As the American opioid crisis continues to spiral out of control, many faith-filled individuals are seeking to offer a form of healing that penetrates deeper than step-by-step drug rehabilitation programs. Through seeking to pray for those in the clutches of substance addiction, a team of “spiritual first responders” is looking to a higher power for the breaking of the addictive chains on the streets of this nation.
Opioid addiction claimed the lives of nearly 48,000 people last year and the increase in the public use of these powerful drugs has been staggering. In 2016, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl) was 5 times higher than in 1999, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Indeed, many of these pastors and clergy are ex-addicts themselves, making their witness all the more powerful and effective when they are scouring the streets for those in need of a helping hand. “I gotta be honest. I ask myself a lot of the times, ’God, why did you allow me to be an addict?” said West Virginia Pastor Brad Hill in a recent sermon, as reported by the Associated Press.
Hill said that in recent months, he had been bombarded with calls for help and pastoral wisdom from those affected by the drug crisis. One of the most heartbreaking texts simply read: “Do those who commit suicide still go to heaven?” This compassion-filled pastor has spoken at numerous funerals of those who have succumbed to an overdose, and, while offering comfort to those who knew and loved the victim, he is always seeking to offer a source of tangible hope to those still in the grip of addiction. “You don’t have to be like this person. There is a way out,” he’d often say as he looked out across a sea of grieving faces.
But while many such as Hill have been fortunate enough to recover, many are still in the throes of addiction. Massachusetts-based James Sessine is one of them. The 29-year-old admitted that his addiction had cost him everything. “I’m an IV drug user, I shoot heroin daily,” he told the Associated Press. Living in a tent and huddled together with a bunch of other addicts, he has been desperate to get clean for months, but to no avail. “It is getting to the point where I’m just like ‘enough is enough,'”
But when another spiritual first responder, Pastor Jamie Casey, approached him, he decided to hear the preacher out.
Casey urged the withering man to get a treatment slot immediately. He quickly agreed, vowing to be there the next morning. “I’m going to walk around all night, like I do every night,” he added, before heading off. After that encounted, it would be a case of hoping and praying that the man showed up the next day.
Sitting down on a railroad track, chatting and praying with another group of addicts, Casey gave a brief version of his testimony. “For 20 years I fought and fought and fought against myself. Because you’re your biggest enemy. You know that, right?” he told the gravely-sick users. “So what ended up happening is that I ended up in a place that I lost almost everything. But then I had to surrender to this addiction, surrender to my circumstances, surrender to myself and then surrender to God.”
As for Pastor Jamie, a staff member at South Coast Community Church, he said an old pact he made with a friend keeps him motivated to continue his life-saving work. “My best friend and I, we made a deal,” Casey said, clearly choked up. “He looked at me and he said, ‘Promise me we’ll never stop getting our hands dirty,’ And I made that promise to him and God, because had people given up on me, I wouldn’t be here.”
(H/T: Associated Press)