Ministry offers liberty from pornography

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Campaign for sexual purity built on accountability, mutual support
by Kathy Heinrichs Wiest

They mark the date of their freedom on the calendar—the day they say “I’m totally done now.”  For some it’s only days since they’ve known freedom from pornography, but others have seen the days stretch into weeks and months and even years.

For George Sawatzky, who leads these men toward their freedom, it has been two and a half years since he took his last look at pornography. Sawatzky’s own story and the liberty he has to share it are giving hope to other men who are battling an addiction to pornography.

The statistics on pornography use in the church are alarming, Sawatzky says. He cites a report by Covenant Eyes Internet Accountability and Filtering (www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats/) indicating that 50 percent of Christian men are addicted to pornography.

Based at Dinuba (Calif.) MB Church, Sawatzky’s ministry draws men from various churches in Dinuba and surrounding communities. The ministry is called The Herd.

This campaign for sexual purity among Christian men started small—an accountability group Sawatzky set up with his son and three other high school boys as a follow-up to a weekend “Man Camp” retreat.

On the drive home from the retreat, Sawatzky pulled off the road and announced to the boys, “Once a week we’re going to meet at Starbucks and I’m going to keep you accountable.”

There was just one problem: Sawatzky himself was addicted to pornography. “God told me: ‘What do you think you are doing? How can you keep them accountable when you’re in the midst of the struggle?’”

Sawatzky says he stopped “cold turkey” but knew that he couldn’t face the struggle alone. He called on a good friend to be his accountability partner and installed a filter on his computer.

Accountability and mutual support are at the heart of The Herd. The name reflects the picture of Satan as a lion from I Peter 5:8. “Fighting a lion one-on-one usually works out well for the lion,” accountability group leader Abe Isaak will explain to his group. “If you look around and you are alone, understand that that is a very dangerous place to be; quickly get back to the herd.”

More than 40 men are now part of the accountability groups or one-on-one mentoring that make up The Herd. Being part of a herd means gathering weekly for study and accountability. It means looking your accountability partners in the eye to ask and answer the hard questions about how the journey to purity is going.

Herd members are available to each other by phone and text messaging the rest of the week. “If you feel like you’re going to fail you text out so you’re not alone in the fight,” explains one member. “It’s much easier if you have 15 guys that you’ve texted out to and they’re praying and sending you verses.

“It’s like fighting fire with fire,” he adds. “The cell phone is a way to abuse your freedom or it’s a way to gain your freedom.”

Study and techniques of accountability are only part of the story, however. Beyond the technique is the work of God in the lives of the participants. “Only when we experience the transforming grace, forgiveness and love of Jesus can we be truly free,” Sawatzky emphasizes.

Smart phones have fueled the exponential growth of pornography use, Sawatzky points out, warning parents that they need to protect their children: “An 11-year-old can't buy cigarettes, but any 11-year-old with a smart phone can access pornography.”

One of the young men Sawatzky mentors determined that, for him, accessibility created too much temptation. Before leaving for college this fall he dropped his computer off at Sawatzky’s house. While other students can work anywhere from their laptops, he chose the inconvenience of having to use the library computers to do his schoolwork.

“He wants his freedom,” Sawatzky explains, “and he knows if he has his computer with him he’s going to fall.”

Sawatzky is driven by the statistics about the high incidence of pornography use among Christians, but he doesn’t need scientific research to convince him that use of pornography has reached epidemic proportions. “I have not spoken to a high school boy yet that is not involved in pornography,” he says, sadly noting that these are boys who grew up in Sunday school and youth group and many attend Christian schools.

Feelings of shame and hopelessness are the greatest enemies of freedom in the battle with pornography addiction. Sawatzky’s openness in sharing his own story helps open the doors for others.

One participant says that the hardest part was to tell someone about his struggle. “I was scared out of my mind,” he says.  Telling a trusted youth leader, however, was the first step toward becoming free, and he is now celebrating 17 weeks of freedom from pornography.

“The word needs to be out there that there is freedom from this,” he says. “There’s a certain degree of hopelessness, and people need to know there is a way out.”

Spreading the word about the freedom available is a growing part of the ministry of The Herd. In September the group held a “Herd Roundup” where current members and invited guests gathered to hear stories of liberation and celebrate the progress. Nearly 100 men from at least six different churches took part (photo left).

The Herd has also reached outside the local community with a group in Sacramento and another taking shape in Southern California. Leaders hope for an even wider reach by becoming their own nonprofit organization.

The future of the church itself is at stake in this battle, says Sawatzky, because pornography drains the spiritual vitality of the church’s leaders.  Pornography creates “crippled husbands, crippled fathers, crippled spiritual leaders,” he warns.

On the other hand, freedom from pornography opens up new avenues in communion with God. “It’s amazing when we get this out of our life how God speaks to us,” he says. “You experience God in a way you’ve never experienced him. It’s terribly exciting. I pray that this will be the beginning of a revival in our churches for sexual purity.”

Resources
George Sawatzky, who began a ministry for men involved with pornography, is interested in connecting with others who want to take action against pornography. Contact him by e-mail at theherd559@gmail.com  Sawatzky suggests the following resources:

Accountability Software
Covenant Eyes Internet and Accountability Filtering

Books for individual or group study
Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace by Heath Lambert
Pure Desire: How One Man’s Triumph Can Help Others Break Free from Sexual Temptation by Dr. Ted Roberts
Clean: A Proven Plan for Men Committed to Sexual Integrity by Dr. Douglas Weiss

Curriculum
Conquer Series – DVD curriculum

Photos by John Ervin

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