My name is Myisha, also known as Uni, and I am in long-term recovery for alcoholism, substances, gambling, anger, sexual trauma, and pornography. I have been in recovery for 11 years now. I am a third generation Free Methodist. I grew up in an unstable home as a kid. My mother and father struggled with substance and alcohol use disorders. Due to this, my grandparents would help take care of me every other year or two. My mother would find freedom from drugs for a year or so and I would go live with her; but then she would relapse, and I would have to go back with my grandparents. This was the cycle. My grandparents provided structure, Jesus and stability which I desperately needed. The things I learned from them; I carry with me now.
I began drinking alcohol at the age of 10 to deal with the sexual trauma that occurred. When I was 14, I started taking pills and hallucinogens and ultimately dabbling in powder cocaine. I later joined a gang and eventually sold drugs to find acceptance. Heading down the wrong path – this led to dropping out of high school in 9th grade. This lifestyle of gangs, gambling and drugs glorified abusive relationships. I entered abusive relationships one after another because I was looking for love. My life felt hopeless.
I turned to the church for help, but no one seemed to express any interest in me. In fact, I was labeled the “troubled kid”, and wasn’t invited to hang out with the youth group. I eventually walked away from the church; because I couldn’t seem to find the healing I needed from childhood sexual trauma, anger, and my addictions. No one listened or acknowledged that a fourteen-year-old could carry so much hurt and addiction. They could not show or tell me how Jesus could offer healing to my brokenness. There were no testimonies in the church being shared of people overcoming what I had endured. So, I turned my back on God and rebelled.
My struggles and pain increased as I grew older. As an adult, living that lifestyle brought about losing my apartment, car, family and being homeless. I had hit my rock bottom. I asked my grandparents for help. I asked them to come and get me. I moved states to live with my grandparents at the age of 22. I entered recovery and surprisingly found help from many people at my home church of John Wesley FMC. I eventually obtained my GED and was accepted into Spring Arbor University, which ultimately led to Seminary.
When I was around 21, I was sitting in a bar still in my addiction. I felt like God was calling me to ministry, as crazy as that sounds. I felt God specifically calling me to be a pastor. He was offering my life purpose. To be honest I was quite taken aback by this feeling. I didn’t even fully understand it. So, I decided to ignore it. In fact, I had what I call a “Jonah” moment. Jonah was called to Nineveh to preach, and well you know the rest of that story. I too ran away from God. I felt unworthy and I felt like a failure in life. I found many reasons for why I should not listen to the call.
Later when I pursued recovery and came back to the Lord; while living with my grandparents, I still ignored this call. So, for nine years I tried different occupations, such as: dental assisting, retail management, and at one point I was a general manager of a restaurant. I did not know it at the time, but God was indeed preparing me for pastoral ministry. Even while working in other careers, doors for evangelism opened regularly. I began sharing the Gospel at work and opened my heart and home to others. I talked with them about their concerns, problems and fears. I celebrated their accomplishments and victories. I was able to lead a few to Christ throughout those nine years. However, I began to feel uneasy.
I knew I was ignoring God and the emotions that came with that were taxing. The call to be a pastor did not let up. God never stopped calling. In fact, He intensified the call. I felt like I was trapped in a whale without any escape except to accept the next event, which was death. I had to die to myself. The feelings of guilt, fear, rejection and inadequacy had to die. So, on my 30th birthday I made the decision to accept the call to pastoral ministry. I had come to realize there is no other career for me. I was meant to be a pastor. I fully accepted and embraced the call to pastoral ministry. While embracing that call, I have discovered a more specific call to deliverance ministry. Deliverance ministry can encompass addictions, physical hurts, demonic freedom, emotional hurts, etc.
I have been blessed with the privilege of helping to restore my parents to Christ and working with them through the recovery process. They have been clean and sober going on six years now! I have felt God blessing my small efforts in recovery ministry throughout the years, which have only cemented the call to plant a recovery church.
Last May, I planted Raven-Brook Recovery Church in Jackson, Michigan. Our mission is to recover the lost and equip the found. Since we have launched nine months ago, we have had four baptisms, nine first-time salvations and three returned to the Lord. We are experiencing the presence of Jesus’ Spirit in our congregation. His Spirit is alive and moving in our congregation; casting out demons, healing the sick, and bringing hope and restoration where there was previously death and darkness!
In addition to being a pastor, I work as a recovery coach. So, let’s talk about co-vocational ministry. I work in the recovery field as a certified recovery coach. Recovery coaches help people remove barriers to recovery. When I was young, I needed a recovery coach to help me discover my barriers and give me the tools to find recovery. Unfortunately, the concept was non-existent. Working in the same field I do ministry in has its pros and cons. Here’s a brief list of the pros, cons and tips of working in the same field as your ministry:
- You stay up-to-date and relevant on the science, literature and growing information in your field.
- It is easy to connect your ministry to your secular job when the opportunity arises.
- Experience, Experience, Experience – There are things you learn that come specifically through experience while working in your field, that you often will not get to learn if you don’t.
- It is easier to stay organized.
- It is easier to get approval from employment to attend conferences and trainings related to that field.
- Over time you will be considered an expert in the field.
- Burn out is a real threat. You must practice good self-care, or as our FM traditions say “balance, schedule time to play.”
- If you work and do ministry in the same field; it can easily skew your focus to see things only through that lens.
- Some may prejudge you and think you don’t have any other knowledge other than that field.
- Pride can easily entangle you so be on the lookout. Over time you will have a lot of knowledge, information and experience in the field and that can contribute to making you feel superior.
- You may be discouraged from connecting your ministry to your other job, because of policies against sharing religious information. Bias is a real thing employers discourage.
I hope this article sheds some light on how I came to operate in co-vocational work and God’s plan of redemption for those marginalized and suffering in addiction. The pros and cons list is not exhaustive, but it’s a few things I have learned over the years. I began this article with my name is Myisha, also known as Uni, and I am in long term recovery; because that is how those of us in recovery greet each other at meetings. It is the intimate sharing of our hearts with undying vulnerability that brings us freedom. Blessings.
For more information about our ministry please visit our website: https://www.ravenbrookrecoverychurch.org
About the Author
Myisha Cunningham, affectionately known as Uni, is the Senior Pastor of Raven-Brook Recovery Church, a Free Methodist Church plant in Jackson, Michigan. Uni has a passion for the hurting and fervor to help those bound in chains to addictions and compulsions. She is currently pursuing her M.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies at Denver Seminary. She is a published poet, vocalist, writer and animal enthusiast. She enjoys quiet evenings playing chess with her husband of ten years Robert Cunningham.