An old proverb advises, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” That is especially true for men and women desperate for recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. For Matthew James, however, that “first step” meant an exhausting walk to The Salvation Army in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—more than seven miles away!
“I had no car, no money for bus fare, and no friend to take me to the Army’s program where I was determined to get the help I really needed,” Matthew says. “Nothing was going to stop me, so I began walking.”
Opposition to his goal was immediate.
“I walked out of the ‘trap house’ where I was staying and getting my regular fix, and one of the dealers got in my face for a block or two trying to get me to turn around.”
But Matthew was resolute. Literally carrying everything he owned, Matthew knew the seven-mile trek before him would be hard. Looking back, he realizes that the Holy Spirit was with him as he put each foot in front of the other.
“All I had was in a laundry back and whatever I could carry in my arms,” he says, “and every now and then I dropped a few items simply because I couldn’t carry everything for so long. But I was determined not to stop, even if it meant leaving what little possessions I had behind and lost forever.”
What spiraled Matthew to the depth he now found himself took about ten years. A string of deaths and depression caused him to sink lower and lower into forms of addiction.
At 16 he found his mother dead, and that experience was so traumatic he began using alcohol to help him cope. When he turned 22, his beloved grandmother died—and his drinking got worse, only this time he began depending on heroin as well. By the time he was 27, his grandfather passed, and by then only crack cocaine helped him forget.
“It was the worst mistake in a series of ‘worse mistakes’ I made,” he admits. He was “out of control” and realized something drastic needed to be done.
It took Matthew a good part of the day to walk the seven miles to the Army’s recovery center. As soon as he entered the foyer, he dropped into a chair in exhaustion.
Matthew likens his testimony to the parable of the prodigal son recorded in Luke 15:11-32. When the son “comes to his senses” while literally wallowing in a pig sty, he got to his feet and began the long walk back to his father’s house.
The first step of a thousand-mile journey, perhaps.
“We’re not told how far he had to walk,” Matthew says. “The Bible just states that ‘he went to a far-away country’ so it’s a sure bet the distance he had to walk was a lot more than seven miles. But to me, it seemed my walk was just as far,” he adds, chuckling.
When the son finally reaches the father, Christ’s parable continues, he falls into his dad’s arms exhausted from the trip. Matthew explains that he felt that same relief when he stumbled into the foyer chair. He was home. He knew he’d made the life-saving decision.
Immediately admitted into the Army’s CSRC (Corps Salvage & Rehabilitation Center) program, one of the first things Matthew enrolled in was every Bible study courses offered.
“I couldn’t get enough,” Matthew exclaims, “and the more I learned about God’s Word, the more healing I experienced.” Oddly, his anger and the cravings for alcohol and drugs disappeared, and he adds, “it doesn’t work that quickly for everyone, but it did for me. I believe with all my heart that God took all that stuff away!”
After graduating from the CSRC program, Matthew remains as an employee. He manages the Army’s emergency shelter, also located on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge. He also feels a calling to minister to others in the same way he was rescued.
“I never want to loose sight of who I used to be and what I can now become—all because of Christ’s redemptive work and the power of the Holy Spirit,” he says.
Matthew’s corps officer, Major Donald Tekautz, has been witnessing a profound change in the young man’s life.
“Matthew has a hunger for God’s Word and it has revolutionized his life!” The major says, beaming.
Major Frank Duracher is a retired Salvation Army officer who soldiers at the High Point, North Carolina Corps. As an active officer he served as corps officer in several divisions, a divisional officer and in editorial work at USA National Headquarters and Australia. He is also the author of two books: Smoky Mountain High and Now You Know.