I was reading an article on narratively.com this morning how parts of West Virginia have become "ground zero or America’s alarming epidemic of opioid addiction." Desperately people are trying to fight this epidemic but often it is a losing battle. Below is a response to the article. It is my response, my cry to God, and my prayer. My family is from West Virginia. I went to school in West Virginia. I met my wife in West Virginia. West Virginia is not a fly-over state, butt of a joke, or statistic to me. The state, the people, and their story is part of who I am.
Where is hope found? The easy answer for me and for most "churchy-folk" is in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We see hope in the way God took on human form and said that no longer would sin separate us from the divine. It might seem weird to say that hope is found in Jesus' death but it is there. He turned to the man next to him, and in an act of mercy and grace offered the man forgiveness for a life of sin. Even while facing is own death Jesus offered hope and forgiveness. Then in His resurrection we see that when we take on Jesus' life and death, that we too can share in His resurrection. New life, an eternal life offered to us with no strings attached, with our creator where all of our sin, illness, and short-comings are no more.
Hope is something that when in the right situation can seem to be abundant. It is easy of me to know that even on my worse day I can have hope that the days or even moments to come will be better than my last. It's easy for me to have hope that my son's life will be better than mine. It's easy for me to read the Bible and see the story of hope because in my own life my good days have outnumbered the bad days.
My new acquaintance JR was eight years old when he first heard about Oxycontin, fifteen when he got his first opioid prescription and eighteen when his mom first sat him down and shot him up on his birthday.
“She said she did it because she knew I’d be doing it,” he said. “You know, she wanted to make sure I did it right.”
What happens when hope is lost? It sounds impossible but there are places in the world where people have lost so much or have had their bad days outnumber the good days that hope is nowhere to be found. Places that come to mind for most of us are in the "third world". Places we might see on a children's aid organization advertisement. Images of babies with distended bellies and flies all around show us that hope is gone in parts of the world.
"But you give just $XX per month you can bring hope."
These organizations do great work and it is through them that the Holy Spirit is at repairing broken hearts and building hope in communities that have been desperately in need.
But what about closer to home? Last month I spent a week in Iaeger, WV. This one of the poorest communities in the United States. I met a mother who had just had her power and water turned off, and it was the end of the month which meant that her food stamps had run out for the month. This meant that not only were her 3 children going to literally be cold and in the dark but that also they would now be hungry. Thankfully there are people like Diane and the Little Sparrows Ministries who are working tirelessly to mend these conditions and bring hope to communities that seem to have been forgotten by their neighbors.
When there is a power vacuum what fills that void can often be the last thing that is needed in the situation. In West Virginia the hole left by the lack of hope has been filled by addiction. Prescription pain pills are quickly becoming not only an easy source of income but also a source of hop.
“You could take $1,500 down there,” JR said, “pay for your doctor’s appointment and all your prescriptions, hotel for a night, and you can come back up here and sell 180 thirties in less than a day for $5,400.”
Not only are you able to provide a source of income but you are also able to find a source to get high and leave the hopelessness you feel behind (at least for a brief period of time).
So where is the church in all of this? When I was visiting Iaeger I noticed there were churches all over the place. From downtown Iaeger to the hollers on the outskirts of town and into the mountains, every flavor of Christianity was present. With churches every mile or so (I will do a better count when I am back in April) why is there such a large presence of hopelessness? A feeling of "this is the life I inherited from my parents, and this is what I will pass onto my children."
I think the church should be the presence and the Holy Spirit should be the power filling the vacuum in Iaeger, WV and the surrounding communities. The local church has the opportunity to bring real hope, the hope found in Jesus Christ to these areas. And with this hope comes a renewed spirit to overcome any circumstance or situation one is faced with.
I hope you will join me in praying for the people of Iaeger, WV and the surrounding areas. I hope you will join me in praying for the local church there. That the leaders of these churches be inspired by the Holy Spirit to move in their own communities and begin to battle opioid addictions and bring hope to people who feel like the world has forgotten about them.
I hope you will join me in praying for our congregation here in Chesapeake. We want to strengthen our partnership with the Little Sparrows Ministries. We want to bring hope. We want to the Holy Spirit to work in us, filling us with hope, that we might take that hope and share it. We want to find hope, and in finding hope we want to share it.