John Bradshaw - Conversation with Richie Halversen
Today, Richie Halversen is a pastor and an evangelist. A success story in ministry, but not very long ago things were very different. Richie Halversen was a drug addict. I'm John Bradshaw and this is "Our Conversation".
— Richie, thanks for joining me. I really appreciate you taking your time.
— It's great to be here.
— Now I don't think we should define you by your past. You know what I mean. There's more to you than your former drug addiction. But, it's quite a story. And as a matter of fact, before we go any further, I do wanna point out that I read this very good book that Richie wrote. It's called "Darkness Will Not Overcome". Notice the subtitle, "One person's struggle and recovery from opioids". It's a great book. I wanna encourage you to read it. It's tremendous. It'll bring you or someone you know, maybe and someone you know, an enormous amount of hope. All right. How did it happen?
— It kinds of happens, as anything does, small, slowly over time, it kind of came in the back door. In high school I'd kind of recreationally gone away from faith and had dabbled in kind of the party lifestyle. It was something that was kind of exciting to me. My friends were doing it, so it's kind of that same generic story. And then I got married very young, 19, just six months out of high school. And my wife and I got married. And quit doing some of the other drugs, but then started justifying the opioids, because a doctor had prescribed them. So, that was what, and I justified those for a long time, thinking, "Okay, well I'm not doing the street drugs. I'm not doing the drugs that I used to do and a doctor prescribed these, so these are okay". But these really came in and pulled the rug out from under me, just as much if even more, than anything else.
— So, what you're saying is that your initial experience with opioids, that was doctor prescribed opioids.
— That's really interesting and germane to this in a big way, because so many people use prescribed opioids, which as we know, end up dragging a lot of people to places they never even thought they'd go. All right, let's rewind before this. You were raised in the church. Your dad's an evangelist. Your uncle's an evangelist. Used to work with us here at It Is Written. You were raised in the middle of that. What was it like to be raised in that environment? I don't think there's, people make too much about being a PK, but you were raised really immersed in ministry and evangelism. It was like the family business. Was there an expectation that you would follow in your dad's footsteps?
— Yeah, a little bit, there was that. And I was often asked in the book, I bring it out early, often I was asked, "Are you gonna be a preacher like your dad, like your uncle"?
— Oh, yeah, yeah my son gets asked that all the time.
— Yeah, I mean and when I was younger I loved it. And yeah, I was adamantly, absolutely I'm gonna do this. Got to high school and when I started drifting kind of away from spiritual things and God, that's kinda when I really just didn't wanna have anything to do with it. But, I enjoyed for the most part, growing in a pastor's home, you know? That my parents lived their life in their faith and ministry. It just was a part of the way my world was. I didn't know any different. It wasn't this negative picture that sometimes I hear talked about growing up in a religious home.
— They encouraged me to develop my own personal relationship with God and it was a God of love and grace. And so it was a great experience. But it's definitely like living in a glass bowl a little bit. People are watching you. They do have sometimes expectations, sometimes unrealistic expectations and there was certainly that.
— Yeah, I think, I honestly feel like there's too much made of the negative aspect of I was a PK or this person's a PK. I know lots of pastors and lots of pastors' kids, for the most part it's just a great, happy existence. Not too terribly different from if your dad works in a shoe store or a meat works. It's just what my dad does and we get on with life and life rolls by.
— Exactly and man, the seeds that were planted, during that time when I came to that place where I needed some help and I needed a foundation, I had that and I had that support and I had that spiritual connection that I knew that I could reconnect to. So, I wouldn't change it for anything.
— I wanna get back and get back to when you were in high school, but I wanna ask this, when you talk and you talk about your addiction and so on, does it get to the place ever in your own ministry to say, "I'm not that guy," or "I'm more than that guy". Or is this something you're really happy to talk about because you understand or you feel like it's going be helpful to many people?
— Yeah, I am not that guy that I was when I was in active addiction and anybody who has known someone in active addiction or struggled with active addiction, then they know what addiction can do to someone. And so I'm not that same person, but I also know that if I let down my guard and I don't do the things that I'm doing right now to keep that faith strong, I could go back to being that person.
— And so, but, no, I enjoy talking about it. The painful experience not so much, but it's a part of the story and so I like telling it. Just if I can say, I can help be a part of someone else's recovery from addiction, man, I wanna be a part of that.
— Yeah, a lot of people watching us right now are saying, "I'm glued to this because there's someone in my family going through it. One of my kids is going through it. I have a sibling going through it". There is so, it's pretty common. Yet I think there's probably a slice of the church, any church, that says, "Wow, this is just so foreign to me". I think it's really important to understand that people struggle with addiction. It's a real thing, right?
