“Every time Matt Chandler would start preaching, I started crying. Because every time he would talk about Jesus, I knew from the bottom of everything that existed in me that I knew who he was talking about,” Ben Mayer said, recalling his first visits to The Village. “I had known this Person my whole entire life, but it could not be Jesus. I just desperately did not want it to be Jesus. I didn’t want to be a Christian.”
The 23-year-old Connecticut native was raised in a loving home with a mom who was a social worker and a dad who was a children’s book author and artist. But Ben’s road to The Village was not picture-perfect.
At age 10, he began having invasive thoughts.
“The big one was my little brother—I thought he was contaminated. For some reason, I don’t even know what it was. I thought if I got near him, I could literally feel something on my arm, or whatever. Or if he touched me, I’d have to wash it off because if I didn’t, I would just feel it for days,” Ben said.
His mother took him to see a therapist who diagnosed him with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and depression, prescribing medications to treat each condition.
At age 13, Ben began smoking marijuana and cigarettes. When his parents found out, he was sent to a 30-day boot camp. He graduated and did well for a couple months.
“When I started high school, I immediately found the kid there who was dealing drugs and became best friends with him,” he said. “All of high school was kind of just constant attempts to get high with marijuana and a little bit of cocaine. I got arrested that year for possession in school. I got chased down by the cops in the graveyard trying to meet up with somebody to buy more drugs.”
One night, Ben got drunk. His parents threatened to put him in treatment, and he cut his arm in retaliation.
“Rather than doing deep cuts, I just like, destroyed my arm and cut it all up. I bled everywhere. The next morning they found out and took me to the psych ward,” Ben said.
After that, Ben went to a therapeutic boarding school in Massachusetts that he says was abusive. The staff yelled at the kids, made them run laps and tore them down with harsh words. Five months into Ben’s treatment, his parents came to visit.
“They saw me, and I was completely broken, and I didn’t even try to go home or anything. I didn’t care anymore,” he said. His parents took him out of the program.
The summer following his sophomore year in high school, Ben’s body started to break out in bull’s-eye rashes, and he had excruciating back pain. His parents rushed him to the hospital, and he was diagnosed with secondary stage Lyme disease.
The doctors gave him heavy doses of antibiotics and eventually prescribed Oxycontin for his pain after previous medications had failed.
“I just remember this feeling of absolute hopelessness. Like ‘This is my life?’”
“I started just immediately snorting them because they’re time-released opiates. And so if you snort them, [all the drugs you’re supposed to get] time-released over 12 hours, you just get in one hit.
”I couldn’t go more than an hour and a half without getting high. And I was reeling my parents into giving me money to go buy them on the street because I needed more. I was really manipulative,“ Ben said. ”The meaning of every day was just to get high and stay high without getting dope sick throughout the day. That was all that mattered.“
Eventually, Ben started using heroin because it was cheaper and more potent. He hung out with drug dealers and placed himself in risky situations. He stole money from his parents to support his drug habit and ended up in detox at age 19.
”I walked out of that building and it was like this heart-wrenching feeling that my best friend had just been pulled away from me,“ Ben said. ”I didn’t have Oxycontin anymore.“
Ben went to treatment programs in Memphis, Kaufman and Austin and saw various psychiatrists. He ended up back in the psych ward.
”I just remember this feeling of absolute hopelessness. Like ‘This is my life?’ I can’t believe I literally have to be led to the dining area to eat food. And then led back to the common area where they lock the door behind me.“
Ben began doing the Twelve Steps of Alcoholic’s Anonymous (AA) and tried to find God.
”The AA message was to do the steps so that the god of your own conception will keep you sober,“ Ben said.
While he was in treatment, he noticed his back pain had gone away.
”I believe Jesus just healed me of my Lyme disease at some point. I just don’t know when because randomly I felt better and was able to do physical activities and was fine,“ Ben said.
He soon started dating a girl who had been in treatment with him. ”She was my god. We dated for 6 months. And half way through, I was like, ‘this sucks.’ But it was all I had that mattered, so I kind of tried to hold on to it.“
But when she ended the relationship, Ben started to feel empty again.
”I fell apart. Nothing made any sense anymore. I tried smoking weed again. And that didn’t work. So I went back into AA and tried to do the Steps to get rid of the pain. And that wasn’t working. I was lost. I was sober, but I was miserable,“ Ben said. ”So I started going to this Buddhist teacher. I would meditate 30 minutes to an hour every day, and it just wasn’t doing anything. I was just becoming more broken.“
Eventually, Ben and his best friend reunited and started attending The Village together. Later, he followed a friend’s suggestion that he pray for Christ to reveal Himself.
”It just really hit me: I’m sober. My whole family is proud of me. And I’m going to treatment centers and preaching the message and everything. But I am still an awful human being,“ Ben said. ”It was weird because I haven’t had a moment before or since then. I don’t know if it was a voice or what but I could just hear God [saying] something along the lines of ‘If you follow Me, I’ll take it all away.’
“I got to the edge of my bed, and just like out of nowhere I felt like I got hit by a bat. I was knocked to my knees. I just started sobbing, begging Christ to take me home. I don’t know how long it lasted, but after it was done, I just know I just got saved.”
After this experience, Ben found community, completed Steps and got baptized.
“My life all of a sudden wasn’t about me. It was about Christ. And it just became this overwhelming sense of purpose and joy. Everything is just made new and perfect. I still struggle,” he said. “But it’s just overwhelming to look at the amount of grace that’s just been poured over me my whole entire life, even when I didn’t even believe in Jesus and hated Him.”
He hasn’t taken medication for his obsessive-compulsive disorder in over a year. Also, he hasn’t used opiates in over four years.
“But it’s still weird because a lot of stuff started changing in me before Christ, and it just made it clear to me that Christ had me this whole entire time,” Ben said. “And people will try to be like ‘But you did things to change. You went to the treatment center. You went to that OCD counselor. You went to therapy. You need to give yourself credit.’”
“I can’t because I know from the bottom of my heart that if it was on me, I would still do heroin or I still would not be able to hug my little brother. Christ had me all along.”