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Alcoholic turns to faith for help

Celebrate Recovery founder now helps others.

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Alcoholic turns to faith for help

John Baker, founder of Celebrate Recovery, stands with his wife, Cheryl Baker, Friday morning at Southern Hills Baptist Church. The Bakers are in Tulsa for a leadership training seminar. BILL SHERMAN/Tulsa World

John Baker is a quiet, unassuming man.

When he says he deserves no credit for starting Celebrate Recovery, a Christian 12-step program now in 12,000 churches, he means it.

Baker, who is in Tulsa this weekend for a Celebrate Recovery leadership training seminar, was raised in a Christian home and said he accepted Christ when he was 13 years old.

But he never felt he measured up to the expectations of his parents, his teachers, his classmates.

That feeling of pain and emptiness ended when he took his first drink at a fraternity house at the University of Missouri.

"For the first time, I felt like I really fit in," he said.

Baker continued to drink regularly as he married his college sweetheart, began his career and started raising a family.

By his mid-30s, he was "really addicted" and could no longer choose not to drink, he said.

He was never arrested for drunken driving, and never lost a job over it, but his addiction ruined his marriage.

By age 40, his wife, Cheryl, was gone, and he hit bottom.

He turned to Alcoholics Anonymous, stopped drinking and began to attend Saddleback Church, a large Baptist church that met in a gymnasium near his home in California.

Five months later, he and Cheryl renewed their wedding vows.

But Baker had difficulty fitting in with the men's group at the church. The group didn't want to hear about his alcohol problems, and he also felt uncomfortable at Alcoholics Anonymous, which was not openly Christian.

"There was never any doubt that my higher power was Jesus Christ," he said.

He said he felt compelled to develop a plan for a Christian 12-step program and spent six weeks putting the vision on paper, 13 pages, single-spaced.

He took it to his pastor, Rick Warren, who said, "Great, John. You do it."

On Nov. 21, 1991, he held the first Celebrate Recovery meeting in a gym at a psychiatric hospital. Forty-three people came.

The group grew over the next three years, as Baker wrote curricula for it, and another group started in Santa Cruz, Calif. A third group started in Austin, Texas.

From there, Celebrate Recovery grew into an international ministry, with 12,000 churches in the U.S. The curriculum has been published in 19 languages.

Baker went on staff at Saddleback and eventually devoted all his time to Celebrate Recovery.

The ministry will get another huge boost in August when Reader's Digest devotes its "Purpose Driven Connection" publication to Baker's book, "Life's Healing Choices."

Baker said he thinks Celebrate Recovery has taken off because it offers a solution not just to addictions, but to the "hurts, habits and hangups" that all people struggle with.

Only about a third of participants have drug and alcohol problems.

"It's Bible-based, not addiction-based," he said.

And he takes no credit for its success.

"This is all God and very little John Baker," he said.

"I truly believe that if I had not surrendered to it, someone else would have done it. This is God's project."


Bill Sherman 581-8398

bill.sherman@tulsaworld.com SUBHEAD: Celebrate Recovery founder now helps others.

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