Tucked in the middle of the Yakama Indian Reservation, surrounded by hayfields and rangeland, Mount Adams soaring in the distance, healing has begun.
One man is using a chop saw. One man slices onions for soup. Another gathers firewood.
They are all in the process of recovery, and they’re enveloped by hope.
Located on a 40-acre fruit ranch in rural Wapato, Standing Stones Ministries is quietly operating a faith-based, Christ-centered recovery program for men addicted to alcohol or drugs.
“This is God’s country,” says Greg Von Tobel, an ordained, nondenominational minister. “It’s a beautiful place to come and get clean.”
The nonprofit ministry was founded by Von Tobel, 55, who lives in the Seattle area, where he operates another nonprofit, Prisoners for Christ Outreach Ministries. He alternates his time between the two programs.
Opened in 2007, Standing Stones is headquartered in a 70-year-old farmhouse where as many as 10 men can live during their 10-month recovery.
Men, who are at least 21 years old, come from around the country to attend, paying $800 a month for room, board and the intensive program.
According to David Garton, 55, who came here a year ago with his wife, Gail, to be the director, substance abuse is an immense societal problem.
“There’s a worldwide epidemic of chemical addiction,” he says. “You talk about weapons of mass destruction — this is it.”
The Standing Stones program is divided into four phases, each lasting two and a half months, involving class and individual work.
Orientation is followed by Regeneration, where men rethink decisions they made in their lives and learn about what chemicals do to the brain.
Next comes Inner Healing, which focuses on personal feelings that may have long been buried.
“This is the key phase to the entire program,” Von Tobel explains. “If we can get them through this, they’ve got a chance to lead a normal life. It’s a tough phase.”
The final step is Discipleship: “The first three phases are all about the man; (the fourth phase) teaches the man to live a truly godly life and give back to others.”
That’s where participants help newer men in the program and learn to lead classes.
Jamie Neault is one of Standing Stones’ first graduates. From Wisconsin, the 40-year-old former firefighter describes feeling as if he was going to die from alcohol addiction when he showed up to begin the program three years ago.
“It’s a tough commitment,” he admits.
But he made it and stayed on for another six months, learning to lead others in the recovery process. Then he became assistant director.
“Forgiveness is a big deal,” he explains of the recovery process. “The hardest part is to forgive yourself.”
Forgiveness is also a large component of Von Tobel’s prisoner outreach program. He founded it in 1989 after becoming disillusioned with his job as a stockbroker in Seattle.
“The Lord laid on my heart to do full-time prison work,” he explains.
His experience volunteering in prisons convinced him that addiction is a debilitating problem, affecting 80 percent of inmates, he estimates.
That motivated him, along with his wife, Rhonda, to establish a recovery program; they were delighted to find the property west of Wapato.
“We wanted a place people could go to get right with God and not have the temptation of the inner city,” he explains. “There are no pimps, no taverns and no drug dealers. It’s just coyotes, red-tailed hawks and owls.”
In that kind of atmosphere, he says, men can cleanse themselves of whatever has snared them in the past. Since 2007, 24 men have come through the program.
Standing Stones’ program is modeled after a Florida recovery program, Dunklin Memorial Camp, established in 1963.
As soon as Von Tobel visited the Florida program to evaluate how it worked, he was sold; plus, that’s where he met Garton, who was on the staff.
Also an ordained, nondenominational minister, Garton admits he abused alcohol, marijuana and cocaine at one time, but has been clean for nearly 30 years.
A typical day at Standing Stones involves time spent on class work, reading the Bible, doing homework, keeping a journal and performing chores.
“Everyone wants to go and be fixed. We’re not here to fix. We’re here to show them how to fix themselves through the Lord,” says Neault.
They cover life issues: problem solving, being a good father, overcoming denial, getting along with others, how to be loving.
“We break through the walls into their lie-based thinking,” explains Garton.
It’s a holistic approach, Garton says: “We’re not just putting out a sober man; he has opportunity to be a father and husband again.”
Family involvement is stressed, with weekly visits offered along with classes for family members. That emphasis and the Inner Healing phase make the program unique, Von Tobel maintains.
Wilson, a current program participant (who didn’t use his last name), says writing down Scripture and how it pertains to his life has been helpful to his recovery.
“When I get frustrated, I can keep those thoughts in mind,” he says.
When classes are over for the day, men pitch in to do orchard chores or build wooden furniture in the barn. They create 10 different pieces of furniture, from flower boxes and shelves to hall trees and birdhouses, all using reclaimed pine and tamarack.
Sales of the furniture (Ace Hardware in Selah carries their products) and the fruit crop help underwrite the program, which costs $250,000 a year to run. The rest comes from the men’s tuition and donations.
No one argues that recovery comes easily. Staff members know there will be times they won’t succeed.
“You don’t get involved in this ministry if you can’t handle failure,” Garton says.
But, he adds, “It works. I know. I believe in what I do.”