Rebuilding Lives via a Revolution – Five14

In spite of everything else going on around us in the world, the work on the local level keeps calling, people are still in need and the Spirit continues to move.

In the late fall, I was invited to a weekly meeting at Five14 Revolution – a ministry working to address the sexual exploitation and human trafficking of Wilmington women. Five14 offers case management-type services to help vunerable women leave the commercial sex industry and the support to begin rebuilding their lives.

Week after week, I’ve volunteered by sharing my recovery experience, voice and pastoral presence to an incredible group of women who desire to be made new and to leave their dark pasts behind them. Their desirous hearts crave renewal. Together we seeking ways to experience the freedom of God’s life-changing love. At our weekly meetings, we share our raw and honest stories in order to heal and then grow toward new ways of understanding and being. In our shared testimonies of broken (much of which begins in our childhoods) we find unity.

Some alarming stats: Trafficking is a $99 Billion dollar global industry where only .04% of victims are identified. A person can be sold for sex anywhere from 15 to 40 times in one night. More alarming is that exploitation is targeting the very young: Children as young as 11 years old are being recruited on social media sites, while 40% of children ages 4 to 8 have connected with a stranger on social media. I was alarmed to learn that trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world – it is EVERYWHERE… and it is evil. You can learn more statistics about human trafficking/exploitation here: https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=23329.

Exploitation and trafficking are an assault on the physical, emotional, psychological, social and spiritual parts of a person. 90% of victims have experienced childhood sexual abuse resulting in thoughts, feelings and beliefs about love and sex that are twisted and misaligned. In Wilmington, NC, drug abuse is common in 90% of women who either get hooked on drugs as a result of exploitation or turn to the commercial sex industry to feed a drug habit. For women experiencing poverty of homelessness, sex becomes a means to survive and get basic needs met. 

Due to so many factors, many women find themselves in dark pits of despair and hopelessness. On average, it takes five to seven engagements to build lasting trust that leads to choices that will end cycles of vulnerability. Then it takes consistent support, trusted partners and resources for months or even years (depending on the person’s past) in order for someone to rebuild their lives. This also includes a strong plan for recovery and network.

Recovery from addiction is a necessary component to help people break free of explotation, trafficking and working in the commercial sex industry. I have been focusing my volunteer hours at Five14 by helping women  learn and live out recovery principles, as they deal with their trauma. Together we are discovering an awakening that makes a way toward healing and offers direction that is rooted in a sense of belonging, guiding toward lives of purpose and usefulness. We are not what happened to us, and yet our stories can serve as testimonies of the power of God to recreate lives and resurrect the dead back to life. I am continuously amazed by the desirous hearts of the women of Five14 for healing and wholeness. May God continue to work among us. 

You can learn more about the mission of Five14 Revolution at www.five14revolution.com. Five14 is funded by the donations of private donors and small business. You can support their work through their website.

My first official act as a new pastor… a funeral.

Being a new church planter who is just in the beginning phases of church community development, I have yet to have the feeling of a “first Sunday,”  baptize a baby, or even hold the communion elements in my hands.  I confess that a few weeks ago, while we were on vacation in the Outer Banks with my sons and their girlfriends, I secretly hoped one of them might have said something crazy like, “Hey, let’s get married while we are here!” Wah-lah! It just so happens that I could have performed the service! But, my first official act as a new pastor will be a funeral for my friend Julius.

I met Julius in the large backyard of what was a make-shift support group meeting that had adapted their meeting-space due to covid-19 restrictions. The spacious yard accommodated the need to distance one from another, came equipped with a smoking fire pit that inherently stung your eyes and an outdoor outlet to set up the coffee maker. It was a good space for recovery people to gather every day to weather life’s challenges and maintain our sobriety. In the rain, we huddled under pop-up canopies as the water ran down our backs as we read from the literature. Dewey feet, heat and humidity were constant companions in this small group of folks who were committed to their recovery – showing up no matter what, seven days a week in rain or under sunshine.

The meeting was a small blessing in uneasy times. It was connection, life and hope to begin the day. The gathered group lifted one another as we navigated unknowns, fears and consequences (job loss) in those early pandemic days. Julius was the calm and present wisdom teacher – when he spoke, we all leaned in to listen. He was faithful in his attendance and more so, faithful in sharing his experience, strength and hope. Approachable, gentle, welcoming… he was the shining example of what we all hoped to become – a servant to God and to others who unselfishly offered his entire self to those in need. In the uncertainty, Julius was certain.

