My name is Chris Willis and I currently have the privilege of serving my community as a Juvenile Court Judge. I was appointed to this position back in August 2018, and one of my responsibilities is to preside over our Family Treatment Court (FTC).
FTC is an outpatient treatment program for parents who have become involved with our court due to having a child protective services case. The vast majority of cases filed in my court have some level of substance abuse as one of the issues the parent(s) are facing.
My story in getting involved with recovery ministry is just like that of many of the others who have worked to bring His Way to Atlanta. Starting in the late 90s, I was one of those mentors who would go to the rehab center for Bible study and mentored men who were in the program.
It was an eye-opening experience for me and one that helped shape me as I was a young lawyer representing criminal defendants and eventually a judge. The mentoring experience removed the gap that I believed existed between myself and my clients.
Working One-on-One with Men in Recovery
When I was working one-on-one with men who had struggled with addiction and many other obstacles, it became clear that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and mercy. And I certainly am glad that I was not judged on the quality of my mentoring based on how my mentee was doing.
One time, in 2001, my mentee stole the church van and drove it to New York City! But the best part of the story was what came next. He realized that he had betrayed the church family that had welcomed him and so he returned to Atlanta with the van and turned himself in. He and I are still in touch to this day.
The opportunity to mentor and share in the lives of men in recovery helped me to be a more compassionate and deliberate attorney. Now, hopefully, those lessons also help me be a judge.
While holding our participants accountable in their recovery program, I can treat them with the respect and dignity that they deserve and I can understand better where they are coming from.
On a daily basis, I see not only the destruction that substance abuse can cause a family, but I also get to see many instances of recovery and restoration for those who can achieve sobriety.
The 12 Steps Are in My Line of Sight in the Courtroom
To remind me of what the participants in my cases, and I myself, need to maintain positive change in our lives, I keep a copy of the 12 Steps on my bench in the courtroom. When I am looking out at the people in front of me, the 12 Steps are in my line of sight. And of course, while this is literally the case, it also serves as a metaphor for how followers of Christ should be aware of our own sinfulness and complete dependence on God’s grace and mercy.
We must “admit that we are powerless” over sin and that we “believe a Power greater than ourselves” can restore us. We must “turn our will and our lives over to the care of God,” “fearlessly” examine ourselves and be ready to ask God to “remove our shortcomings,” and seek God through “prayer and meditation.” It is evident that the principles of the 12 Steps are right in line with the conversion and continual sanctification of the sinful person to a true follower of Christ.
We are doing the Lord’s work when we engage with and encourage men who are ready to make this change in their lives. The ripple effect of someone breaking the cycle of addiction in their family will extend for generations to come. And it can also serve to address the brokenness in our lives too—blessings to be enjoyed by all.
Christopher W. Willis, Presiding Judge
Juvenile Court of Forsyth County, Georgia
Certified as a Child Welfare Law Specialist
by the National Association of Counsel for Children
Learn More About His Way Atlanta
For more information about the His Way planted campus in Atlanta, visit our website at: https://hiswayinc.org/his-way-atlanta/