Christians, pastors and church leaders often speak of "saving" people, meaning leading others into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
But a special program at several Southern Illinois churches is saving participants from destructive behaviors
and, in some cases, even saving their lives.
Celebrate Recovery is a system developed by Californian and former alcoholic John Baker and Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of "The Purpose Driven Life," to assist people in overcoming the "hurts, hang-ups and habits" of their lives.
Today, more than 19,000 churches worldwide - including several in Southern Illinois - offer Celebrate Recovery programs.
"Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered 12-step recovery program for practically any issue," said Joe Jackson, Celebrate Recovery ministry leader for First Baptist Church in Harrisburg.
"The basic difference between it and other 12-step programs is that each one of the 12 steps in Celebrate Recovery has Biblical scripture that supports it, and through that scripture comes the power of our ‘Higher Power,' which is God."
First Baptist has offered the program for seven years.
Jackson said during that time about 30 percent of participants have been working to overcome drug or alcohol dependencies, but the program works for all types of problems ranging from anger, abuse and pornography addictions to co-dependency, relationship and self-esteem issues or just life itself.
"We all have hurts, hang-ups and habits," Jackson said. "Most of us have more than one or two. We just all have all sorts of things in our lives that hold us back. We have hurts from our past, and we have habits that are destructive things we develop later in life, often to deal with those hurts."
Jackson said the religious base of the program is beneficial in dealing with issues, even for people who are or were not religious, a statement made from personal experience.
"I was an alcoholic and came to know Jesus at age 44," he recalled. "Only then could I find the strength to stop drinking, which I had tried hundreds of times before."
He said he hasn't had alcohol in more than 17 years and now coordinates Celebrate Recovery programs for the church.
"We have seen hundreds and hundreds of people come," Jacksons said. "For some, recovery doesn't take very long. Many of those who have gone through are helping others now find hope."
Cornerstone Church of Johnston City recently began offering the Celebrate Recovery program. Like First Baptist, sessions are open to anyone, not just church members. Most churches offer Celebrate Recovery in two parts.
"The most effective programs are two pieces," said Brett Sapp, Cornerstone's Celebrate Recovery pastor. "The first is a time where everyone comes together in a weekly church-type setting with praise music and a lesson or testimony where someone shares his or her struggles and how they overcame those. Then the second part is in a small group setting."
Sapp explained that the small groups are gender specific and sometimes center on a particular need such as depression or chemical dependency. It is in the small group settings that participants work through the 12-step Celebrate Recovery materials.
"It's a chance for people with like struggles to discuss what they're fighting through, their pains and struggles and to start talking through them," he said. "Instead of denying it, it's bringing it up, discussing it, staring it in the face and dealing with it."
He said part of the 12-step program includes taking a personal inventory of things that have happened in the past.
"It can bring up things that people don't even remember, things that did affect us and still have an impact," he said. "It gives a chance to deal with them with the help of others who have been through similar experiences, giving encouragement, strength and a bond."
Both Sapp and Jackson explained that the Celebrate Recovery sessions are designed to be safe and non-judgmental.
"We get people to come, and they begin to feel safe," Jackson said. "When they feel safe and a level of trust, they keep coming back and meet people that share and know the experience. They begin to hang around, get involved and get help."
Jackson said Celebrate Recovery is making a difference.
"I think the program is having a very positive impact. It's changing lives," Jackson said. "We have had people from all walks of life in it, and they find help for whatever issue they have. I talked with a coal miner the other day who told me Celebrate Recovery changed his life."
Cindy Issacs of Benton said the program not only changed her life; she credits Cornerstone's Celebrate Recovery with saving hers.
"I was at a time in my life when everything was going wrong," she recalled. "I had a bad year. I lost my relationship, I lost my job and I lost my home, all in the same month. I was thinking about suicide. I never thought much about people who are suicidal; to me, it's the coward's way out, but to think of it for myself showed me that I was really, really down."
She said her sister and Sapp encouraged her to try Celebrate Recovery.
"It took me a little while to open up. I thought that the women there had no idea what I was going through, then I realized that it was untrue," Issacs said. "There are a lot of others in the same situation. When I realized that, I began to open up, start talking about it, get angry, cry and pray. After a while, I realized that it was exactly what I needed and it helped me in ways that I can't even explain."
Asked where she would be without Celebrate Recovery, Isaacs' answer, given through tears, was simple.
"Probably not here," she said.
Jackson said the program is for anyone, regardless of church background, membership or age. In fact, he said his church has had participants in their 80s.
"Everybody should go through this," he added. "We often pretend that everything is OK in our life, but our lives are often far less than what God wants them to be. Celebrate Recovery helps us begin to work on those little things while God works on us."