When Julius learned that I was starting a church for recovery folks, he was all in from go. Committed and contributing, he joined me in workshops, trainings and white-board exercises as we planned and dreamed the new congregation. Based on his expertise, I started Google Docs to capture the outreach efforts that were expressions of his passions and desires. He had begun making connections in the community and we planned for coffee dates with new friends after he had his surgery. Unfortunately, I will be having those coffee dates without him. 

Sadly, Julius recently died from complications following a routine surgery. When the text came in, “I have VERY bad news,” I knew the news – my heart sank. We are shocked, heartbroken and in mourning. I was asked to assist with his funeral. Certainly honored, I am wrestling with the curious bittersweetness of my new pastoral role and the duties one is called to as my own emotions intertwine with a grieving community. Over the past days, I have been interviewing those who knew Julius well. The stories are the same. I have been told many times, “What you saw, Meg is what he was.” Julius was…

Authentic. 

Kind. 

Gently-bold. 

Present. 

Loving. 

Accepting. 

Approachable. 

Safe. 

Brave. 

Serving. 

Hope Recovery Church has adopted Romans 12:9, “Let love be genuine,” as our guiding mantra. At our last leadership meeting the church, we talked about what “genuine” meant to us. Julius was there, fully committed – having driven straight back from a funeral saying, “I’m not missing this – it’s important.” Together the team filled the white-board with words that expressed our heart’s desire to love others as God loves us in a real, raw and honest ways. To be genuine, to show genuine to help others experience genuine love. It was exciting, creative, electric – we were finally bonding, understanding and visioning together! What I did not know is that “genuine” was sitting in the room with us… and it would be our last time together with this incredible friend, teacher and saint. RIP friend Julius. May your spirit be our guiding force, holding hope over us for all who continue God’s work to be there for the addict who is still suffering.

Julius = GENUINE love

Piecing together a new church community – the beginnings of Hope Recovery Community

by Meg McBride

Every year when we go on our annual vacation, I select a challenging puzzle that will keep us occupied over the course of the week. Our goal is complete the puzzle before our time away ends – to snap one photo of the completed project before we have to take it all apart and return it to its box. This year, I choose a 1500 piece Disney puzzle that featured many of the Disney characters my sons grew up with and loved. Disney World was a frequent vacation destination when my boys were kids (it helped a lot that their grandparents had a Disney timeshare and in the early 90’s a yearly Disney pass was a mere $200). I thought the puzzle would offer a sweet nostalgia.

The first step in puzzling is to dump all the pieces onto the table: looking for what I call the “bonus pieces” (the pieces that are still together from the factory!), then turning all the pieces right side up and searching and separating out the boarder pieces – the pieces with one straight edge that will hold the puzzle together and create its boundaries. As I began my work, I happened to be listening to a podcast on forming cooperative parishes among different churches to create collaborative communities who come together around a common and shared mission. I listened to the speakers challenge the listeners to create communities of inclusiveness, restoration, and holy friendships. As I began organizing my puzzle pieces, I noticed that many of the pieces contained faces – good character faces like Cinderella and Belle, as well as “bad” character faces like Ursula the sea witch (one of my favorites) and Captain Hook… even some of the pieces had the faces of character animals. So many faces of the Disney community in one place.

I couldn’t help but notice the metaphor for Hope Recovery Church (which is never far from my thoughts – even during this time of rest, I see symbolism everywhere). I pray that there will be many different faces that will interact with Hope Recovery Church. In those faces, the goal is to show deep value to every person so that every person can be lead back to their true and real identity in God and live as their most authentic selves. Value is defined as honoring each other’s unique personal experiences. These personal stories lend to distinct voices — all which contribute to our human story set within God’s story of God’s creation. Value is defined as respecting each other’s right to choose for one’s self — whether we individually agree or disagree with someone’s choices, we each have free will to decide for ourselves, recognizing that every choice has a consequence (some good and some not so good). Value is defined in being sensitive to and honoring each other’s boundaries as we recognize that each of us carries within us traumas, hurts and histories that often require the healing balm of God’s love and the security of real friendship that can be found in authentic community. We admit that healing takes time, patience and boundless mercy and grace — relationships are messy, hard, and challenging, but necessary for life. Relationships are a place of constant growth, adjustment, relearning and discovering new levels of sacrifice.

