Use Every Word

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, immigrants, widows, addicts, inmates, seniors, and those living in inner-city neighbourhoods were in desperate need of connection and love. Connecting Streams’ volunteers encouraged these vulnerable men, women, and children as they studied the Word of God and prayed for one another in community. All of that changed in the spring of 2020.

After a brief pause, Connecting Streams transitioned to online ministry. The move was difficult for some, but it also brought a new level of accessibility and openness for others. An average of 235 people and 98 volunteers participated weekly in online meetings and experienced mutual transformation.

“Hello, my name is Shelly and I’m a re-covering addict and alcoholic.”

“Hi, Shelly,” the voices of 20 women respond in unison.

It’s Monday evening at Seven Oaks Alliance Church in Abbotsford, BC. The chairs are carefully spaced six feet apart and Shelly is wearing a clear covering over her nose and mouth. She’s been sober for nearly 4 years, and tonight, she’s leading a meeting for Addiction Recovery Ministry (ARM), a Christ-centred 12-step program for those addicted to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, or even codependency.

Shelly began using drugs when she was 14 years old and though she became a follower of Jesus in her early 20’s, she went in and out of active addiction for her entire adult life.

In 2017, Shelly was in the grip of addiction once again. “I got on my knees on a motel bed and cried out to the Enemy, ‘You win! I’m done battling you. I’m an addict and this is going to be my life now,’” she recounts. “But then, I heard the audible, thundering voice of God say, ‘No. Not you. This is not your life.’”

Shelly reached out to her eldest daughter, an addictions counsellor, for help. Several weeks later, she was living in the faith-based Life Recovery House in Abbotsford and attending ARM meetings led by Linda Driediger of Connecting Streams.

“We help people overcome their addictions and come into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” says Linda. “It differs from AA in that we name Jesus as our Higher Power.”

At ARM, Shelly found the love and connection she desperately needed and the meetings became vital for her recovery. But just as Shelly began her journey to sobriety, her daughter’s double life came to light.

“My daughter died of a drug overdose,” shares Shelly. “I had no idea what she’d been involved in. It was a shock to the entire community because she helped people get out of addiction and here she was dealing and using.”

Shortly after her daughter’s death, Shelly did the hardest thing she’d ever done. She thanked God and acknowledged that He knows best. “It changed me. I’m not angry with Him and I don’t question Him in her death. I can only say that because I have a God who fills me with His Holy Spirit.”

It was a defining moment for Shelly’s faith and her recovery. She devoted herself to the ARM program and found freedom from her addictions. “It gave me a sense of purpose to get involved with ARM. First I sang, then I did the talk, then I MC’d and led discussion groups. I don’t even really know how I came into the leadership part of it, it just kind of happened.”

“How did it happen?” chuckles Linda. “Shelly kept saying yes!”

When the pandemic began, Shelly spearheaded the transition to online Zoom meetings and the new format changed the dynamic in surprising ways. Men and women began to meet separately, people were attending more frequently, and there was new enthusiasm and willingness to share — even among new members.

Restrictions loosened in September and ARM began meeting in-person again with proper protocols in place. For some, the loss of everyday freedoms during the pandemic was helpful on their journey to sobriety. For others, however, the strict guidelines and uncertainty was too much and many relapsed.

Although Shelly coped well during this season, grief can still overwhelm her. “I have days when I curl up in a little ball and I don’t leave my room. But I don’t let it overtake me to a point where I have to get drunk or high to escape it,” she says. “I have an amazing life. I just live it simultaneously with this gut-wrenching heartache.”

Tonight, in front of 20 other women struggling with addiction, Shelly has something to do. She has to share her story.

“I do it not so that people will pity me, but so that they know they can survive what is in front of them too. God made a message out of my mess and you can use every word.”

Gospel Presentations 852
Decisions for Christ 42
Average Weekly Participants 235
Average Weekly Volunteers 98