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Reformed Addict Ministers To Users

By Don Burgess

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EVEN though his friends died because of their drug addictions, Max Riley refused to give up his habit. Even though it caused his wife to face a lengthy drug trial in Bermuda in 1989, he loved cocaine more then he loved her. But finally, he had had enough. He turned his life over to God and his 25-year addiction was gone in an instant.

Now Mr. Riley is the chief executive officer of the non-profit Fellowship Deliverance Ministries, located just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. There, he and his wife Rebecca, help men and their families beat the drug habit.

It's a remarkable turnaround for a man that once made sure his drug purchases came first and family needs came second.

Mr. Riley's drug problems started in 1969 when he began smoking marijuana.

"As a child I was sort of interested in drugs. I didn't realize how serious it was, but I just got deeper and deeper involved. That's why I urge the young people not to get interested in drugs and to stay as far away as possible because it's a short trip to Hell."

After five years of smoking weed, he no longer got as great a high from it and started doing cocaine. Mr. Riley saw friends die from their drug addictions but, "It didn't make a whole lot of difference because the drug is so powerful. The thing is, you have to ask yourself, 'Do you want to live or die?'"

There were times he tried to quit, only to relapse into his habit. The addiction strained his marriage to the limit.

"One day I woke up and realized I was hooked on this drug and tried to figure out a way to kick it, but I just couldn't do it on my own strength.

"It became my priority over my bills, over my family and over everything else. I did manage to pay my bills, but I had to get my drugs first and used whatever was left over to take care of my business.

"It even drove a wedge between my family. It will separate you from your family because the things that you're doing do not involve them."

The worst came in 1989 when Mrs. Riley was put on trial in Bermuda for drug offences that were a result of Mr. Riley's addiction. She was cleared of all charges, but with Mr. Riley living in the U.S. and advised by lawyers not to come back to the island, the two-year trial became a lengthy separation for the couple.

Even after the trial, Mr. Riley continued to do drugs, but his wife had had enough. She prayed to God and said she would stick by her husband for two more years. However, if he still had a drug problem at that point, she was going to pack her bags and leave him.

"There comes a point in your life when you have had enough and that you want to come out of this addiction, but you can't do it on your own. You have to rely on God because he is the only one that can bring you through it.

"I tried to quit many, many times, but I tried on my own. Finally, when I hit rock bottom, I cried out to God and he heard my prayer and honoured it to help get me off drugs. It took me a long time to realize it because I thought I enjoyed it, but it was stripping me of my pride and stripping me of my dignity. After all my troubles, when I turned to God, it was like an instant healing. I gave it to God and He took it, never for it to come back again."

Mr. Riley said God gave him a mission to help others beat their drug addiction and that's why he started Fellowship Deliverance Ministries. The group opened a second facility last Friday and now has 56 beds to minister to drug addicts.

Mr. Riley said: "It's an organization to help men regain control of their lives and remain free of substance abuse. It is also provides a place of refuge for the homeless and a place of safety for the despondent.

"Men come to us for aid during times of crises. We provide help for their hurt through loving fellowship, aid for their physical needs for food, shelter and employment and guidance for the repair of their lives through ministering the word of God.

"I had a 25-year drug addiction and God delivered me from it. Because of my sobriety today, God has laid it upon my heart to help others. He gave me the vision of how to do it and I made a vow to help those people who other people don't think will amount to anything."

Mr. Riley said his struggle with drug addiction has given him special insight as to what a person has to deal with when they are under its influence.

"How can you minister to a drug addict if you don't know his deep, dark secrets and where he comes from and what type of environment that he really, really lives in? I've been there and I've mastered it having been out there on the streets. I know there's a connection between me and the guys that are out there on the street. It makes a difference when you've been there yourself."

Mrs. Riley ministers to the families of drug addicts. She advises women not to stay with their husbands, especially the abusive ones.

"When he got in the mood to do drugs, I had to get in the mood to suffer," she said. "I had to wonder when he was going to come home. So a mood would come over me the same time he went into a mood. He could have some big mood swings."

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Pastors Maxwell & Rebecca Riley

She added: "I learned what it meant to live with a drug addict. I was a born-again Christian before he was, so I learned to hold onto God because He had revealed that we were going to be involved in a ministry. I had to hold onto that, because I knew He could do it.

"That's what kept me going," she said. "I wouldn't advise other women to do that because my strength came from God and they might not have that strength. (Max) would never beat on me, but he was a verbal abuser. (Living with a drug addict) is a hard road for women ­ for wives and mothers. It is a very devastating road to travel.

"I wouldn't advise anyone to stay in there because I stayed in there. I had a purpose because I was a born- again believer. If you're not a born-again believer and not able to trust God, then you're not going to be able to stand in there."

She added: "I would suggest that if you have anyone doing drugs, that you turn your back on them because they are more likely to get help then. Even though you love them, you have to love them enough to turn them loose and let go so they will be able to get some help."

What often happens, Mrs. Riley said, is that many addicts know there is somebody at home to return to, a crutch they can rely on. What they need, is to have no one to turn to but God.

It was a relief for her when Mr. Riley gave his life up. An emotional Mrs. Riley had her eyes tear up as she said: "I knew some day he would be a soldier in the army for the Lord, because he was soldier for the Devil. I knew that goodness would outweigh it some day. He's doing exactly what the Lord said he would do."

Mr. Riley did not take credit for his turn around. He said: "You can't do it without Christ. There's no other way to keep your sobriety. Christ has to be your foundation. Without God, you're not going to make it. It's going to take you to hit rock bottom and give it all to God so he can bring you out and give you the substance and the power you need to remain clean.

He continued: "Thank God my life was spared. God thought enough of me to spare my life. He didn't have to do it. I could have been dead and gone because some of my friends and associates are dead and gone. I just thank God for seeing me through. I say that if there's anything you want out of life, seek God first and he'll supply all your needs."

Mr. Riley said Isaiah 61:1 has been a source of inspiration for him.

It reads: "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound."

Mr. Riley said: "God has given me such a peace and joy. He has given me direction to help others. He has taken control of my life. Without Him I know that I will never amount to anything without Christ."

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Copyright 2001, Fellowship Deliverance Ministries, Inc.