Pastor ‘loves those nobody else loves,’ baptizes 24 recovering addicts

Christian Life Church works with addiction program

Rev. Don James talks about his 30 years at Christian Life Church and work with Don Harbuck of Crossroads Addiction Recovery Program.
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Rev. Don James talks about his 30 years at Christian Life Church and work with Don Harbuck of Crossroads Addiction Recovery Program.

On Aug 4, the Rev. Don James baptized 24 men in a swimming pool at Camp JOY in Hamilton, Ga.

And it was not the most he has done at one time.

He recalls baptizing 33 people one summer day in a lake on a farm.

But that could not have been any more satisfying.

The 24 involved in this latest group baptism were men who have been associated with the Valley Rescue Mission’s Crossroads Addiction Recovery Program, in which James takes an active role as a teacher. It is a program where men get an opportunity to study, understand and practice godly principles in everyday life as taught in God’s word.

There is much more to his ministry than just what goes on at his church, and he is plenty busy there.

In October, James will celebrate 30 years as pastor of Christian Life Church in Phenix City, the motto of which is “Loving God and Loving People.”

Christian Life is located on Highway 165. James said it has been at five prior locations since he arrived from Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Assisting him through the years has been his wife of 47 years, Becky, whom he has known since they were in the fourth grade in Mississippi.

They have a son, Tony, who is a retired Army sergeant major, and a daughter, Tish Arrington, the worship music director at Christian Life.

When James first came to Phenix City, the church was made up of congregants from another church that had split.

“They needed a shepherd,” Becky said.

James, one of six children, was raised in a Christian culture, as was his wife.

“I don’t remember not being part of church,” he said.

Still, he was not considering a life in the ministry.

“I planned to go to medical school,” he said.

It was after attending a revival while in junior college that he decided to go in another direction and attend Texas Bible College.

“He is a doctor of theology,” Becky said, smiling.

Though raised Pentecostal, Christian Life is nondenominational.

“There is a Pentecostal flavor,” he said.

Music is a huge part of services led by James.

“He is a fabulous guitar player,” his daughter said.

James has recorded a CD for Ovation Records, “The Shepherd’s Voice,” a compilation of healing scriptures and confessions set to inspirational music, but he does not play an instrument on the recording.

Besides his work at the Valley Rescue Mission, James does marriage counseling.

“Don has a real heart for mentoring,” his wife said.

Don Harbuck agrees.

Harbuck is men’s director for Valley Rescue Mission and was one of the 24 baptized in August. Now an ordained minister, he attends Christian Life.

“For me, it was a second baptism,” he said.

Long before becoming its director, Harbuck went through the Crossroads program because of alcoholism.

He credits James with helping him through a problem he struggled with for 10 years. After being arrested three times for DUI, a judge told Harbuck to get help or go to jail.

“I could not beat alcohol alone, but Jesus saved me,” he said.

Harbuck had a relapse a while after graduating from the program and had to return.

“Jesus had to touch me twice,” he said.

Harbuck has been sober for four years.

“He had a lot of tough questions for me,” James said of his time mentoring Harbuck.

“I want to help others the way pastor James helped me,” Harbuck said.

“It is one of the most rewarding things I do,” said James of his work with Crossroads.

He remarked that several men who go through Crossroads attend services at Christian Life and participate in community outreach, and that Christian Life members, who come from as far away as Harris County, are willing to give people second, third and fourth chances.

“It is a very accepting and loving environment. It is powerful for me to see the transformation in these men. It is a blessing,” James said.

“Pastor James and the people at Christian Life love those nobody else loves,” Harbuck said.

Larry Gierer: 706-571-8581, @lagierer