"What difference can one local church make in this huge issue of addiction?"
Office of Mission Director Jeremy Basset asked Peter Messiah that question on the 2015 Annual Conference stage.
Dr. Messiah directs Prevent/Recover, a ministry collaboration by the Conference and Oklahoma City University.
Messiah noted that churches’ leaders want to do something but may lack the resources and knowledge of how. Prevent/Recover can help with that.
This ministry is vital in Oklahoma, and not only for obvious reasons, Messiah said.
He called "astounding" statistics that show, as a direct consequence of drug use, 687 people died in Oklahoma in 2009 (the latest data reported by the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy).
Compared to those in the state that year who died from vehicle accidents (743) and firearms (482), "it is clear that prevention and recovery should remain at the forefront of our collective mindset," Messiah said.
Things aren’t getting much better, he said. Addiction-related costs total a whopping $7.2 billion annually for Oklahoma and its residents, according to "Oklahoma Drug Abuse: State of Addiction," a more recent news media series.
"These statistics may be easy to brush away with deflective phrases like not my child or not in my home, maybe even not in my church," Messiah stated.
However, he said, it becomes harder to delegate prevention and recovery as "someone else’s problem" when you learn that:
• 60 percent of youths identified as bullies in grades 6-9 are incarcerated by their mid-20s;
• Many of that incarcerated group have multiple felony convictions; and
• 67 percent of bullies as well as victims of bullying are more likely to become involved in drug and alcohol abuse.
Messiah went on to share, "Researchers have found that middle and high school students who bully their peers or who are bully-victims are more likely to use alcohol and other drugs than students who aren’t involved in bullying.
"Prevention should be our shared concern when we know our youth are hurting."
His passion for prevention and its universal need was clear when he also noted LGBT people are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to numb feelings of rejection, and that churches must practice welcoming all.
Messiah urged a congregation to focus its addiction ministry on what that church can do. ("Don’t be a counselor if you are not one.")
"Providing prevention and recovery services can be an overwhelming task for the local congregation. Many vendors will try to force a program or product on you. Well-meaning individuals will want to establish an opportunity within the life of the church."
Using his own name as a pun, the Prevent/Recover director offered hope. "If you find yourself wanting to do something, but don’t know how, I encourage you to get on your knees first and pray to Jesus, then get on your phone and call the Messiah."
To contact him: Pmessiah@okumc.org, 405-530-2036.
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