— It's a real thing. Statistically, it's like 90 percent of people either have struggled with addiction or they have close family or friends that have struggled with addiction. So, most of the time it hits home. We may not be able to relate to the actual addict, but most of the time we can relate to the family of the addict or the friend of the addict.
— And even though the church hasn't always been known the best way to address and I shouldn't say every church, some churches have always been a beacon of light for people who need recovery.
— That's right.
— Let me just tell you. I have seen the church really make significant strides, toward becoming a place where people can encounter the Gospel as they are, but God doesn't wanna leave us there. He wants to make us better, happier, full of life.
— Right, right, right. Okay, so I'm gonna ask the question that lots of parents want me to ask and that's this, "You're in a Christian high school and you started to slide". Okay, they wanna know why you started to slide and what they could have done to stop that slide in their kid.
— And my mom and dad still ask these questions. My mom will still say, "Richie, was there something that I did or that we could have done differently. Maybe we shouldn't have sent you away to high school. We should have kept you at home". And as parents we play this, woulda, shoulda, coulda and the reality is when an individual gets to a certain age they start making their own decisions. They start to have to make a decision to put into practice the things that you taught them as a parent. And so parents need to kinda give themselves a break often. And it's hard to say. I followed a similar pattern, I'd say most people do when they end up in this situation. I started reading and watching things that I probably shouldn't have that were not of God. I started kinda consing things that slowly were driving me away from Him. I started hanging out with a lot of friends who were good kids, but just kinda were like me who had this sense of we wanted to experiment life and do this and do that and we just didn't listen to our parents when they said, "There's only pain there," you know?
— I remember reading an article years ago and the writer, an elderly fellow said to parents, "You wouldn't take all the credit for all the good that's going on in their life. So, don't take the blame for all the bad. I think you're right and I wanna underscore what you said, Parents sometimes, maybe many times need to give themselves a break and realize that when you're dealing with a kid older than about the age of one, they've got this really strong will and some kids will bend one way and some kids that". Now, that's not to say that parents shouldn't strive to do things right. But, okay. So, you start to fool around in high school and it was what it was. Talk to me about how opioids got a grip on you. How does that happen?
— So, I firmly believe and of course, the Bible tells us we were formed in sin from the womb. We're born with kind of a brokenness to us that we need to be reborn, become new creations. And so, I really believe addiction was something that was definitely a weakness of mine and was manifesting in the beginning in the alcohol and the recreational drugs. In the beginning you use the drugs, in the end the drugs use you.
— That's right.
— And really, the type of drugs is not the issue. Drugs are just a symptom of a much deeper issue. You're trying to find something that will satisfy you that only really God can. And so, even though it started with the recreational drugs, it didn't take off until, but it would have had I continued using those. But I stopped for a couple of years. My wife and I were rebaptized, rededicated my life to the Lord. Had a really great experience. But had some back problems there and were prescribed opioids. And so started taking those.
— And that was just the last thing you needed, right?
— Yeah and that addictive nature just really came out. And I justified it because the doctor had prescribed it.
— And so that's how, and often people will run up to me and our church members come up to me and say, "Pastor, I threw all my opioids away". And sometimes as I praise the Lord, "That's great, that was the right choice". But then others are dealing with terrible chronic pain. They're not addicts. And they need to take something and you need to follow the doctor's discretion. The key is you know whether or not you're taking it, because you need it for the pain or you're taking it to kind of escape reality.
— And that's the difference between an addict and someone who needs to take something for the pain.
— Yeah, yeah when did you start to realize that things were spinning out of control?
— I realized, once I started doing some of the dysfunctional behavior that you always read about and all the cliches you hear about. Breaking the law, doing things that, I was raised in a good home, with good opportunities and when I started lying to my wife, started stealing from family and then got to the place and then hopping from doctor to doctor, because the problem with drugs is...
— Your tolerance increases. As you take more, you've got to take more, you've got to take more. And it just got to where I couldn't maintain. I had to go to about dentists, doctors, emergency rooms, sometimes four or five times a day just to get enough drugs.
— Yeah, that's one of the things you bring out, so I think, clearly and effectively in your book and that is that, why am I telling you. Continue, but it's this phenomenal thing where you're trying to pull the wool, over this doctor's eyes, driving to the other side of town, phoning prescriptions in.
— Yeah, it got to the place where I'd heard and seen so many doctors call in prescriptions, I thought, "You know what, maybe I'll give that a try". And this is the kind of desperation you get into when you're addicted to drugs. You're obsessively and compulsively controlled by a substance, you do such insane things you wouldn't do otherwise.
