I just finished the series of articles dealing with substance and drug abuse. It is appropriate to ask why the newspaper series and to ask why I believe that faith based organizations, individuals, churches, should unite with the encouragement of government and the medical community to provide the solution. Understanding my personal history with the issue is a great place to begin. After I accepted what we refer to as the “Call to Ministry” I continued my pursuit to be prepared through both formal education and training, in addition to learning from the application of scripture and faith from everyday life and ministry. In 1981 I considered my task would be preaching on Sunday and on Wednesday, and nowhere in my formal training was the issue of substance abuse or drug addiction ever covered. No college professor ever spoke about the issue and no seminary professor addressed the issue and there were no courses in the field of study.
In high school I was exposed to drugs and alcohol. Alcohol was most common and I knew students who used “speed” and smoked marijuana. In churches, as you can well imagine, there was no shortage of messages dealing with alcohol. A matter of fact many protestant denominations and no doubt readers of this column can attest to the fear instilled about drinking and hell as the destiny because of involvement. I never remember hearing any minister growing up mention the word marijuana from the pulpit, but plenty of conversation about “pot heads” from conversations overheard where adults might be describing youth they tagged as being “no good.” Addressing the issue of drugs by a church officially would have been or could be perceived to be acknowledging a problem inside their own membership. This of course was avoided because Christians, and certainly church members, would never be involved in such issues. We know this was not correct then, and there are plenty of public arrest records to prove this not true today. The church has often been afraid, untrained and not sure what an appropriate response is. That truth has crippled the church into not having any involvement for most congregations and the church also has an issue with “what others churches will say.”
1992 was the year I addressed this issue for the first time as a minister in Corbin. I had no option as a member came crying saying my son is on drugs. I was of no help and clueless about resources available, and what my response as a pastor was supposed to be. Should I pray about this publicly? Do we put this concern on the published prayer? There was no guide but plenty of concerns about privacy and what’s appropriate. Given the circumstances I did not have a struggle with what my course of action should be, my struggle would be if I would have the courage to get involved. The course was clear because of the example of Jesus. I would begin to walk as a Christian and as a pastor with this particular individual and his family. For the next six years that list of individuals and families grew. I discovered limited resources at best and continued dead ends and walls for the most part. That frustration and experience took another step in 1998. Cathy Woolum, a family friend ,approached me about the issue of drugs faced by our community, in Bell County. Together we co-founded the Bell County Drug Coalition. It was the only community organization in Kentucky that uniquely addressed this issue collectively, involving all facets of the issue including prevention, intervention and treatment. It was unique because the coalition sought to bring together in unity all the various entities, organizations, government programs into a collective group addressing the issue, and it worked.
The next effort was the establishment of the first law enforcement drug task force to deal specifically with and to combat the selling of drugs in Knox, Whitley and Bell Counties. David Jorjani, who was the Knox County Attorney and I established the Cumberland Valley Plateau Drug Task Force. Support from the cities of: Williamsburg, Corbin, Pineville, Barbourville and Middlesboro, along the support of the Fiscal Courts from Knox, Whitley and Bell County, each provided funding that we used to secure a matching three-to-one grant with cooperation of the Department of Justice. The law enforcement arm was now established.
My involvement took another step when I received a call from the office of U.S. Congressman Harold Roger’s. The Lexington Herald Leader had just published an article “Prescription Pain” that described the problem of drugs in the 5th Congressional District and Congressman Roger’s asked for me to share the program I had written and the success of our citizens through the efforts of the Bell County Drug Coalition. The concept of citizen coalitions in coordination with our law enforcement grant became the Comprehensive Counter-Drug Initiative. That organization you know today as Operation UNITE.
The next step I am proposing is long overdue. In involves a purposed plan to become mentors to those addicted to drugs and dealing with substance abuse. Faith based organizations, individuals and church congregations must move from praying about the issue to action. As Christians we must step into the treatment process as community members working with the encouragement of government and cooperation of the medical community. The plan is simple — to establish a Re-Entry Task Force of committed individuals regaining our communities with one success at a time. This is an appropriate Christian response and Jesus sent his followers out two by two. Together we are the solution.
Contact Tim H. Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @THMills.