Saddleback Church's Celebrate Recovery Summit Highlights Changed Lives

LAKE FOREST, Calif. – More than 3,600 people from churches in the U.S. and 23 other countries attended the Celebrate Recovery Summit for intensive training and encouragement from leaders of the Christ-centered addiction ministry founded at Saddleback Church.

The three-day conference is designed to help churches start a Celebrate Recovery program of their own or gather tips on improving existing programs. The event held at the Southern California church led by Pastor Rick Warren ended on Friday.

The ministry incorporates biblical principles parallel to the steps of recovery found in Alcoholics Anonymous and specifies the belief that Jesus Christ is the "higher power" who heals chemical addictions as well as other social problems.

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"It totally changed my life. When I came to Celebrate Recovery I didn't know how to heal from the past hurts that I had – being sexually abused as a child, having failed relationships, and thinking that all those things that happened to me as a child were in the past and didn't affect me anymore," said Lisa Merry, 51, who is one of many of the ministry's leaders at Saddleback Church. "But the reality was that I was in a lot of pain that I didn't know how to deal with or how to get help, or how to get healed."

Merry, who has been with the ministry nearly since its beginning 21 years ago, has traveled outside the U.S. twice to South Africa, Ukraine, and Russia to help grow Celebrate Recovery programs at other churches and ministries.

Once she began to experience the ministry within the first year, she realized that the program was really a guide on "how to lead a Christian life," she told The Christian Post.

"You not only get healing, but you grow in maturity," Merry explained. "As a Christian you get closer to God and other people. For me that was life changing in realizing that this isn't just a one-year program that I do. It is about walking with God on a daily basis."

Merry said she is still amazed at the magnitude of all the people whose hearts have changed as the result of CR, even after participating in the conferences every year (this was the 14th CR conference) as one of the ministry's host leaders of the event.

"It's overwhelming to see so many people sold out to Christ and hear their stories of how God has changed their lives. For me to see it, and I've been in it for almost 20 years, to see it from the beginning to just a few people and now it's a worldwide ministry. It's changing people's lives in prison, all parts of the world, in all states in our country … it brings tears to my eyes every morning (at the conference) that I get to be here," she said. "There are so many stories … seeing families restored is a miracle."

This year, in addition to speakers, worship music, and workshops, those in attendance at the conference were treated a special advance screening of the movie "Home Run."

The movie is about a baseball player who struggles with alcoholism and gets help through Celebrate Recovery. Originally scheduled for release in September, it is now planned for an opening in next spring.

Celebrate Recovery, which began at Saddleback Church in 1991, is now part of ministry programs in more than 17,000 churches worldwide, according to its website. More than 700,000 people have gone through the program. Speakers at the summit testified of no longer being addicted to alcohol or drugs and also spoke of helping "those struggling with hurts, hang-ups, and habits."

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