— So, yeah, I started calling in prescriptions and for quite some time it worked and I got away with it. And until I finally get caught. You do the crime, you better be prepared to do the time. And I was arrested. I'll never forget it. It was at a K-Mart and I was going to the pharmacy and I could tell they were kind of onto me and I quickly went to make my exodus and about four squad cars pulled out in front and I'm going to jail. And, I thought, just my life was over. But then that manipulation and that dishonesty, called my sister. I knew better than to call my wife, she would have left me there. And that would have been the right choice. But I called my sister and she came and got me and I just they pulled up to a traffic light and because they weren't gonna let me leave. They knew at this point, Richie's sick. And I just jumped out of the car and I took off. And found my vehicle, went right back to doing the same thing I was doing before that had just gotten me arrested.
— Lets go back over that. As I'm talking with you, I'm thinking of the family member who's trying to understand how their daughter, could be so irresponsible, without really understanding what's going on inside that girl's head. Talk about that. We're bouncing through this. And I'm tracking with you and it's all good. But go back over that, "I just did something really stupid and I'm gonna go right back and do it again. I just got arrested, I'm gonna go back and do it again". Explain how and why that happens.
— That is what we call just the insanity of addiction. You are not thinking straight.
— You can't think straight, right?
— Yeah, you're not thinking straight. You have this tunnel vision and just this complete, it's either, don't do something illegal and stop using, but you're so physically, emotionally and it's a spiritual battle that's going on, that most of the time the addict doesn't decide to not use. They have to stoop to greater levels of desperation. They lie to themselves. Denial, dishonesty and selfishness is at the root of addiction. And when a drug addict uses and gets caught in that, they really just aren't thinking logically. They're just thinking of just doing the same thing. It's that insanity of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. This time it'll be different. This time I won't get caught. This time I'll get enough drugs to last me and it's just a lie that we tell ourselves when we're caught in that grip.
— Yeah, the addict just finds himself or her place, in a place that they really just can't do anything about, right?
— Yeah, yeah.
— Because they're addicted and they're caught. You use the drugs, the drugs use you. What was your family going through? How were they processing, talk about your parents as generally as you can, I suppose, but what goes through the minds of parents when their boy is just gone off the deep end?
— Did they try to help.
— Yeah. Oh, yes, absolutely. And if it wasn't for my family's support, my wife's support and my parents' support and my in-laws' support, I never would have gotten the help eventually that I needed. So it was huge. But it was a massive struggle for both my parents. Being a minister and being in the church, there is a feeling as pastors that we need to be this example to the people that we minister to. And sometimes you don't feel like you can share what's going on. Sometimes you're afraid it'll be a negative reflection on God by sharing what's happening in your child's life. And so I knew my mom and dad both, felt very alone during those times like, and there is this shame that comes in there, like, man this is a reflection of us. And they take a lot of that on. And so they don't share and talk to people and find the support they need. And they need just as much support and prayer and help as anybody else. So, it was very difficult for my parents. And I remember my mom told me about a time when she was, they were in doing some evangelistic meetings and she was talking to one of the greeters there that was a part of the volunteer team. And this lady shared a little bit. My mom, from something the lady shared, she knew she could trust this woman. And she started sharing about what I was going through, man. "Richie's been in and out of treatment centers and in and out of jail. We don't know what's going on". And the tears just started flowing and she just started sharing and couldn't share enough and really, that was very therapeutic for her and helpful for her. But prayer, prayer, prayer is what got my folks through in that time.
— I'm with Pastor Richie Halversen, sharing about his remarkable life story and you can read more about that right here. The book is called "Darkness Shall Not Overcome". I encourage you to read it, get it, share it with somebody. It'll be a blessing to you and others. More from "Our Conversation" in just a moment.
— Welcome back to "Conversations". My guest is Pastor Richie Halversen. Richie, we're sharing about your, we're gonna get to your prison life in a moment. Let's continue to go through this this past life you lived, because you know, because you've had people affirm you in this, how valuable it is to hear people sharing and giving hope. "You can get through. Your family is gonna survive this. There is hope for your son, for your daughter or your grandchild or whoever it might be". In and out of treatment centers. In and out of jail. You spent a little time in jail. Made a few visits.
— I did.
— Yeah. The first time you hear that door lock, what runs through your mind? The first time.
— Yeah, the first time, yeah, you just think, "Man, my life is over," when they're fingerprinting you and you're being charged with a felony charge of prescription fraud, which is a big deal.
— Oh, yeah.
— Yeah, you start to feel like your life is over. But it doesn't compel the addict most of the time to then turn around. It'll often, and what happened to me, was you just kind of give up and you say, "Well, now that has happened to me, I can't stop using. I'm stuck. I might as well just keep going".
— Rehab centers. So, you went to rehab. First time, I'm gonna say didn't work. I don't know if that's the right phraseology. Didn't break the spell. Many people will say, "If that person only just go to rehab".
