Houston-area churches take recovery program to Bulgaria

A missions team from Sugar Land Baptist Church, near Houston, worships at Nom Baptist Church in Bulgaria.

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Two Houston-area Baptist churches helped a drug and alcohol recovery program take root in Bulgaria.

Lifeway International, a Houston-based substance-abuse ministry, launched the Bulgarian program with support from Sugar Land Baptist Church in Sugar Land and University Baptist Church in the Clear Lake area.

bulgaria john guitar400John Cates, founder and CEO of Lifeway International, teaches a few guitar chords to a young man who is a participant in an alternative peer group in Bulgaria.“We are following one of Christ’s first commands,” said John Cates, founder and CEO of Lifeway International. “Matthew 10:8 says: ‘Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.’ There is no more widespread or deadly disease in our world right now than substance abuse. Through the grace of God and the support of area churches, we are living that example at home and, now, overseas.”

The effort in Bulgaria began when Cates received a request to start a substance-abuse treatment called alternative peer groups—Lifeway’s specialty. Alternative peer groups are based on removing substance abusers from people with whom they have used drugs and placing them in a network of support.

“It was so obviously a God thing,” Cates said. “God just opened this door right up and blessed it.”

Lifeway International’s involvement in Bulgaria grew out of a mission trip Cates made with Sugar Land Baptist 16 years ago. During that trip, Cates befriended some of the missionaries serving in Bulgaria and told them about his work with Lifeway and chemical dependency recovery.

bulgaria meeting400An alternative peer group meets in Bulgaria.Cates remained in touch with the missionaries, Paul and Judy Ridgway with Bulgarian Child Inc., who later launched the Training and Transitional Center for young men aging out of Bulgaria’s orphan system.

Children abandoned by families who were unable to care for them constitute the majority of residents in Bulgaria’s orphanages, according to the Worldwide Orphans Foundation. Many of these children suffer the effects of attachment disorder, stunted growth and developmental delays. As they approach adulthood and leave the orphanages, they often are involved in substance abuse, crime and risky sexual behavior, Cates said.

The Ridgways asked Cates to guide them as they attempt to free the young men they’re helping from chemical dependency. That’s when Cates organized the recent effort in Bulgaria, traveling as part of a Sugar Land Baptist Church mission group, led by Cynthia Watts and Pastor Phil Lineberger.

Cates spoke with the young men at the Training and Transitional Center and told them about alternative peer groups.

“The young people just went with it, and so did the staff,” Cates said.

bulgaria john teen300John Cates, founder and CEO of Lifeway International, enjoys times with a new friend he made in Bulgaria. The young man is part of an alternative peer group started by Lifeway International.Upon Cates’ return to Houston, a small group of the young men who will be working toward recovery in Bulgaria held an online meeting with Vladamir Borin, their lead counselor, and several students from Three Oaks Academy, a fully accredited high school in Houston that only accepts students who are living spiritual sobriety-based lives.

When asked to tell what recovery has given them or what they want from recovery, most of the students spoke, said Parker Cragg, Three Oaks Academy’s director.

“I know it was powerful for them to communicate with people on the other side of the world,” Cragg said, adding more online meetings will be scheduled.

“Addiction is so isolating. We tell ourselves we’re the only ones who feel a particular way. Here they were talking about their inner demons and opening in a very personal way with young people a half a world away. There was a real connection there.”

During his time in Bulgaria, Cates also supported the Baptist mission team as participants put 700 pairs of shoes on orphans, along with children and adults with disabilities.

“This is ministry at its finest,” Cates said.

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