PORTLAND, Ore. (BP)–Kathy Phillips was looking for something the first time she walked into a SAFE meeting. She didn’t know what it was. She just knew she didn’t have it.
“I had a big void inside, and nothing I’d tried filled it,” Phillips said in an interview at the SAFE house, Portland, Ore., where a dozen or more people live who are recovering from drug and/or alcohol abuse.
Boyfriends, drugs, and work weren’t enough, she began to realize. She entered a 12-step program and successfully completed it, but struggled with the idea she would always be an addict. That was when a friend invited her to a SAFE meeting.
“When I walked in and discovered it was a Christian meeting, I thought, ‘Boy, I’ve tried it all now,'” Phillips said. By the end of the meeting, though, she’d changed her mind.
“You’ve got something I want, and I’m not leaving until you tell me how to get it,” Phillips told a counselor that night in 1991. Phillips now works for SAFE as house director and building administrator.
Founded 10 years ago in Portland by Southern Baptist Home Missionary Troy Smith, SAFE (Setting Addicts Free Eternally) reaches out to those seeking freedom from addictions.
SAFE works with the source of the addiction (emotional instability) to create permanent change, Smith said, adding the only way is to “saturate our subconscious mind with the positive principles and promises of God’s Word.”
SAFE started because Smith saw as a pastor in inner-city Portland that large numbers of people were accepting Christ but were returning to their old habits shortly afterward.
Out of his research came SAFE and the five objectives that drive it: to be on a sure foundation, to be of a sound mind, to be responsible, to be able to resolve conflicts, and to be confident.
An addict has two options when entering the program. Outpatients like Phillips live at home and work a job, attending support group meetings and completing the program workbook.
Those in the in-patient program in the SAFE house are addicts who have voiced a sincere desire to quit. They arise about dawn, saturate their minds with God’s Word by reading 100 times over a verse they’ve selected to fit their situation, go to work and return to the home by 5 p.m.
The $300/month cost they pay is far less than secular residential treatment programs. It is half what it costs SAFE to room and board one person for one month. Contributions from individuals and churches help make up the difference.
In-patients must attend a Thursday evening meeting and, if work schedules permit, a Tuesday afternoon meeting. At the meetings, patients do a Bible study, talk about the results of their study in the program workbook and discuss the positive things God is doing in their lives.
Meeting needs and sharing Christ through SAFE has been tremendously successful but it is not without frustrations, Smith said.
“It’s hard to work closely with someone for a year and then see them fall back into their old problems,” Smith said. Eighty percent of the graduates stay clean and sober but “those 20 percent who don’t make it get to you,” he added with a grimace.
And out of the 100 or more people who might check into the SAFE house each year, only four might graduate.
There are other frustrations as well. Though the SAFE house can accommodate 12 boarders, Smith has had to turn away some from the in-house program because of a lack of space.
There also is on SAFE house shelves often a discouragingly small amount of canned foods and other staples such as toilet paper.
But frustrations pale in comparison to victories, Smith said.
“When you invest your life in a person and see God turn their lives around, that’s what it’s all about,” Smith said. “The positives far outweigh the negatives.”
Brooks is a regional reporter for the Northwest Baptist Witness.