BEST OF: A Wilkerson Family Testimony: Prodigal Children Overcoming Addiction | World Challenge

BEST OF: A Wilkerson Family Testimony: Prodigal Children Overcoming Addiction

Parents in the church can feel ashamed of having a prodigal child. They may have actually been condemned for their child’s suffering or wandering path. In this episode, Gary Wilkerson is joined by his wife, Kelly, and son, Evan, as they discuss how their family was ultimately able to draw closer to God as a result of Evan’s prodigal journey. While this time can be immensely painful for parents and families, God is always faithful. Gary, Kelly, and Evan talk about how God redeemed and healed their own relationships and lives through what seemed like a very dark period.

Parents in the church can feel ashamed of having a prodigal child. They may have actually been condemned for their child’s suffering or wandering path. In this episode, Gary Wilkerson is joined by his wife, Kelly, and son, Evan, as they discuss how their family was ultimately able to draw closer to God as a result of Evan’s prodigal journey. While this time can be immensely painful for parents and families, God is always faithful. Gary, Kelly, and Evan talk about how God redeemed and healed their own relationships and lives through what seemed like a very dark period.

Bob Ditmer: Well, welcome to another Gary Wilkerson podcast, and today we're going to be talking to the Christian family, and I guess all elements of the family to parents and to children, as well, as we talk about this idea of children that stray, that children that get into different areas that they should not. All parents worry about their children, but with Christian families, there's an added element. You worry about their faith and their walk with Christ, as well. Gary maybe you can share with us some history of your family as we get into this topic. 

Gary Wilkerson: Yeah, we have our son, Evan with us here, we'll introduce him in a little bit and my wife Kelly. But we come from a Christian family. My father was a pastor and the founder of the ministry that I work with now called World Challenge. Also founder of Teen Challenge, a drug rehab program that's now in about 70 nations, almost 1,500 centers around the world. So, as I'm speaking to you today, there's about 20,000 young men and women who are in a treatment facility getting set free from drugs and alcohol, and life controlling problems through the power of Jesus Christ. His father was a pastor, as well and then his father, my great grandfather, was, they called it a tent evangelist, he'd try around in United States, preaching gospel crusades and his father was a pastor. 

Gary: There's even rumors, we're not sure, this isn't confirmed, but there's even rumors back to, there was supposedly a Wilkerson who was a chaplain in Tennessee during the Civil War, so five, six, maybe Evan might be the seventh generation of people involved in ministry, so we come from a long line of pastors and ministers, but I think when a family loves God, the enemy hates that and he loves to attack community and unity, and so we felt the attack, we see this as we travel around the world, there's so many families under attack. I think particularly because we have made a positive dent in the negative kingdom of darkness when it comes to addiction and drugs, that the enemy really sent every demon from the pit of Hell to come against our family when it comes to addictions. 

Gary: Being so many set free is like, "Oh, let me see if I can trap some of their own family," so we hit a season of great despair as a couple and a family of seeing personally these very destructive forces come in and wreak havoc on our own family. 

Bob: And so, how did it affect you? What is it that happened in your family? 

Gary: Well, we have four kids. Evan, who is here with us, and one of our other sons Elliot, both of them became pretty involved in drugs and alcohol, running from God. Evan can tell you a little bit later, but always had a heart for God, his brother Elliot, I remember when he was in the midst of his addictions, he'd call me on the phone, he was living on the street, he was homeless, he was addicted to heroin, he would call me and just say, "I'm spending this whole day praying Jesus, help me, Jesus, set me free. I love you and I wanna change, but I don't know how. It doesn't work." 

Gary: Almost like God, you're not working. He said, "Ask," and I'm asking and it's not working, so that was for us, as a couple, it was extremely frustrating. It was almost like we didn't know whether to just fall on our face, as we did many times, and cry out to God, "Please help us, Jesus." Or sometimes shake an angry fist, "Where are you, God? You just seem so far away, so distant. You heal other people's children," and ours to seem to be, the more we prayed, the worst it gets, and it was very sad, it was very emotionally stressful time. 

Bob: Kelly, did you feel guilty about what had happened? 

Gary: That's a good question. 

Bob: Did you think you had done something wrong during that time? 

Kelly Wilkerson: Absolutely. You know, I mean, it would just kind of fall on us like how can we have done something different? How could we have been better parents? Maybe we should have spent more time with them, maybe we should have been harder on them, you know? I mean, there's just like a host of things that we would go through the checklist. If we had lived differently then he could live differently. 

Bob: Yep, yep. I think I mentioned I used to teach in adult Sunday school class and every week, there would be prayers in this way, and it was the parents always saying, "We must have done something wrong. We didn't teach I'm this way. We must have done something wrong," when it wasn't anything they did, right? 

Kelly: Right. 

Bob: It was just their own moral agent and Evan, I guess, maybe that question goes to you. How do you think this happened? Was it something the parents did or did not, or how did you fall into something that was so contrary to the values that you had been raised with? 

Evan Wilkerson: Sure. I think it really started with where my desires lied, so they really set good foundations, biblical foundations, that were right to walk in, but my desires shifted when I really started becoming more immersed in what other people thought of me and wanting that kind of acceptance from peers and friends in school, and really chasing after whatever the world was presenting. And so, that's really, I think, the cause and the catalyst of getting immersed in the world's ways and not following in what my parents had clearly demonstrated as good behavior and a good lifestyle. 

