To beat addiction, path to freedom is spiritual

Founder of sober-living program in Ohio has special concern for men in plain Anabaptist communities

Jul 16, 2018 by and

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For Paul Fehr, addiction to drugs began with rejection, but an encounter with Christ helped him overcome that bondage. Now he’s the executive director of Operation 6:12, a Christian residential program in Sugarcreek, Ohio, for men seeking freedom from addiction.

Growing up, Fehr felt out of place in his Amish community, which his father had become part of after being abandoned by his biological parents at 5 years old.

Operation 6:12 addiction recovery program graduates, from left, Steven Beachy, Wayne Byler, Loren Borntrager and Sone Rassavong gather after a prevention meeting on May 29 in Middlebury, Ind. — Operation 6:12

Operation 6:12 addiction recovery program graduates, from left, Steven Beachy, Wayne Byler, Loren Borntrager and Sone Rassavong gather after a prevention meeting on May 29 in Middlebury, Ind. — Operation 6:12

“As with all sin, [addiction] begins with rejection,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that all people with addiction have bad homes. I had very good parents. But I faced rejection in the community as a kid, and that propelled me toward my addiction.”

Fehr started using illegal drugs as a teenager until he found himself wanting freedom but unable to stop. According to his testimony on operation612.com, getting arrested after selling narcotics was the best thing that ever happened to him.

“I was overjoyed, and I started praising God right there in that jail cell for the opportunity to finally clean up my life,” he wrote.

He spent a year in prison and used that time to pray and grow closer to God. Seven years later, he started Operation 6:12, which takes its name from Eph. 6:12: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

The ministry is open to men from any or no religious background, but Fehr said he has a special burden for men in plain Anabaptist communities since that’s his background. At all times, he said, the 16-bed facility has at least one resident from a plain background.

Fehr said that in plain communities where most people are well-disciplined, an under-disciplined person can experience rejection from not conforming to community norms. On the other hand, an over-disciplined person may isolate himself out of fear of others’ condemnation.

In either case, social isolation can make life painful — even causing suicidal thoughts, and substances like alcohol and drugs may be sought to help numb that pain.

“In a healthy community setting where there is no rejection, it’s almost impossible for addiction to take a foothold,” he said.

But for those who are isolated, there is hope.

“Just like in any other community, sin is always the problem, and Jesus is always the answer,” he said.

A void in the heart

Chester Miller of Millersburg, Ohio, was addicted to alcohol and drugs for four years, beginning when he was 20. In his Amish community, he knew several people who used illegal drugs. One day, when he was having a rough week, he asked to try some, and kept coming back.

“I thought I’d found something to cover that void in my heart,” he said.

Though he grew up in a faith-centered community, Miller said he only went to church because his parents wanted him to, and he knew little about the Bible.

“Once I committed my life to Jesus when I went to 6:12, now I look forward to going to church,” he said.

Now Miller is focused on studying the Bible and growing closer to God.

“Growing up, I never had a Bible,” he said. “Now, since I committed my life to Jesus, I read the Bible a couple of nights a week, do Bible studies and go to [weekly] prayer night. I try to stay connected to Jesus and keep my life Christ-centered, because that’s the only thing that’s going to keep me sober.”

Program residents have their own church services they are required to attend. Program graduates who live nearby, as well as others who support the ministry, also attend. Fehr said he is a licensed pastor but declined to identify his denominational affiliation.

Operation 6:12 relies on donations, and its residents assist with maintenance while they live at the facility.

The program takes seven months to complete. It addresses both addiction recovery and spiritual growth, which Fehr believes cannot be separated.

“We don’t talk about people getting sober; we talk about finding freedom,” Fehr said. “You can’t find freedom outside of Jesus Christ; there just isn’t a way.”

Beyond substances

Plans include opening a similar facility for women and their children in Sturgis, Mich., and expanding the focus beyond substance addiction to address pornography addiction.

“That is something that absolutely has ravished the plain community,” Fehr said. “It’s more of a problem than drug addiction. . . . We’ve found community leaders are ready to talk about this. They want help with this. I think it’s our next step.”

He said it’s typically not talked about in “closed communities.”

“It’s embarrassing for someone to say, ‘I need help,’ especially if he has a wife,” he said. “We’ve got to take the stigma out of it.”

Miller recommends getting help with any addiction.

“There’s no shame in reaching out and changing your life,” he said. “6:12 is a brotherhood and wants to help. We’ll go through anything to help another addict.”


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