Much like almost everyone in West Virginia, I have been impacted by the heroin epidemic that is destroying the state that I love. I have had friends, family, and classmates that have become addicts. My best friend growing up lost his life because he couldn’t put down the needle. I am not a unique story in this state but rather the norm. I am a proud graduate of Marshall University, and the city of Huntington will always hold a beloved place in my heart. That city is now known as the heroin capital of America.
The epidemic is not centralized to just Huntington but has spread to every inch of this beautiful state. You hear of overdose deaths every day on the news and, like so many, I became numb to it. There was one day where 26 people overdosed in a three and a half hour span in Huntington. I remember hearing that news and thinking to myself, “I’m not shocked.” I had become so disinterested with the whole situation.
I never understood why someone would choose to use heroin. I didn’t know much about the drug, but I knew that someone would have to be stupid to repeatedly put that stuff into their bodies. I viewed them as choosing death over life. I couldn’t figure out why they wanted to do this and I had little to no compassion for them.
Then something happened that would forever change my views. I sat in a seminar at my church one Saturday morning, and the speaker informed us how heroin works. He told us how heroin is highly addictive and can lead to dependency after one use. He also explained that the part of the brain that heroin affects is the brain stem, which controls our involuntary actions. Once you become addicted, the same thing in your mind that tells you to breathe begins telling you that you need heroin.
It was in that moment that my heart started to change. For the first time in my life, I felt sorry for them. Can you imagine making one wrong choice and your whole life come crashing down because of it? Can you imagine going through the day and not being able to function unless you inject yourself with a drug that is ruining your life? In order to live, you have to put something in your body that is killing you. Taking heroin becomes less about getting high and more about just feeling normal.
God has changed my heart on this subject. I no longer look down on addicts for making awful decisions because now my heart breaks for them. Over the past few months, God has opened my eyes to something in the scripture that has been consuming my thoughts. I have preached sermons on it and written several posts about it. I can’t read through the Gospels and avoid seeing Jesus reaching out and loving the unclean and unworthy.
You see Jesus with Matthew and Zacchaeus who were tax collectors and despised in Israel. You see Him stand up and save the woman caught in adultery. He has that beautiful encounter with the woman at the well. When the bleeding woman comes up to Him and touches His garment, which would have made Him unclean, He loves her and isn’t angry at her. He touched lepers and dead bodies, which both would have made Him unclean. He regularly spent time with gentiles who the Jews deemed as not good enough. Jesus never shied away from being with the people who were “unclean.” Jesus viewed each of them as a person who was created in the image of God. He didn’t define them by their sins or mistakes but instead saw them as someone needing hope, healing, and love.
That’s what has changed in my heart. I pray that this is a change that is happening in hearts all around this state and country. We can keep viewing addicts as another wasted life, or we can see them as someone who God loves and wants to see saved. We all have a choice to make, are we going to be like Jesus or not? It’s that simple. I can’t find a single word in the scripture that leads me to believe that Jesus thinks that we should leave these people to die. I, however, have come across a lot of examples that tell us we need to go to them and offer them hope, healing, and love.
1 Corinthians 1:27-29 reads, “Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world – what is viewed as nothing – to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in His presence.” I can’t think of a single person in the world right now that is considered more “insignificant and despised” than how we view addicts. This passage tells us that God is going to bring these “nothing” people “something” and that something is the Gospel. We can choose to work with God or ignore what He’s going to do.
Ali and I spend a lot of time talking about what we can do to reach these people. She is going to begin a new job as substance abuse counselor in just a few weeks. God has also placed this calling on her heart. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the job He has given her as He has put this calling on both of our hearts. I don’t exactly know where God’s taking me on this journey. I am keeping my eyes and ears open to every possibility to where I feel God in is inviting me to become a part of the miraculous revival that I believe He’s about to begin.
This is what I do know, addicts are people who are created in God’s image. These people need hope, healing, and love. They need to know that God loves them and that Christ went to the cross for them too. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” It is not our job to condemn these people. It is our job to love them and offer salvation to them.