Evan: It was just that deception of the enemy that quickly got into my system and brought me out of what I should have really been living in. 

Bob: As you think back on that time, what was the plan? If you had a plan, when the world starts to fall apart with a child. Did you say, "Okay, here are our steps. We're gonna do one, two, three, and four." Kind of walk me through where you were. 

Gary: For me, it was desperation more than a plan. All the plans had come and gone, the strategies of oh, this can fix it or that will solve it or he'll go to this school instead of that school, or we'll have his friends come over to our house every day after school rather than him going ... We had all these strategies and none of them seemed to be working, right? 

Kelly: No. You know, sin wants what sin wants. And so, whether we were the host family and had all the kids at our house or if we allowed our children to be with other neighbors or whatever, they're gonna find the trouble, the temptation is there and the seduction of the world, it's very cunning. It's very, very cunning and I mean, scripture tells us that Satan is an angel of light and there's the way that he deceives and counterfeits, so just like Gary said, any plan that we thought that we might have or any strategy, I mean, the basis, what it all comes down to is that we found our way through this by prayer. 

Kelly: And God had victory for us through the power of prayer. And sometimes, that even looked a little shaky, you know? Because the more that we would pray, the worse the situation would get. But I guess even talking about it now and kind of processing, too, it's like things would come to light, which I mean, that's what we want, because you don't know who you're fighting, what you're fighting if there's no light to it and things are still in the shadows. And so, maybe it only appeared that they were getting worse, but God was allowing things to come to light and you would have a revelation of it and you're just like, "Oh, no. Not that, too," you know? 

Bob: Yeah. 

Kelly: It's just like I feel like we're going deeper into the pit, you know? But- 

Gary: One of our kids told us once, not Evan, but our other son, said, "I hate being a Christian." I said, "Why?" He says, "Everything I do wrong, I get caught. All my other friends, they do things worse than me and they never get caught." It's like the exposure of- 

Kelly: Never get caught, yeah. 

Gary: ... bringing things in darkness to light, but I would say that also going back to what you were bringing up earlier, Bob, about how a parent feels when you see the struggle, so Evan, I don't wanna expose you, but we can edit this later if you want. But I remember coming home one day and he was probably in his late teens and he had these two empty bottles in his bedroom and he wasn't in his bedroom and his window was open, he was sitting out on the like second story, kind of hanging over the edge just like teetering, he was so out of his mind drunk. What kind of emotions does a parent have at that time? Well, there's fear, we're gonna lose this boy, this could end in overdose or suicide or just a life of alcoholism. So, there's a lot of fear involved in that, as well. 

Gary: And then there's the self-loathing, the anger, like, "What did I do wrong? I'm such a failure," it's just like the shoulda, woulda, couldas come in and there's a kind of a balance there. It's almost like, I think some parents totally excuse themselves and then they don't learn the lessons like I coulda. When I look back on it, like I didn't wanna repeat some of the mistakes my father had made. He traveled a lot and he was gone, so I think there was a slight father wound in my own heart that caused me to go searching for love and I think I see that. Evan was already starting to tell a story here, he's saying like in looking for love in his friends or acceptance, approval, applause. And so, I learned that lesson of okay, be present to your children. I don't wanna miss that lesson, you know? 

Gary: And I don't wanna miss being able to tell other parents who are in the middle of this battle right now. It's like you'll hear some people say, "It's not your fault," and it's not, but there is somethings we can learn in this and somethings we can improve on as far as parenting. 

Kelly: Right. 

Gary: And so for me, to be present to your kids. Now, she was much better than I was. She was there and present, but you know, because even sometimes when I was there, I would be like distracted with my ministry items, my thinking of strategies and visions and goals and dreams and aspirations and building my Kingdom. I think my kids missed out on some. On the other hand, we were blessed to learn that addictions is like a disease. And I really believe that. I know there's sin involved in it, but I also believe ... So, like Evan could take a drink and the light bulb turns on and goes, "This is best thing I've ever." There's something in the brain chemical that he has in his mind causes him to take that drink and it becomes an explosive high. 

Gary: Where if I were to take a drink, I may go like, "That didn't taste very good. I don't want that," because I don't have that kind of ... That can't be a parent's fault to have a child with an addictive personality. That is something that is ... It would be like saying, it's your fault that your children brain tumor or cancer or leukemia, it's not the parent's fault, there's disease involved in this, as well. I think that balance is really important. 

Kelly: Right. 

Bob: You had mentioned that you had been praying for exposure. Evan, did you know that they were praying that you'd get caught whatever you did? And did you resent that, if you did? 

Evan: Yeah. I kind of noticed that I was getting caught a lot more than my friends would and maybe kind of like a Jonah experience. Like don't have this guy come around us, because God's after him or we get in trouble when he's around. So, yeah. That kind of sense was a little bit there following me. 

Bob: Then was there resentment even to your faith as a result of that? 

