Craig Keller wanted nothing but to numb the pain for years, until he found a Christian-based recovery program for men addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Keller spoke Saturday at Cornerstone Bible Church in Conway to a group gathered for a vision casting for Renewal Ranch, a ministry for men that will be modeled after John 3:16 Ministries in Batesville. It was at John 3:16 Ministries that Keller experienced healing from substance abuse. Now James Loy, a fellow graduate of the program, is starting Renewal Ranch in Conway.

Keller told the group he was raised by "the best parents" and did not drink or use drugs until he was 24 years old. Once he started using, his drug of choice became "whatever you got."

"I just wanted to numb some pain. I didn’t think it would hurt anyone," he said. "When reality became unbearable, I made it bearable."

He tried going to rehab numerous times and spent more than $200,000 on rehab between 1992 and 2008, he said. Finally, in July 2008, he found help at John 3:16 Ministries.

"I felt like a fish out of water," he said. "For seven or eight days, I don’t think I even looked at the horizon. I had so much shame and so much guilt inside."

Then one night during a chapel service, everything changed. Keller gave his life to Jesus.

"My life was like a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle … but that night I had a little, tiny corner piece in my pocket, and it was over," Keller said. "When I gave my all to Jesus Christ, since then, I’m proud of who I am."

Pastor Larry Pillow told the group, "When a person with an addiction decides they want help, that’s a big step. The next step is to get help."

However, many people needing help are turned away, he said. Usually, he said, the person seeking help faces one of four situations: They have no place to go; they have a place to go they cannot afford; they have a place to go where the treatment is too brief (28 days or whatever insurance will pay for); or, if they can afford it and stay as long as they need, the program is presented without Christ.

Pillow said he has decided to support anyone, church-based or secular, that helps people overcome addictions. But all his time and effort will go to Christian-based programs. Renewal Ranch will address all issues mentioned, he said. 

He added, "We need people from all walks of life. You can make a difference. You have something to offer. You can find somebody and tell them about it, and they’ll have something to offer."

Loy, who is founding Renewal Ranch, told his story of finding healing from addiction as well. He Became addicted to cocaine as a college student following the death of his father and, a few years later, the death of his mother. He ended up homeless, in and out of rehab, caught in a vicious cycle of addiction, he said. He called Bryan and Beverly Tuggle, who run John 3:16 Ministries.

"Bryan said if you come here, we’re going to love you and try to meet your every need. And Jesus Christ paid the price. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made, because in that, I found Jesus," he said.

Loy added, "If given the opportunity, I want to serve and give back to this community."

Vickie Critcher is on the Renewal Ranch Board of Directors. She raised funds for John 3:16 Ministries. The men there all have jobs and volunteer in the surrounding communities. The ministry helps the men get their GEDs or college training they need to prepare to become productive members of society once they leave.

She added the facility will need all kinds of volunteers. Building will begin as soon as land is acquired, and so builders will be needed. Volunteers will be needed to do tasks such as yard work, computer work, web design and canning (the ranch will have its own garden). Also, the facility will need a dentist, doctors, pharmacists and barbers/hair stylists to volunteer at times.

To volunteer, call Critcher at 870-217-3388.

Loy said he hopes to offer a six-month program, partnering with local churches to provide Bible instruction for the men and one of the local colleges to teach them a skill set.

Board member David Crow said the cost to house a man at Renewal Ranch is expected to be similar to the cost at John 3:16 Ministries, about $33 a day. Secular rehab facilities cost $150 to $1,500 a day, and housing a person who goes without treatment in the Arkansas Department of Corrections costs $130 a day.

Renewal Ranch is in the process of obtaining nonprofit status. A tax deductible donation may be made through Cornerstone Bible Church by sending a check to: Cornerstone Bible Church (with a memo for Renewal Ranch), 1905 Dave Ward Drive, Conway, AR 72034.

(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by e-mail at rachel.dickerson@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)