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I’m sad.

And I’m mad.

Two former members of our community are dead. Talen, age 28, and Giana, age 34. Separate deaths. Separate lives. Both last month.

Both went through our program at different times. Both entered very sick. Both left marvelously changed.

Both had a period of weakness. Both made choices that cost their lives.

Talen was a tender-hearted, loving, simple young man. He didn’t need much to be happy. He was genuine and straightforward, hard-working, and pleasant to be around. He had a knack for making people laugh.

Giana was strong, courageous, and very intelligent. She was diligent and committed to her family as well as her recovery. She had a warm, infectious smile. As her father remarked at her memorial, “Giana was easy to love and hard to hold.”

Two beautiful people gone. Both loved Jesus. One was a son, brother, grandson, and uncle. The other . . . a daughter, mother, and sister.

I am sad for the family members and friends who lost someone near and dear to them. I am sad that the stories of two precious young people ended so abruptly and prematurely. I am sad that none of us in this life will get to know the full potential of who Talen and Giana could have become and what they might have done.

I am sad for them as well, that their burden was so heavy, so overwhelming, and that their pain was so deep, so excruciating. I am sad that the consequences of their actions were so tragic and final and unintended.

I’m mad too.

I hate drugs (the non-medical use). I hate what drugs do to people, families, communities.

Loss. Ruin. Grief. Heartache. Suffering. Fear. Stress. Bitterness. Confusion.

Waste. Emptiness. Regret. Guilt.


I’m mad at the system which perpetuates this crisis. Political, economic, pharmaceutical, educational, governmental, legal, digital, etc. There is a lot of blame to spread.

I’m also mad at those who measure success a certain way, who construe recovery by one singular factor: Rate of relapse. Percentage of individuals who go on to live “normal,” productive lives. Number of individuals who are drug free x number of years later.

Is that really the criterion for success?

Does using less count? Using more safely (e.g., medically assisted)?

What about a prolonged life (two months? two years? etc.)? A less troubled life? A more meaningful, productive life?

How about simply being a more loving person? Someone who is more faithful, more honest, more humble? Are these not just as important as being clean and dry? (I’ve met plenty of mean, stingy, self-centered upright people. I can be one myself.)

Isn’t success about being saved and brought into right standing with God through Christ? Isn’t that enough?

Of course, being drug-free is optimal. It is what we all hope for. But does a relapse or two (or more) negate and cancel out all the positive steps made forward by an individual?

Does a person’s final lap define and capture the essence of his or her life, . . . whether a person enters the success or failure category?

In light of how Talen and Geana’s lives ended, what would you say?

What would their parents say?

I will tell you.

Talen’s father emailed me: “I’m sure you heard about my son. I am thankful we got him through LC. I believe God saved his life then and used LC to save his soul. Truly thankful for you and ALL you do.”

Giana’s stepfather profusely thanked me and our ministry for our services saying, “You gave us three years with Giana. We know she is with Jesus now.”

I’m all for best practices and positive outcomes, but we do not have the final say in what constitutes success and what does not. Moreover, we don’t determine a person’s days or destiny. That alone is God’s prerogative.

According to provisional data conducted by the CDC over the last 12-month period of analysis, drug overdose deaths are projected at 107,477. (This number does not include all those whose drug-related deaths were officially attributed to cardiac arrest, liver disease, pancreatic cancer, etc. nor does it include those deaths which were the result of alcohol consumption nor those fatalities that were indirectly related to drug and alcohol activity such as suicide, homicide, motor vehicle crashes, accidents, etc.)

The figure above represents 1 person every five minutes. Almost 300 people per day.

These are people, not just statistics. Individuals with names. Moms and dads, brothers and sisters, friends, . . . People who loved and were loved.

And people who were part of this ministry. People I had the privilege of doing life with.

