Larry Munguia¹s years as a drummer didn¹t end when he became a pastor. He
brings his percussion skills to church at The SOBER Project, a church for
people in Tucson, Arizona, whose lives are marked by addiction.
Larry experienced the same grace his members experience as Christ gives them a
life free of substance abuse and filled with hope for a better future. Photo by
The SOBER Project meets in the building of Calvary Baptist Church in Tucson, a
traditional Southern Baptist fellowship that opened its doors for more
avant-garde ministry. Photo by Adam Miller
With more than 300 in attendance each week, SOBER serves the recovery community
by providing a safe place for people to learn about Christ and overcome
addiction. Photo by Adam Miller
Finished, he fishes out a Rockstar Energy drink and cracks it open.
This is a Sunday morning at The SOBER Project, where recovering addicts in
Tucson, Arizona, can commune with God and each other without hiding a lot,
including tattoos, past failures or the failings of last night. This is the job
Pastor Larry was made for—part drummer, part pastor, part AA sponsor.
A little more than a decade ago he was hauling his drums to music gigs with
various bands, and he was doing drugs. He’d go on binges. Be gone for
days. Finally his wife told him he couldn’t live with her or their
“She looked at me through the screen door and said ‘You don’t live here
anymore,’ Larry recounts.
“My world was ending,” he says. “I’d taken my life too far down the wrong
He found the right road—God’s grace—at a weekend retreat in Los Angeles. Far
from the iatrogenic faith of his youth, Larry found people of compassion and
genuine faith in the living Christ. There he found Christ, too. Or, more
precisely, Christ found him.
“In this auditorium of thousands of people, I felt like this speaker and I
were the only ones in the room,” Larry says. “‘He’s talking to me!’ I
God begin to reconcile his family. It took some time to regain the trust of
his wife Bobbi, but in a short while Bobbi gave her life to Christ. His
This is the way his ministry began—he became a broken man pieced back
together by grace. Only a little later, this grace would translate into The
Tucson is a challenging but encouraging place for ministry, and The SOBER
Project reflects this dichotomy. The 300-member congregation shares the campus
of Calvary Baptist Church, a traditional congregation that owns the building
and shares it with a Sunday evening college congregation called Second Mile and
a Saturday evening cowboy church called God’s Country. Veins of a
conservative-leaning faith community running through this Wild West college
town have laid ground for a biblically faithful yet progressive model for
reaching the diverse community of Tucson. Even in the last decade an influx of
refugees from Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East have made
international ministry a necessity for this land-locked desert area.
The Catalina Baptist Association has made strides in adapting, and edgy
churches like The SOBER Project have been started to answer the changes. SOBER,
in turn, has started works in Montana and California with plans for new works
The SOBER Project’s structure is similar to Alcoholics Anonymous or other
recovery group programs, but its driving force sets it apart significantly.
SOBER is not anonymous. People who come to SOBER are not ashamed of its weekly
group meetings or its Sunday service. Also, Jesus Christ is unapologetically
the higher power people hear about when they come to a SOBER meeting. The
result has been an average of 30 baptisms a month at the church’s monthly Dunk
‘n Dine at a community pool.
The church formed in 2004 when Pastor Larry and a few others decided they
were tired of Christless recovery groups. They were given space in the Calvary
Baptist fellowship hall and in a Christian Church across town. Since then,
Calvary has given Larry office space and SOBER has become a recognized recovery
program by the county and state, a notoriety that has afforded Pastor Larry a
voice about drug recovery in local and state politics.
“I came here right out of prison,” says student pastor Tracey Odom, who was
caught dealing crystal meth several years ago. “I should have spent a long time
in prison. It’s by God’s grace that I’m here.”
“There’s a lot of evil here in Tucson,” he adds. “Without The SOBER Project
and pastor Larry I don’t know where we’d be.”
The church is filled with stories like this, because The SOBER Project is
one of few faith-based organizations that serve as part of drug rehab programs
in Tucson. Instead of going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or similar
groups, people in recovery can simply go to church.
In addition to Sunday morning services, members can attend one of several
SOBER meetings in churches throughout Tucson, and Pastor Larry signs their
forms. They’re not recovering from drugs only but from addiction’s root
Whether by Harley, on foot or family van, when Sunday rolls around, people
in recovery fill the front yard and parking lot of Calvary Baptist Church. They
sip coffee, smoke, hug, slap on nametags and chat until the booming sound of
Pastor Larry’s voice rattles through an open door.
“Okay! Let’s go to work!”
Today’s message: Brokenness.
Adam Miller is associate editor of On Mission.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC