As associate circuit judge in Texas County, Doug Gaston daily encounters broken lives. That’s why he says he has become an advocate for Celebrate Recovery.

Gaston is such a believer in the program –– offered the past 18 months through two Houston churches –– he recently purchased a large banner that is displayed by the doorway to his courtroom inside the Texas County Justice Center. And when an offender requires a treatment program or a family needs counseling, he strongly suggests they consider CR.

“Hopefully we care about more than if we process a case,” Gaston said. “Hopefully we care about people’s souls. I do.”

Both Life Church and Faith Fellowship are halfway through their second years providing the CR program that addresses hurts, hang-ups and habits through biblical principles. The two churches often work together to compliment each other and meet the needs of those who attend. Life Church hosts its meetings at 7 p.m. Fridays while Faith Fellowship meets at 6 p.m. Sundays.

Gaston said he first learned about CR a few months ago when he was approached by Cheryl Thurman, one of the leaders at Faith Fellowship. He later met with Beverly Castleman Hurd, a CR state coordinator and leader at Life Church, and spent time researching the program. What he discovered was a 24-year ministry that through 27,000 churches and 44 state and federal prisons has impacted countless numbers of hurting people.

“It’s based on really everything that is right and can help people. We have people who have done it, and it’s making a big difference in their lives,” Gaston said. “The biggest thing is it’s based on eternal truths and very good concepts that are deeply rooted in scriptures. If they’ll do these things, their life will be better. ”

CR, an extension of Saddleback Church in California, offers assistance for those battling addiction. But it also provides a safe place for co-dependents, people with eating disorders, those struggling with sexual addictions or needing financial recovery, individuals dealing with past or current physical or sexual abuse issues and many other areas.

Celebrate Recovery

Michael Collins, a leader in the Celebrate Recovery program at Life Church, shares his testimony during a Friday service.

Its foundations include 12 steps with accompanying scriptures and eight principles based on the Beatitudes. Participants are provided a clear path of salvation and discipleship for hope, freedom, sobriety and healing through Jesus Christ.

Hurd, who has served in CR programs for nine years, said no one has a hopeless case.

“I have personally witnessed God change hundreds of lives through the program,” she said. “CR works by helping us to confront and address the core issues that cause us to turn to drugs or alcohol to escape from pain or reality. Or maybe its gambling, sex, perfectionism, overeating, overspending or overworking.

“When the core issues are resolved in a biblical manner, our dysfunctional and compulsive behaviors are replaced by more Christ-like behaviors.”

CR focuses on a spirit of celebration and moving forward. Each night includes a large group time with worship and lessons centered on God’s love. Testimonies of changed lives are regularly shared. Then there is one hour of small groups as attendees learn they are not alone in their struggles.

CR programs are always available, too. Meetings are held regardless of holidays or other events that fall on that day.

“Ministry requires consistency because need and crisis never take a vacation,” said Pastor Bill Villapiano of Faith Fellowship. “We knew going in that recovery is not an event, it’s a journey. Every week we’ll be there along with our friends at Life Church to lend a hand to those who are hurting.”

It’s an approach Gaston supports.

Along with criminal cases, Gaston has suggested CR to families who find themselves in his courtroom. He said he also hopes those who see the banner –– whether simply passing by in the hallway or coming there to support a friend or family member –– will take the initiative to attend CR and begin the healing process.

Gaston said he feels spiritually obligated and is well within his constitutional rights to encourage CR in his courtroom.

“It doesn’t mean that I can’t say to someone, ‘Here’s a good option,’” he said. “I can do that, and I should do that, so I’m going to do it. I’m careful not to force anyone into it. But it’s an option that should be made available.”

Life Church begins its Friday meetings with dinner at 6 p.m. A $3 donation is suggested. Large group with worship and a lesson starts at 7 p.m., followed by small groups at 8 p.m. The church also provides Celebration Place for kids ages 5-12 and The Landing for teenagers.

On Sundays at Faith Fellowship, a free dinner is served at 5:30 p.m., followed by large group at 6 p.m. and small groups discussions at 7 p.m.

“It’s wonderful these churches are doing this,” Gaston said. “It’s a fantastic thing for our community. They’ve both told me they don’t care if someone goes to another church or has even been in church. They just want to help people who need help. That’s a beautiful thing.”

Celebrate Recovery

Musicians, from left, Tim Hurd, Ashley Collins and Jamie Altman, lead worship during a Celebrate Recovery meeting at Life Church in Houston.

Two Houston area churches provide Celebrate Recovery programs each week:

  • Fridays at LIFE CHURCH (1010 Indian Creek Trail). Dinner at 6 p.m., large group at 7 p.m. and small groups at 8 p.m. Classes are also available for teenagers and children ages 5-12.
  • Sundays at FAITH FELLOWSHIP (Just past Dogs Bluff on Highway 17). Dinner at 5:30 p.m., large group at 6 p.m. and small groups at 7 p.m. Child sitting is provided.

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