Evan: I think all around, there was some kind of ... I couldn't understand, I couldn't place my finger on what God was trying to do. In my selfish steep of addiction, I just pictured it as, man, God is gonna make me suffer or go through all these kinds of pains in order to give up just to realize that he's the only one that can provide life or provide something for me and so, I was kind of confused about that. Like why can't I just come to him in a different way or live how I want or experience something that I want and then just come to him and his love. But it seemed like he was just making it impossible for me to experience any kind of true, true pleasure without him. 

Evan: And so, in that kind of selfish way, I was resenting him for that. 

Bob: Kelly, was there anything else you prayed for besides the exposure? Were there some other prayers that were common during that time for you? 

Kelly: Yeah. I mean, we wanted Evan to have life in Christ, you know? We wanted Jesus to be his first and foremost, you know? 

Gary: Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Kelly: I, too, just as a way of confession, I think that if looking back over that season, and even looking ahead to hard times that may come, because we have our faith is tested, you know? God wants to purify it, he wants to make it perfect. And I am so sorry that I forgot the faithfulness of God, you know? I would think, "You said the seed of the righteous, we'll flourish. You said," you know? And my attack was on God's faithfulness, how Satan attacked me was on the goodness of God or the faithfulness of God, or the truth of God, the wisdom of God. You know, how he was taking Evan on his journey and I mean, I just so regret that for even one moment, I would say that God wasn't faithful, you know? 

Kelly: It just encouraged families and parents, and even kids that might be praying for their parents, or even another struggle, maybe someone's struggling with a healing or whatever breakthrough. God is faithful. He is faithful. God is faithful and never forget that. He is faithful. I don't care how dark it is, what storm it is, God is faithful, you know? He's with you. He's gonna see through this. He hasn't abandoned you. I mean, it is written that he never leaves us, he never forsakes us, and I think just like in the garden, the serpent went to Eve and said, "Did God say?" I mean, many times I would hear that. "Did God really say that he was gonna rescue Evan? Did God say he was going to protect your family?" 

Kelly: And I would get trapped in that place where I would not think that God was with us or he was faithful. So, I mean, just- 

Bob: I can't help, but notice. 

Kelly: ... hang on. 

Bob: Yeah, I can't help, but notice what's remarkable is here you're dealing with something that Evan was dealing with and the whole family learns a lesson from it, of things that they needed to deal with perhaps, as well. I guess that's how God works, isn't it? 

Kelly: Yeah. 

Gary: Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Bob: Yeah. 

Kelly: Yeah, he's a redeemer. Nothing's wasted. 

Bob: Yeah. And speaking of the prayers that you had that everything be revealed, it reminds me of something you said in an earlier podcast. You said your grandfather talked about the holy ghost miserables? 

Gary: Oh, yeah. Yeah. 

Bob: Is it hard for a parent to wish this kind of thing on your child? I mean, that would be a hard thing to wish for. 

Gary: You know- 

Bob: They would come at such a low point, that they'd have to come to that. 

Gary: Yeah, it is hard to wish that and sometimes it's easy, because you always love your kids, but when they're being such knuckleheads and making such poor decisions, sometimes you kind of want to see them miserable. Not in a holy ghost way, just in a human way. They're just so frustrating. But you know, having addictions and on a backslidden person, whether it be an addiction or just somebody who was just drifting from God, it's a family crisis. It's not just one person out there making poor choices. 

Gary: It's the whole family is the negatively effected by it. And you know, so many wounded people, so many wounded families. We do a lot of pastor conferences, because of Evan and his sibling's testimonies, we have a special place in our heart to pray a prayer of faith at the end of some of our meetings for pastors conference and we've had, I'd say it’s very rare that there's anything less than 80% of the pastors who will either raise their hand or come forward for prayer. Saying like you have a prodigal son or daughter- 

Kelly: Or child, yeah. 

Gary: ... or child in drugs or alcohol, 80% ... These are pastors. I mean, that's not a clinical survey or anything like that, but just anecdotally I would say, 70-80% of families are dealing with this and the hurt. It's really powerful. 

Kelly: Yeah, there's a lot of shame with it. 

Gary: Shame. 

Kelly: And guilt, you know? And two, it's hard for leaders in ministry to find a safe place, a space place to share their story, and you know, I mean, someone that is out to overtake or topple somebody's calling, they could take that information and ruin a ministry with it. So ... 

Bob: Yeah, and I guess the key there is you do need to speak up, though, don't you? 

Kelly: Right. 

Bob: You need to seek out some help of those around you. 

Kelly: Yes. 

Bob: Whether you're a pastor or just a Christian in a church. 

Kelly: Absolutely. 

Bob: How do you overcome that shame in a case like that? Here you folks, especially a well known Christian family and you're pastoring at church, and how did you get around that? How did you get through and say, "We just need some help from some people?" 

Kelly: Right. I think it was trying to be wholehearted and be vulnerable and just show that place that, you know, "Hey, we need help, we need to be in community." I mean, God created us to live in community and the way through this is with other's help, so ... 

