Editor’s Note: Sunday (March 21) is Substance Abuse Prevention Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention.
CONWAY, Ark. (BP) – Pastor Larry White, a board member of Renewal Ranch, knows how important it is for the church to invest in such drug abuse prevention and recovery programs.
“At one time I had two family members, my next-door neighbor and childhood friend were all residents at the ranch,” said White, senior pastor of Woodland Heights Baptist Church in Conway, a central Arkansas community not far from Little Rock. “In three of those four, those men years later are walking in victory. I’ve seen God’s work in Renewal Ranch, and so I’ll do everything I can to help them, because I’ve seen it work.”
Woodland Heights is among several Southern Baptist churches supporting the free residential Christian rehabilitation facility for men that celebrates its 10th anniversary March 25. The program has a 60 percent long-term success rate among its 350 or so graduates, compared to about 4 or 5 percent among treatment centers that are not Bible-focused, according to Renewal Ranch Executive Director James Loy.
Loy helped found Renewal Ranch in 2011 after he himself was delivered from 23 years of addiction during a stay at a similar Bible-based program called John 3:16.
“In 2005, I was broken and just at the end of myself. I’d been to 13 different rehabs. Some of them I’d paid $50,000 for a 28-day stay in rehab three different times,” he said. “We do what we do here at Renewal Ranch – myself, my staff – to make disciples that make disciples. And we believe that the fruit that’s coming forth from the ministry is attributed to the God that we serve.”
All of Renewal Ranch’s employees who work directly with the residents are also graduates of the one-year residential program at the 117-acre facility outside Conway. The program receives as many as 350 applications annually for its 31 beds, with applicants from many states outside Arkansas. The program immerses the men in Scripture, education and discipleship, requires them to attend church Sundays and Wednesdays, and helps them reintegrate into society as responsible Christian men.
Senior Pastor Don Chandler of Central Baptist Church in Conway said his congregation began supporting Renewal Ranch shortly after the ranch was founded. The church was considering starting a ministry to help the many drug addicts and alcoholics it was constantly counseling.
Central Baptist amended its budget to support the ministry annually, Chandler said, and with special offerings gives about $60,000 to $70,000 a year to the ranch. The church regularly hosts ranch residents at its Wednesday night services.
Chandler said perhaps 50 or more Central Baptist members contribute to the ministry by mentoring, teaching, cooking, serving on Renewal’s board of directors, participating in Saturday morning chapel and volunteering for community projects. Chandler served five years on the ranch’s pastoral advisory board.
“Unfortunately some of my members’ kids, sons, have ended up there,” Chandler said. “Alcoholism and drug abuse just destroys the individual that is addicted, but he is not the only victim by far. Moms and dads, wives, children, brothers and sisters, people all around him are adversely impacted to one degree or another.”
When a drug addict broke into the church and destroyed about $100,000 worth of property in 2019, Chandler advocated for the man’s entry into Renewal Ranch instead of prison, and baptized the man six months later. (See Baptist Press story.) Chandler said the man is clean and has reconciled with his family.
Woodland Heights Baptist similarly supports Renewal Ranch, giving a portion of its funds and dedicating special offerings. Members teach, disciple and participate in work projects. White became a Renewal Ranch board member in January. His brother-in-law and nephew are among success stories, as is his neighbor, a Woodland Heights member who drives the church bus.
Substance abuse “impacts everybody,” White said. “The people we find at Renewal Ranch are from Christian homes. They’re the sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers and pastors. Everyone is impacted by this.”
Program Director Chase Moser, a member of The Summit Church Conway, a Southern Baptist congregation, said the support of the church community has “meant a lot” to him personally and to the program’s success.
“Coming from a life of addiction, you feel like you’re different than everyone else. You’re just kind of an outcast,” Moser said. “These churches, the members of these churches who loved us and supported us, and provided meals for us and prayed for us, and laughed with us and cried with us, it really showed me God’s love. God loves us through the people.”
Moser entered Renewal Ranch in 2017 after a 15-year addiction to prescription opioids and methamphetamine. He had gone through several treatment facilities before a friend introduced him to Renewal. He went through medical detoxification before entering the program, as detox is not a part of Renewal’s treatment plan.
After completing the program, the ranch approached Moser about remaining onsite as a bunkhouse leader. He’s pursuing a degree in leadership and ministry at Central Baptist College in Conway, which gives a 25 percent tuition discount to Renewal Ranch enrollees and graduates.
“What happened at Renewal Ranch was that God changed my heart, and through that process the desires of my heart changed,” Moser said. “It was then that I was free from drugs and alcohol. My life has been on a journey of restoration for a little over four years now.”
Loy said all of the ranch’s staff members have “incredible testimonies.”
Loy fell into addiction as an 18-year-old after watching his mother die of cancer when she was 40. At 7, Loy had seen his father die of cancer.
“That set me on quite a journey after losing my mother,” Loy said. “My addiction took me further than I wanted to go and kept me there a lot longer than I wanted to stay, and it certainly cost me a lot more than I wanted to pay.”
Early in his battle, he lost $700,000 in three years to cocaine addiction, and at one time was wanted in seven different Arkansas jurisdictions on criminal warrants. Loy counts 103 misdemeanor and 47 felony charges during his addiction. He received a full pardon during the governorship of Mike Beebe, and today has a clean record. Recovered and restored, Loy was ordained to the Gospel ministry in 2009 at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Batesville, Ark., and has a wife and two step-children.
He describes the fight against drug abuse as a frontline battle with eternal consequences that needs the support of the local church.
“There are so many churches that play an integral part in helping us on a monthly basis,” Loy said. “If you’re in the church and you’re not helping in some capacity in recovery and addiction, you’re missing the most wide-open field.”