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Former drug addicts, 68 & 28, find common bond for ministry

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Philip Barber was determined; if he was going to be a drug addict for the rest of his life, he would be the best drug addict possible. But the compassion of a stranger and the understanding of a new friend forever changed the course of his life.

Barber’s experimentation with drugs began at age 12 when he smoked marijuana for the first time. Years later he was so desperate for cocaine that one evening he stopped his car in the rain and filled a syringe with water from a puddle in order to inject the drug into his system.

“That is the hell from which the Lord has brought me,” said Barber, now 28 and an undergraduate studies student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Barber’s pilgrimage of faith began in 1997 during Crossover Dallas, an evangelistic outreach designed to canvass the city prior to the Southern Baptist Convention.

Barber was unaware of the evangelistic emphasis and was exposed to it in an unusual way. When a Dallas police officer arrived at Barber’s home to break up a dispute between him and his neighbor, the officer “didn’t interrogate me and he didn’t beat me up,” Barber said. “He shared Christ with me.”

The officer also invited Barber to his church but didn’t tell him the guest speaker was a former drug addict. Ted Stone, a 68-year-old Southwestern Seminary trustee, had by 1997 been active across the country for 20 years speaking about his own experiences with drugs and his freedom from addiction through Jesus Christ.

“I didn’t know he was going to be speaking about drug abuse,” Barber recounted, “or I probably would not have gone.”

As Stone spoke of how he had walked across the country in 1996 to share the message of hope for eventual recovery from drug addiction, Barber was impressed. But what Stone said that affected Barber most was something he had not dared to believe was possible.

“He said he was no longer a drug addict, that he was recovered forever by the grace of God,” Barber said. “That remark was Galilean. Up to that point I had always been told that the earth was flat, that once you’re a drug addict you’re always a drug addict.”

Barber’s worldview changed that day, he said, and hope was planted in his heart.

“I got hope in 1997,” Barber said. “I didn’t get clean in 1997, but as a result of the hope that was seeded in my life I am clean today and I am pursuing a ministry and studies at Southwestern.”

Stone, who was told by the police officer that Barber might be attending the service, sought out Barber. The two formed an immediate bond.

“We hit it off right away in spite of our age difference because we had a lot of [common] things in our backgrounds,” Stone said.

Barber accompanied Stone on his second walk across the United States in 1998, hopeful that months spent with Stone on the walk would cure him of his addictions. He returned to the Dallas area intent on staying clean. But when he returned to Dallas, “I fell flat on my face just almost immediately.”

The same scenario would be played out again in 2000 when Barber accompanied Stone on his third walk across America and again returned to drugs.

“I was afraid Philip was going to die because you could look at him and realize that something was really wrong,” Stone said, noting that his concern for Barber led him to cancel speaking engagements for the first time in more than 20 years.

But Stone knew well the struggles Barber was facing, having spent four years in prison in the early 1970s as a result of his own addictions.

“[God’s] immeasurable grace made it possible for me, years ago in the early 1970s in prison, to make a change in the direction of my life,” Stone said.

Barber had come to know Christ years before, but sobriety for him began on Sept.10, 2000. He has been drug-free since.

“If it were to be said a thousand times in a thousand tongues it would still be understated what I experienced that day,” Barber said. “Suffice it to say that I have been to the gates of hell and at the last possible moment, when I least expected it and least deserved it, the Lord reached down and snatched me right out of the devil’s pocket.”

The craving for drugs left Barber but the effects of the drugs lingered, Stone said.

“Philip didn’t get well even then because it took months and months for his mind to clear out,” Stone said. “In fact, I was afraid he was going to kill himself.”

That wasn’t such a preposterous option at the time, Barber said. One effect of the drugs was extreme paranoia, even to the point where he thought Stone — then a trusted friend of three years — was plotting against him. Barber recalled telling Stone one day on the way to lunch that he didn’t believe he could wake up another day in such a state.

“I was ready to move beyond that mental deficiency and could find no relief for it,” Barber said.

Stone’s response was simple, but immense. He suggested they pray about it, and he got out of his car and dropped to his knees in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Barber followed Stone’s example and the two cried out to God together.

“I want to tell you that from that instant, my mind was freed,” Barber said.

Today Barber serves as vice president of Ted Stone Ministries and Stone House Ministries, an evangelistic organization led by Stone that targets those suffering from substance abuse.

Stone and Barber travel throughout the United States speaking and the two have amassed a mountain of literary work on the subject of drug abuse. They have written for various publications, including Light, published by the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; HomeLife magazine of LifeWay Christian Resources; and SBC Life, the newsjournal of the SBC Executive Committee. They also write a regular column for Baptist Press, which appears on the fourth Wednesday of each month.

Stone and Barber also have written two books, “The Drug Tragedy: Hope For The One Who Hurts” and “The Drug Tragedy: Hope For The One Who Cares.”

“Philip has become a very important part of this ministry,” Stone said, noting that even while Barber pursues a seminary education he continues to speak several times a month. Barber also works on the ministry’s written materials.

Stone said he and Barber also have a bond that supersedes the discrepancy in their ages. When Stone’s fourth walk across America was delayed because he was diagnosed with cancer last July, Barber was with Stone while he underwent surgery, in which doctors believe was a successful surgery to remove the cancer.

“Philip was right there with me through those days, when I was operated on until he came back to get started back at school.”

Stone said he and Barber have often been compared to Paul and Timothy in the Bible, but Stone said that it isn’t always clear who is Paul.

“Sometimes I think Philip is a lot like Paul and I’m Timothy learning from him.”

But Stone is an integral part of Barber’s life. Barber said that although he has fallen many times and although it took him a while to get well, Stone was there to see him through.

“One thing that I have learned from Ted is that not only must you get up when you fall, but you must go on,” Barber said.

Stone had the privilege of baptizing Barber and called it a “blessed event.” He also delivered part of the message at Barber’s ordination service this past summer at Barber’s church, Temple Baptist in New Bern, N.C.

“I’ve had the feeling ever since I met Philip that God had his hand on Philip’s life and that God was going to use him in a very specific way one day,” Stone said.

Barber said that it was because of his connection with Stone that he has been able to meet and get to know a wealth of godly Southern Baptist men and women.

“The love of Christ has been modeled through so many Southern Baptists that I just feel privileged to be in their entourage, to be in their company,” Barber said.

Barber is planning to pursue a master of divinity degree after completing his undergraduate studies at Southwestern.

Meanwhile, Stone is still planning a fourth walk across America following his recuperation from surgery.

And both Stone and Barber have much yet to share.

“We found out about the grace of God not by reading about it in a book, not by hearing about it from somebody else,” Stone said. “We found out about the measure of the grace of God from what he showed us in person in our lives.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at https://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: DUO AGAINST DRUGS and TED STONE & PHILIP BARBER.

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  • Lauri Arnold