The following is a list of the incredible men and women who were once in our program whose lives were lost due to addiction:

Bill, Brad, Chris, Chris, Chris, Chris, Pam, Jim, Jim, James, Jonny, Frankie, RJ, Jacque, Mary, Tatiana, Giana, Ryan, Dan, Daniel, Cody, Gary, Shawn, Steve, Talen, Megan, Tim, Tom, Tom, Josh, Josh, Justin, Nate, Tony, Cory, Kevin, Kevin, Kevin, Todd

I’m sad. I’m mad.

But I’m also glad.

I’m glad we as a ministry had the opportunity to be a part in helping to make the lives of these men and women better—temporarily and eternally.

We had the privilege of getting to know some of their stories, their unique gifts and talents, and what made them special. Our lives are better because of what they gave us and what we learned from them.

I am glad that we had the joy of introducing (or reintroducing) these individuals to the amazing love of God in Christ Jesus. These fellow image-bearers became part of our community and heard the life-changing message of the gospel.

I’m glad for those of you who have partnered with us, who have “held the ropes.” Your prayers and financial support have enabled us to put hope within the reach of desperate, needy people. Thank you. Together—by the grace of God—we have made a difference.

And most of all, I’m glad that there is a merciful God who remembers that we are dust (Ps. 103:14). He always factors our weaknesses, limitations, and inabilities in his dealings with us.

If I have learned anything over these past thirty-five years in serving addicts, it is this:

Every human being matters.

No one is too broken whom God can’t redeem.

God is faithful even when we are faithless.

Love never fails.


P.S. Talen and Giana, I miss you. Until we meet again in the arms of Jesus, see you later!


  • Miriam says:

    As usual, Pastor Jeff, your perspective brings healing. I think of Life Challenge almost everyday for one reason or another.; I am thankful for what I learned and continue to learn from the years God gave me through the ministry of Life Challenge. Talen was a bright light for the Kingdom. Thank you for helping us remember that Recovery from Sin is a life-long process.

  • Lesa says:

    Luke 💔

  • Debbie Lehner says:

    Pastor Jeff,
    My heart breaks over the loss of these 2 precious people, who were loved so much by our Heavenly Father. Your article touched my heart. I am praying for each family, for God’s comfort, peace and strength. I am eternally thankful for you and Life Challenge. For all that you do every day to save men and women trapped in chains that they cannot break on their own. Thank you for teaching, instructing, and loving men and women with the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit that can set us free.

  • Mona Sloan says:

    Pastor Jeff, my heart goes out to the families who have lost a loved one from whatever it was that took their eyes off Jesus.
    I’m grateful for your love of trying to help those in need of a Savior. Through it all Gods Word never fails.
    It makes me mad as well and helps me to continue to run this race with perseverance. I’m a living witness to what Life Challenge can do for you. It’s been 17 years since I entered LC and I’ve never gone back to the wrong thing. I thank God, you and everyone at LC for helping me to stand strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.

  • Pam Heany says:

    How beautifully written. You captured the feelings and put into words what thousands of people in our country feel..
    I am so sorry to hear about more losses to drugs.. This feels like a real war.. I know Life Challenge is winning, even if some of the people’s lives are cut short here, if they passed through your doors, and experienced the love of Jesus through your wonderful ministry ~~ they found eternal life.
    I pray comfort and peace for all of you.

    Pam Heany

  • Ann Hall says:

    Addiction is a terrible thing. Heroin took my nephew at an early age. I saw my nephew struggle for over 25 years. I saw his wife and children have to live with this. I truly believe he accepted Christ but for some reason the addiction controlled his life off and on, and eventually took him.

  • Elaine Sulfaro says:

    This was a beautiful article your wrote about these two young beautiful souls who died way too young. I’m a retired probation officer of 30 years and had many people go through your program. Thank you for all you do to help those struggling with this terrible addiction of drugs.

  • Christina Morgan says:

    Thank you Pastor Jeff

    Every human being matters.
    No one is too broken whom God can’t redeem.

