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Faith-based residential treatment facility in Nageezi helps men overcome addiction

Hannah Grover
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Ralph Yoder can still remember the day — Jan. 3, 1990 — when he sat in his family's house in Indiana and prayed for help.

"This was my plea, 'God, if you're real, I need help,' " he said.

At the time, Yoder said, he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Two days after his heartfelt plea, Yoder was arrested on drug charges.

He was sentenced to three years in an Indiana state prison and was incarcerated for a year and a half before being released on parole. As he sat in his cell reading the Bible, Yoder said he realized the only way to overcome his addiction was to change his world.

"You might say Jesus showed up in the cell I was in," he said.

Now, Yoder has been sober for 25 years and works to help others overcome addiction. About a decade ago, he and his wife moved from Indiana to Nageezi to work at the Navajo Brethren in Christ Mission's Overcomers program.

The facility takes in eight men twice a year. It's one of the only residential treatment programs in San Juan County, and, as far as Yoder knows, it is the only Christian-based residential program in the area. The nonprofit, which started in 1997, uses a curriculum of counseling, group therapy, Bible study, responsibility awareness, family dynamics and other life skills.

The mission's property backs up to Navajo Nation land, and the Overcomers program incorporates elements of Navajo culture into its worship, including powwow drums and sweat lodges.

"It's bringing the Gospel from within the context of the culture," Yoder said.

Three years ago, San Juan County ranked second in the state for the highest number of alcohol-related crashes, according to a New Mexico Department of Transportation study from 2012, the last year of available data.

That year, San Juan County had 199 alcohol-related crashes, resulting in 14 deaths. It was second only to the state's most populous county, Bernallio County, which had 642 alcohol-related crashes.

"One death is too many, and we're trying to stop that," Yoder said.

The mission has a community cemetery on its property. Walking through it, Ralph Yoder's wife, Bonnie, said she sees headstones of people who died because of problems associated with drugs or alcohol.

"We have far too many graves in that graveyard of people who have died at far too young of age from alcohol- and drug-related problems," she said.

The Yoders believe God plays a critical role in curbing drug and alcohol abuse.

"To me, alcohol addiction is simply a symptom," Ralph Yoder said, explaining he believes the root cause is a disconnection from God.

But, he said, he also recognizes the role a person's lifestyle plays in addiction. A few months after his release from prison, Yoder said, he nearly relapsed. But his wife, who at the time was a family friend, called him before that happened.

"If she had called five minutes later, I wouldn't be sitting here," he said.

She, along with other friends and family, created a support system that helped Yoder in his recovery, he said.

"Recovery is not an easy thing," he said. "You can't do it alone."

Still, he said, many Overcomers clients do not have that kind of support. That's why Overcomers connects clients with a Farmington support group, Convicted By Christ. The group, which meets at World Harvest Center in Farmington, assists former inmates as they reintegrate into society. It welcomes Overcomers clients even after they have graduated from the program, providing ongoing support.

It's not the only local, faith-based support group that serves former inmates. Joe Barela, director of community ministries for the San Juan Baptist Association, highlighted another one.

"The Four Corners Re-Entry Team consists of people who are interested in inmates that are in jail and need assistance when they are released, which consists of rides if needed, finding them a place to stay, food, clothing and most importantly of all getting them into a recovery program," Barela said in his email.

He said the Celebrate Recovery group, which meets weekly at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center and at local churches, also helps with recovery.

In the future, the Yoders hope to open a transitional house and extend their program to a year, which would include three months of residential treatment and nine months of transitional treatment.

The couple also wants to grow the program to include three sessions a year. Ralph Yoder said this will reach more people in need of help.

"(Addiction) is a huge problem, bigger than any of us," he said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.