- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) - This is what faith looks like:

It’s Thursday night in the tiny, river town of Butler, Kentucky, and the Rev. Darrell Breeden and his small flock approach a corner, clasp hands in a circle and pray. They continue this way, stopping in front of a building, a house, at another corner.

They come upon a man they know by name. He is the town’s heroin dealer. He shrugs off their invitation to pray with them at first.

Then he concedes. And just as Jesus was said to have done, Breeden welcomes him into their prayer circle.

A baptizer of men in rivers, Breeden has waded into a whole new territory to do as God instructs him: Help those who need it. Those who need it the most, he says, are the heroin-addicted, their children, their parents, their friends, and even their drug dealer. And while what the users and the dealers are doing is clearly sin in his eyes, that is far from the point.

God can help.

Breeden isn’t on his own here, but the work is lonely.

It might not be for long.

In late winter, more than 135 people of faith and goodwill showed up at the Life Learning Center in Covington to listen to a plea for their help and to ask what they, as believers, could do to help fight the heroin epidemic.

“Ministers and the faith-based community are in a unique position to speak to their congregations and counsel families and individuals suffering from the devastating effects of addiction,” said Kim Moser, director of the Northern Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. Her office and the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement put together the conference for faith leaders.

Historically, addiction disease has been treated as a moral failure, something that the presenters emphasized is incorrect. They provided scientific evidence about the disorder and were urged to use their empathy - a key factor, according to addiction medicine specialists - to provide people with addiction, and their families, with that kind of support and resources.

“I wanted to arm them with factual information and motivate them to get involved in solving this problem,” Moser said. “This is a war that must be fought on multiple levels. This is one more tool in our toolbox.”

Breeden came to his calling through prayer several years ago, after he began to notice a dearth of young adults at his Disciples of Christ, Mount Moriah Christian Church in Butler.

He says his prayer was answered and he knew he had but one path to take: Go out and bring the addicted to God. So, with help from others who shared his mission, Breeden started FireHouse Ministries, where all could come together for music, prayer and support.

He did not wait for the afflicted to show up. Breeden began his weekly prayer walks. He started meeting with people in the streets. Now he and others who share his mission drive them to detox and rehab centers - and, when they can, link them to a doctor who can treat them with medication. Because Breeden believes that prayer alone can’t completely heal them.

We have medication for heart patients, for diabetics, he says. And we have prayer.

“I want them to have the best chance possible,” Breeden explained. “To get whatever help they need and get better.”

Not everybody has to do it Breeden’s way, and those who’ve already signed up all have their own.

There’s the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Mount Auburn whose rector “Mother Paula” Jackson saw the Cincinnati Exchange Project’s struggle to get a needle-exchange site and offered the church lot.

“It’s a natural for us to do this,” Mother Paula said. “It doesn’t take an evil kind of person to become an addict. I think there’s a lot of compassion out there among faith communities.”

So weekly, drug users show up at the church lot for needles and other health services from CEP.

At Church 922 in Erlanger, the Rev. Craig Moore, who owns Mothers Tattoo parlors in Northern Kentucky, welcomes all. The addicted. The lonely. The former felons. The people who live on the fringes.

“I have some serious roughnecks that come,” Moore said. Sometimes heroin addicts come to his service after dosing and end up “on the nod,” in and out of consciousness and in danger of overdosing, while there.

“I’d rather see them there than anywhere else,” Moore said. “I make sure that atmosphere and that place is non-judgmental. We will pray. We will help you.”

At the conference, faith leaders who did not know what to do to help with the heroin scourge heard from their own.

Sister Kay Kramer, a Sister of Divine Providence, nurse and midwife at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, was a panelist. She guides addicted women through pregnancy and delivery at St. Elizabeth Edgewood hospital. She soothes their fears, helps them stay healthy, loves them unconditionally.

“Women love their babies,” Sister Kay told the gathering. “The addiction to heroin is so strong that even during pregnancy, sometimes they can’t change.”

“Recovery is God-given,” she said, but she added this: “Science tells us that addiction is not a simple phenomenon. It occurs not from a character flaw.

“Addiction,” she emphasized, “is not a moral defect.”

In Norwood, Nathan Atwood, 30, was devastated about heroin-related deaths of young adults. He initiated Hope Over Heroin Norwood, which will launch Tuesday. The initiative, which includes prayer and street evangelism, was started among Ohio and Kentucky churches who wanted to help with the heroin epidemic.

“I felt in my heart that I needed to help in whatever way that I could,” Atwood said. Numerous churches have joined the effort.

Some faith communities in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky are less intensely involved with helping heroin addicts and their families, but still, they offer what they can: Word of Deliverance in Forest Park has addiction treatment resource lists on hand and a mission to end stigma.

Churches provide helpful call lines offering support and resource lists.

The Jewish Community Center, which had someone at the faith conference, is working with an Ohio governor’s faith-based prevention initiative. “The Jewish community is deeply concerned by the current heroin epidemic facing our community,” said Sarah Weiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council Jewish Federation of Cincinnati.

The faith leaders heard from addiction specialist and physician Mina “Mike” Kalfas, a Christian who treats more than 200 heroin addicts. He spoke about his struggles years ago when the common treatment method was abstinence - and how he learned that medication combined with spiritualism works best.

“See, this is a brain disease,” Kalfas said. “They need medical science, faith, counseling - and to pull that all together.”

“We’re not called to judge,” the addiction doctor said. “We’re called to love.”

The encouragement and education seemed to work: Most attendees surveyed after the event said they want to be a part of a volunteer, faith-based coalition to help with the heroin crisis. And most asked for guidance - responding in the survey that they want access to a speakers bureau of experts to educate their congregations about heroin addiction.

“We would definitely want to help with this initiative,” said Marwah Badawi, director of the Ihsan Community Center in Milford. She attended the conference and said the concept fits within the Ihsan mission: “Ihsan strives to be aware of the community needs, to be compassionate towards all people, to provide excellent and relevant services, and to make an impact on their lives based on the teachings of Islam.”

It wasn’t the first time a governmental body asked for help from faith organizations. The national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, known as SAMHSA, has enlisted faith groups to advocate for people it serves. The Ohio Governor’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives is collaborating with faith leaders on multiple issues including substance abuse prevention.

Just a few months ago, the Kenton County jail sought help from a faith-based program led by Calvary Baptist Church of Latonia called Celebrate Recovery. Other churches across the country are using the same program.

It’s an abstinence program, yes. But Jason Merrick, director of the jail’s addiction services, said some inmates who are in the group also get medication in the form of non-narcotic Vivitrol, which blocks the effects of heroin and opioids.

He is so impressed with what he’s seen in inmates who take part in Celebrate Recovery, which he initiated for jailed men, that he’s working to expand it to include women inmates.

“There’s an enormous spiritual component to recovery,” said Merrick, who himself struggled with addiction and has been in recovery for seven years. “Making amends is an instrumental part of recovery and is, essentially, similar to repentance for sin.”

“Is addiction a sin? No,” Merrick said. “Do we sin while in and out of addiction? Yes, absolutely. No human is without sin.”

“It takes a whole community to support and build someone’s success.”

___

Information from: The Kentucky Enquirer, http://www.nky.com

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