A faith-based recovery program for individuals dealing with a variety of personal issues, from eating disorders to drug dependency, is changing lives in Raymond.
People who are part of the "Set Free: Christ Centered Recovery," program offered weekly at the Raymond Community Church, are finding it's time to come together, share their struggles and, instead of being judged, find support.
"This program really deals with your problems and how to be transformed and set free," said Pastor Richard Hayes. "It's a Christ-centered ministry, and your relationship with him changes everything."
The program has been approved by Madera County Behavioral Health and Madera Probation Department and has been operating since March. People with varying struggles whether it be anger, chemical dependency, sexual addiction, eating disorders, depression, or any other personal issues are welcome and encouraged to attend. Church attendance is not required.
"Raymond is in dire need of 'Set Free' ministry," Hayes said. "As we think about the community out there, Raymond has three bars and a substance abuse problem. But 'Set Free' introduces more than managing addiction, it also introduces you to Jesus."
'Set Free' is a nine-step program that provides "Biblical means for healing, growth and freedom from behaviors that keep us in bondage." Each meeting is two hours the first hour for group share, the second hour for group goal study. Women meet at 6 p.m. Mondays and men meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays.
"I look forward to every Thursday night," said participant Jay Carter. "It keeps me on my toes."
Cecil Hutchens, a program leader, said 'Set Free' helps participants look deep within themselves.
"As the program progresses, it goes into a greater understanding of self, and, as the Lord shows you who you are, healing can take place," Hutchens said. "We can't do anything to be free of struggles without the Lord Jesus Christ."
Hutchens said many of the issues people deal with are only symptoms of something deeper. It wasn't until he was able to learn where his own issues stemmed from that he was able to forgive and move on. Hutchens said he was only able to learn this through a faith-based program.
"Sometimes out of sheer will you might be able to manage the problem, but there is no healing and a greater risk of relapse," he said. "I would encourage anyone with compulsive behavior to go through this program."
Participant Julie Asper said she used to struggle with anger and high blood pressure, but since she became involved in the faith-based program her anger has subsided and her blood pressure has gone down.
"It helps minute by minute, day by day," Asper said. "If I put God first I can be really calm, and I find that comforting."
What Asper appreciates most about the program is the accountability part being able to admit things to others that you normally wouldn't even want to admit to yourself.
"I can be myself and be honest it's a lot of trust you put out," Asper said.
Sponsors/mentors are also available to participants for even deeper communication and a stronger bond.
"We develop that (family) bond," Hutchens said. "We're not the only ones with problems, but the only ones that admit it. The longer we allow our struggles to control us, the further we get away from God's plan."
"God has a plan for our lives, and this program helps us see that plan," said participant Larry Lynch.
For Bob, a program participant, the biggest step for him was learning that his life had become unmanageable. A drug addict for years, Bob said he'd gone to jail but never found any rehabilitation there. So, he just kept doing the same things with the same results before finally giving his addiction over to God.
"I made a lot of poor decisions, but when I chose to follow Him I began making good decisions," he said. "This program helps with that. We all struggle with life, but when you go and take that first step He leads you."