— Walk through what's rehab like for the drug addict?
— Each time, I went to rehab about four times and each time I learned something. Each time I detoxed. Each time I learned something. It wasn't that the rehab didn't work, it's that I didn't work...
— The tools that I learned from the rehab.
— Oh, yeah.
— So, that is the biggest key. Rehab can clean someone up, get them clean and dust them off. But once you leave, you've got to then practice the principles you've learned. You've got to develop a relationship with God. You've got to find a community of people who are gonna support you in this journey. And if you don't, you're gonna end up back relapsing. And so that's what I did. Each of those things were important experiences for me to finally reach my bottom. Because people will often ask, "What treatment center did you go to where you finally got it"? As though that treatment center has that magical formula.
— Right, right.
— And it doesn't. All of them, a good friend of mine and a mentor once said in recovery, he said, "Richie, your bottom happens when you stop digging".
— And that's the key to recovery. Once someone wants to get clean and they stop digging, it works when you work it.
— In your book you talk about finding yourself upside down in a car on a bridge, if I remember correctly, what happened?
— Yeah, I was just on my way back to a halfway house, that I was living at at the time and just had gotten this car. Hit a little wet patch, it started to fishtail, flipped about three of four times, totally took out a telephone pole and I had some drugs in my pocket. And often I've heard other people experienced this. When you're often people are upside down in their car and they don't realize it, they're so kind of just out of it, until they hit that seatbelt and they fall out. And that's what happened to me. And the first thing that went through my mind was not, "I'm upside down in the car," or "man, I'm glad I'm not dead," or, it was, "man, where are my drugs"? And I just started patting down through the car, broken glass everywhere, cut myself up and that's all I cared about, that's all I thought about.
— Yeah, that's addiction isn't it, right there. As I read your book, I kept reading about this young woman who'd agreed to marry you and I'd read a little further on in the book and I'd say, "Well, I'll be buffaloed. She's still with him". And I'd read a little further in the book, expecting to turn the page and, "My wife left and we were divorced and that's that". But it didn't come to that. How in the world did your marriage survive?
— That's a long story in and of itself. But by the grace of God and hard work is the way that we made through it.
— It has to be a testament to the power of prayer, the grace of God. And it's gotta say something about that woman who walked down the aisle to meet you that day.
— What an amazing thing.
— She stayed, supportive and committed and was there for me. When I came back after treatment the last time, I didn't know if she was gonna be at the airport there to pick me up, because the last time we saw each other was a bad situation. And she was there. And it doesn't happen overnight. Healing takes time.
— But we both became willing to get the help that we needed.
— I don't wanna take this anywhere you don't wanna go, but I'm gonna ask you this question, "Why'd she stay"? And here's the preface for this question. Because you'd been in and out of rehab and in and out of jail, you'd tried so many times. It hasn't worked out so many times. But each time she just hung in there a little bit longer. I don't know and I don't know that you make this explicit in the book, but as I think back, this is the unknowable. I'm thinking, "Would Richie ever have got clean and sober, if she'd left? Or would that have just been one more shattering of your world". Would there have been less to go back to? So, I wonder, but why didn't she just say, "I'm done" and walk away?
— I have often said, "If I was married to me, I would have left me".
— I would have, too. Just so you know.
— Yeah, I mean, I would have. But Brittany often has told me that when I was in active addiction that was not the person she married. And she knew that.
— Right, right, okay.
— She knew that. We had good times.
— Early in our relationship where I was not to that extreme, when we were rebaptized together. When we enjoyed our first two kids and their birth together and so she knew the real Richie.
— Yeah, that's important and I think this is something that people really need to know. That the real, you've just got to discover that real person if there's hope of bringing that real person out again. Yeah, I didn't want to cut you off, I think you have more to say, but that's such an important point, I think.
— It's huge. And super important. What's interesting is in addiction, if addiction doesn't get a marriage, often what's really weird is recovery will. And the reason this is, is because when couples are in active addiction, even the spouse that is not the addict, they've been lied to so much. They've been deceived. There's so much anger and there can be the potential of such resentment.
— That sometimes even when the addict or the alcoholic gets clean and begins working a program, the spouse needs to deal with that pain and all of that that happens. And sometimes you marry the addict or the alcoholic. You're used to them being that way, you can't deal with this new person who's actually working a program and changing. And so, that's kinda like two strikes, against a relationship when it comes to addiction. It's not easy, but my relationship's proof, you can do it if both couples are willing to get the kind of help and support that they need to deal with those past pains and hurts.
— Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have a couple more questions about this, but I'm looking to get to the, I mean, from a jail cell to a pulpit, some people might say that's not a great leap, but I think in all reality, that's a quantum leap. So, we wanna to get to that how in the world did that happen? But, take me to I think it's Idaho, last rehab, flew all the way out there. Was there anything different this time? What was it that flipped the switch in your mind that allowed you to say, "Okay," this time?
