When is buying bread, taking a train or getting a hug from your mother nothing short of miraculous? When you’ve been set free from drug addiction.
The closest bread shop to the Exodus drug rehabilitation centre in Severskaya, Russia, is three and a half miles away. The journey through the brush must be made on foot, sometimes in temperatures as low as minus 30C.
But for Sveta, every step brings a greater sense of freedom and responsibility. The trek is a milestone on her road to healing.
“To a former addict, to be trusted is surprising. I was so proud when I was trusted to go to the shop by myself with seven roubles.”
Olga: one last chance
Olga, another woman at Severskaya, was used to being distrusted. At 24, she had been using drugs for half her life. Then she found out she was pregnant. “My mother hoped I would stop taking drugs when my daughter was born,” she said.
But when Olga didn’t quit, her mother said: “Olga, you mean nothing to me now. If you’ve chosen to die, then I can’t help you any more.”
Olga was living in Moscow and met someone at an Exodus centre there. “I realised it was the only choice I had if I wanted to live,” she recalled.
Exodus sends people to centres far away from home to distance them from familiar temptations. Olga had no money for a train ticket or rehab, so she had no choice but to ask her mother, who finally relented, saying: “I’ll give you enough for one month.” Olga was on her way.
The genesis of Exodus
A drug addict for more than 20 years, Sergey Oshchepkov found freedom from dependency through faith in Jesus. Wanting to help others experience that same freedom, Sergey and his wife Lilia opened the first Izhod (Exodus) drug rehabilitation centre in Krasnodar, southwest Russia in 2000.
Today there are 27 Exodus centres throughout Russia and beyond, each founded on the belief that liberty from drugs can be found in Jesus. Those who struggle with addiction are taught to study the Bible, to care for each other and to be an example to those who follow.
In six years, Exodus has seen God liberate more than 4,000 people from slavery to drugs. Many of those set free go on to open new centres and churches.
Alexei: from gangster to pastor
Most people who meet Alexei are surprised to learn that this friendly, witty Russian pastor used to be a gangster and hard-core drug user. Out of a ring of 12 friends, he is one of two survivors – the rest were lost to drugs and crime.
In 2001, Alexei became a Christian and spent a year and a half in the Exodus rehabilitation centre near his hometown of Krasnodar. Now he leads an Exodus church there. “Our mission today is to live up to the trust that we received from God to help set others free,” he explained.
Andrei: prisoner no more
The living testimonies of former addicts made a big impact on Andrei, whose own immersion into the world of drugs landed him in prison for 15 years.
“It started off as a pleasure,” he said, “Then it became a problem I couldn’t defeat.
“One day, the Exodus ministry came to my town and I saw them like a mirror image of me. They used the same slang, were streetwise. But there was a difference. I saw light shining through their eyes.
“One of them started talking to me. He said: ‘I know what you need. You don’t know how to fill in the vacuum in your heart.’ He invited me to try out the Exodus centre.”
When Andrei arrived at Severskaya, “I saw people who’d been set free – by God.
“The Bible, they said, is a guidebook for day-to-day life given to us by God. I understood that if I needed a manual to operate the TV remote control, I certainly needed one for my life. I tried living by the Bible.”
Andrei has seen his relationships with family and friends restored.
Mothers and daughters
For Olga, it has been nine months since her mother reluctantly put her on a train with money for one month of rehab. In that time, Olga has transformed into a sober, loving mother.
It wasn’t easy. Olga admitted: “I was tempted to leave but there was nothing to go back to – only death. I also stayed for the sake of my daughter.”
Olga’s mother has also become a Christian and the two have reconciled. Olga said: “There is freedom that can only be given by God. I’ve never had anything like this before – this love.”
Bread of life
Those who have made it to the other side of addiction know love should be shared. Sveta, for one, has come a long way since first being trusted to buy the day’s bread. As “older sister” to other women who are seeking to leave behind drug habits and the stealing and lying that feeds them, she now looks forward to the day when she can show them the way to the bread shop.
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