For over 40 years, reaching out and ministering to people who are hurting and broken has been part of Arnie Melissen’s life. A member of Maple Ridge CRC in British Columbia, he has participated in prison ministry with M2/W2, been a long-time foster parent, and worked with Maple Ridge's street ministry. When he learned about a program called “Freedom Session” five years ago, it seemed to suggest an answer to a nagging problem he had encountered with every ministry he'd been involved with.
"The people I've worked with—prisoners, foster kids, people on the street—they have issues in their lives. You can lead them to Christ, but at the end of the day, unless they deal with the root [issues] in their life, whether it be abuse, verbal or sexual abuse, alcohol abuse . . . their eternal salvation might be fine, but their day-to-day life is still very difficult," he said.
"Freedom Session deals with all those kinds of things, and at the end of the day, it's nothing more than the gospel," he explained. "It's just the gospel. It's not a magic formula or anything here, it's just the gospel applied very personally and very firmly. You don't get away with nothing."
According to its website, Freedom Session is a " 20-week, intensive healing-discipleship journey that uncovers the roots of pain in our lives and invites Jesus Christ to heal those areas of our hearts. . . . Freedom Session is writing your story with a new and God-inspired ending."
Melissen, who leads the program at Maple Ridge CRC, insists the program is not just for those who have experienced major trauma or addiction in their lives. "It's also for a guy like me," he said. "I haven't been abused as a child, Christ has been an important part of my life, but there's areas of my life that I need to fix, that God needs to fix in me. . . . My eternal salvation has never been in doubt, but I can do better. There's brokenness in my life too."
Laurie (who asked that we withhold her last name) is currently taking the Freedom Session program. She has found a greater sense of wholeness in her life. "Freedom Session has allowed me to make peace with my past, help heal old wounds, and break the chokehold of shame. I came to accept my past for what it was and [have begun] to move on through a deeper faith with God," she said.
This year's program is looking to graduate 13 participants, all from the community. "We've been doing this for five years and we've seen absolutely remarkable changes in people's lives," Melissen said. "I've been doing prison ministry for 40 years, I've been doing foster care for 25. In the five years I've been doing this, I've seen the effectiveness and the change in people. It is absolutely remarkable."
Melissen will be at Inspire 2017 in Detroit in August to share Maple Ridge CRC's experience with Freedom Session and to answer any questions others may have about the program.