When Jaco Burger was a young Jesus-follower — just two years out of school — the first three verses of Isaiah 61 were spoken prophetically over him.
He was 43 and recovering his broken life in a Port Elizabeth alcohol rehabilitation centre, when Isaiah’s words about setting captives free first began to speak to his heart.
Today, a little more than two years later, the message of hope and restoration in Jesus Christ that is at the heart of those verses, provide inspiration to Burger in his discipleship ministry to addicts.
He says Christ is at the centre of ‘Recovered Devotee’ the wellness and discipleship group he co-founded earlier this year as a result of rededicating his life to Jesus while at the Christian-based Welbedacht rehabilitation centre.
“I believe that nothing or no-one else can set us free: only Jesus,” said Burger. He said ‘Recovered Devotee’, is run by former addicts who are passionate about Jesus and about helping anybody who is bound by an addiction to alcohol or drugs. They are available to help anybody, regardless of religion or culture, but they will do their best to lead all those they help into a relationship with Jesus, he said.
Burger is adamant that his own slide into alcohol addiction and the consequent breakdown of his marriage and family life were a direct consequence of his years of backsliding in which he allowed offences and bitterness to rob him of his relationship with Jesus. Ironically his problems began to escalate at a time of financial success when his horticultural business was thriving. He began drinking to cope with work pressure but his drinking developed into a serious problem. His wife, Anne- Mari ‘kicked him out’ of their house in May 2011 and instituted divorce proceedings. After failed attempts to control his drinking he sought help and eventually ended up at Welbedacht. On the day of his discharge from rehabilitation, Anne-Mari invited him to come home and see if they could restore their marriage. They are still together.
During weekly aftercare group sessions he attended at Welbedacht after his discharge, he listened to the stories of past and present patients, and realised there is a huge need for people to experience aftercare outside of the formal rehabilitation centre environment. He also became aware of the great need to help people to rebuild family relationships and trust that were broken as a result of their addictions. He said that former addicts who manage to restore their family relationships have the best chance of staying sober.
Today ‘Recovered Devotee’ runs a Wednesday aftercare discipleship group for former addicts, most of whom have been through the Welbedacht programme. They listen to each other and focus on helping members build strong, personal relationships with Jesus. One of their foundational strategies is to make sure that members understand the character and the Father heart of the God to whom they pray. Self-forgiveness and dealing with personal baggage are other foundational issues that are dealt with on the road to lasting freedom.
They also address groups such as schools and churches to raise awareness of the alcohol and substance abuse problem.
“I think we will be surprised to know the number of Christians who are in trouble because of addictions and substance abuse and misuse. I think we so easily blame our heritage, and say that we come from a family that struggles with addiction: but I don’t think there is one family in South Africa that has not been affected by addiction,” Burger said.
“The other thing I have realised is that addiction doesn’t ask any questions: who you are, in what family you grew up, what your background is, if you are a Christian or not, the amount of money you bring into the household, what car you drive, or your work title. It doesn’t ask any of those questions. Its only aim is to destroy you.”
The awareness outreaches provide opportunities to equip people such as teachers to help children who confide in addiction problems in their homes. With the increasing problem of young addicts it also provides an opportunity to warn children of the danger and to hopefully deter some of them from falling prey to addiction.
Burger said ‘Recovered Devotee’ is ready to come alongside anybody who is affected by addiction. This includes spouses or ‘significant others’ of addicts “who are often crying desperately for help”, people who think they may have a problem with substances, and “the guys who are on their knees and know they are in the bottom of the pit but they don’t know how to get out”. He said everybody caught up in the web of addiction needs to hear the message of hope of Isaiah 61 — that there is freedom in Christ for captives, that the time of the Lord’s favour has come. They also need practical help which his team can provide directly or by referring them to professionals.
Burger said anybody in the Port Elizabeth/Uitenhage area who needs help with addiction problems is welcome to contact ‘Recovered Devotees’ via their Facebook page (www.facebook.com/recovered.devotee), by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling him at 082 441 7583.