— One good thing was I was at that treatment longer than any other treatment.
John Bradshaw: Okay.
— What's a struggle for a lot of families and just the dealing with insurance companies and all that fun stuff is often, you'll get into rehab and they'll approve maybe five days, six days, a week.
— Ten days. And that's just not enough when an addict's been using every day for 10, 15 years. So, I insisted and my family insisted, on 28 days a bare minim of that.
— You insisted?
— I did. I insisted at that point, because I knew it was either get clean or die.
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
— And so, my family probably insisted a little bit more than I did, but I knew I needed a longer time.
— So, you didn't go into the 28 days kicking and screaming? You were okay with that idea.
— No, I really had no other options at the time. I was kicked out of the halfway house. Brittany said, "You can't come back until your clean". So, I'm living out of my car and my family said, "Hey, we're gonna, we'll send you to treatment one last time".
— I'm really interested in why it mattered. Because when you're upside down in the car and you're saying, "Where are my drugs"? You weren't concerned about getting clean then. So, what happened that now there's a greater, there's something greater in your life than your next hit?
— Right. It was because I did reach this point. Well, several things. I had gotten another felony charge for prescription fraud. I had a warrant out for my arrest from Nashville, Tennessee, Davidson County. So, I had talked to the sheriff and they had told me, "You've got to turn yourself in". And so, all these things. I'd like to say all my motivations were pure, but to get as far away from Nashville as I could.
— Was also because I had a warrant for my arrest and I knew I had to get clean, before I went before the judge.
— Yeah, okay.
— So, there was that element as well. But there was a deep hunger in my heart. I knew if I didn't change that I was gonna die. And I remember that first night there at that treatment center in a little town of Gooding, Idaho, I was on the verge of contemplating, in the program we call it stinking thinking. I started thinking of how I could go con and get some drugs and go use. And I'm in the middle of nowhere. The nearest next town is miles away. And I remember I was going and I was out in the hall. It was late at night and I was looking out at the door and I thought and I remember and it seems audible, but in my mind God really spoke to my heart, whether it was audible or not. And He said, "Richie, if you go out that door you're gonna die. But if you give Me your life I'll rescue you and I'm gonna use you in a way you wouldn't believe," and so that first night, which was actually New Year's Eve, a lot of clean dates on New Year's Day. There's not a lot of clean dates for New Year's Eve.
— Right, right, for sure, yeah.
— You spent that New Year's Eve, unlike any New Year's Eve you could remember.
— And I prayed for the first time in a long time and I surrendered my life to God. I started to listening to what the people in the treatment center were telling me. And I was prepared to give it another try.
— When you walked out of there did you say in your mind, "That's it, it's done, I'm new"? Or did you walk out of there thinking, "Phew, this is a long road and one step at a time"?
— Exactly that. I knew it was gonna take time. I stepped out of that facility scared.
John Bradshaw: Yeah.
— Because I didn't trust myself.
— Probably the first time you felt that kind of fear in many years, a good, healthy fear.
— A good, healthy fear. And people told me, it's a good thing. When people walk out and they think, "Oh, I got this thing licked," that's when you see them again in a year or two. And that's how I was when I first went in. But, yeah, I had a healthy fear and I knew I needed a lot of help and support.
— You came home from there? Where did you go from Gooding?
— Yeah, I flew home from there. And my wife was waiting for me, to pick me up and bring me home.
— How long was it once you got home. You arrived at home on, we're gonna call that day one, how long was it until you really started to feel like not "I've got this beaten," I don't mean that kind of, what may even be careless. But how many days in were you before you started to feel like, "This could work"? Or maybe it was as soon as you got home you felt that?
— Yeah, I would say, even when I was still in treatment, I was loving recovery. I was loving being clean. And I had really made up my mind, "I never wanna use again".
— So when I got home, I was dedicated to working a program of recovery. And I would have stood on my head if they had told me. And so I practiced all the principles. If I used every day, I needed some recovery every day. I needed to be around people who had been where I was and that could be there to help me, who were once addicts like me, but were now successful doctors, lawyers, people who've, and I needed a program who understood addiction. I needed to develop that prayer life, to begin that Bible study again. To reacquaint myself with the God that I used to know. And that had to become a daily, that was my medicine. And so every day I'd go to meetings, 12-step meetings. Every day I would go, I started going back to church. And just started really and that by working it, I was daily surrendering to a new way of life.
— You have met people who have been addicted let's say to smoking. And they prayed. God took it away.
