Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Willow Street quote of the day July 25, 2013

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IF I HAD A TWITTER account, I’d be tweeting this quote right now:

“When I get drunk and high, I get this weird intelligence going on.”

Be careful what you say when you walk past my Faribault home, where my office is located within feet of the sidewalk and my window is thrust wide open.

The above quote came directly from the mouth of a young woman moments ago as she chatted with a young man.

My comment on her statement is this:

“When you get drunk and high, you have no intelligence going on.”


Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


“I hated myself”: Journey to recovery through Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge April 30, 2013

A member of the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Choir sings a solo during a presentation on Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault.

A member of the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Choir rehearses his solo before a concert on Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault.

SHE’S FOUR MONTHS to graduation, this mother of four, this 13-year meth addict.

Jill speaks with passion, sharing her downward spiral into addiction and her remarkable recovery through Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. Her voice raw with emotion, Jill reveals how, as a single mom trying to raise a son and a daughter, who had cystic fibrosis, she gave her girl up for adoption. That pushed her over the edge.

Later, she would marry, have two more children and, eventually, her husband would enter treatment at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, a faith-based recovery program for those with drug and alcohol addictions. “I watched him turn into a godly man,” Jill says. “Our lives are unbelievable. We love each other. It’s amazing what God can do when He’s in your life. He restores.”

Praise and personal testimonies highlighted the choirs performance.

Praise and personal testimonies highlighted the choir’s performance.

By age 13, James from my community of Faribault, was smoking crank out of a light bulb. The son of a teacher and social worker, he had no direction or purpose in life. He was using and selling drugs and breaking into places. By age 22, he’d been to prison twice, had a son. “You try to manage and have as much fun as you can before you get locked up again,” he says.

He also used heroin. Then his brother died. “They’re thinking they’re going to bury two kids in the same month,” James says of his parents.

In 2011 he graduated from the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge treatment program. “I found God and feel God. I have the joy of the Lord.”

And then James shares more. He was once best friends with a 27-year-old Faribault man charged last week with first-degree attempted murder and first-degree and second-degree assault in an attack on his fiance, stabbed more than 30 times. She survived and is out of the hospital.

“Bad things happen…God sustains you,” this former addict says.

Heartbreaking and inspirational stories were shared.

A soloist performs with the choir.

Heidi, 22, the daughter of divorced parents and an alcoholic father, grew up in a small town. She started drinking, eventually wracked up two driving under the influence charges, was in and out of court-ordered treatment.

She turned to abusing prescription drugs, yet managed to go to college, even held a job in sales. She stole from her family, got into heroin.

By her admission, Heidi says, “I threw away opportunities in life…I hated myself…I was sitting in my apartment all day getting high.”

Then she overdosed, suffered a seizure.

Heidi is set to graduate in May from Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. “I needed a relationship with God,” this young woman says.

IF YOU’VE NEVER attended a Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge presentation like the concert/personal testimonies I heard at my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, on Sunday, I’d encourage you to do so. You will never forget the stories of these courageous individuals who have overcome so much to reclaim their lives and their families and forge new relationships with God.

Choir members line up and dish up at the potluck after the service and concert.

Choir members line up and dish up at the potluck after the service and concert.

At the potluck dinner after the concert, I sat with Tyler, a 20-year recovering heroin addict and father of two boys, 9 and 13. When his wife died two years ago, Tyler knew he needed to change. You’d never guess, just looking at and talking with this well-groomed and articulate young man, that he’d once been into drugs. He’s been in and out of treatment several times. But this time, in the longer one-year faith-based recovery program, Tyler’s succeeded.  He’s set to graduate soon, will start college and work, and get his boys back.

Tyler, Jill, James and Heidi and about 35 others, through primarily song and those few personal testimonials, brought their messages of hope, joy and recovery to my church through the center’s community outreach program.

Anthony Bass, who played for the Minnesota Vikings from 1998-2000 and is now the church relations manager for Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge and is planting a church in northeast Minneapolis, says the on-the-road programs are part of an effort to help fight heroin, meth and prescription drug addictions, showing “how God’s power has helped and restored.”

Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge has eight facilities in Minnesota—in Minneapolis, Brainerd and Duluth and one soon to open in Rochester. The name was changed last October from Minnesota Teen Challenge to Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, more accurately reflecting the ages of program participants. Eighty percent are over age 18.

Bass also asked for prayers and financial support.

The Trinity Quilt Makers gifted the group with this stash of quilts.

The Trinity Quilt Makers gifted the group with this stash of quilts.

As I sang the hymn, “Who Are You Who Walk in Sorrow,” with the congregation and choir members, I considered how fitting these words:

Great companion on our journey,
Still surprise us with Your grace!
Make each day a new Emmaus;
On our hearts Your image trace!

FYI: Click here to learn more about Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

(Note that I may or may not have the correct spellings of names referenced in this story. I did not check the spellings. And, yes, I asked and was given permission, to photograph the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Choir.)


Minnesota Teen Challenge shares sobering, inspirational stories November 8, 2010

WHEN YOU PUT faces and stories to statistics, substance abuse in Minnesota becomes real.

On Sunday I heard the stories, saw the faces and spoke to individuals who are currently working toward recovery through Minnesota Teen Challenge, a Christian-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. The group brought its inspirational message to Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault with songs and personal stories.

