At Bethesda Workshops, we routinely say, “No one can recover alone.” We encourage workshop participants to develop a safe community for support and fellowship as much as for accountability. We believe God created us for relationship, and healthy connection is central to well-being.

Connection is also a core value for the ministry itself and among the staff. Our structure, though, presents significant challenges for organization-wide connecting. The workshop leaders come from across the country to facilitate in the different programs: for male sex addicts, female sex addicts, partners of addicts, couples, and families where a teen is struggling with problematic sexual behavior. These are generally gender-specific facilitators for the workshop population, so unless a leader works at the couple’s workshop in addition to the regular individual workshop he/she leads, that person doesn’t know other staff members who are on different teams.

The last weekend in June, then, Bethesda Workshops brought to Nashville all the workshop leaders and their spouses for a connecting time. One leader and the administrative staff were local, and other facilitators came from West Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, Illinois, North Carolina, Florida, East Tennessee, Louisiana, and South Dakota. (Only two group leaders weren’t able to attend — one from Virginia and one from Kansas.) In total, 33 Bethesda team members were present, including the spouses, who especially enjoyed seeing the facility where their people invest so much time and energy and meeting those they had heard so much about. (See our Facebook page for pictures

After a special catered dinner Saturday evening, everyone gathered in the new garden that Bethesda’s financer and former landlord described perfectly as “the heart of the ministry.” The tranquil spot was certainly full of heart that night, as the staff and most spouses shared reflections about what Bethesda Workshops means to them.

The stifling heat had dissipated with the setting sun, and the fountain in the pool of Bethesda gurgled softly. I was a bit surprised when the first person to speak was the wife of a fairly new member of the men’s workshop team. Until the retreat, she didn’t know anyone present except her husband, and he’s only led a few workshops. Still, she spoke of how grateful she was to see him finding something he had always wanted in a professional setting: connection with strong Christian men who were becoming valued friends.

For the next hour, person after person echoed the theme. They shared that they knew they would find a group of excellent clinicians when they came on staff with Bethesda, but they were surprised to find such dear friends. People said the ministry was a safe place for staff, where they could be themselves, speak their minds, engage in healthy disagreements and even conflict, and walk away deeper friends.

Several leaders’ first contact with Bethesda Workshops was by attending a Healing Workshop as a participant. They spoke passionately, emotionally, about how the workshop had changed the trajectory of both their personal and professional lives. Leaders wept as they spoke of the amazing grace they found at Bethesda, of being fully accepted even after sharing their darkest sides, and of finding a new spirituality in this healing place. One spoke of leaving her workshop with a “crazy hope” of one day working at Bethesda Workshops. All mentioned how redemptive it was to come full circle and be in a leader role with this life-changing ministry.

Some of the spouses described the transformation they saw in their mates and said Bethesda Workshops gave them hope when they were in a very desperate place. Two workshop leaders were celebrating wedding anniversaries during the retreat, and one couple said the ministry saved their marriage. The other said they often wished Bethesda had been available to them because it would have saved years of heartache as they tried to heal.

Administrative staff — my daughter among them — shared their love of being part of a ministry that makes such a difference in people’s lives, including their own. They talked about seeing the change in participants from the beginning to the end of a workshop and of developing compassion for those who are struggling with addiction. My husband told of the early ministry days when he drove airport shuttles for participants and how they were deathly quiet on the trip from the airport to the workshop site, and full of life and hope four days later on the way back to fly home. Two board members were present, and one said he had seen the multiplied fruit in the many people he had sent to a workshop through the years. The relatively new board chair said she obviously believed in Bethesda when she joined the board, but that she didn’t really understand the ministry and its impact until hearing the stories around our gathered circle.

I realized at some point that staff members weren’t really saying anything about me, and I confess that for a moment I was a bit disappointed. (Yep, I may still be a teensy bit too thirsty for personal affirmation.) Then God helped me let go of my ego, and I realized all the reflections were exactly as they should be.

Bethesda Workshops is so much bigger than me! What happens in this healing place is because of the people in that garden circle, not because of me. I’m just the lucky soul God called to start the ministry and now am blessed to lead it. I took a deep breath, savored the scene around me, and thanked God for the redemption not just in my life and the lives of workshop participants, but in the lives of these dear colleagues and friends.

For those who have been through, refer to, or support Bethesda Workshops, I want you to know that the ministry is more than just a program or a job for those who work here. It is extremely meaningful to all the staff, and I believe their hearts display that healing love to workshop participants.

Marnie C. Ferree