Drug addiction is killing people just like you and me: fellow image bearers of God who are moms, dads, uncles, aunts, daughters and sons. From February 2018 to February 2019 alone, 69,000 people died of drug overdoses. This problem has grown markedly worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Months of isolation have left people without support. In March 2020, the number of drug related deaths increased by 18 percent. In April, by 29 percent and by May 2020 a staggering 42 percent.
During a recent discussion with Louie Wright, co-founder and CEO of One Door Recovery, a faith-based medical detox program in Bakersfield, Louie wondered whether the church would have been ready to accept those who died during the pandemic, had they found their way onto a pew before succumbing to addiction. The question is legitimate given the perspective some Christians hold about issues like drug abuse. An attitude that whispers, “Why can’t they just stop using?” isn’t uncommon.
Perhaps a bigger question is: What would Jesus say about a perspective that seems antithetical to the core tenants of the faith? It’s clear from scripture that Jesus himself was sinless, yet He served and healed with an abundance of compassion. Ultimately, He went to the cross and died for sins he never committed.
As Christians, we serve a God who’s well acquainted with the messy sins that we often shield our eyes from and asks us to love anyway. Louie implores us to do the same, especially for brothers and sisters who enter our churches looking as bad as they feel. “These are people who desperately need a church community,” he said. “These are people that are dying. What if every single one of those people showed up at our church? Would we know how to love them the way they need to be loved? Can we see them the way God sees them?”
One Door clients are often hesitant about the program’s encouragement toward a faith community, pointing to instances of rejection due to their appearance. Even more common is a feeling of unworthiness that keeps them from entering a church full of “perfect people.”
Community, transparency and education in the church
The idea that there are hurting people that feel hesitant or afraid to walk through church doors should cause us significant alarm.
At Canyon Hills Assembly of God, One Door’s partner church, welcoming and caring for the broken is part of the church’s DNA. The message from the pulpit is one of acceptance without the expectation of “good, Christian behavior” first. The mission is to love well and allow the Holy Spirit to work transformation within the individual. This class of church leadership is found across the country.
This transparent mission put forth from church leadership is essential if God’s people hope to make an impact on the drug addicted. Perhaps more profound is the far-reaching impact drug addiction has on the issues of foster care, poverty, homelessness, exploitation, mental health, and imprisonments. The fewer addicted adults, the more kids that get to stay with their families of origin, the more secure households, and the more stable our communities. One of CityServe’s goals is to understand and focus on these often-connected issues that plague our communities. The Addicted is one of CityServe's 10 initiatives — compassion templates addressed in scripture for how the church can engage and help those who are hurting.
Isaiah 61:1 states, “Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.”
As Christians, we know experiencing the Lord’s love and kindness is what leads to repentance. So, what keeps us from showing kindness and sharing rich community with all those who walk through our doors?
Often, the answer is a lack of understanding. Most Christians are sincere in their desire to love well, but if we’ve never experienced addiction or been exposed to it in our families, naivete can impact our understanding. We wonder why people can’t “just quit?” This question reveals a false perception, not simple callousness. To remove the stigma on this issue, education and training are key. Learning how to best serve those dealing with substance abuse from someone who has experienced addiction firsthand is vital to a well-executed care plan.
How is your church sharing God’s love with the messy and imperfect? How will your church be a part of the solution?
Crissy Sanchez-Cochran is executive director of communications for CityServe.