Gary: There's so many tentacles to this kind of crisis and so, the issue of vulnerability would be one, as well. So, I was pastoring at the time and I'm not just the head of the family, Christ is the head, the under shepherd, but I'm part of the family, as well, so I asked for prayer, "My son is struggling with an addiction, would you as a congregation, would you please pray for my wife and I? We're hurting." And for by and large, it was amazing and a pleasant experience where people gathered around us. But it also backfired, as well, because far more than I imagined were like, "Ugh, you can't be our pastor. You have a child who's ..." Well, its' like he's an adult for number one. It's not like the scripture talks about, you know, you can't lead, if- 

Bob: Having control of your ... Yeah. 

Kelly: You can't manage your home. 

Gary: ... you can't manage your own home and stuff like that, so hey, there was management within our home, but what they do now ... But that wasn't enough. So, it almost like giving them ammunition to shoot you with and so I would say when it comes to this, be careful who you're vulnerable with if you have a prodigal child or a family member who's, even a spouse, there's an addiction there. Make sure it's a trusted friend, a counselor, maybe even if you're a pastor, a pastor from another church. Even with that you wanna be careful, because they try to take you out.

Bob: Evan, let me put you on the spot here. 

Evan: Sure. 

Bob: And your parents sitting here, what did they do wrong during this time? 

Gary: Do you have another hour or two? Yeah, be honest. 

Evan: What did they do wrong? 

Gary: Don't pull any punches, man. Go for it. 

Kelly: You might need to turn it into a series. 

Gary: A series? Yeah. 

Evan: No, I don't think so. I mean, from my perspective, it's really hard to perceive anything that they directly did wrong to me, you know? I'm not sure what the perfect model of is parenting, you know? I'm not a parent yet, have one on the way, but I'm not a parent yet. And so, I'll figure out more right and wrong ways of parenting when that time comes. But I didn't really see it as what they were doing wrong, you know? In my walk, it's just what can I do right and unfortunately, I had just such confusion about how to live, what the right and wrong ways of living were, and again, even though they set healthy boundaries, just through terrible influences, I'd say, and through my own flesh, I would seek to break boundaries. 

Evan: And seek to become my own man through rebellious natures and it really just was a prodigal nature. It's just, “Give me the inheritance, so I can live recklessly and get the most pleasure that I can for myself” because that's what the world sold me, and I bought it. I bought it holistically and just went out. It's really the hedonist lifestyle, was my greatest issue. I bought the lie that the meaning of life was pleasure, and Satan is really good about getting those hooks in with that deception of “the meaning of life is pleasure and here's a little bit here.” Here's a little bit here, and before you know it, you're trapped. Before you know it, you aren't finding any pleasure in these things at all, but they're actually misery, and they're actually discontent and bewilderment that you ever came to this place.

Evan: And when the prodigal, it says that he came to his senses of, "My dad's servants are living better than I am, let me go back to him." It was really coming to my senses of that they have provided and why did I leave that lifestyle, why would I choose something that has brought me into this pig pen and really in some physical and spiritual parallels to that prodigal story of I'm physically sick, I'm mentally sick, I'm spiritually desolate, and bewildered how I ever got here. So, honestly, it was never point of, "Wow, they really messed up. They really brought me here." And I think there's truth to that and that I have to take responsibility for some choices that I made and that it really came out of my own doing.

Gary: In all cases with our children, Evan and his brother Elliot, there came a moment where we let go. We let go of the worry, we let go of the anxiety, we let go of the sense of responsibility, because there comes a point where there's nothing you can, whether it's prodigal or an addict in your family, you can't take the blame or the shame. I was thinking earlier when we were talking what do the parents do wrong?

Gary: One of the things that the Lord encouraged me one time in is I was feeling so guilty, so full of shame, and he said to me, he said, "I was a perfect father, my son screwed up," or messed up, you know? He probably didn't say screwed up, he probably said messed up. So, you know- 

Kelly: Are you talking about Adam and Eve? 

Gary: Adam and Eve, yeah, yeah. His son- 

Kelly: God created him. 

Gary: God did nothing wrong, he was totally a perfect father for Adam and Eve, and yet they went into sin themselves. So, that is, it's the moral choice, the lukewarmness is a choice that somebody makes, but so letting go and just saying, "God, you're the father, you got this. You knew what you were doing with Adam and Eve, and you know what you're doing with Evan and Elliot, Annie and Ashley, and our six grandkids. You know what you're doing with them," and so, it seemed like to me that as we were holding onto this, things got worse and more shame and guilt and stress and anxiety and fear. And I don't know if it's like God's waiting for us to let go then he does something or he's saying to us, "The journey's ending, just rest now. I've got this." 

Gary: I'm not sure which one he's doing, but in all these cases, there came a point where it just clicked. Our good friend, Pastor Jim Cymbala of Brooklyn Tabernacle, talks about the exact same thing. His daughter was a prodigal daughter living out in the world and doing all kinds of reckless things. And he was anxious and worried about her, he was sitting in his lounge chair with tears in his eyes just saying, "Lord, when she's coming home?" And he just said, "Rest, I've got this, don't worry about it." And you know, she called and came home a few days later and said, "I'm ready to get my life back to God. 

Bob: Wow. 

Gary: And get through this." 

Kelly: I think- 

Gary: And you had that experience, too, with Elliot. 

Kelly: With Elliot, right. I think, too, Bob we need to remember that God loves our children more than we can possibly ever comprehend or understand. And you know, he doesn't want them ... He did not write that life for them to be in the world and sin tossed, you know? 

