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Out of the Darkness

Kyla's* seen a lot in her 11 years. Her mom, who's been in recovery for almost two years, was addicted to meth for 20. Kyla's dad was recently court-ordered out of her life. She and her mom live in a cramped, dusty trailer park riddled with stray animals, peeling paint, and long-broken windows. Dismal as this all may seem, for Kyla it's a vast improvement over her earlier years, when she often had to fend for herself or rely on virtual strangers to feed her and get her to school while her mom slept off drug binges. Kyla's life is -- though still challenging -- much more stable and healthy than it's ever been. Her mom genuinely seems to have rounded the corner, determined to face her addictions and their underlying roots. For Kyla's mom, joining a recovery support program offered by a local church has been the key to her current success. For Kyla, her mother's change of direction in life represents a strange and wonderful new concept: hope.

"I was messed up," notes Kyla's mom quietly. "I still have my struggles, but things are better."

Despite the collateral damage in her life -- broken relationships, court wrangles with child protective services, ruined credit, a fragile relationship with her child, and health problems resulting from years of drug abuse -- she's made dramatically positive steps in her life. She credits Celebrate Recovery (, a Christ-centered recovery program for adults that's based on eight principles of the Beatitudes, with her progress and renewed outlook on life. Celebrate Recovery is the worldwide, faith-based program founded by John Baker in 1991 following his personal battle with alcoholism. He designed the program to "help people overcome their hurts, hang-ups, and habits through recovery, wholeness, growth, and spiritual maturity." To date, more than 700,000 people have gone through the Celebrate Recovery program in 10,000 churches worldwide; it's a transformative experience that's saved lives -- in more than one way.

As children's ministers, we're often faced with the reality of situations like Kyla's. Many of the children we work with are living in high-risk households or in situations where their health and well-being are compromised. And many of these children, without intervention, face the very real possibility of ending up in the same cycle of dysfunction as their parents. Baker himself became keenly aware of the perils at-risk children face as he watched his son follow his steps into alcoholism. And he became determined to do something to stop the cycle.


Baker, while discussing the remarkable success of Celebrate Recovery (CR), says that for years he longed to develop a similar program for kids -- something he refers to as "pre-covery." He saw a great need to equip kids with the truths and coping strategies that adults learn in Celebrate Recovery -- only much earlier in life so they would already have the tools to rely on when life's challenges arise.

"We have a critical opportunity to help at-risk kids embrace the amazing love and grace God offers in a real and life-impacting way," Baker says.

Out of Baker's desire to minister to these at-risk children came Celebration Station, a year-long resource that aligns with the Celebrate Recovery scope and sequence. Written by Christine Yount Jones (executive editor of this magazine) in conjunction with John Baker and his son Johnny, Celebration Station is designed so adults and the children who come with them to Celebrate Recovery learn about the same topic during the same week (with kids learning in age-appropriate ways). This strategy opens the door to family communication and honest dialogue, and helps children absorb healthy coping strategies and a faith-centered outlook on life.

Lori Simpson Keller, ministry assistant for Celebrate Recovery and coordinator for Celebration Station at Killearn United Methodist Church in Tallahassee, Florida, says Celebration Station has dramatically impacted kids in her ministry for the better.

"Our ministry to at-risk children stems from our Celebrate Recovery program," says Keller. "Kids from all imaginable backgrounds come to Celebration Station. We have a group of kids who probably represent our society fairly well. We see everything from average, ordinary families who've simply found our ministry to be a safe, welcoming place for their families; parents recently released from prison trying to adjust to life on the outside again; families where one or both parents are struggling; to grandparents raising grandchildren who want to break the cycle of dysfunction...This is one place where kids know exactly what to expect and when to expect it. We work hard to give them that predictability; it truly is a gift."


Numerous Celebrate Recovery ministries had sensed the need-and great opportunity -- for programming for children in the CR families. CR members were already bringing their children, and the churches were already providing childcare or extra programming to fill the time. Children's ministers like Keller say they instinctively felt there was a prime opportunity for important, effective ministry to these special kids -- some of whom had never been inside a church.

"When we started our Celebrate Recovery program six years ago," says Keller, "we were trying to do this ministry with kids by creating lessons each week, finding good music, and coming up with creative activities and crafts -- that were all tied to what the adults were doing. That was a major challenge, but we believed in the importance of creating a shared experience that kids and adults could all relate to after the program.

"Now Celebration Station is plug-and-play," she continues. "I can hand the leader's guide to any volunteer, and that person can lead the kids on the spot. I can take a week off and not have to do a lot of advance preparation. We know that getting the kids and adults on the same page week after week is an enormous benefit -- because we're giving them something to talk about at home. There's nothing better than honest, open dialogue that's swathed in God's love. We're teaching the entire family to speak the same language. Our ultimate hope for this ministry is that the cycle of destruction and despair will be broken. We want these kids to learn to live life God's way. We want the adults to learn to live life a new way. This is where our families can be honest and real about all of life's struggles, not just addictions or the 'big' stuff."

For kids like Kyla, Celebration Station offers not only a reliable place of refuge and acceptance but also fun. And it creates a new, healthy dynamic in her relationship with her mom. The focus of Celebration Station is learning while celebrating God's love, so even though the program deals with some tough topics in age-appropriate ways, each session results in kids' growing knowledge that God loves them -- and their parents -- unconditionally.

"One key we've found to at-risk ministry is the importance of opening communication and finding a common language while providing support and acceptance for families," says Keller.

Michael Rudolph, a member of Celebrate Recovery, feels passionately about the importance of equipping at-risk kids with knowledge of God's love and relevant coping strategies.

"Celebration Station teaches children how to live out the Beatitudes in their daily lives and to express their feelings and issues instead of stuffing them," says Rudolph, who works with Celebrate Recovery churches to implement the Celebration Station program. "Kids begin to develop a good, communicative relationship with God. Parents get the tools to build a strong, communicative relationship with their children. Celebration Station can truly help children establish a strong foundation in Christ, family, and themselves. They can learn a healthy way to deal with life instead of turning to the multitude of other destructive choices out there."

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