LOUISVILLE—Kentucky ranks third for the highest number of overdose related deaths in the nation, totaling 1,565 just last year. Over the last five years, the numbers keep rising, Arlene Rice, founder of Gabriel Project 930, shared with attenders at the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s Breaking the Silence conference at Beechland Baptist Church in Louisville on Aug. 25.
“This is a mission field. We are losing a generation. And our churches in our convention have not been exempt from these ramifications,” Rice shared.
Rice, a believer for over 40 years, a leader in her church, and a parent that raised her children in Christian school is passionate about this epidemic, because she lost her son, Gabriel, to a heroin overdose.
Rice shared the shame she felt, and how that hindered her from taking these problems to her church’s leaders. “And what shame does, it creates a barrier, for those of us in our church to go to our ministry staff and ask for help. My family and I thought that we could handle it on our own, that it was a private issue.”
Because of that, her desire for the conference was to “teach you as church staff, as families to give you some direction on the next steps you can take.”
After sharing the heart-wrenching story of her son and his struggle, she declared, “Midst that grief, and midst that intense sadness of losing my son, there beams a ray of hope. Hope that this is not all there is in this life.”
She added, “In the end, heroine does not win. Christ wins. Instead of turning my back towards God, I turned my face toward the Bible.”
Jon Cyrus, pastor of Prospect First Baptist Church, shared the story of his oldest daughter as well. She, too, died from a drug overdose.
“I carried a lot of guilt and sadness thinking I didn’t do enough. I loved her as best I could,” he shared.
He challenged the church that one way to help families and individuals in crisis such as this, is to do as Jesus essentially told the Pharisees to do and “Recognize your own need.”
“You aren’t as well as you think you are. Now let me tell you, brothers and sisters, it is well with my soul, but I’m not as well as I will be. I’m still struggling every day. I need Jesus every single day,” he said. “And I’m guessing you’re akin to me.”
He continued, “Church folk, we are so put together, we are buttoned up, buckled up, smile plastered on our face. Got out theology right. We’re so put together and we’re so afraid someone might see our mess.”
But, he said, “If the church is going to impact the opioid crisis, we must change the way we see others and ourselves.”
He offered five ways the church can start to break the silence:
1) Voicing your own struggle
2) Embracing others where they are
3) Risking connection, embracing love and mercy
4) Listening more than you talk
5) Sharing Jesus, the Gospel of grace and hope
Music for the day was led by the praise and worship band from Isaiah House Treatment Center, and breakout sessions were taught on topics including: “Finding hope in prevention,” “Kinship Care,” and “Reaching out with compassion, grace, and truth.”
“I believe that the church should be addressing this need,” Eric Allen, a conference organizer and Missions Mobilization team leader with the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said. “It touches our churches and it touches our families. We know Jesus came to set the captives free, and the captives, many of them, are held bound by the chains of addiction, I’m thankful for today that this conference is going to meet a lot of needs for many of us.” (WR)