Bob: Yep. 

Kelly: That's not what he wrote for them and so, it helped me to remember that God loves him more than I ever could and that he's after them. And Gary kind of mentioned just about letting go, I had a vision with one of our other sons and the Lord says, "Give them to me." And so, I'm holding this adult limp body in our arms and as I hand them over to Christ, Jesus turns his back on me and I'm kind of like well, what's going on? He goes, "This is between us." You know? 

Bob: Wow. 

Kelly: He's like, "I got this. This is between the two of us." And so, I remember I just stood with my hands on the back of the Lord as he was holding our son and I just said, "I give you thanks, you're good and your mercy endures forever." And that became my anthem, you know? 

Bob: Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Kelly: I just stood in that place of like you're good, I'm gonna thank you, and your mercy endures forever. 

Bob: Evan, did you feel this going on? I mean, you were doing a spiritual battle yourself, I'm guessing, through all of this. When it finally dawned on you that, "I need to go back," what was it that you think caused that to happen? How did it happen? 

Evan: Well, I definitely knew that were my parents praying for me day and night, and I saw the broken heartedness in them and that was really effecting me, too, of course. But it really came just to God's intervention and just as my mom said of Christ almost just taking us for himself, just to deal with us in the way that he wanted to, was the only thing that could really intervene and break that bondage of sin, that addiction, because it was just as overwhelming for me as it was for my parents. And you become clueless as to what the solution is, what the remedy is, and when you're praying all the time, too, but not seeing any kind of leeway or effects of it, you really start to lose hope. 

Evan: So, I actually came to a point after rehab and then relapsing again, of just absolute hopelessness. There is no way out of this. I mean, my clear belief was this is who I am going to be for the rest of my life, I'm an addict, and this is just me. So, that, of course, out of desperation bred, "God, I need your help. Lord, save me. There's no other way to turn except to you." And either it's just gonna be a miracle or it's gonna be what I've concluded that I'm just an addict from here on out. And there was various points, it was just recently that God just laid out this whole timeline for me. I was giving thanks to him, just, "God, thank you for my wife. Thank you for job, car," whatever it may be, and he laid out this amazing timeline of, despite my actions, in spite of me running away from him, and actually working against him in my hedonism and my drugs and alcohol, he kept putting stones and pieces in place to turn me back to him. 

Evan: And there was no other way to see it other than, wow, God had so much grace in me to put this prayer over me, put these friends who just constantly was speaking Bible verses, giving me this job where I needed this mentor. Thing after thing, just absolutely lavishing me with grace, in spite of my actions. So, it was nothing that I did, it was just answered prayer of I was really actually working against God's grace, but because of his favor and because he wanted to answer our prayers and he knew that I was desperate for him. He put the pieces in place and once step after another, lead me out of that. Where you look back and see that was a miracle. God lead me out of that. God answered our prayers. 

Bob: Sounds like it was a process rather than something like a bolt of light out of the sky, it took a while? 

Evan: Right. There was actually one day where I thought, "Oh, this is the miracle day where my life absolutely changes and I never go back." I had a counselor who said, "You know, God sees the things that you're doing and it actually breaks his heart. And so, I would consider just telling him you're sorry sometime." And it was a day after partying all night and I missed Sunday morning church, I came home and my parents were pretty upset and said just get it together essentially. And I went upstairs and I just thought about what my counselor said and I said, "Lord, I'm sorry." That was it, you know? 

Evan: As simple as it could be and immediately, I was just rushed upon with his love. It was overwhelming. I had to just to fall on the floor and I was weeping, just because of his love and it was just this instant reaction of you're forgiven, the father sees the prodigal son far away, and he rushes to him and wraps his arms around him, and kills the fattened calf and celebrates. And that's how I felt in that moment just from saying, "Lord, I'm sorry," I felt like he was celebrating and his love and so, if anything, I thought that was the moment. Hey, I'm free, you know? I'm never going back to drugs again and it wasn't long before it actually got worse. So, that is unfathomable to me. I don't understand how it actually got worse after that. To this day, that was the greatest experience of his presence ever. 

Evan: And it still spun out of control, but I still hung onto that memory and it was just the beginning point that started putting all these steps into place for a complete change of life. 

Bob: I'm sure you don't ... You regret having done all of those things, but it sounds like through all of those things, you got a clear vision of who God was, that you wouldn't have had any other way. 

Gary: Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Evan: Absolutely. Faithfulness, he was faithful, his steadfast love, his grace, his forgiveness, all of those characteristics, again, in spite of me or despite what I was doing was really surfacing in those times and I didn't really get a full picture until after the fact. And I think a lot of times life is like that, it seems by matter of chance or random and when we're actually just submitting to God or sometimes running away from him even, he still just surrounds us and he still chases after us. And you begin to see these characteristics of him unravel and it's not until you look back where you say, "Wow, you are an amazing God." 

Bob: Kelly, I'm watching you watch Evan speak of this. Great deal of joy on your face. This must be wonderful to hear that. 

