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In rural Arkansas, Christians seek to save, heal and make whole


About 430 miles west of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., a Church of Christ has launched a recovery ministry in the rural countryside of Jessieville, Ark. 


“God — and this program — saved my life,” Russ Vanderhoof said of the program, SOZO. Church members derived the name from a Greek word meaning “to save, to heal, to make whole.”

Like the Mt. Juliet church’s Recovery — Through Christ ministry, SOZO combines the traditional 12-step recovery model, used by substance abuse 
programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, with intense Bible study and faith-based learning.

“I wanted to give recovering people a way to blend spirituality and recovery,” said Bob O’Dowd, director of SOZO. He also was inspired by the success of Celebrate Recovery.

So, when the Village Church of Christ in Hot Springs Village, Ark., launched the program in 2012, he got involved. Now SOZO is a stand-alone organization.

Unlike many other recovery ministries, SOZO is a live-in residency program specifically for men. Participants live on campus for three months before enrolling in a job-placement program that assists them with their reentry into society. In this phase, the men continue to receive support in their recovery.

Justin Smith is one of the souls served by SOZO.

“I am a grateful recovering alcoholic and drug addict,” Smith said. “I owe my recovery and second chance at life to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and SOZO.”

He began his recovery journey two years ago at a 28-day treatment center in California. He eventually made the trip to Jessieville and now serves as the 
ministry’s assistant director.

“The unique combination of what we’re doing here at SOZO really changed my life,” he said. 

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