— I don't know that I've met too many people that have had the same experience with alcohol, but that's conceivable. They were hooked on alcohol, God, prayed, took it away. I don't how many skeptics you've met, but over the years I've met some people who are a little skeptical of 12-step programs. Why is recovery or a recovery program important? Why don't you just pray and let God just take it away?
— Where 12 steps and there's a lot of misinformation out there, about 12 steps, but 12 steps is a very, first of all it was developed on biblical principles.
— The 12 steps are based on biblical principles, but it is written and the programs developed, so that it can reach anybody regardless of faith, to very simply introduce these biblical concepts to people who may be a little kind of weary of faith at first. And so, for that, it just really simplifies that process. I would say anybody, even people who pray and I've seen that happen. My grandfather struggled with alcoholism. He's an alcoholic. And one day he prayed, was baptized and he never touched the alcohol again. So that happens. And I'm not judging anybody's experience. But I know what I needed. And often pretty advanced cases of addiction, they do need that 12-step fellowship because, they have the identification with people who've struggled like them and it breaks down these steps that we can practice that really bring recovery. There's a difference, between not using and actually recovering.
— There's a saying in AA, they call an alcoholic that doesn't work a program, but just doesn't drink a dry drunk. They're just as miserable as they, they're more miserable than when they were drinking, they just don't drink. So, the 12 steps is to aim at honesty. Denial and dishonesty was where my addiction took me. So, I'm got to get honest. I've got to get real. I have to admit that I have a problem. And hope, I have to believe something can change. Faith, I have to have faith that there is a power greater than me that can help me. And so, through this process, recovery is possible. So, it's not as bad as some of the different ideas and myths and things that I've heard and I can honestly say it really saved my life. I'm not saying it is for absolutely everybody, but if someone's struggling with addiction, I would definitely give it a try.
— Yeah, I think what a lot of people don't realize is, let's just say for example, the addiction was taken away, what then? What tools do you have to reeducate yourself, keep you focused, keep you on the right path? There's a whole lot more to this story and I can't wait to get to it, because what in the world happened in Richie's life that he went from rehab to preaching the gospel and inviting people to give their life to Jesus? We'll find out more, "Our Conversation" continues in just a moment.
— Welcome back to "Conversations". My guest is Pastor Richie Halversen. This is his book, "Darkness Will Not Overcome". There's a fair chance you have seen it around. Maybe you've read it. If you haven't, it's time to. It is a wonderful read. One person's struggle and recovery from opioids. I went to my office to grab the book to bring it here and then I realized I had to call Richie and say, "Could your bring a book," because I didn't have time to go to the bookstore and I'd give my copy away. I knew that this is just what somebody needed and it has been a blessing already. So, Richie, childhood addiction, recovery, ministry. Now, I don't know if we can, I'm sure we can string that together really quickly. What happened? You came out. You must have got a job, you must have got working some place, that's right. But that's still not pastoral ministry. So, let's talk just for a minute or so. You got your feet on your ground. Started enjoying and experiencing a family life. Started working and bringing home a regular paycheck. What did life start to feel like?
— Oh, it was great. Often I would say that my worst day in recovery is far better than my best day using. I was experiencing life again and it was wonderful. Responsible, holding down a job, working, went back to college and started working on my under-grad. And so, it was awesome. Loved it, enjoyed it.
— You're back in church now?
— Back in church, supporting the ministries there. Ordained as a deacon and ordained as an elder. And then really just got involved in my local church.
— Somebody suggested to you, "You might wanna think about ministry". Is that what happened?
— Yeah, and I had heard that throughout my life.
— But I had started working for a company, actually Wilks Publications and they printed a lot of great Christian material. "Happiness Digest" and different books that were just really great, about people developing a relationship with God. And, so I started working for that. And I started having a lot of ministry ideas, evangelism ideas and I loved it because I could be involved in evangelism on some level, but it still wasn't quite where I felt like God wanted me to be. And I just kept having this kind of tug at my heart that pastoral ministry was where I needed to be, although I just had felt like that bridge, that ship had sailed.
— Yeah, yeah, yeah. But, so what happened?
— So, I finished up my undergrad and it was in corporate communications, Bachelor's in PR and Corporate Communications and I remember reaching out to a good friend of mine, whose father worked for the Gulf States Conference, one of the church organizations. And I had reached out to him and saying, "Hey, I just finished my degree". Asked him if the conference maybe had anything for a communications person.
— Right, yeah.
— Still not thinking ministry is an option. And we just talked, didn't think much of it. And, no joke, the next day his father calls me and says, "Hey, Richie, Chris told me you're interested in being a pastor". And so, I never had mentioned that. I never had said anything. Maybe Chris read between the lines and he heard that. I claim that verse where the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
— And, God answered that prayer. So, I very quickly responded, "Yes, absolutely". And so, man, the next, like a week later, I'm on my way down to Montgomery, Alabama with my wife and my family and interviewing for a pastoral position. I had been, at this point, I have probably been clean for about seven years.
