I pray that this testimony of God’s amazing grace in my life will be an encouragement to those who are suffering from an addiction or have been praying for a loved one battling an addiction.
From the time I was a toddler, addiction has devastated my family. In the first three and a half years of my life, we lost three close family members. My uncle, who was in bondage to drugs and saw no way out, took his own life at just twenty-two years old. Four months later my father, who battled alcoholism, fell asleep at the wheel and was killed. Eighteen months later, my seventeen year old sister was walking down the street when a drunk driver ran off the road and killed her. I also watched the ongoing destruction that other close family members caused through their addictions. I could not understand how people who had been so affected by other people’s addictions could make the decision to use drugs and alcohol themselves. I remember feeling so irritated when they would say things like, “I wish I could stop.” I would reply, “No you don’t, or you would stop.” To say I lacked compassion and an understanding of bondage would be a serious understatement.
I made a personal commitment that I would never touch drugs, and I threw myself into sports as an alternative. When I was fifteen years old, one of my baseball teammates asked me if I was going to heaven. I assured him that I was, since I thought I was a “good person.” He shared with me that we are saved by grace, through faith, and not by works, so I prayed to receive Christ as my Savior. Unfortunately, my “prayer of faith” was not preceded by a godly sorrow for my sin which would have brought about repentance leading to true salvation. I’m afraid to say that had I died during the next nine years of my life, I believe I would have been one of the many to whom Jesus will say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:23, NKJV)
I kept my commitment not to touch drugs throughout high school and college, and I went on to play baseball at the University of Tampa. Due to a career-ending injury, I transferred to Penn State at the end of my senior year and started working in financial services for a large company. Within one year, I was promoted to vice president, opened a new office for the company in Philadelphia, and married my college sweetheart, Jessica. I thought life just couldn’t get any better, but little did I know it was about to all fall apart. While on our honeymoon, I aggravated an old back injury from my baseball days for which my doctor prescribed an addictive narcotic painkiller (oxycodone-acetaminophen). The next month, I went to a pain management specialist who prescribed me 180 pills per month of another addictive narcotic (hydrocodone-acetaminophen). It was not long before the person who swore he would never take drugs was totally dependent upon narcotics and scared to death to admit it.
I began to have panic attacks, so my doctor decided to add an anti-anxiety medication (alprazolam – another very addictive substance) to the mix. I would go to work so high that I lost the respect of all my associates and clients. What used to be a very successful business was falling apart, and the panic attacks just got worse. The next month my doctor recommended I see a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with an anxiety disorder and prescribed more medication on top of the two addictive substances I was already on. The more medicine I took, the more my life fell apart, but I had become so dependent upon the drugs that I couldn’t imagine living without them. Every month it seemed that I was diagnosed with another mental illness and prescribed more drugs. By the time it was over, I had been admitted to three different psychiatric hospitals, diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Bi-Polar Disorder, Schizo-affective Disorder, and Fibromyalgia, and was taking nineteen different prescriptions every day.
I had lost our business, our apartment, our cars, and all of our money. My pastor at the time advised my wife to divorce me and move on with her life, but by God’s grace she decided instead to move in with a family from our church and pray that God would somehow restore the life we once had. Like my uncle twenty-five years ago, I saw no way out, and I prayed for death every day. One day in May of 2002, my prayer was almost realized, and my family received the phone call they feared would come eventually: “You better come down to the hospital; we don’t think he’s going to make it tonight.” The nineteen different medications that I was on had a negative interaction in my brain and I went into seizures, experienced temporary blindness, and felt a deeper sense of fear than I ever knew existed. After six hours of uncontrollable seizures, I finally fell asleep.
The most terrifying part of this whole experience was that I felt a deep fear that had I really died that night, I would have gone to hell. That really shook me up because for the previous nine years I had not only believed that I was saved, but I was also sharing my faith with others and even had a part time job in college as a youth pastor. The next day, I finally came to true repentance and completely surrendered my life to God in total brokenness. I almost dared Him to take the life I destroyed and turn it into something that could bring Him glory. At the time, I looked at it as rededicating my life to Christ. However, looking back on it, I believe that was the time that I truly became born again. My eyes were opened spiritually in a way they never were before, and I realized just how desperately I needed a Savior. I turned to Jesus to not only save me from the consequences of my sin, but also to save me from the power of sin in my life.
It took time to cleanse my mind and body of all of those mind-altering substances, but that day God began a work in my heart and life that still continues today. My wife saw that my repentance was sincere, and though she knew I still had a long way to go, she became willing to go through it with me. We moved in with her parents in Wesley Chapel, Florida to start a new life with no money, no jobs, and no idea what God had in store for us. I began working full time as a case manager for troubled youth and was given permission to invite them to a weekly outreach that I did on my own time at a public park consisting of sports, crafts, worship music, and a Bible study. God blessed that outreach, and we had the joy of seeing many kids give their life to Jesus Christ as a result of it. The transformation that Jesus made in their young lives was unmistakable. Some of them went from skipping school every day and dealing drugs to straight ‘A’ students, varsity athletes, church youth group leaders, and college scholarship recipients. Years later, I still receive emails from some of them, now in college, expressing their gratitude for what God did in their life during that program.
In May of 2005, the month of my three year anniversary of being in recovery, God opened up a door for me to help others struggling with addiction by working part time as an addiction counselor at the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center. Besides the individual counseling I performed there, I was also able to start a program teaching the entire Gospel of John, verse by verse, to every resident of the center. God’s Word never returns void, and we had the joy of seeing many men come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ through those Bible studies. In May of 2006, I left my part time position at Salvation Army to accept the part time position of Assistant Pastor at my church. That same month, God also blessed us with our first child, Josiah Sean Hughes.
For a few years everything in life, work, and ministry seemed to go so smoothly. With the exception of one miscarriage (that God clearly gave us the peace and grace to get through), there really were no “trials of faith.” However, 2007 was about to change all of that. One day, after several years of working full time as a case manager and doing the outreaches to the youth, it all came to a screeching halt. The executive director brought me in for a meeting and told me that he thought the outreach that I do on my own time at the park was great, but that from now on I had to turn away any of the kids on my caseload that showed up. He also said that if anyone on my caseload shows up at my church on a Sunday morning, I had to turn them away from there as well. I told him that regardless of the consequences there was no way that I could do that, and I was terminated immediately.
Within just a couple months of that, God made it very clear to us that He was calling us out of our church and that I had to resign as the Assistant Pastor, which was one of the most difficult things God has ever asked me to do. First of all, I still have a great love for the people of that church and I really enjoyed ministering there. Secondly, I had just lost my full time job, we had no savings, our second child, Chaella Anastasia Hughes, was due in a month, and my income as the Assistant Pastor was all we had left. From a human common sense standpoint, I could not understand what God was doing. Though I resisted it, the leading of God’s Spirit was so clear and was confirmed over and over until I had no choice but to obey Him.
A couple years earlier, my wife and I had founded an addiction ministry called “Freedom Through Christ Ministries,” but working full time as a case manager and part time as an Assistant Pastor did not leave us any time for that ministry. Through much prayer, we decided to become full time servants of Jesus Christ and trust Him to provide all of our needs. Not only did we begin to work on the addiction ministry, but we also felt led to plant a church called “Freedom Through Christ Church,” which currently meets in our living room. Over the last couple of years we have run meetings in churches, recovery houses, homeless ministries, and sometimes even out in the middle of the woods where some of the homeless people live. We have hosted youth camps for other churches here in our home and backyard. We have provided individual counseling, marriage counseling, child/youth counseling, family counseling, and addiction counseling as there has been need. We have provided temporary housing here in our home for people going through homelessness and/or addiction, and have brought in one person on a long-term basis for a recovery program. It is our desire to make ourselves available to the Lord to do whatever He calls us to do.
I will admit that the last two years of serving the Lord have been far more trying than the previous three, but the reward is that it draws us closer to Jesus Christ because we are more aware of our desperate need for Him. Previously, our lives were very structured for us. I was going to wake up every morning and go to my full time job all day. Then at night, I had scheduled meetings as part of my Assistant Pastor duties. I really did not need to seek the Lord daily to see what He would have me do, but now I must seek Him every day for direction. Also, our financial life was far more structured. We knew exactly how much we were going to bring in every month, and barring some emergency, we knew we would be fine. However, that is far from the case now. We have absolutely no idea how much support we will receive every month, and we are in a position where we literally need to pray for “our daily bread.” We never charge for any ministry or counseling service we provide since the Scripture states “freely you received, freely give.” We accept donations, but realistically the majority of people that God has called us to work with (the homeless and/or addicted) cannot afford to donate anything. Therefore, all of our support comes from individuals who believe in what we do and are led by the Spirit of God to support us. This does wonders for our prayer life. I highly recommend it!
One of the things that we believe will make our church/ministry unique will be our focus on residential (live-in) ministry. In our experience, we are able to have a much greater impact on people that we actually bring into our home to live with us than we do on people who come here for church only once a week. Look at Jesus’ Ministry; He took the twelve disciples with Him just about everywhere He went for three years. They were not only taught by Jesus and ministered to others with Jesus, but also ate, drank, slept, lived, and breathed with Jesus.
As the Lord provides, we believe He is calling us to have a property on which we would not only have our church and ministries, but also have homes available for our staff and those seeking help. We believe we would also have a great variety of residential ministries, such as 12 month addiction programs for single men, single women, families, and youth; homeless mission; orphanage; battered women’s home; Bible College; and any other residential ministry that God calls us to and provides the leadership for. We appreciate any prayers of support to make this vision a reality.
As I look back at the absolute mess I made of my life, and all that God has done and will do since I surrendered my life to Him, I am amazed by His Grace. God shows no partiality towards people, and what He has done in my life, He is willing to do in anyone’s life. It is just a matter of us becoming broken enough to lay down our own life and let Jesus live His Divine life through us by the power of the Holy Spirit, which is what we call living the “exchanged life.” That is what Paul was speaking of in Galatians 2:20 when he said, “For I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” God does not ask us to live the Christian life on our own because we never could. Instead, He does a miracle. He places the Spirit of His Own Son within us, and the moment we come to the end of self and surrender the control of our life to God, it is the Spirit of Jesus Himself who begins to live in us and through us. I pray that Jesus will be glorified in and through your life!
If you would like more information about Freedom Through Christ Ministries, counseling, how to get involved, how to support us, or if you just need someone to talk to or pray with, please feel free to call me or my wife, Jessica, at (813) 235-3183. You can also e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or my wife at email@example.com. Our mailing address is 8320 Quail Run Drive, Wesley Chapel, FL 33544.