Kelly: Oh. I'm ecstatic, yeah, to have release and victory and like he said, there's such a celebration, but it doesn't compare to the celebration that God, the father, has over him. And it's extraordinary to take something that's broken and to mend it, to take the things that are bruised and to heal. I love in scripture where it's written that God is near to the broken hearted, and it says, "He binds up their wounds," you know? It's like God is personal and hands on like Evan mentioned, he lavishes his love on us as his children, I think it's extraordinary. 

Kelly: I thank him for the miracle. 

Bob: Yeah. So, Gary, I guess in retrospect, as you look back on this whole time, have you come to any advice for our viewers and listeners? What would your dos and don'ts as a parent going through something like this? 

Gary: Yeah, thanks for asking that, it's a very important question. Because I think a lot of people listen to this, whether they're running from God themselves or lukewarm, or they're finding themselves in addictions or they're a family member, they're probably asking themselves, "Okay, what not? Like great story, but how does that translate to me? Do I just wait for a miracle to happen or is there somethings I can do?" And so, I would say there are some steps we can take. We had to become proactive to be very careful, number one, about not being what psychologists would call co-dependent, where we provided an environment for our kids to excel in their sins, so to speak. 

Gary: One of my son's drug counselors said, he was a former drug addict as well, and he said, "Oh, man. When I was into drugs, I wish you were my parents, because you made it so easy. Like you provide them. Here's $50, Evan. We love you so much." I was worried about it, I thought he was a drug addict, because of his self-esteem low, so like here's money and I love you so much, do whatever you want. And it's just the opposite was he needed. Like no, you need boundaries and so there has to be ... Internally, there has to come a strength of saying, "I am not going to feed their addictions, I'm not going to feed their thing." And so, with one of our other kids, we actually had to come to a point where we actually had to ask him to leave the home. I mean, it was one of the roughest days of our lives. 

Gary: Actually calling the police and he's crying saying, "I don't wanna leave." And the police were actually grabbing him by the arms saying like, because he was stealing from us and it was just feeding his heroin addiction, and so setting some boundaries, being firm. These are things I would say, there's a scripture verse that says, "The spirit helps our weaknesses," and so, the spirit of God will do these supernatural miracles where Evan and Elliot and his siblings are set free and saved, but the spirit also helps. There's a certain ways he helped and one is with the family members of being careful about being co-dependent. There's some really good books on that you can read. You can go Celebrate Recovery is a good tool the church has about helping family members deal, so you're not alone. So people aren't dealing with this family member or their own stuff that they're doing with independently. 

Gary: So, you go to a meeting and then secondly, I would say also is then the spirit helps our weaknesses and our infirmities by the supernatural miracle, yes, like your brother we're talking about, right after you had that vision of turning him over to Jesus, he called us maybe a week or two later and said ... Bizarre, started bad. He said, "I'm in jail." I said, "Oh, no." And he said, "But last night, in the darkness of my prison cell, a supernatural light came in the dark cell. My cell became bright and the presence of God came in, filled the room," and he said he hadn't been in jail very long so he was still detoxing and he said, "The blood changed, my mind changed my heart changed," and he was set free, so it was great he had that miracle. 

Gary: And then Evan talked about the miracle, as well, but there were some steps they took. The spirit helping our weaknesses by going to rehab, Teen Challenge, or a lot of insurance companies pay if you're family member or spouse or yourself wanna go into a rehab program. Teen Challenges, they're all over America, around the world, there are other ... I prefer Christian centered ones, but man, even if it's not a Christian one, because some of these are medical issues, so you can medical help as well. And I don't know, would you advise that Evan? Like going through a detox, going through a rehab? I mean, I think those things gave you some ... 

Kelly: Tools. 

Gary: Tools. You learned some things there that aided that supernatural spiritual, power thing, right? 

Evan: Yeah. Absolutely. I would definitely advise some very practical things that the rest of the world does to help you get sober. I believe God has supernaturally placed some really sound methods of recovery. I mean, AA was phenomenal for me. Rehab helped changed my whole psychic change, they call it. A sponsor, there were times where I would being craving or obsessing and the greatest thing in that moment was just being able to call up a sponsor and he would talk me down or again, going to meetings. All of those things I can see how God actually uses those, but ultimately, it came to the point of being on knees every morning, every night just asking him to help me stay sober and then thanking him when I did stay sober. 

Gary: Yeah, yeah. I think those are tools that God has, like what you were saying, he created these tools for us, for our good, for our benefit and so, there's something unhealthy, I think, in a Christian environment that would say, "It's only this one. You just have to pray your way out of this," and I agree with you, you're saying that's the core of it, but then to kind of deny that the fact you might need counseling or that you might a Christian community to help you through this, or you might need rehab and you do need detox. 

Gary: I mean, that stuff can kill you. They say if you're an alcoholic, the hardest detox to do, because of the blood stuff and so, these are things that I think ... Again one of my kids breaks his arm, I'm gonna pray for healing, but I'm also gonna take him to the doctor and I think we need to be a little bit more open in the Christian community about looking at various means. And not looking at other ... I've heard so many people scorned like, "Oh, AA is a higher power, it's so secular." It's like okay, maybe it's not the best thing. The holy spirit is much better than your dog being a higher power by far, you know? But least it's a step and take a step, so- 

Bob: All truth is God's truth, right? 

Gary: All truth is God's truth. 

Bob: Yep. 

