By BILLY WATKINS
The Samson Society helps men help each other
They sound like five guys swapping stories at deer camp.
One particular recollection has them belly laughing: On a recent outing, a dear friend who is hard of hearing always got the rhythmic command to “row!” a second or so late.
“Our boat looked like this going down the river,” one of them says, weaving his hand like a snake slithering.
But the mood soon changes.
Each states his name, then explains why he is inside a conference room at First Baptist Jackson on a Wednesday night.
Two were caught cheating on their wives.
Two others have long been addicted to pornography.
One battles deep depression.
Another, a late arrival this night, fights the demon of alcoholism.
As a local chapter of The Samson Society, they have come together to talk bluntly and openly about their shortcomings. Don Waller, a licensed counselor, oversees the meeting.
“If it wasn’t for these Samson meetings, I would probably be in the basement of my parents’ house playing Xbox day and night,” says Jack*, 53, who is married with three children.
“I’m a screwed-up kind of guy,” Jack says. “We’ve all got our demons. Porn happened to be mine. I didn’t realize what it was doing to me. And I’m the type person who has to have Christ in his life or I’m going to go crazy. But when you’re trapped in sin, you begin to feel so unworthy of His love.”
The Samson Society was founded by Nate Larkin, son of a Pentecostal minister, who also became a pastor. Larkin eventually left the ministry because of an addiction to pornography. He wrote a tell-all book in 2007 — “Samson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhood.”
Larkin says on his website that he started Samson as “a place where men can come and be openly accountable with one another while biblically seeking the road to recovery.”
Waller read Larkin’s book and started the Samson meetings in Jackson in 2013. Now, four other chapters meet weekly in the metro area: two in Brandon and one each in Clinton and Canton.
“We are a safe place and non-judgmental. Everything is confidential,” says Waller, who has been counseling men since the early 1990s. “You don’t have to have it figured out. You can be yourself here.
“God wants us to reach out to one another. We can be more successful together. This isn’t a fake community like Facebook. Samson is flesh and blood with the Holy Spirit there. And these meetings are in addition to studying your Bible and attending church.
“Sometimes when we’ve struggled with something for so long, it’s hard to process that God still loves us. We need to know that more than ever when we’re struggling with something.”
Waller says he is never “shocked” by the sins that people bring to the table.
“I’m shocked about the things that people can go through and still be standing,” he says.
From shunned to welcomed
People come to Samson meetings from all walks of life: salesmen, pharmacists, teachers, coaches, engineers, graphic designers, landscape architects … on and on. Ages range from 17 to early 60s.
Rob Turner, 46, of Brandon, writes in a blog about his first meeting in 2014: “The shame relative to my sin was immense! It was as if my entire identity in Christ had been hijacked. Now, too, I brought to the Samson table a boatload of (perceived) worthlessness. Worthlessness that I’d wrestled with since I was a boy. Again, this worked against my true identity as a believer.”
He was attracted to men. “Though I never acted on it, thank God,” says Turner, who has been married 22 years to “the only woman I was ever attracted to.”
But the shame of homosexual tendencies made him miserable for years. It got worse when he shared his secret with friends while living in the Delta. They shunned him. “And one of them was a pastor,” Turner says.
“I didn’t want to kill myself, but I just wanted to die,” adds Turner, who works as a broker/investment advisor in Jackson. “I felt like such a failure. I wanted to be done with it. But after moving back to the Jackson area, I reached out to Don Waller in 2014 — and since then I’ve never looked back.
“The strange thing is, if that (rejection) hadn’t happened in the Delta, I probably wouldn’t be back (in the metro area), wouldn’t have met Don and wouldn’t know about Samson. God used that situation to put me where I needed to be.”
After attending Waller’s meetings for two years, Turner became the facilitator of the group at Lakeside Presbyterian Church in Brandon. It meets Saturdays at 7 a.m.
Usually, between three and nine people attend a meeting.
“We used to have more than 20 come to the meeting in Jackson when it was the only one,” Turner says. “It’s a different dynamic with a smaller group. People interact more.”
Each person who regularly attends is encouraged to secure a Silas from within the group.
“It involves a Christian friendship and accountability,” Turner says. “You’re no longer isolated. When you’re having a bad day and you need help outside a meeting, hopefully, your Silas can come along beside you, whether it’s a phone conversation or he drops by your office for a cup of coffee. The apostle Paul had a Silas walking with him. We need one, too.”
‘I’m not the only man struggling’
One of the dangers of having an addiction, whether it’s sexual or otherwise, is that “we can justify it,” Jack says.
“You’ll tell yourself, ‘I don’t drink that much,’ or, ‘I show up at work on time,’ or, ‘I’m not hurting anyone.’ Pornography skewed my opinion of my wife. It changed the way I interacted with her.
“Because of all the meetings, I have a better understanding of why I do the things I do. I had an overbearing mother and a passive father. All my mother ever did to my father was nag, nag, nag. And when my wife would say things to me, I immediately saw it as nagging.
“That would send me to my outlet — porn.”
Jack says the meetings have also “made me realize that I’m not crazy for having certain thoughts, that I’m not the only man in the world struggling. For years I actually thought I was the only one.”
When asked how Samson has changed his life, Jack says, “God has spoken to me my whole life. I have cried in the rain, begging God to send me a sign of thunder or lightning — and the whole time He was tapping me on my shoulder and saying in a very soft voice, ‘I’m right here.’ But I couldn’t hear Him.
“He’s still tapping my shoulder, and I’m hoping now that I hear that voice and I can see things in front of me that I need to avoid.”
Waller suggests that men who might want to visit The Samson Society commit to at least three meetings.
“What you hear is so foreign and so raw, there is no way you’re used to that,” Waller says. “It will be uncomfortable at first.”
Jack agrees: “You need at least three meetings to really get comfortable. And you have to be ready to receive and share. I wasn’t. I would tell everyone, ‘I’m good,’ and the whole time I was crying inside.
“You don’t have to come to that first meeting and share your whole life story. Just come three times and you’ll realize that we’re not there to judge you. We’re there to help you through it.”
*Real name withheld for privacy