Free in 1988 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The core of the Living Free curriculum is the Insight group, which features people gathered to help one another through their problems.

In the past 30 years, at least 2 million people worldwide have gone through Living Free. But increasingly, as the nation’s drug crisis worsens, people are turning to Living Free as a means to restore their lives to God and to others.

“Living Free has helped more up and outers than down and outers,” says Clayton Arp, vice president of Living Free Community. “It has taught church people how to find help for themselves and apply that knowledge to help others. Many churches and ministries have used the Living Free model to show people a gospel-based path to a new life of freedom.”

Because drug use and overdose deaths are growing nationwide — including among church attendees themselves — Arp says pastors need to address the issue directly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a record 63,632 people nationwide died from drug overdoses in 2016.

“Currently, only 11 percent of persons needing residential care enter it,” says Arp, a U.S. missionary. “There is a great need to help the remaining 89 percent. Pastors in both rural and urban communities are dealing with the same issues in their congregations.”

There are four principles to the program: referral (for individuals who are in the later stage of their addiction and need a program such as Teen Challenge); relationships (small group recovery); realignment (helping families understand the problem); and re-establishment (regaining a place as a contributing member of the community). Living Free's three focus areas are churches, communities, and correctional facilities.

“Living Free creates a safe place in which people can talk about personal struggles and not be condemned,” Arp says. “As they become comfortable in the group, they begin to respond to what God’s Word has to say about their situation. They open their hearts to God’s Spirit as He brings comfort and conviction.”

The organization says the program has been introduced in 113 countries and materials are available in 39 languages. Additionally, more than 3,000 churches in 37 states have participated.

Dan Strickland, president of Living Free, notes that a revival broke out among maximum security inmates in a prison in Kampala, Uganda, while prisoners conducted an ongoing Living Free study on conflict resolution.

“The violence in that part of the prison fell dramatically and the attitude between staff and inmates became respectful,” Strickland says. “Rival gangs and tribes came together and wrote letters to their loved ones to make peace with their enemies. Judges reduced the sentences of many of those inmates, including some who were scheduled to be executed.”

Eric Tiansay

Eric Tiansay has been a full-time journalist since 1993, writing articles for Christian media since 2000. He lives in central Florida, where he is an active member of an Assemblies of God church.