Forgetting to measure the card table I’d chosen before starting my project, I quickly realized that the completed puzzle will be bigger than the table… and so I set to the task of carefully relocating 3/4 of the assembled border and the many small puzzle piece connections I was able to make to a new location. I was reminded that the building of anything requires the flexibility to change directions, the openness to keep moving forward and not get stuck in disappointment — and a bit of humor to laugh at yourself. I believe that the Disney puzzle has been a gift offered to me as a metaphor for the church-planting work that awaits when I get back to Wilmington after vacation is over. For the next several days, I plan to focus on the faces before me — Disney faces and more importantly, the faces of my family as I continue to practice showing value, mercy and grace.

What does it look like to turn left?

When my sons were young, my family had the opportunity to travel with our in-laws to Disney World almost every year. We would often consult travel guides that helped us become “experts” at navigating the Disney complex. We became well acquainted with the best times of the day to visit the parks, advice on how to find the most affordable places to eat where you got the most food for your money and what locations afforded the best viewing spot to watch the evening light show at Epcot Center. I remember the guide even provided instructions on how to wait in line for rides. For years, I’ve held onto a belief that the shortest line was on the right. I was surprised when I came across this reading in “Living Clean: The Journey Continues,” (NA World Services, Inc 2012).

“In the same way, we learn that finding God’s will is often just a matter of showing up. When we show up for life with a willingness and an open mind, the next right thing tends to present itself. We don’t have to look that hard to find it. A sponsor suggested, ‘Introduce your feet to the floor when you wake up in the morning. Show up to the shower to wash. Show up to your appointments and respect your commitments. When you hit a wall, turn left and find an opening.’ We learn to listen to our conscience–that still, small voice within that tells us if we’re heading in the right direction. The opening is often where we least expect it, leading us to a path, an opportunity, or a miracle we weren’t looking for.”

(Living Clean, pg 60, Italics mine).

Recently, I made an error in judgement by sharing information that wasn’t mine and I broke a confidence. I know that this was wrong. The harm I’ve caused created a deep wound to the persons I offended. I don’t know if there is a way to restore the relationship. In this case, a mere, “I’m sorry,” isn’t going to do it. In writing my inventory and sharing it in a 5th step, I was seeking to understand the “exact nature” of the motive behind what I did. I’ve got some clues, but I’m still asking God to reveal more to me. I’m still writing and praying. The NA literature talks about the work of reconciliation as a process, “to reconcile with the truth of what I did and begin the process of making peace with the consequences of our actions,” (Living Clean, pg 152). This will require, of course, making through amends to persons I have harmed when I am clear and ready to move forward in a 9th step. 

Turning left is about exploring deeper levels of where we need God’s healing and grace — “to be very aware of who we are becoming, and use this new information about our past to help us move forward,” (Living Clean, pg 154). I have a God in my life that offers forgiveness freely… all I have to do to step into a space where I can begin to receive God’s mercy. Oftentimes, I feel so badly about what I’ve done that I feel like I don’t deserve the space of God’s free forgiveness.  The program reminds me to not subject myself to abuse anymore – even the abuses I put on myself. 

“We sometimes feel like we are defined by our character defects. The most unpleasant things about ourselves are the things that can seem to be the most true. But even though we may see some painful things about ourselves, we know that’s not the whole truth about who we are,” (Living Clean, pg 59). 

Only God can help us see who we truly are.

We have to ask God, “please show me who I am in your eyes God?”

Turning left is about seeking out God’s will for my life by stopping, praying, writing, waiting… maybe committing to take no more action that complicates the situation further…  shutting up and entering into the silence… asking God to speak to me… being open for God to reveal God’s will… sitting with recovery friends… going to more meetings… taking care of my basic needs… putting recovery first.

Turning left is about seeking out persons who believe in me and can offer safe support, who can practice intentional listening and give honest feedback to help me take responsibility for my life. These are people who can show me through their love and acceptance how God sees me. These are people who are “for me” — who can pray with me, talk with me and walk with me. 

Turning left may mean having to wait in a longer line to get on the ride.

For today God, grant me a path to forgiving myself that begins with forgiving the other by using the tools of the program to see my part in the situation, to take responsibility for my actions and to seek reconciliation with God, with myself and with the people in my life. I am the only person I have control over. The rest is in God’s hands. Amen.

New Beginnings…

Hello Friends (New & Old)!

Eight years ago, following a divorce that stalled my life, I accepted an invitation to relocate to Wilmington, NC to get a new start. I had lived in Bethlehem, PA for over 20 years and before that in Reading, PA for my entire childhood — it was a big decision and a big move. Once I got to Wilmington, I almost didn’t stay. I was struggling to find work and my roommate situation was not working out. There were a few moments when I considered packing up my car and going back to Pennsylvania. There was one day right before Thanksgiving 2011 when I actually had the car half-packed.