    Image bearers

    Chris. 🙏

  • John Lyons says:

    Very well said Pastor ! I have personal experience of the Awesomeness of God. God has given you the words to express his continued Love and devotion to His Children. Thank You and LC for all you do through Gods Grace.
    I dont mind telling You that my Grandmother would be raising her arms and Praising Jesus after hearing words. Please remember the Love ,devotion and dedication she had for this Ministry.
    Matthew is doing Very well and Thanks God also for LC. He is married and has a daughter (11 ears old ) and will soon adopt 2 boys to add to his Family.
    Once again ” Praise God” for LC and all the people who dedicate their lives to the salvation of those in need.

    John Lyons

  • Natasha m Howenstine says:

    Thank you for the message. i really needed it today without knowing it, i miss my brother so much it hurts to know hes gone. thank you so much

  • Ken says:

    We’ve lost beautiful people. I loved Talen and his quirky way. We made each other laugh and knew each other’s hearts. Until we meet again…

  • Kathy Cleaver says:

    My heart breaks for this senseless loss. Drugs and alcohol are ruining families, marriages and lives. My prayers are with the families and all who are grieving this horrific loss

  • Cathy Hill says:

    Amen Jeff. I thank the Lord for Life Challenge and your 35 years of not giving up.
    C. Hill

  • Jean Mitchell says:

    Makes me so mad also. My heart aches for individuals who hurt this much. I’m so thankful that my daughter is still doing wonderful because of your program. I’m sure when something like this happens it does rattle your Faith . It sure does mind but I have to remind myself God I’d love and he is so wonderful and someday I’ll stand in front of him and he’ll explain to me WHY this happens to two beautiful individuals.

  • BETTY FOCHT says:

    Beautifully said.

    Mad and sad with you! God Bless you and all those involved for the ongoing work of the Gospel at Life Challenge. Praying for you.

  • Carolyn McCloud says:

    So powerful, well-stated, and true, Jeff. You have a beautiful way of reminding us of the need to give love to all and showing us a better measure of success. God bless you and your work.

  • Rodger Matthews says:

    Jeff Bonzelaar,
    Friend of friends: Well done sir, (and continuing to do)!
    Thank you for your open, heartfelt expression, with the loss of two of Gods own!
    You are much appreciated, as is the Life Challenge Ministry, (Staff and volunteers included)!
    Heaven is truly our reward!

  • Tim McNulty says:

    Thank you for sharing this Pastor Jeff. My heart hurts and pains with you. In my years of recovery I have stood at many caskets. Death is so final and stings when you build relationships, sit in their mess and struggles with them, pray with them, walk with them, and then they are gone. God is sovereign, and His way is some die so others can live. I had to learn and accept this hard truth. Alcohol and drugs only want to take. They are takers of life. As I continue to walk this life of recovery, Talen and Geanna have given me strength today, to fight against any fleshly desires or thoughts that maybe I can have just one. You, Geanna, and Talen, 12 stepped me today and there is a really good chance, by the grace of God, my head will hit the pillow clean and sober today!
    Praying for our mighty God to continue to give you and your staff His supernatural strength to continue to walk along side and bring the Good News to those caught up in addiction and their struggles, bringing His light in to extinguish darkness.
    Love you brother!

  • Susan Bauer says:

    Beautifully written- spoken from your heart of compassion through the pain of these tragic losses. David and I are blessed to be a small part in supporting the restoration work of the ministry of LC. Praying for your continued peace, God’s Grace and anointing for the ministry He has called you and your Staff to, changing one life at a time for Eternity! Blessings…Susan Bauer

  • Marilyn Fulkerson says:

    I am so very sorry for the loss of these two lives and all the others that have lost their lives that you tried to help Jeff. Thank you for sharing this . I am thankful that their lives of pain are over and they are with Jesus. You led them to Him and I pray that you will find peace in that knowledge. The devil is so evil and is destroying our world, but he will never succeed because Jesus is coming back. Keep on doing what you are doing💕

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