At age 33, Seth found himself chained – literally – to a bed in his parents' basement, fighting off demons both real and figurative.
The last thing he thought he would ever be doing is sharing his story in front of a crowd of well-dressed people at the Neosho Civic. But on Saturday, that's what Seth did, giving his testimony during the Teen Challenge of the Four States annual banquet.
Embodying the theme of Saturday's event, Seth was rescued to serve.
“The fact that I am standing here is a miracle,” he told the audience.
Working through Teen Challenge, a faith-based rehabilitation program, Seth said he broke free from chains of depression and alcoholism, rebuilt his relationship with his parents, and is now on staff at the local Teen Challenge center, 18527 E. State Highway 86.
But he almost ran away. He wanted to leave the center his first day. It was May 22, 2011, the day of the Joplin tornado. There were no buses available.
“That day saved my life,” Seth said.
It was during his time in the Teen Challenge program that Seth read Psalm 18:11 and realized that God “had been hiding in the midst of my darkness, protecting me, holding me, drawing me back to Him.” During an altar call, he said God showed him why what he had been doing was wrong.
“It's not just a matter of right and wrong, it's a matter of hurting people, hurting myself and hurting my family,” Seth said.
He also said he was no longer afraid that God would not forgive and accept him.
“The safest place to be from God's judgment is to run straight into Him,” Seth said. “...God loves me.”
Teen Challenge is a two-stage 14-month residency program dedicated to helping men kick addiction to drugs and alcohol through applying biblical principles and preparing them in service to the local church and community. Locally, the program is open to men ages 18 and up, though Teen Challenge also has women’s facilities, some with day cares, in other locations.
The local Teen Challenge program started a little more than 20 years ago. Mark Bridges was an early director. On Saturday, he talked about the days when the program had very little money and was in danger several times of closing down. But God always provided, he said.
“It was the worst years of my life and it was the best years of my life, because God showed us things that I would have never learned if we had had money coming in,” Bridges said. “...We saw miracles, just plain miracles. It was just totally unbelievable.”
Today, Teen Challenge of the Four States has a 20-bed residency facility east of Neosho and is nearing completion on its staff residency building, which will free up extra beds so more men can enter the program. However, $24,000 is still owed on it, according to director Jim Lowans. Raising money for that project, as well as for a new van, was the purpose of Saturday’s event. The night featured a steak dinner, served by Teen Challenge residents, a performance from the Teen Challenge of the Four States Choir, and a drama performance.
Page 2 of 3 - “Teen Challenge is about restoring lives,” Lowans said. “Not only the lives of men, but the lives of families.”
That was evident twice on Saturday.
Rick married his high school sweetheart. He had a good job. But within 10 years, “I drank myself out of my marriage,” he said. He continued to dive deeper into alcohol and drugs. After a series of legal problems he ended up in the Teen Challenge of the Four States program. He said he hated the program his first month and a half there. But then he said he gave his life to Jesus Christ and “ever since then, God has been blessing my life every day,” he said.
“As soon as I complete this program in about four months I’m going to become a spiritual leader for my family and I will be taking them to church,” Rick said. “...with the help of Teen Challenge, and the grace of God, I have overcome.”
Unbeknownst to Rick, his sister, his son and his three granddaughters were backstage. When Rick put down the microphone, Lowans asked his family to come out and they had a quick family reunion on stage, all hugging each other.
Brian came to Teen Challenge about a month and a half ago. His parents divorced when he was three years old and he was raised by an alcoholic mother and abusive stepfather. At the age of 12, he became a ward of the state and he ended up in boys home in Tulsa. By age 15 he was in a juvenile lockup facility, where he first found Christ. After his release at age 18, he “left God, though He never left me.” Brian moved to Colorado, where he began fathering children with different women, though that “did not fill the void that was inside my heart.” At 25, he moved back to Oklahoma where he picked up contact with his father, though their relationship didn’t have a lot of substance. Brian attempted to go straight but ended up on drugs again.
But then about eight months ago, Brian received the worst phone call of his life. His five-year-old son was in the hospital after an entertainment center fell on him. His little boy was dying. Brian took a flight to Colorado. Four hours after Brian stepped off the plane, his son was dead.
“He died in my arms,” Brian related, tearing up.
He went back to his hotel and wept. He cried out to God to save his family and to save him from addiction. The next day, his dad called him at the hotel.
“He said ‘son, I love you, and I’m going to be here for you when get back. We’re going to start a new life, and I’m going to help you get yourself together,’” Brian said. “I started crying and thanking Jesus. I made a commitment right then that I was going to start serving Jesus. I came back here and I am finally off of drugs. I have committed myself to the Teen Challenge program. It has done tremendous things in my life. God has done tremendous things in my life.”
Page 3 of 3 - Brian’s father was in the audience. At Lowans’ invitation, he walked toward the stage. His son met him in front of it. They embraced.