If the pictures flashing on the big screens looked like ones found on the pages of East Tennessee Mug Shots it is because they were published there. What you won’t find with these “before shots” are the present day “after” pictures.

One would find it hard to believe that the mug shots depicting unkept hair, blank stares and the common look of addicts in denial are the same people who gave testimonies, sang songs and performed an interpretive skit.

Thursday night Cumberland Worship Center hosted Invitation Ministries “Celebration for those coming out of addiction,” partnering with Redemption Church and the Crossville Mission Bible Training Center to combine an evening of success stories and fundraising.

All the women and men featured in the picture parade have found their names published in the Crossville Chronicle over the years, and not for good reasons. Most found themselves in a hopeless cycle of jail and release. One said she had been arrested 30 times.

That is what growing up in a cycle of addiction, depression and dysfunction does, causing the addict to lose faith with no hope. 

I have always felt sadness for having to publish names of addicts. Make no mistake, that sadness was not because of addicts finding themselves in jail. It comes from the lack of mental health acceptance and care for those struggling with issues most of us can’t understand.

Sarah Myers does understand. By her own account, she was arrested 25 times. Today she directs Invitation Ministries, along with a lot of support from churches and an advisory board.

She knows first hand what it feels like to grow up in a dysfunctional home. She knows the fog of not knowing how to escape, and as a result, turning to drugs. She started smoking “pot” at age 12. 

She knows the pain of losing her parents, brother and grandparents by the age of 23. She knows the pain of having children taken away from her. She knows the depths of hopelessness.

“I just accepted this is the way of life,” Myers told the large banquet crowd. “I just wanted peace and I did not know how to get it.”

At that moment, on the occasion of her 25th and last arrest, three ladies came to the jail and sought her out. The result was her asking the court to go to Teen Challenge and, in May 2014, she entered the program in Louisiana.

She was a student for 12 months and a staff member for 18 months. In June 2015 she came back to Crossville with the goal of helping others.

Redemption Church became her family and her life. Ironically, says Sarah, the last police officer to arrest her also attends Redemption Center Church and now they worship together.

In the past two years, Invitation Ministries has assisted 93 addicts into long-term treatment in faith-based facilities. Of that number, 57 are women, 36 are men and four are women with children.

Some have balked at the idea of attending in-house rehab that is faith based but Myers said all have accepted Jesus Christ within two weeks of entering the programs.

Lindsay Fitzgerald is one whose life has been changed and now finds herself as staff member at The Bridge, an intake center for Teen Challenge, who also is a music leader in her church and writes songs.

After performing for the crowd during the banquet, Lindsay shared her testimony. I remember Lindsay from her elementary school basketball days playing for South Cumberland and a local AAU team. She was fierce on the court and an extremely talented ball handler with a bright high school and collegiate future.

Drugs stole that and much more away from her. Lindsay’s story is much the same as Sarah’s. Cycle of addiction, losses of loved ones and it goes on and on.

Walking down Main St. with attachments out for her arrest, a woman stopped and, on the side of the road, the two prayed. Lindsay was so taken by a stranger’s love for her she turned around and walked over a mile to the Justice Center and turned herself over to authorities … and the Lord.

“I was amazed when she told me she was going to show up and drive me to rehab,” said Lindsay. “In my world (at the time), addicts never do what they say and she did.”

The transformation from the blank drug-induced stare of her mug shots to sparkling and vibrant performer, witness and laborer in the field of addiction some say is miraculous.

Invitation Ministries Advisory Board member Cumberland County Chief Deputy Bill Ashley noted that his appointment to the board provides an alternative voice to the program, because he has seen addicts go through the jailhouse revolving doors.

Ashley quoted the late sheriff, Butch Burgess. “Sheriff Burgess was right. The only thing that works is a long-term, faith-based rehabilitation program.” His once skeptical mind on the issue of addiction has been changed with his service on the advisory board.

Invitation Ministries has branched into a myriad of programs that include 12-step classes for women, and now men, at the county jail, a crisis apartment that provides a safe and clean environment for those awaiting placement in a treatment program and assistance to single moms.

Sherri Nichols told the gathering, “We do not have an addiction problem in Crossville. We have a heart problem.” Those hearts change, Nichols and others said, when addicts find the answers and help they seek in long-term, in-house, faith-based rehab.

Persons having a heart to help this ministry may do so by contacting Redemption Church at (931) 787-1929.

Michael Moser may be reached at mmoser@crossville-chronicle.com

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