By Sharon Mager
The church can no longer avoid the opioid crisis.
Remember when “junkies” used heroin in back streets and we shook our heads in shame and looked the other way? There’s no turning away anymore, and we can’t (we never should have!) call the users junkies.
They’re our kids, our siblings, our parents, and our loved ones, from all walks of life. And they’re dying.
Every day 115 people die of an opioid overdose in the United States—almost two per minute.
Ask Rick Haynes, pastor of Lighthouse Mission Church about the issue. He lost his son Todd in November 2017. Todd took heroin with a large amount of fentanyl, and he died.
For Rick, the wound is still raw. You can see the pain in his eyes, but he’s holding on to Jesus with all his might even as he strives to help others avoid the tragedy.
“Three people overdosed this weekend,” Rick says as he drinks his coffee and eats grits at Chesapeake Grill, a local café he and his wife, Lenore, frequent.
“One died.” he says. “They’re not taking this seriously. They videotaped a girl overdosing. You see they have Narcan with them.”
Narcan is a drug that can bring a person back from an overdose.
“In their minds, they can bring a person out. It’s not dangerous to them.”
It has become a game, he adds.
“I’ve had two or three people ask me so far where Todd got the heroin from because it’s a ‘good batch.’ They don’t want the stuff that’s going to get them high…They want the stuff that’s going put them ‘on the edge.’”
Todd was living with his mother in New York and came to visit Rick for Christmas about ten years ago. The two strongly bonded and Todd stayed.
Rick, a lifelong biker, got Todd involved in motorcycles, but unfortunately, Todd gravitated to the “bad biker” mystique with the guns and girls.
He began snorting crushed-up pills and then met a woman who taught him to shoot up.
Eventually, he went into treatment programs, including a recent six-month-stay at the Frederick Rescue Mission where he wrote to his dad and step-mom Lenore, “My eyes are open and I’m trying to let God run my life. I will not become another dead junkie…”
When he returned from the mission, sooner than they suggested, Todd helped Rick at the church and wanted to do everything, even be a deacon, but he hadn’t made a solid commitment to Jesus.
One day Rick found Todd sitting on the second row of the church by himself and asked what he was doing.
“He said, ‘Just hanging out with God.’ I said, ‘Are you praying?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you said I could just come and talk to Him.’”
That evening Todd committed his life to Christ.
He announced his confession of faith to the congregation, and Rick baptized his son, along with four others, in the nearby river. He was doing well, Rick said.
Months later, after an incident occurred that seemed to overly upset him, Todd went home and overdosed after church.
“The bag he had was 86 percent fentanyl, guaranteed to kill him,” Rick said. “He only took a tiny bit.”
Rick said toxicity specialists said there was enough fentanyl in the bag to knock down a herd of African elephants.
“The worse part was having to ID him.”
Kim Buryon, who serves the church in a variety of capacities, says the church rallied around their pastor. “First we prayed… and we still pray and try to comfort him and encourage him.”
Rick now shares his story when he has an opportunity, and it helps.
He, with the church, also started, “The Yankee Project,” to raise money to make people aware of the problem.
Named because of Todd’s love of the Yankees baseball team, the goal is to put the faces of heroin overdose victims on billboards with information about them to help people become more aware, compassionate and willing to do something.
The church is also collecting funds to help people as needed in addition to offering a weekly grief support program for those who have lost loved ones who overdosed on drugs.
This affects everyone, Rick emphasizes. “Pastors’ children are dying. Bad things happen to good pastors. We’re not exempt.”
Isolation is a key factor. When you know someone is struggling, check up on them, take them out, encourage them.
We have to get involved, he says. “What would Jesus do? Jesus would get involved.
“Tell them, ‘You have a purpose. God has a purpose, He has a plan.’
Todd was clean for seven months. Rick says sadly, “I thought he was going to make it.”