Published May 21, 2017 in the Daily Corinthian and reprinted here with staff writer Zack Steen’s permission.
Founder Tommy Wilson was searching for a new way to help his addict brother find a way out. Tommy knew first hand the struggles that his little brother was facing because he experienced the same dark fate just six years earlier.
“I was going everywhere. I was going to different churches and programs. I was dying inside with the need to find something to help him,” said Tommy. “Then I visited Teen Challenge Drug Rehab in Savannah, Tenn., and I found my answer. I continued to go for three months, and soon God used me to doing something similar in Corinth.”
Tommy’s wife, Marea, wanted no part of it.
“I was scared,” she said. “I was scared that getting Tommy back into that type of environment might lead him back. It was really the fear of the unknown.”
The ministry’s first meetings saw less than 10 people attend in search of help from drug and alcohol related demons.
“We really didn’t have a clue what we were doing. We just knew that Christ could change people’s lives,” said Tommy.
Marea said at some point she feel in love with Living Free and the group’s dedication to help people with life controlling issues.
“I wanted to support Tommy, so I was going to every meeting in the beginning even though I didn’t like it,” she said. “God finally opened my eyes … and I’m so glad he did.”
Tommy helped his brother and in the process has helped thousands of people find freedom, healing and deliverance in Jesus Christ.
“We went from hosting one meeting a week to hosting 17 meetings a week. We go into the county jail and the state prison. We meet with 300 people a week and help more than 150 people a year get into residential facilities,” said Tommy. “Our message hasn’t changed, but the methods and the way we go about it has changed. We are always looking at how we can do things better.”
It was five years ago when Living Free started serving hundreds of people a Christmas Day meal.
“I think we figured out that Living Free wasn’t just about helping people overcome addiction to drugs and alcohol. Living Free was about helping people no matter the problem or issue,” said Marea.
Living Free has served more than 156,000 free meals since the ministry was born in May 2004.
“We don’t care if people come to Living Free just to eat,” said Marea. “There is just so much hope at Living Free. We don’t judge … we welcome people with open arms, and Tommy is the best at making people fee important and valuable.”
Tommy added, “I’ve never wanted to just help people get clean. I’ve always wanted to help people get clean and get their life in order, get their family back and find a good job. We’ve had some heartache. We have seen some people die. A lot of our friends are in prison, but for the ones who have made it out, it’s been worth it.”
The Wilsons said Living Free’s future will focus on educating and equipping people.
“In the beginning, we were all about helping addicts and getting people help as quickly as possible. Now it’s become more about educating and equipping people and getting them into the best program for their needs,” said Tommy.
The Wilsons agree the ministry would not have made it to 2017 without community support.
“Corinth and Alcorn County has always stepped up for Living Free,” said Tommy. “Businesses, individuals, families, churches … they have all come together.”
Marea added, “This town is such a giving and compassionate place.”
Living Free has a team of volunteers that help make each meeting happen. Also more than 40 churches help Living Free either through cash donations or by simply providing food for a meeting.
“Everything this community does .. it means a lot to me,” said Tommy.
The couple will hang their hat on the last special program of Addiction Recovery Month at 6 p.m. on Thursday night at Living Free Ministries.
“Marea and I will share our hearts about where we have been and were we are going,” said Tommy. “It will also be an opportunity for anyone to come ask questions about how they can get for themselves or their family. People will also be able to donate.”
After 13 years of helping people, both Tommy and Marea admit they love what they do.
“It’s just our life now,” she said. “Our kids (17-year-old Olivia and 23-year-old Preston) have grown up in Living Free. Now they use what they’ve learned to help people in their own lives. It’s pretty amazing.”
As a family, the Wilsons laugh with people, cry with people, and most importantly, pray with people.
“For some reason, God used me – an uneducated, untrained guy, to touch the lives of a lot of people. I’m blessed beyond means to be able to wake up every morning and do what I love – help people find new approaches to life using Jesus Christ.”