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Mom & Dad Ryan: Dealers of Love

From the bondage of cocaine to the power of God, this drug-dealing couple were transformed and called into His service in less than ten months.

Lise saw Richard heave their last remaining possessions, two green garbage bags of clothes, into the truck. She wasn't far behind. As she reached to shut the apartment door, she stole a furtive glance at the room. It was so empty. All that was left was a bed and a few things scattered about to make it look like they might be back. But she had no desire even to look back. They were out of there—hopefully before the landlord realized how far behind they were on their rent. It was early morning, February 2, 1994, and they were back on the street again.

God's love crumbled the strongholds around her heart and for the first time in 20 years Lise wept.

Richard and Lise Ryan had come from Montreal to Abbotsford, British Columbia, in search of a new life in December '93. Richard had started a new job, they had furnished their flat, and had determined to go clean. No more drugging. Especially no more dealing.

Just one month later it was all over. They had relapsed. They had spent their $2,000 and sold all their belongings to finance a whirlwind, week-long cocaine binge. The drug had consumed Lise's body. She had little memory of people, places and time. Cocaine-induced paralysis had set in. Walking was difficult and her hands were nearly immobilized. She had been an addict since she was six years old when she would get high on cocaine-containing Coca Cola and aspirins. 42 years of drug abuse had left Lise broken, drained, and emotionally bankrupt. Only one thought obsessed her, "I'll die if I don't get more cocaine."

Richard's last paycheck rented them a room in a seedy motel for a week. Their money was gone and they were hungry. They had heard there was a food bank downtown and they set out to find it. They didn't know the search would launch them on an adventure that would change their lives.

On February 6, penniless and hopeless, Richard and Lise wandered into Valley Christian Fellowship (VCF), an independent assembly committed to inner-city outreach in Abbotsford. There they found not only food, but love and a presence that broke through Lise's walls of defence. Seeing their need, an older couple in the church, Fred and Ellie Bozma, embraced them with loving persistence. That day they invited the Ryans to their home for lunch. Later during the week they not only traced them to their motel, but brought them food and invited them back to church. Puzzled by the unusual kindness, Lise thought, "They went the extra mile for us. The least we can do is go back and say thanks."

That next Sunday in church Richard and Lise responded to the pastor's invitation and yielded their lives to the Lordship of Jesus.

Lise describes the change in their lives as nothing short of miraculous. God's Word began to bring freedom in every area of their lives. God's love crumbled the strongholds around her heart and for the first time in 20 years Lise wept. As she wept service after service, God cleansed, healed and restored her spirit, soul and body. She believes that God delivered them from circumstances as well. Through the assistance of the government Welfare office they were able to settle their debts and rent a one-bedroom apartment.

Young as they were in knowing the Lord, Richard and Lise covenanted to believe and obey all that they learned about God. "We would ask ourselves, 'What would Jesus do in my place?'. We didn't know what the Bible said, so that was our way of obeying."

The Ryans had ample opportunity to witness the power of the Spirit of God within weeks of their new birth experience. At that time the Toronto Blessing was beginning to touch the Fraser Valley. The church youth leader, Murray Dick had visited the Toronto Airport Vineyard (now Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship) and arrived back charged with a very transferrable anointing. Toronto Airport Vineyard's associate pastor, Marc Dupont, held a series of renewal meetings at VCF. Also, Pat Cocking, president of Christian Services Association (CSA) in Mission, BC, had been touched by God's power while in Argentina and Toronto. She was instrumental in organizing three weeks of renewal meetings in Mission.

… she saw what appeared to be a huge ball of fire shooting through the air at her.

With Marc Dupont's visit, says Richard, "we really began to see what God can do."

At the Mission renewal meetings Lise experienced her most powerful touch from God. One evening during prayer ministry time she saw what appeared to be a huge ball of fire shooting through the air at her. "I screamed," she recounts, "It didn't do any good. It hit me anyway." She has limited memory of what happened next. She lay on the floor for three hours. "I got peace in myself. I wouldn't be able to have that peace unless it was by the Holy Spirit. I started to feel free to forgive myself." Night after night she continued to "soak" in God's presence doing "carpet time."

Richard remembers experiencing the power of God as intense heat. "I was baptised by the fire of the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues," he volunteers. After the meetings she and Richard soon discovered a dramatic change—they both had a new freedom from obsession and craving for drugs.

Most addicts experience a lengthy inner as well as physical healing process. Thoughts of worthlessness and guilt for former lifestyles torment minds especially of those who like Lise, experience remorse for the pain and possible death they inflicted on others as drug dealers. Yet Lise and Richard were set free immediately. "Because God had forgiven me, I could forgive myself and others. I didn't have to carry my past on my shoulders." Guilt, remorse, and shame dissolved. Life returned to her paralysed limbs. Confusion left and memory revived.

Most remarkable were peoples' perceptions of their new walk with the Lord as early as one week after their initial commitment. "We must have been projecting an image of serenity and joy," says Lise. People began approaching them for help. "They'd say, 'Pray for us. We want to get off drugs or alcohol. Can we come and live with you?'" Within a month five adults and one child were sharing the one-bedroom apartment with them. Also, within two months they had begun two Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) support groups: one for Francophones, and one for inmates of a jail.

