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You Can't Get sober Without God: Missions Intersect for Rev. Tim Wilson

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“A man came up to me and said, ‘I can’t stop drinking; I’m drunk right now and my wife is looking at us,’” Rev. Wilson remembered. “I learned that they had spent more than $100,000 on rehab in the past. We told him about the good people of Guiding Light and he agreed to go."

/Guiding Light

When Tim Wilson enrolled in Hope College, he began as a double major in political science and history with his eyes set on law school.

But a bleeding ulcer in his junior year nearly ended his life – and prompted a reevaluation of college and career. Tim admits to falling in love with the community surrounding him and the pastor who walked alongside hime. At that moment, Tim made a commitment, noting “whatever this guy is doing, I want to give my life to that.”

So the Hudsonville native added a religion major to his education portfolio and began reading the Bible, which became “profoundly interesting” to Tim. “These ancient stories communicated some deep things I never knew were there,” he recalled. After graduation, it was only natural that he “crossed the street” to attend the Western Theological Seminary.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Tim said his was a “slow discernment” to professional ministry he was still trying to figure out while in the seminary. On the one hand, he knew he wanted to walk beside people in their stages of pain, grief and loss. On the other, he was terrified of public speaking after having outgrown a childhood stutter.

Tim preached at a few churches before receiving “a new sense of call and a confidence in that call” to share God’s word through the Bible and its ancient stories. He was drawn to the ministry, beginning his work at a small church in Zeeland.

“I sat with a young mother as she said goodbye to her husband,” Tim recalled. “As a pastor, I was trying to think of something profound and important to say. When I saw her child’s tricycle sitting in the hospice room – I lost it. Those early days of ministry woke me to the fact this work is far bigger than the degree, which gives you access to people you don’t necessarily deserve.

“That kind of positional authority gives you access into some of the most intimate personal spaces where no one else is allowed. I realized I was taking a space that should have belonged to a friend or parent or spouse. I resolved that if I was going to be allowed in, I would have to be present for this person.”

That commitment continued as the now Rev. Wilson transitioned to his second church, South Harbor Church in Byron Center. It was coming out of a dunk tank during vacation Bible school that his path first crossed with Guiding Light.

“I was soaking wet, and a man came up to me and said, ‘I can’t stop drinking; I’m drunk right now and my wife is looking at us,’” Rev. Wilson remembered. “Sure enough, he was – and she was. She was embarrassed. I followed up on that conversation and learned that they had spent more than $100,000 on rehab in the past – and nothing had worked. His wife was done.

“He had a good career and was pretty high up in his company. All that was on the line. We did a mini-intervention and told him he was going to lose his family and his job if something didn’t change. We told him about the good people of Guiding Light and, after detox, he agreed to go.”

Guiding Light Recovery offers an intensive, drug and alcohol recovery program designed to give men structure and opportunity to engage in change. Known on the streets as “no-joke recovery,” the program combines evidence-based practices, life-coaching, therapy, support groups, spiritual direction and resources to equip men to build a life worth staying sober for. Thanks to the generosity of donors, Guiding Light offers the program free of charge to men struggling with addiction.

“This man did a lot of hiding early on,” Rev. Wilson recalled. “He was afraid that one of the volunteers or donors would recognize him. But he continued to meet with the staff and work the program, and something finally broke in him – recovery finally began to make sense.

“I was meeting with him regularly at Guiding Light, and all of a sudden, these guys from the program started coming to our church. I had gotten to know the guys at 255 South Division, and they were really good men who had made some mistakes.

“A year to the day after my first encounter with this man, we were doing vacation Bible school again, and I see him and his wife in the back of the church. They are volunteering, and this man is clean and sober – and leading a dance line with kids. What a difference our God makes in a year!”

Rev. Wilson found he was getting more calls from people seeking help – a woman who said her boyfriend had a problem with drugs, another who said her husband was couldn’t stop drinking. He again turned to Guiding Light, often calling on one of its board members for support – and the answer was always yes, of course, immediately.

After three such calls in a week, Rev. Wilson turned to that board member, puzzled, and said: “I don’t know what I’m doing. I have gone my whole professional life without doing interventions, and here we are doing three in little more than a week. All of these guys have dropped everything when I called to help out – to sit with us in homes or churches. This is just so weird.

“The board member turned to me and said, ‘Well, what did you expect? I’ve been praying that God would send us alcoholics.’”

Rev. Wilson joined the board of Guiding Light four years ago, drawn to the mission and the opportunity to serve. He values his fellow board members, noting they are “doing something for free because they love God and they love people.” And he values the approach Guiding Light takes in its Recovery program.

“Guiding Light has put its faith before its strategies,” Rev. Wilson noted. “A lot of centers will hire really brilliant people and have a great program. Guiding Light has prioritized faith and spiritual discipline, bringing in local churches for support.

“I don’t think you can get sober without God. I don’t think you can get sober without faith. Guiding Light may not be really shiny on the outside, but that is part of how it works. God works through the ugliness and the messiness and the weakness of the situation.

“Everyone working in the program has a deep love of God and a deep belief that sobriety is possible – but you can’t do it without God.”

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