By James D'Amato
CR Inside SW Team Lead
In December 2016, Valley Baptist Celebrate Recovery, in Partnership with Prison Fellowship Angel Tree, invited all of the families located in Kern County, CA that were receiving gifts from the Angel Tree program to a Christmas Celebration. This event started from a meeting with Janice Little, Prison Fellowship Area Director and James D’Amato, CR Inside SW Regional Team Lead and his wife Debbie D’Amato, who are both Ministry Leader’s for CR at Valley Baptist located in Bakersfield, California.
Prison Fellowship stated that they did not have enough church’s available to distribute all of the gifts in the Kern County area. So James contacted all of the area CR’s and organized an event on Valley Baptist’s regular CR night. We ended up getting seven local CR’s involved in helping out. We had over 80 families attend with over 225 total in attendance.
We held it on our regular CR night which helped us, not only to distribute the gifts, but to expose the families to what CR and CR Inside is and how it can help the families of the incarcerated. Each family got to see how CR and CR Inside works, which included exposure to Celebration Place and the Landing. It was a time for CR and the Church to show them the love of Christ, which some haven’t felt in a long time.
We ran it just like our regular CR with a Christmas Dinner fellowship time, worship time, CR Inside video, and the other tools that we use each week at CR. At the end of the night, we distributed the gifts provided by various churches in the area to all for the families in attendance. The kids got to see a Holiday movie, do some face-painting and received small gifts that were donated by local churches.
It was a blessing to see all of the CR’s attend and the volunteer’s help in every area of the event. But it did not stop there. There were about 50 families that could not attend and so the CR’s that joined to help took the gifts for the families that were in their area of their CR, and distributed the gifts to the families home where they prayed, ministered and invited the families to come to their local CR and Church.
It was an exciting and memorable evening that affected the hearts of all those in attendance and all of the volunteers. It was also an opportunity for CR, CR Inside, Prison Fellowship, and the Church to work together for one cause – it was looking at Principle 8 and Step 12 in action!
I am excited to have the opportunity to share with you what Celebrate Recovery Inside means to me.
With the exception of my first 6 months of incarceration, I have spent every available Monday evening at CRI meetings, since May of 2009. I already knew at that time that this sentence was going to save my life because I knew I couldn't survive forever doing drugs, although at that time, I thought I was invincible. I was thankful for having my life saved, but CRI took it much further than that. ?
I believe God has to sit me down for a minute if I was ever going to know Him. So, I stumbled along, reading the Word, learning to talk to Him. A friend in my dorm asked me to join CRI - we had to sign up for groups to stay in the Faith & Character dorm. Even after I found out I had to talk at group, I stayed. (They can't keep me quiet now!)?
CRI helped change who I was. I learned to forgive, to make amends and to let it go. My nightly habit of the daily inventory will forever be a part of my life. ?
CRI taught me that I am as worthy as the next person. What God did for you, He also did for me. Every promise God has made, He has made to me. I was already attempting to develop a relationship with God and I believe this relationship is stronger because of CRI. ?
CRI is my time for fellowship. We can't choose a service here so I fellowship with my group because that is where I feel surrounded by love and peace. It feels like a family, and the sponsor provided for us, to me, is the ultimate definition of grace. I look to her, I listen to her and I pray that I can become more like her.?
The volunteers have shown us that prison doesn't define who we are and they have helped me to turn my sentence into a positive experience. Without CRI, I would not be where I am today in recovery or in my relationship with God and all others. I am confident that because of the work I've done in CRI, when I walk out these prison gates, my life will be filled with hope, joy, with God and His grace. ?
I truly thank your church and everyone involved in the Celebrate Recovery Program. Thank you for bringing it inside the prison. I hope and pray that all inmates can experience CRI. It has changed my life and will always be a part of my life.
Bless You - Lisa F.
Brad Yarberry - Celebrate Recovery Inside Oklahoma 2012 - Personal Testimony