— And, so I was excited and I felt like this was where the Lord wanted me to be.
— I wonder what's going through your wife's mind? The memory of where you've been, it's probably fresher in her mind than it in yours. What do you think was going through her mind when she's driving with her husband to an interview to be a minister of the gospel, when not many years ago, she didn't know if you were dead or alive?
— Yeah, they often say that when God puts a calling on the pastor, he puts a calling on the spouse too and...
— Was that your experience?
— It was absolutely. Now, there were definitely some conversations and some, "Wow, I didn't realize that I married a pastor".
John Bradshaw: Sure.
— "What did I sign up for"?
— But, Brittany saw God's calling on my life and she supported that.
— So, now you're involved in full-time ministry. This was how many years ago that you got your first job as a pastor?
— Okay, it's been about 12 years.
— Yeah, you're an old timer now. All right, now you're pastoring in Cleveland, Tennessee. What is it that you love about ministry? I don't mean just one thing, but what fires you up about ministry?
— It's seeing lives change. That's really it in a nutshell, is seeing lives change. I love seeing the light go on in people's eyes. I love people realize that there is hope, things can get better. And I love to be able to introduce the Savior, who saved my life to other people. And so for me, I'm just passionate about that. I love talking about the good news with other individuals. And in going through recovery and my experience and 12 steps and just my experience with dealing with addiction and rehab, it's blessed my ministry, because it's allowed me to be able to develop discipleship and connect with people on a certain level. And I see this sense of when people, when I tell my story, people see that identification and they say, "You know what, man, if he struggled with this and now he's doing this, maybe God can get ahold of my life or someone I love". And so I just love that part of ministry.
— How often do you meet church members who will tell you your story, your experience has encouraged them, because they know this person or that person?
— Yeah, every weekend, I have someone coming up to me, I have a different person who reaches out to me and wherever I go and preach, there will be a group of people who have either heard my story or family who want me to pray for their child or their family member who is struggling with addiction. And that's where my heart is, is for people just to let them know, there is hope. We can recover.
— Yeah, and that was the statement I was just about to use, I want you to elaborate on that. There's hope, isn't there? Whether the person's a drug addict or addicted to something else or angry or a thief or doing jail time for sheep stealing, whatever the case might be, cattle thieves. Is there a single person that there is no hope for?
— Nope. There is not a single person that is hopeless. If God got ahold of me He can get ahold of anyone.
— Have you seen many stories in ministry, tell me about an experience if you can, someone that other people might have thought, "She's hopeless, he's hopeless," you saw something in that person and boom, God did something great.
— Yeah, that happens, actually often. It seems the people, I think, "Yeah, you know, they get this, and got it all together". Sometimes they don't make it. And the ones I think, "Boy, they're not gonna last," they're the ones that last. I think we just can't write people off. And I'm seen a lot of people just be willing to surrender to a new way of life. To recognize, "What I've been doing hasn't been working". And become willing to listen to someone else for a change and to just start practicing some different principles that can bring about a change in someone's life. And I love it. I love seeing that happen in people's lives. And it doesn't, it's not just drug addiction.
— I mean, I just saw a statistic for pornography addiction among church-going males it's just a frightening statistic. And when they study brain chemistry, the neural pathways that are developed from pornography addiction, look a lot like the neural pathways developed by a drug addict. It's this brain chemistry, these endorphins that kick in and you develop these neural pathways that make it easier and easier to just use. You do it without even thinking. And so, you can practice these principles in my story and that's what I encourage my church, to apply it to your life. No, you may not struggle with drugs, but maybe you struggle with pride.
— Maybe you struggle with anger, temper. Maybe you struggle with lust. Maybe you struggle with, everybody struggles with something. And God can rescue you from that struggle.
— Is there anything churches can do intentionally, well, I suppose the answer must be yes, but what can churches do, without throwing the baby out with the bath water, to be a congregation of believers that's welcoming for struggling souls. Now, every single person says, "That's my church," and most of them are lying, knowingly or otherwise. "That's my church". But you and I have both been to a hundred churches where no one says hello, no one gives a rip, there's nothing going on there. If the church disappeared from off the face of the planet, nobody would even know. What can a congregation that and I don't mean tear up their hymnals and just burn the thing down. What do you do to make your congregation a place where Joe, the wicked sinner, can stable in off the street and say, "I feel like, I feel like this could be my home"? What do you do?
— Yeah, that's good. I think that God loves us just the way we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way.
— So, I think creating a really safe environment for broken people to come and be able to admit, "I'm messed up. I'm struggling with this". And I think that's where we've struggled at times as a church, is that maybe and not every church, I don't mean to stereotype every church. But like you said, there are some churches where they're not safe places for people to go, where people don't feel like they can get honest, about their problem, that if they do, they'll get punished for it.
— Or be looked at in a certain way. So, I think that's the first step. One of the things that we, even I do as a pastor, I know what recovery takes and I know what someone needs to do to get clean. But got so many hats I wear and I'm so busy that I can't personally attend to every person who comes who needs help. So, I have identified an individual in my church who is familiar with recovery, who's familiar with addiction, who is also a part of the church, so they're aware of what the church teaches and there's not gonna be teachings that are way off base or unbiblical. And she is my liaison that I will, when someone reaches out to me, I pray for them and then I send them to her. And she gives them that more one-on-one continual, "Okay, you need to go to treatment and here are some options. You need to check this out, check this out". And so that's a great resource. So, finding someone in your church who maybe is in recovery. I bet you have someone in your church that's in recovery and making them kind of your person you lean on or you send people to do who show up your church who struggle. I think that's another great thing that you can do as well. And I think educating people on addiction. Just things like this, having someone speak on these subjects at your church is important.
— Because there are people all around us who struggle with A, B, C, D or E or maybe A, B, C, D and E. If we're going to minister to people, again not stereotyping, but it's really easy to build a church in our own image. It's for us, we do it so that we'll feel comfortable and so that our back is getting scratched, most of the time. But church isn't just for me and you. Really, who's it for? Isn't it for the people, I don't wanna say out there, but the people outside the walls of the church who don't know Jesus yet? How are they ever gonna get to know the Christ of the Bible if we don't in some way make them feel at home, inside our walls.
— Yeah. I mean, we have to do that and recognize that just as God met people where they were, we have to meet people where they are. We don't embrace what they're doing and justify it and say it's right and enable that destructive behavior, but we love them right where they are and we begin working with them, recognizing that we don't need to give them, everything all at once. Let's meet them right where they are, let's give them what they need right there in that moment and then over a longer period of time we'll grow together. And that's what discipleship's all about.
— Now speaking of growing. I might have wanted to ask you this question at the beginning. Maybe we'll have to dig into this in part two someday. You know a thing or two about growing churches, because churches you have been associated with grown. We talk about church growth as though it's rocket science or quantum physics. I don't know that it really is. In your estimation and your experience, what does it take to grow a church? I mean simple principles. This isn't a church growth seminar in two-and-a-half minutes. But if we want our churches to grow, where should we be aiming?
— I think having your church become a safe place for anybody to come and encounter the gospel. Sometimes we feel like we've got to entertain people. People don't want to be entertained, they want their lives to be changed. And we have such a powerful message, such a full gospel, that doesn't just affect one part of your life, but every facet of your life. And we don't need to shy away from that, but we need to share it in just a very Christ-centered way that makes people feel welcome, not less than, but feel welcome, like, "Man, that's what I want in my life". And that's what I've tried to do in developing at my churches and also doing regular events, whether it be for the community or evangelistic. Proclaiming the gospel in a public form. I do those on regular, systematic basis.
— And just to get that Word. Jesus said, "If I am lifted up, I will draw people to Myself". So, that's what we do. We try to lift Jesus up as much as we can in the community where we are and God does the rest.
— Again, another profoundly important question that I've left us far too little time for. God has done something great in your life. Every new day is something great from God, but nevertheless, in the context of what we've been talking, about there's something great. Who is God to you? Who is Jesus in your life? And what does the gospel mean to you?
— God is love. He is my heavenly Father who is, I love the prodigal story, who's always looking for His son and the second He sees His son open up to coming home, He rushes to him. He doesn't wait for him to get to the porch before He loves him, He runs to him. And that's what the gospel did, it ran to me. Christ came and found me. He's that true older brother. The older brother should have left the father's home and gone and found his younger brother.
— And that's what Christ did for me. And He found me in the pig-sty of life and He picked me up and He turned me around and He set my feet on solid ground. And so, that is the good news for me, that God loves me just the way I am. But He loves me too much to leave me that way.
— Richie, our time is done. It passed by far too quickly. Thanks for coming and taking your time to share with us. It's been a blessing for me and to many others. Thanks so much.
— John, thank you so much for having me, it's been awesome.
— Yeah, thank you. And there's something I'd like you to do, I'd like you to get a copy of this book. You can get it from us at It Is Written or wherever you find books like this. "Darkness Will Not Overcome," Richie Halversen, "One person's struggle and recovery from opioids". It's gonna encourage you, it will educate you and you'll have it in your hands to share with somebody else who'll be helped by what's written in these pages. Thank you again for joining us. He's Richie Halversen, I'm John Bradshaw. This has been "Our Conversation".