KINGMAN – Many Kingman residents will recognize Praise Chapel for its lively worship, longstanding presence in the community, and influential youth ministry. Fewer, however, will know the church for its addiction recovery program – “Jacob’s Ladder.”
Jacob’s Ladder was founded in 1991 and is a court-authorized addiction recovery program. In many ways, Jacob’s Ladder resembles other recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. In a recent interview, however, Senior Pastor John Pool and Associate Pastor Howie Melendez highlight several distinctive features that set Jacob’s Ladder apart from others. Those differences are structural and philosophical.
Structurally, Jacob’s Ladder is a teaching and instructional ministry, not a support group. I attended a meeting Sept 7, and in the first 40 minutes Pastor John Pool preached on the biblical story of the Gerasene demoniac (see Matt 8:26-39; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39). Drawing his audience in with a causal and humorous preaching style, Pastor Pool compared the “recovery” of the demoniac with his audience’s own path to recovery. After the sermon, they broke off into issue-specific groups where additional teaching took place.
The heavy emphasis on teaching does not mean, however, that individual needs are not addressed. As part of the rehab package, Pastors Pool and Melendez offer individual counseling to attendees. And in a nod to their appreciation of the support group model, Jacob’s Ladder is in the process of integrating a support-group model into their curriculum.
A second distinction is philosophical. Traditional addiction recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous are explicitly religious: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” (Step Two). Jacob’s Ladder, however, is explicitly Christian. According to Pastor Pool, Jacob’s Ladder insists on naming that higher power: “We believe Jesus is recovery. Salvation is recovery.”
It is no accident, then, that Jacob’s Ladder also emphasizes the Bible – Christianity’s Holy book. For Pastor Pool, recovery, biblical study, and theology are mutually reinforcing. In his words, “The Bible is a book of recovery.” For Christians, he adds, walking in relationship with Jesus “is the definition of recovery.” He argues that the Bible’s stories “reveal to us what we can be if we will just trust in Him (Jesus Christ).” Biblical teaching is also of utmost importance to Pastor Melendez. Quoting the Apostle Paul, Pastor Melendez notes that, “The Word [Holy Scripture] says ‘faith comes by hearing.’ So they hear it, they hear it for 13 weeks.” Simply hearing Holy Scripture taught, he argues, contributes positively to a life of recovery.
One final distinction requires a brief stroll through the garden of philosophy. According to the ministry’s website, Jacob’s Ladder offers a “permanent solution for eliminating chemical dependency, out-of-control anger, as well as providing a veterans support group, and a co-dependency class for women . . . We believe right decisions, a healthy desire, and a persistent discipline guarantee that anyone can achieve permanent change. Success comes when the transforming power of Jesus Christ is placed at the center of this process” (emphasis mine). Hidden behind the word “permanent” is a vigorous debate within recovery circles about whether addiction is a curable condition or whether it is a constant disease with which one must cope. Interrogatively put, is an addict always an addict?
On the surface, this question may seem more semantic than substantial. Dig a little deeper, however, and a deeply significant dynamic emerges, and one to which these two men had given serious thought. Pastor Melendez – himself a former alcoholic and AA success story – puts it this way: “When you get saved you’re a whole new creature, right? You still got the same mortal body though. I would no more take a chance in putting alcohol in this mortal body, now, 32 years later. But my mental and my spiritual and soulish states are so transformed that I am no longer alcoholic.” Pastor Melendez articulates here a longstanding Christian “anthropology,” which views the human person as both “sinner” and “saint.”
From a slightly different perspective, Pastor Pool frames the issue in terms of “identity.”
“For me, what it boils down to is a spiritual identity,” Pool said. “But when we introduce ourselves, ‘Hi my name is John and I’m an alcoholic,’ what that does is create an identity. Now I’m identifying with what I was. The Bible says in 2 Cor 5:21, ‘I am now the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus’ . . . And so what I choose to do is I choose to focus on what God says I am, rather than what my body tells me.” Like Pastor Melendez, Pastor Pool acknowledges that, for Christians, an inner-personal conflict exists between old and new identities.
For Pastors Pool and Melendez, these are not merely theoretical issues. They shape how the curriculum is constructed at Jacob’s Ladder.
But given the distinctive features of Jacob’s Ladder, it is worth asking whether Jacob’s Ladder is effective in its attempts to help people address their addictions and dependencies? Praise Chapel does not track its students’ recovery after they complete their courses. Praise Chapel reports, however, that they have a 92-percent completion rate.
One final point of interest is the fact that Jacob’s Ladder is closely tied to the local and regional court system. Although open to the public, the ministry’s primary clientele come from Kingman Justice Court, Kingman Municipal Court, Lake Havasu Municipal Court, Bullhead City Municipal Court, Mohave County Superior Court, Mohave County Probation Department, Mohave Mental Health, Department of Economic Security, and Child Protective Services.
While the clients at Jacob’s Ladder are typically mandated to undergo rehab, they are never required to attend Jacob’s Ladder specifically. Participants are offered a list of available and approved programs from which they must choose.