The day I almost drove home, I sat at the coffee shop, sharing my sob story with the barista at the counter… trying to make the decision to leave or stay. As I was sobbing into my coffee, a girl I had seen in AA meetings walked into the shop and sat down beside me. She didn’t notice that I was crying but looked directly at me and confessed that she wanted to go home for Thanksgiving, but hadn’t made amends to her parents and was afraid they wouldn’t welcome her. I halted… dead stop… wiped my tears away and asked her if she had some time and some paper.

That afternoon we worked for several hours writing her 4th Step, doing a 5th step, discussing and praying over character defects and writing out the amends she would take home and read to her parents. She would later report to me that her Thanksgiving was wonderful and that he parents had received her. I believe only because she had committed to doing her 12 Step work.

I didn’t leave Wilmington. I stayed. I stayed put. I got new roommates and finally landed a job and I believed that God wanted me here for a reason…

In 2012, I started attending Celebrate Recovery with a friend. I just wanted to go for a few weeks and work on some relationship issues I was having with my mom at the time. I didn’t want to get too involved… Well, my friend Karen J. had come to visit me and the first time I took her to CR, she outed me!!! I would begin to help and lead CR for the next six years. It was a wonderful experience, rich with personal and communal growth, where I found a real family of friends.

In the summer of 2016, after completing another 4th step, I began to sense that God was calling me to do something with the best of recovery and church. Because of a rich and wonderful team of folks with wisdom and a love for recovery, I was able to create and lead two years worth of teachings for CR, which they lovingly and willingly let me “test drive” in the CR venue. Pastor Jim helped me do “sacrament” every fifth week – hosting Holy Communion or sitting in silence after engaging the text with Lectio Divina practices. It was beautiful, as well as fruitful. In 2019, I felt a shift and a new season upon me. Time to start really thinking about what recovery church would and could look like.

2019 was a painful and productive year. The journey to saying, “I believe God is calling me to start a recovery church,” has been an ebb and flow of pure bliss, excitement and anticipation and also many, many doubts, fears and tears. It’s been a process. For every “NO!” I’ve said, there has been a deeper “yes….., ok…… yes…… YES!!!” When I’ve tried to get out, I’ve found myself only called to dig in deeper. When I’ve cursed and stomped me feet, I discovered greater understanding and unity. When I’ve tried to run away and forget, I’ve run into a wall made of God in every direction I’ve tried to hide. I am at a place where I can no longer say no – no matter how hard I try.

So here I am with a idea, a webpage and a dream. That’s tangibly what I got right now on Monday, November 18th, 2019. I also have my deep love and appreciation for the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which taught me how to live in 2001 when I was a lost person. I have the teachings of all the wisdom people who loved me directly (sponsors, friends, mentors… even enemies). The wisdom of all those who shared their experience, strength and hope with the rest of us who are trying to find peace, freedom and joy: recalling my early years reading De Mello, Fox, Williamson, listening to Joe H. and Mark H. and witnessing the inspiring fearlessness of a few guys from NJ who created a group for the worst off of us called ANA (Alcoholics-Narcotics Anonymous).

I do believe it is my turn to share my wisdom with others, to steward a space/place where people can encounter the living God, meet the heart of Christ and the experience the power of the Holy Spirit. To foster a place that welcomes people as they are, but loves them enough to challenge them to walk free from their states of suffering. Because that was me 18 years ago, standing one evening outside of The Sunlight of the Spirit meeting, crying in the cold dark night to my sponsor, Joanne P., saying that the 12 Steps would not work for me… I was simply hopeless. She said to me something that has always remained clear in my mind and heart, “I’ll believe for you until you can believe for yourself.” And her belief was enough for me to make a beginning… a beginning then… a beginning now.

Hope Recovery Church – Vision

A Missional Congregation located in downtown, Wilmington, NC

“Let Love be Genuine. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” – Romans 12:9

Our Vision

Recovery exists in in the love of Trinity — a love that is genuinely shown to one another though unity, service and a life together that deepens through spiritual formation.

We invite all who are seeking a deeper connection with God to come to our table of grace. We wait with open hands and open hearts for the person who is still suffering. We promise to tell God’s truth as we risk telling our personal stories through vulnerable acts of courage. We believe by faith that God meets us where we are, but God loves us too much to leave us suffering in brokenness. We believe recovery is possible for all people.