When Josh, a new counselor, and Charlie, a new resident, met at Atlanta Mission, each was seeking spiritual healing in his own way. Josh was looking to make a real difference in a career he was passionate about, mental health counseling, and felt he had absolutely found a home at Atlanta Mission.
Charlie had a different mindset, however. He arrived at The Shepherd’s Inn from North Georgia looking for a change, hoping to quit using drugs during his stay, and then leave there and find a job. His sister, with whom he’d been living, had insisted he get help, and he was doing that. But he was wasn’t looking for any kind of transformation beyond that. The unexpectedness of what happened next makes it all the more exceptional.
The first encounter
Charlie wasn’t enthusiastic about his first counseling session with Josh. “I had a lot of anger,” he remembers. “I had my walls up.” Years of trying not to show any emotion, including grief over his father’s death, had led him to contain negative feelings. But the truth was, he wasn’t solving his own problems, as he told himself he was—he was running away from them with drugs and denial.
Charlie was part of Josh’s first class of men. The group numbered three in all, and Charlie was the de facto leader, Josh says. At first, Josh picked up on Charlie’s resistance. But something amazing happened: Josh started to see other things in Charlie, like how committed he was in making his family proud of him, and Josh resonated with that sentiment. He knew he would have been homeless himself at one point but for the caring and support of his own family. Josh had to admit that he and Charlie were more alike than different, and he soon realized that counseling Charlie was a lot like counseling himself.
Charlie, in turn, picked up on the fact that Josh genuinely cared about him and his group. “We were so much more than a paycheck to him,” Charlie says, “and we realized he really wanted to help us.”
Charlie and his groupmates made a pact that they would get through the program together and graduate from it, with help from Josh. The transformation had begun.
“They needed to forgive”
A big lesson that Charlie and his group had to learn was that they needed to be accountable for themselves and their own emotions, even the negative ones. “Theirs was a different kind of brokenness than anything I’d seen before,” Josh says. “It went much deeper. They didn’t really understand what authority—or love—looked like. And they needed to forgive themselves and the people around them.”
Through Josh’s support and help from his groupmates, Charlie began to deal with his feelings instead of running away from them. And then one day, in Josh’s office, Charlie allowed Christ into his life. “After that,” Josh says, “Charlie grew faster and stronger.”
Charlie adds, “Once I started actually dealing with my problems instead of running away from them, I realized there’s so much more to life than just worldly concerns. That day in Josh’s office took my life to the next level.”
In body as in spirit
When it was time to graduate from Atlanta Mission, Charlie and his groupmates did it together. They’d kept their pact.
One of the most remarkable outward manifestations of Charlie’s transformation is his weight. When he entered Atlanta Mission, his weight topped out at 375 pounds. When he left just over a year later, he was at 290, and now he’s at 250. “I love myself now,” Charlie says. “God invested so much in me, even when I didn’t think I deserved it.”
In the third and final part of this series, we’ll get a glimpse of what Charlie and Josh are doing now, and how the transformation that began that first day of counseling has shaped their lives since then.