JEFF: He didn’t tell his story, but he sang a sweet, pure, heartfelt rendition of Amazing Grace. “The chains are broken,” Jeff sang with the Minnesota Teen Challenge Choir as his back-up.

MICAH: Once a church-attending youth with intentions of possibly becoming a pastor, Micah spoke of how he became caught up in alcohol after his church youth group folded and he no longer had anywhere to go, nothing to do. He stresses the importance of maintaining church youth groups.

Through his years of abuse, his girlfriend (now his fiancée) has stuck by him, turning him in when she had to with a tough love that today has led him into recovery. He plans now to enter the ministry.

Later his fiancée would tell me about the irony of their situation, how a vehicle in which they were riding was struck head-on by a drunk driver; how, when she lay in the hospital, Micah was back home drinking.

DAR: She shakes my hand before the church service begins and immediately reveals that she was a teacher with a double life as a cocaine addict. Later, she will stand before the congregation and perform a solo with the Teen Challenge Choir. “Love so amazing…the rescue for sinners…our hope is in you.”

JESSICA: She’s 29, a former heroin addict from St. Cloud with a felony record. She tells me her story as we sit side-by-side at the potluck dinner following the church service.

She’s made the news, for all the wrong reasons. She’s had a gun held to her head. For her, the possibility of death was her rock bottom. She never expected to live past 30.

Today Jessica’s doing well. She worries, though, about several roommates who lasted only one night at Teen Challenge. (Program enrollees are free to leave at any time.) She wonders why they couldn’t see the possibilities of successful recovery in her. She wishes she could have told them to “buck up,” that God has not given up on them. He never gave up on her.

Emotion edges her voice as she shares how her application for entry into the Teen Challenge program was prayed over by staff.

When a church member brings Jessica a piece of German chocolate cake, she becomes emotional again, this time over the simple act of kindness from a stranger.

DEVON: “You name it, I did it,” says Devon, 28, who grew up as a church-attending Catholic, the daughter of an abusive and alcoholic father. She was molested (not by her father), sold meth, spent time in jail, lost custody of her kids, lost everything, she says. One day she looked at herself in the mirror and promised God that she would change her life.

“I would probably be homeless or dead in the gutter if not for Teen Challenge,” Devon tells the congregation.

Later, as she sits across the dinner table from me raving about the Rice Krispie bars, Devon reveals more—how only her Catholic upbringing kept her from killing herself because she had been taught that suicide is a damning, unforgivable sin.

Devon tells me how she once asked for a sign from God, for money, after her home had been broken into while she was in jail. Her dealer, who was high, unknowingly left $1,000 in her apartment. She took that as a sign from God (How many times have you had $1,000 dropped in your lap?” she asks), using some of the money to repay her mom, pay a landlord, buy clothes and then buy more drugs.

Today she’s determined to stick with her recovery program, for the sake of her kids and because, if she left now, she would be homeless, a place she does not want to be.

She speaks with a fierce voice of determination.

JIM: He sings a solo: “You make all things new..I will follow you forward.”

JAMES: He’s returned to his hometown—Faribault—“a good town, but it’s had its down sides and its dark sides.” He’s stolen from people here, maybe even some sitting in the pews, he says. He is nervous about returning to the town where his criminal acts placed his name on the front page of the local newspaper. He shares a dream he had about a banner hung in Faribault’s Central Park that reads “From robbery to restoration.”

JERI: She’s 52, a Lutheran from Duluth, an alcohol abuser with her ninth attempt at rehab. “I never thought it would happen to me…I never thought that a cocktail would turn into a three-day binge…I never thought…”

She speaks with eloquence fitting her former profession as a counselor and an educator. It does not fit the image of a woman who confesses that she tried to kill herself in July, who ended up in a psych ward, whose addiction ended her career and her marriage.

“My heart was so far away from God,” Jeri says, quoting Isaiah 29:13.

She visited with her daughter on Saturday and heard the words, “Mom, you’ve changed.”

OF ALL THE INDIVIDUALS I watch singing in the choir, which is a mandatory part of the Teen Challenge Program, Jeri seems the most animated, swaying, lifting her hands in praise, her face expressing her inward joy.

I wish I could talk to all of these recovering addicts, hear their stories and write about them here. I wonder about the young woman who is fiddling with her hair, twirling her curls with her fingertips while she sings. Her fingernails are painted with bright red nail polish and she looks like the girl next door. I wonder about the tall young man in the back row who barely moves his lips and has all-American boy good looks. I wonder about the men with tattoos covering their arms.

Their leader, the administrator whose name I didn’t catch, tells us that we can help these recovering addicts through a volunteer mentoring program. “Sit and listen over a cup of coffee, go to a movie or go bowling,” he says.

They have all come to Minnesota Teen Challenge for sobriety, he says. They are here to overcome addiction, which he defines as “nothing more than incredible selfishness.”

“When they come in, they get God.”

IF YOU HAVE NEVER heard the Minnesota Teen Challenge Choir, check the MTC website for upcoming concerts. You will be forever changed by the inspirational messages these recovering addicts bring through word and song as they speak openly about their past and their addictions and about how God has worked change in their lives.

Their stories are powerful, sobering, inspiring, heartfelt, uplifting and hopeful.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling