Never Thought It Would Be Possible
Hello, thank you for sparing some of your time to read Operation Dawn (OD) Canada’s newsletter. My name is Johnson and I am the in-house addictions counseling staff at OD Canada. I started serving at this ministry at the beginning of 2020 and I want to share with you what has been happening at the center and all that God is doing in this ministry, but before I do that, I would like to share a bit about myself – my own life journey and how it ultimately led to God’s calling for my life.
I am currently 34 years old. My family was Buddhist and I was raised to worship the many idols of the Buddhist traditions. When I was in grade three, through a short-lived experience at a church in Toronto, I learned a little about Jesus Christ: I knew about the claim of God being the Creator, who God was, and who Jesus was and why He came down as man to sacrifice His life on the cross for our sins. I admit, the story was touching but I was very selective with what I wanted to acknowledge – I believed that there was a Creator of the world and there existed a man named Jesus but I refused to believe in His sacrifice and resurrection. I did not want to believe in the cross because it meant I cannot indulge in sin anymore – I loved the world and the many things it had to offer.
When I was 16 years of age, after going through a tumultuous relationship, I had a lot of built-up anger and decided I needed some new excitement in my life. I started hanging with a new group of friends and even joined a gang. One day these friends invited me to a birthday party and I went. Much of the party was innocent enough: we were hanging, eating, chatting, and playing video games. Then night came, a couple of friends stepped out of the house and came back with an illegal drug called ketamine or “K”. I was surprised as it was my first time ever seeing illegal substances in person, but I was really curious. They asked me if I wanted to try, and without much hesitation I said yes. Who knew at the time, that this one decision, this one night would turn into years of depravity. At first, I only used drugs occasionally, then weekly, and before I knew it, I was a daily user. At the age of 18, I was already considered a drug addict. Although I have used many different types of illegal substances, my drugs of choice were ketamine and cocaine. Due to the heavy amount I was using and because ketamine is an acidic drug, I developed health problems while I was still 18 – my kidneys and bladder deteriorated badly. I tried quitting by my own strength, but failed. I tried a government-run rehab in 2010, but again I failed. My life kept spiralling downhill, and on to make matters worse, I was constantly in and out of jail and house arrest.
In 2012, a friend of mine introduced me to the program he attended: Operation Dawn. He told me that the ministry used the power of the Gospel to combat addictions. I was hesitant at first but I eventually enrolled into the program. I’ll be honest. My decision to enter the program primarily rested on my desire to give my body and health a break from the drugs and to have some time to recover. Moreover, I saw this as an opportunity to learn about God and perhaps build a relationship with Him. Thankfully, this was where I truly started a relationship with Christ. The duration period for the program was 18 months, but I left after just 5 months. The pride inside of me told me that my health was better, that I was strong enough to leave and be on my own. I was horribly mistaken. It was not long after I left that I realized I overestimated my own strength and underestimated the power of addiction, the power of Satan. Drugs took a hold of me again. When I was out, I found employment but my pay cheques went directly to supporting my expensive habit. I was pitiful, one can say I was worse than I was before going to OD. I resorted to the most despicable actions in order for me to get my hands on drugs – I was stealing and taking advantage of family and friends. I was selfish and pathetic. Not surprisingly, my health worsened again. My life was absolutely disgusting!
Thankfully, the truths I learned from OD stuck with me: I kept praying, asking for forgiveness and for His help. I knew God was the only one who could save me. I knew in my heart that God was always with me and would never abandon me, but it was in my most vulnerable moments that I was able to feel his presence most. During this time, the Lord comforted me and instructed me to go back to OD. I agreed and knew this was best for me. After a short time, God began to stir in my heart a special calling: after overcoming my own addictions, I would serve God through serving and evangelizing to people like myself, those struggling with addictions. This was not something I wanted to do. I had my own plans and I wanted to make money. At first, I kept rejecting this calling, but eventually God softened my heart and I surrendered, trusting that He knew what was best for me. Although I had surrendered myself to God, I felt that I had nothing to offer Him. Again, I trusted Him and left everything up to Him. I re-enrolled into the program in 2014. The second time around, I knew I had a purpose and that God had plans for me. While in the program again, I focused much of it working on my inner issues such as anger, pride, and patience (all of these still work in progress). Near the end of my 18 months, I was even blessed with the opportunity to go visit the Operation Dawn centers in Taiwan. While I did not speak the language, during my time in the centers I did get to witness God’s hand powerfully at work over the brothers, sisters, and the entire ministry. The experience was humbling and helped me appreciate more with what I have been given at the center in Canada. I completed the program in the summer of 2015. Leaving the program this time was very different from the first time I left OD. This time, I was fearful of what may potentially happen – falling back to the life of drugs, gangs, and illegal activities. However, I placed all my trust in the Lord. I wish I was able to tell you that urges/triggers no longer bothered me, but I’d be lying. I spent a large part of my life using drugs and my brain still associates many “good” memories with the drugs. I understand these triggers will likely stay with me and the old saying is true: the battle with addiction is a life-long battle. The difference now was that once triggered, my first action is to pray – now, Christ is my strength and my foundation. Shortly after I left OD, I started my studies at Tyndale University College to earn my undergraduate degree. It took me a little over four years but I finally received my Bachelor’s degree in Religious Education. It was tough getting back into school and it remained tough throughout, but with God’s grace, I was able to get through it and graduated in 2019. Through these four years, I was blessed abundantly in many ways: I received continual support from everyone at Operation Dawn, I was welcomed into Toronto Christian Community Church (TCCC), I met new brothers and sisters who accepted me for who I was, and I was guided by a loving leadership team at TCCC. I also had many opportunities to serve: two summer internships at TCCC, “Out of the Cold “ministry (serving those in need), youth fellowship, small group, youth camps, and more. I was blessed to be surrounded and supported by a strong community that enabled me to learn and grow. It was in these four years that I have learned the importance of community and how it impacts our growth as Christians.
At the beginning of 2020, I began a new chapter in my life as I began serving in full-time ministry with Operation Dawn Canada. As of this month, I will have served 7 months as a full-time staff. Like many who join staff at any of the OD’s worldwide, I had to transition from being a student to a teacher. Thankfully, this was made easier prior to joining staff, OD allowed me to come to the center and get a feel for my new role as well as getting to know the students at the time. At the time of me coming in, there were four students. I had to quickly decide on what kind of teacher I wanted to be: an authoritative teacher or a brotherly figure type teacher. I chose the latter. There were two reasons for this: 1) The Western culture is different than the Eastern culture. When I was in Asia visiting the OD centers there, I noticed that all the students were respectful to the teachers, at least when they were in front of them. There was a certain level of discipline that could be seen there. Here in Canada, the culture places much more emphasis on freedom, which in its worst case gives birth to a sense of entitlement. This I often see, the “I don’t care, I’ll do what I want” attitude has become rampant in our society. Knowing this, I knew if I tried to be an authoritative teacher like many in Taiwan, it would not work here. This method would only bring limited trust and may even create distaste between student-teacher relationships. 2) I remembered my time here as a student and realized how hard it was to connect with teachers who just told us what to do. For those that worked with us, played with us, and talked with us, it was easiest to open up with them. I want the students to feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts and feelings with me so I chose to be a teacher that led by example and acted more like an older brother. Thankfully, this decision has worked out so far.
The past seven months have been challenging. When I started, there was already a teacher from Taiwan serving here in the ministry. Unfortunately, he did not speak any English and I did not speak Mandarin, which proved difficult for communication. As a result, there was less hands-on training but rather God gave me the opportunity to practice full dependence on Him while I learned and grew into my role. For the first month, I mostly spent time getting to know the brothers, familiarizing myself with the schedule again, and observing what could be changed about the program/center. Before I started working, I knew there was one thing I wanted to add – this one thing that helped and guided me since I left OD as a student – community. As I mentioned earlier, I was surrounded by a community that loved me, kept me accountable, and helped me mature and grow as a Christian. When a recovering addict completes or leaves the program, life can be extremely tough for them – not only because of their addiction but also because they have lost that sense of belonging. Many of them only have friends from their drug days and have no other positive friendships to lean on. This is why I feel so strongly about community – depending on who these addicts surround themselves with, it can either make or break an addicts’ road to recovery. Accountability is vital and this is why there is a need to be in a community – having spiritual people will help them be accountable and walk the journey. With that said, I want to surround the students here with a community that they can potentially turn to when they leave the OD program. I want this program to help the students start a relationship with God and to start growing in their faith while they are in here, but I also want to set them up post-program after-care so they have other choices in finding community. During the months of January and February, I brought the students to TCCC’s monthly Serving and Learning Together (SALT) fellowship in hopes of building this community. From what the students told me, they all had a good time integrating and interacting. Unfortunately, COVID-19 started spreading quickly in March so these plans were put on hold. In the future, I hope to involve them with more TCCC activities, small group, and much more.