Gary: And there's such good stuff out there. Evan, if you don't mind me saying, he went to a counselor probably for a year or so, right? 

Evan: Right, yeah. 

Gary: Even after meeting Jesus again, and coming into grace, and I'm so glad you ... We were so thrilled that every week he was there faithfully and going to some meetings, and that for the family, too, is like when you're ... Because you're nervous. Like the word relapse is very fearful in families that deal with addictions and so to see them so healthy that they're taking their own initiative and again, as parents, we can't mandate that. We can't say, "Did you go to your AA meeting today? Did you go see your counselor?" Because that's almost like diminishing their sense of worth, that they can do it themselves. They don't need mom and dad to make them better, they need God, they need self control, they need the power of the holy spirit, they need the power of a sound mind that makes wise decisions and as they do these things, then the changes sometimes they're instant and then sometimes they're slow. 

Gary: And then sometimes they're instant and then slow. God uses so many forms and methods of doing things. Just don't give up and don't give up. And then man, the toughest thing of all for me in situations like this is like ... And I still don't fully understand this, it's like how gracious God was to rescue our kids, but then my heart goes out to those who lose children. And I wish I had the theology to help you through that other than just to know that God's with you, but some families have lost ... 50,000 young adults have overdosed this year alone, or the last 12 months. 50,000 overdoses in America and so it's an epidemic, it's becoming higher and higher on the list of things that are killing people today. 

Gary: And so, man, some people have lost their loved one and I just wanna say God's with you and he's not giving up on you and it wasn't your fault, don't get stuck in a spiral of shame and self hatred, just realize that God's for you and with you and when the curtain is pulled back and we see him face to face instead of through glass darkly, we'll be able to understand what was behind the scene of this thing. And again if it's ... And the Christian mentality of like, "Well, they're an addict, they call on the name of Jesus, but they were addicted, were they saved or no?" I've had a lot of parents ask me that. Like did my son or daughter go to heaven, even though they overdosed? "Whoever calls in the name of the Lord, shall be saved." 

Gary: So, I believe if they had a heart after God and again, if we look at it in the disease model of this, they were struggling with this disease as well as sin, but because they were diseased or because they were struggling with this particular item of sin and it's more deadly, so you have a son who's struggling with pride, well it's not gonna probably kill him. And another son who's struggling with a heroin addiction, that could kill him or alcohol could kill him, but in God's eyes, it was like we never asked the questions like, "My son who died, who was full of pride, is he gonna go to heaven?" We just go, "He had a little bit of haughtiness, but it's okay." 

Gary: But no, God sees our heart, he sees beyond ... Struggle with sin is not the only measure that makes heaven available to us. It's grace, it's forgiveness, it's the blood of Jesus Christ and so, yeah, you don't have to picture that, that loss in the worst scenario, because the enemy would love to induce more fear on that. But for those of you who have a family member or yourself struggling, man, take the action and take it today. Because Satan is so subtle, it's just get high one more time, you know? When I was taking Evan, we flew from here to California. I was taking him to rehab and the flight attendant came up and said, "Is that your son row 17?" I said, "Yeah." He goes, "We need to cut him off, he's been drinking the whole thing." Again, my heart was breaking and yet, to see him then take those steps, just don't give up. Don't ever give up. 

Gary: And now, I mean, I don't know if you plan on asking him about it, but what he's doing now? 

Bob: Well, we can. 

Gary: Yeah, because I'm so proud of him. 

Bob: Oh, yes, yes. 

Gary: Because it's not just ... And the good news about the Gospel is it's not just like, "Oh, we're so scared, our son's an addict. Okay, good. He's not an addict anymore." Well, he's still a lousy human being and he's still hopeless and he's still in despair and he still doesn't know where he's going with his life. Jesus does a whole lot more than get rid of the bad things in our life, he brings us into the glorious and Evan's a testimony to that. 

Bob: And brings you purpose. And so, yeah, Evan please tell us what you're doing here with the ministry now. 

Evan: Yeah, so 2 Corinthians 5:17 is something that I hold onto and it's, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he's a new creation. The old has passed, behold the new has come." And I see that, it's evidential in what Chris transformative work has done in me. I don't recognize the person that I used to be in pictures and in memories. I don't even know who that person was anymore. And I'm shocked by how he keeps making me more like him and giving me more of his heart for other people and so, right now, I just started at World Challenge in January, where I'll be doing a ministry called Faith Answers, which helps bring apologetics and sound doctrine to teenagers, to young adult, who are uncertain about their faith or who are dealing with a lot of objections to the faith within the culture. 

Evan: And it's just out of passions that Christ has given me and has developed through becoming more like him and knowing him through relationship, and I say this a lot in AA meetings when I go there or just to friends is that, "When I got sober, it wasn't just, as my dad, 'Oh, I'm sober. That's the end of it. This is as good as life gets.' Instead, a whole world opened up of possibilities, of dreams, of ambition, of future where it just felt like endless life. Christ says, 'I've come to give abundant life.'" He says, "First that the enemy has come to kill, steal, and destroy." And I really see that as profoundly the mark of drugs and addiction is just all it does is kill, steal, and destroy. But Christ has really come and given abundant life to those who are in him. 

