One woman is trying to overcome substance abuse, another the effects of a neglectful mother. A man says he was looking for a Christian alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous. The woman sitting next to him is trying to quit smoking.
The challenges of those who come to C.O.D. are varied, but what unites them is their faith.
C.O.D. stands for Christians Overcoming Disfunctions (organizers prefer the alternate spelling of dysfunctions). It was started nearly four months ago by Deborah David Smith and her husband, the Rev. Bruce Smith, at their Pentecostal church, Christian Apostolic Ministries.
C.O.D. is one of a few Christian support groups in the area. Another, Oldsmar-based Recovery in Christ Ministries, has been around for 10 years, generating recovery meetings around the country.
"I'm glad (C.O.D.) started. There's a tremendous need out there and not enough groups to meet that need," said Richard Massman, director of Recovery in Christ.
C.O.D.'s flagship meeting serves the entire county but the Smiths have plans to expand.
In many ways C.O.D. gatherings are like any 12-step meeting _ down to the endless coffee, tears, laughter and strict rules of anonymity.
But here, the 12 Steps have been boiled down to 10. There is no swearing and no trace of the cigarette smoke common at many secular support groups. Here, occasional shouts of "Amen" and whispers of "Thank you, Jesus" punctuate C.O.D. members' stories of small victories and new insights.
"If you're still surrounded with the lifestyle it's like saying you don't want to get bit by snakes and yet hanging around the snake pit," Smith said.
Members believe Jesus can deliver them from their diseases, vices _ and the underlying reasons for them. But group dynamics can help the process along.
"It's not judgmental; no one's put down for anything they've done," said Laura, 37, who is trying to quit smoking. "You'll find friends who help you in the right direction."
Deborah David Smith, 37, started the support group in March _ six years after she was born again. She had stopped her own drinking and drug use immediately but was continually depressed over the issues that made her use the drinking and drugs in the first place.
"I couldn't find anyone to tell it to," she said. "I felt there had to be other people like me who came to the Lord and had no one to talk to."
Mrs. Smith found that some church members could be judgmental and unwilling to help, so she turned to AA meetings.
"I don't want to put (AA) down because they were very helpful and I got a lot out of it," Mrs. Smith said. "But as a Christian I wasn't comfortable with the cursing and the smoking."
C.O.D., she said, is non-denominational and avoids preaching or lecturing. Prayer is part of the process but not an automatic, all-purpose reaction to members' revelations. No topic is taboo; a recurring topic is anger with God.
Toward the end of a recent meeting, a young man with long hair and a downward gaze confessed, "I hated religious people; then I realized, they're human, too."
The group laughed and nodded.
"We're all human," the young man said with a shrug.
"(God) knows that," said the woman next to him.
And the group stood in a circle to pray.
C.O.D.'s Pathway to Overcoming
1. We confess that a problem exists in our lives that keeps us from functioning as an overcoming Christian.
2. We believe that Jesus Christ is greater than the problem and is able to deliver us from it.
3. We will take responsibility for our faults by honestly examining ourselves.
4. We will divulge our faults to the Lord and one to another. 5. We have decided to turn the problem over to Jesus Christ.
6. We repent and are ready to allow the power of God to correct this problem.
7. We are willing to make amends to anyone our problem has affected.
8. We will make a daily effort to be overcomers by living in truth and honesty.
9. We will make this effort through God by prayer, dedication and the Word.
10. As overcomers, we will continue to follow these guidelines giving praise to God and supporting those who are still suffering from disfunctions.
The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol _ that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
If you go
Christians Overcoming Disfunctions meets at 7 p.m. Saturdays at Christian Apostolic Ministries church, 9400 67th St. N off 66th Street. For information, call 786-8325 or 547-0668.
To contact Recovery in Christ Ministries, call Richard Massman at 855-6727.