We have been very busy during lockdown. This bungalow, which we call the center, has been operating for over 15 years now. Through the years, there have been many students and teachers that have come in and out. As a result, the center has become cluttered with an excess of unwanted belongings. This became our lockdown project – to clean by decluttering and to renew by renovating. We were determined to have this place of worship and learning cleaned and organized! By this time, two students already left the program so only two remained (to protect the students, we temporarily stopped intake). Together with teacher, we spent nearly two months on this project. Our first step was to declutter the whole house and garage – getting rid of old and useless junk. At the end, we had to order two large containers seen in these two surrounding photos. When the directors received the invoice, I was told that the total weight of all the junks we threw out was over 6 tonnes! No wonder our bodies’ were so tired.
After decluttering, we moved onto the bedrooms. We repainted the bedrooms, replaced by some used (new to us) furniture, and arranged the room to have a simple layout. To the right are some before and after photos of the student rooms. In each room, we tried to be minimalistic with more or less the same number/types of furniture so that each bed will have their fair share of space/storage. It might be difficult to see from the photos, but there were a lot of items that were thrown out. So far, it has been much easier for the students to clean and maintain these rooms.
Finally, the last room to be painted was the classroom. This is the area where we do much of our learning, our devotions, and our worship so we wanted to make sure we renovated this room to the best of our ability. On the left is a photo of the classroom before the renovations. Again, the photos are difficult to see but there were many things that were not presentable and out of date. When preparing the room to be painted, the original plan was to move the chairs and tables aside and continue using them after the renovation. However, as we worked more, the more we wanted to replace these items because many of the chairs and tables that were torn and were due for a change. Also, these items were big and bulky so they took up a lot of space. I wanted to ask the ministry’s directors for new furniture but I understood that it was not the best time to do so due to COVID-19. Thankfully, God has touched the hearts of many students who were once in the Operation Dawn program. I reached out to two of these former students, Andrew and Terry, to help and without hesitation they replied yes. Together, they purchased and donated 10 new office chairs to the program. Afterwards, other former students (Andy, Delvin, Jake, and Richard) heard and wanted to contribute also so they sent us money to purchase new desks. We are so grateful for their contributions. This whole process reminded me of how giving our God is, how He wants to give to those who walks His way – although the emphasis is not on what we can receive from God, but that God will provide. Thanks God the graduates have a thankful heart to appreciate and repay God’s love
In all honesty, I would not say my time here has been particularly smooth. Every time I started adjusting to my new role or new routine, I would start getting comfortable. When COVID-19 starts, everything has changed. However difficult this was, I remain grateful for this as I see how God is telling me that being in ministry is not about serving in comfort – we look back at all the disciples, none of their time in servitude was easy. One major thing that God has revealed to me during my time here is that I still have a lot to learn. Although the feedback I have received from the directors have mainly been encouraging and positive so far, God has shown me that I rely too heavily on my personal experience in my one-on-one sessions with the students. It has become apparent to me that I am seriously lacking in training and will need to grow much in the area of counseling. For this reason, after much prayer, I have decided to further my education and applied for the Masters of Divinity – Clinical Counseling program at Tyndale University and Seminary – I start in September 2020. Thankfully, the Operation Dawn directors have been supportive and are willing to work out a schedule where I can continue to serve at OD while also attending school. Again, this September came with another change that took some time to adjust. I understand the road ahead will be tough and that I will continue to struggle but I take comfort in knowing that God will be by my side at every step. I can see that God not only encourages me directly but indirectly as well. While working here, I have seen some of God’s amazing work in some of these students: one who completed the program has now formed a stronger bond with his family and found a career where he can grow in; one who deceived others, fought, and relapsed is now learning to place his trust in God while developing a humbling attitude; and one who refused to participate within the program is now working hard at every assignment that is given to him. Addicts have the type of mindset that are most difficult to change, but through God’s grace and power, it is not impossible. I am thankful to be a part of His Kingdom where He allows me to see these changes. I am truly blessed for the opportunity I have been given and the support I receive from the directors, family, and friends.
Thank you again for taking the time to read this newsletter. I humbly ask for your continual support and prayers. May God bless you!