"Why are you doing this, Lord?" Lise would ask. The answer came while she lay on the floor at the Mission renewal meeting. She remembers asking God, "Lord, what do you want from me," and felt Him respond, "You're going to need a bigger house to accept people with you because you will be my witness."

Lise was determined to obey God. "I said to Richard, if it's God's will, it's gonna happen. If it's our own will, nobody is gonna rent us a place."

The odds were against them. On their Welfare income of $900 a month, Richard and Lise set out to rent a house. A five-bedroom house on Mouat Drive in Clearbrook drew their attention. It was in a good neighbourhood within walking distance of key services. The rent was $1,225 a month. They clarified their intentions to house drug addicts with the landlord and expected God to make the arrangements. The landlord agreed. The Ryan's 'safe house' was not only founded, but shortly after, officially incorporated as a non-profit society called House of Blessing.

That was their first step in a new walk of faith. "God had to provide us with the knowledge, wisdom and discernment we needed to work as counsellors with these people. We've never had that kind of background before. We don't have university degrees, yet we do the same kind of work."

Their work focuses both on recovery and ministry. The house functions as a residential unit and a drop-in centre for recovering addicts or "spiritually relapsed" (backslidden) Christians. Lise is quite frank: "They only remember God when they're in trouble." Since the house opened in August '94, 22 people have committed their lives to Jesus and five have recommitted. New believers attend Bible studies, church services and renewal meetings, and receive counselling from Richard and Lise.

Potential residents are not accepted at the House of Blessing until they have been through five to ten days of "detox" at a detox centre, and are "treatment sober" or have spent from a month to a year at a recognized drug abuse treatment facility. During detox and treatment Richard and Lise continue to supply loving support and care. Later the House of Blessing provides recovering addicts with a transition from the treatment facility to society. A period of stay with the Ryans can be anywhere up to six months.

Once accepted at the House of Blessing, they must pay their own way and adhere to guidelines. Even though residents are on Welfare, they are required to pay $500 a month for room and board. A bulletin board in the kitchen lists names and chores. Says Lise: "They have to learn a little discipline, otherwise it's no use to come and live here. And they can't pass the whole day sleeping in."

If residents do their chores, every two weeks they are given a $25 rebate on room and board. If they forfeit their responsibilities, another resident can carry out the duties and get the $25.

Residents must attend AA meetings and complete related assignments. Some, such as Ray Turriff, can attend up to 24 meetings a week. Residents also have an opportunity to attend school and upgrade their education or skills. At the house they can also watch Christian recovery videos.

Lise believes God imparted to her a "mother's heart."

The Ryan's ministry to those who come has been to provide a loving family support group—something most of their charges lack. Lise believes God imparted to her a "mother's heart." "I'm still a dealer," she says. "Now I'm a dealer of love."

An atmosphere of love permeates the home. Each one that enters is special, and gets a hug. Everyone is included in the immediate activity, and invited to stay for a meal. Residents affectionately call them Mom and Dad. "When they come to us," Richard explains, "and especially when we lead them to the Lord, that's one of the first things the Lord gives them back—a family."

"I like my new family better than my old one," offers a young recovering addict and former Vancouver 'street kid' who has dropped by. Richard and Lise continue to trust God to meet their needs daily. What God promises, Lise believes He will do. Even the rent is God's business. "The Lord always pays His rent. He finds a way of sending us the money. If we're missing $400, He won't send us $405. Exactly $400 comes in. God's promises," she shrugs, "I don't even think in terms of them still having to happen. As far as I'm concerned, they've already happened. I don't have any doubts."

Her dreams for the future? Lise hopes that she and Richard and their residents eventually won't need to rely on Welfare. They would like to start a business. "We could hire people out. They could clean houses, clean gardens, do lawns, whatever. They could gain experience so they can look for other jobs later."

Lise also prays that someday the house can belong to them. She sees this as a necessity because "it isn't easy to find a neighbourhood where a safe house for drug addicts and alcoholics is accepted."

Richard feels a calling to evangelism. His desire is to train others in ministry and expand their outreach. "Every day we have people getting saved and this is all from the renewal. This is the harvest. This is the time. It's not only a time of signs and wonders and a big show. It's not just for the flesh. We have to do something with what we've got—with what God's given us. We have to apply it in our lives."

Richard's pastor, Guy McPherson at VCF sees Richard and Lise as being very effective in terms of evangelism. "They're off the street and they reach the street. They themselves are the harvest. They keep bringing in more and more fruit all the time and they're very effective in terms of contacting not just with the prodigals, but with non-believers."

Both Richard and Lise attribute their rapid, ten-month development in faith and understanding of spiritual things to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. "From the very beginning, the Holy Spirit has been our teacher," says Richard.

But Lise perceives a difference in her relationship with God from when she first encountered His power at the renewal meetings: "I don't fall in the Spirit so much now. Now I live in the Spirit. And the Spirit lives in me."

She adds: "I'm not willing to lose what I've found for anything or at any cost. Nothing will make me go back. I don't always have good days, but with the Lord I've never had a bad day yet."

Daina Doucet is a freelance writer and editor based in Hamilton, ON.

Originally published in Spread the Fire, March/April 1995.




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