Last week, Serving California got together with two of our favorite women’s recovery groups – the women of Teen Challenge, at the AWAKE! women’s conference in Lynwood, and the women of Victory Outreach, at the recovery home in Pomona.
Both Victory Outreach and Teen Challenge are Christian-based programs, free to those who attend, that emphasize biblically based living under the guidance of the organization’s leadership. Serving California is proud to partner with these organizations because we believe in their work, and we have seen their success. They are residential programs, meaning that any woman who chooses to enroll in the program also chooses to live, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, under the rules and protocols of the program. We cannot emphasize enough how difficult this can be for the courageous women who put themselves to this task – women who often have children or families of their own – because they are choosing to separate themselves for a time, and to surrender to someone else’s rules.
Most astonishing of all, though, is the freedom that comes with this submission. At the AWAKE! conference, I was stunned to observe the crowd around me; women were lifting their hands, praying for their sisters, and crying out with joy at the exhortation they were given to Awaken! from their slumbers and answer the call of God. In her old life, one speaker said, she had sleepily stumbled through life, intoxicated and lukewarm to her faith. With her sobriety came a new awareness, a new sense of her own identity – a new sense of her important role in her community, as a leader. She took it upon herself to help other women like her, empowering them to recover from lives of addiction, abuse, and desperation.
Similar to this speaker’s testimony is that of Julie Arguinzoni, the founder of Victory Outreach International, who, along with her husband, made it her life’s mission to open not just her heart but also her home to hurting women. Julie has literally opened her door to thousands of women over the course of her life, inviting them to live in her family home as they leave behind lives of addiction and abuse -- and she shared this passion with the women living in the recovery home in Pomona when we visited on Wednesday. Julie spoke about travelling to South America and sharing the gospel with sex workers in brothels, she spoke about seeing addiction in her family as a young girl, and hurting for the heroin addicts who sought her help through her ministry with Victory Outreach. She encouraged our group, and reminded us that no one is alone – we are all truly a family.
The unifying element among us all, I saw, is a shared heart. We’ve made it our life’s work, at Serving California, to reach out to those in our community who are hurting, broken, addicted or alone and link up, and join together as we strive to do something greater than ourselves. This can take on many different forms, as we go about empowering one another in our own special ways. It can be Sister Julie Arguinzoni opening her front door to strangers, or a sober Leader at Teen Challenge, praying for her friend to enter into the program, or Susan Burton from A New Way of Life, greeting women coming off the prison bus. And it can look like you or me, opening our hearts, and daring to care.