Evan: And that's what I've seen. It just is overwhelming, a bountiful life in this process where it's not just about being sober, it's not even about me anymore, he gives you a heart to help others who were in the same struggles that you were in and then do more than you could have possibly hoped for.

Gary: Again, it's the spiritual rags to riches story, it's the ashes to beauty story of the Gospel, it's not just ashes becoming back to solid form, it's something beautiful is formed out of that. 

Kelly: Redemption. 

Bob: Yeah. 

Kelly: Redemption story, you know? 

Bob: And all that the enemy has thrown at Evan, what wonderful things must be ahead for you that he doesn't want you to do. 

Gary: Mm-hmm (affirmative). 

Bob: So, it's gonna be remarkable to see what God with you down the years and through this ministry or elsewhere. So, we're looking forward to seeing it. 

Evan: Yes, I'm looking forward to it.

Bob: So, Gary, how about if you pray for all those parents and children out there who are struggling with either an addiction or with a child of addiction. Pray for them that they might have the same kind of positive outcome that you've had, as well. 

Gary: Yeah. And I'd just like to ask those who are listening, whether ... If you're driving, I don't want you to close your eyes, but if you're listening at home, maybe just close your eyes, maybe put your hand on your heart, just think God needs to touch that area. 

Gary: And so, Father, pray right now in the name of Jesus, as we place our hands on our heart that you will protect the heart of those who are struggling with somebody in their family that is in this life controlling problem. We pray that you would give them peace and that they would be able to lift hands up and say we surrender this person to you God, you have to be the one who is in charge of this life, because it's too stressful, there's too much tension, there's too much fear, too much anxiety, so we not only turn this person over to you. But with that, we also give you all of our stuff, too, that we're dealing with through the midst of this chaos and this pain. 

Gary: And for those who are actually addicted themselves, who are struggling themselves, Lord we pray that you would do a miracle like you did on our children's life, to break this bondage, snap it where it's gone now in the name of Jesus. 

Kelly: Jesus. 

Gary: And we pray that through this journey, that they would go, Lord that there will be a healing journey, healing the broken heart. Even when we tell Evan's story, Lord, some of his addiction might have come from a low self-esteem from hearing what his teacher said about him, but he overcame through the word of his testimony and through the blood of the lamb. We thank you for that power. And so, we pray now in Jesus name, God, that you would break addictions and set them on a course for recovery. That they recover from this. 

Gary: Give them programs, give them counselor, give them groups, give them meeting spaces, give them close friends, give them sponsors, give them pastors, give them family members, who know how to help guide them through these situations. Help them to take the steps, God, not just on one hand, we're waiting on a miracle, but on the other hand, we're saying we have to be proactive, as well. So, give us the steps to take, as well we pray, in Jesus name. For those who are lukewarm, God, awaken hearts right now, quicken them to be alive in the spirit once again, that there be a fresh wind of the spirit coming over anybody who just feels like they drifted, if they've become a prodigal or they have prodigal children. God, we thank you that you're the God who restores, redeems, rescues, and revives. 

Gary: We thank you for this, in Jesus name, amen. 

Bob: Amen. 

Evan: Amen. 

Kelly: Amen.

Key Questions from the Podcast

  • If my child becomes a prodigal am I to blame? Should I feel guilty? Could I have done something differently? Did I do something wrong?
  • How did you become a prodigal son? Was it something your parents did or didn’t do?
  • As the parent of a prodigal child, what should I do?
  • How and what do we pray for our prodigal children?
  • How do you overcome the shame of having a prodigal son so you can share your struggle with others?
  • As a prodigal, what caused you to come back to God?

Notable Quotes from the Podcast

When a family loves God, the enemy hates that and he loves to attack community and unity. We have felt the attack in our family. The enemy really sent every demon from the pit of hell to come against our family when it comes to addictions. – Gary Wilkerson

Your prodigal child is not your fault, but there are some lessons we can learn as parents and improve on. – Gary Wilkerson

Blaming yourself for your child’s addictions is like blaming yourself for your child getting cancer. There is disease involved. It’s not your fault. – Gary Wilkerson

God is faithful and never forget that. He is faithful. I don't care how dark it is, what storm it is, God is faithful. He's with you. He's going to see through this. He hasn't abandoned you. – Kelly Wilkerson

Satan is really good about getting those hooks in with that deception of the meaning of life is pleasure and here's a little bit here. Here's a little bit here, and before you know it, you're trapped. Before you know it, you aren't finding any pleasure in these things at all, but they're actually misery, and they're actually discontent and bewilderment that you ever came to this place. – Evan Wilkerson

We need to remember that God loves our children more than we can possibly ever comprehend or understand. He did not write a life for them to be in the world and sin tossed. – Kelly Wilkerson

Resources Mentioned in the Podcast

About Gary Wilkerson

Gary Wilkerson is the President of World Challenge, an international mission organization that was founded by his father, David Wilkerson. He is also the Founding Pastor of The Springs Church, which he launched in 2009 with a handful of people. He has traveled nationally and internationally at conferences and conducted mission ventures such as church planting, starting orphanages, clinics, feeding programs among the poorest of the poor and the most unreached people of the earth. Gary and his wife Kelly have four children and live in Colorado Springs, CO.