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RESOURCE CENTER AND ARCHIVES

Alabama Baptists, churches offer addicts help, hope through programscomment (0)

August 3, 2006

By Carrie Brown McWhorter


The story is familiar in many Alabama churches. A young woman who grew up in the church fell in love and married a young man from the community. The man had been saved while the two were dating, but his past included a history of methamphetamine abuse and treatment.

He was “cured,” they all thought. Then one weekend and one bad choice later, the young man’s old ways were back, his marriage was over and his church family was devastated. Everything had fallen apart.

Recognizing that methamphetamine abuse cuts across all societal boundary lines is key for churches that want to minister to families affected by the drug, said Gregory Borland, assistant special agent in charge of Alabama for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

“You can’t allow yourself to feel too secure and think ‘This will never happen to me,’” he said. “If you think that, you won’t know it’s happening until it does.”

In response to the widespread use of methamphetamine in the state, Alabama Baptist churches have taken the initiative to both educate their communities and minister to those hurt by meth abuse.

Some are providing space and support for programs like Celebrate Recovery that focus on faith in Jesus Christ and going through the process of recovery as crucial elements in staying clean. Many other churches and associations have sponsored meth-awareness workshops for community members. Both leaders and participants said many addicts are being reached as a result of these efforts.

In Calhoun Baptist Association, First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, is laying the groundwork for people in the area to work on their “hurts, habits and hang-ups” with God’s help. The church is beginning a Celebrate Recovery program that will hold its first meeting the first Friday of October.

The drive to start this program began in the heart of ministry leader Tyler Currier. A former addict who used all types of speed, including methamphetamine, Currier said he couldn’t “not do” Celebrate Recovery. “I think God has brought me to this and made it abundantly clear this is where He needs me to be,” he said.

With 10 years of recovery behind him, Currier said support groups are essential to an addict’s recovery on several levels.

These groups “show that there’s a way [out] not just through abstaining from drugs but also through gaining an inner strength through Christ,” he said. The small group times also allow for one-on-one sharing of problems and successes.

Support groups also help addicts who have moved past the initial phases of recovery and have been clean for years, like Currier. “To give back helps me stay clean and it serves God’s purpose,” he said.

While Celebrate Recovery reaches more people than just those fighting chemical dependencies, Currier said that will be a key part of the group at First, Jacksonville, because it is a prevalent problem in the area. “With meth, there are no brakes,” he said. “Once you get started, there are no brakes until you crash.”

And that ride and crash affect more than just the user. Their “periphery” — parents, spouses, children and friends — is affected as well.

That’s why Currier plans to have groups for those in the periphery. The adults in addicts’ lives need to understand how they were affected and how they enabled the addict.

As for the children, “the children are the ultimate victims,” Currier said. So Celebrate Recovery will give them a place to vent, heal and learn how to avoid the mistakes of their parents.

Although recovery from addiction is tough, it can be done, with miraculous results, Currier said.

“I’ve seen not only people coming out of the grips of addiction but also go into the missions field down in South America ... and in working in the jails here,” he said.

Terry Godwin of Ino Baptist Church, Kinston, in Coffee Baptist Association leads Christ A.R.M.S. (Addiction Recovery Ministry Services), a weekly 12-step program and recovery ministry. A recovering methamphetamine addict, Godwin said participants hear the message that God always loves and forgives, even when they slip.

“Some addicts worry that the church doesn’t want them there,” Godwin said. “But God wants us to love people the way He loves us, no matter what we’ve done.”

Both Christ A.R.M.S. and Celebrate Recovery also help addicts learn to cope with problems and make better decisions.

Godwin knows the effect choices have had on his life. “Meth is Satan’s favorite tool. If you’ve never done it, you have no idea what it will do to your life,” he said. “But God is the best rehab you can get. We all stumble but God is always there with His hand out in love.”

Christ A.R.M.S. also includes a mentoring component.

This is extremely important, said Brenda Scott, a member of Pleasant View Baptist Church, Holly Pond, in Blount Baptist Association, who works with the recovery program there. She said many recovering addicts lack transportation, jobs and money, and as a result, they may have difficulty getting to court hearings or court-mandated drug tests — specific needs churches and mentors could help meet.

“There is so much shame involved, and even people who are trying to change think people are looking down on them,” Scott said. “They need somebody to be there for them and churches could provide that.”

Al Hood, director of missions for Winston Baptist Association, said education can help church members be more open to families affected by drug abuse.

Because meth affects the entire community, churches are a logical place for awareness education. “There’s probably not a church that I’m aware of that hasn’t had someone affected by some form of drug abuse,” Hood said.

In his experience, addicts are often nominal church members, but their families may be very involved. Once revealed, the addiction can have a devastating effect on family members. “These family members may feel embarrassed or feel like they’ve failed, and so they drop out of church,” he said.

But the congregation’s awareness of a problem gives members a chance to provide tremendous support for a family dealing with a loved one’s addiction, Hood noted.

Last fall, Winston Association worked with Northwest Alabama Mental Health — its main office is in Jasper — and the Winston County Sheriff’s Office to hold an associationwide meth labs and treatment conference, and now several churches are continuing the efforts in their congregation.

Paul Miller, executive director of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries (ABCH), added that churches must also reach people before they make the decision to experiment with drugs.

“Churches have to recognize that methamphetamine and other drug abuse is in our communities and be sensitive to do everything we can to make people recognize the dangers,” he said. Drug-abuse prevention and teaching people to make better choices are reasons ABCH puts so much emphasis on counseling, he noted.

Phillip Drane, executive director of The Shoulder — a private, nonprofit, Christian drug and alcohol treatment center in Daphne — works with addicts’ families during treatment.

He explained that churches can teach members how to deal with situations that may lead to drug use and abuse.

“From the young Sunday School groups through the older parents, churches must teach practical applications of Scriptural principles,” Drane said. “We need to teach people what to do when they are afraid, glad, angry or ashamed.”

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