When George Bush declared war on drugs last month, many Christians were already in the battle. Through a variety of mainly local efforts, churches and individual believers have been confronting drug abuse on many fronts.

In August the United Methodist Church took the unprecedented step of naming Bishop Felton F. May to lead full-time the denomination’s attack on drugs and violence.

May, currently administering the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area, will begin his year-long assignment in Washington, D.C., on January 1, 1990. He will work with local church and community leaders to find models for how Christians can unite to wage a multipronged “guerrilla warfare” against drugs and violence across the country.

The appointment marks the first time the United Methodist Church has used an old but little-known provision in its Book of Discipline to appoint a bishop to a “specific church-wide responsibility deemed of sufficient importance to the total church.”

Community Cooperation

In the nation’s capital, one local effort has unified some 130 churches to combat drugs. The Church Association for Community Services (CACS) has been in business only since February. Last June CACS held a citywide conference attended by representatives of 85 churches, and it has continued to grow. It has acquired commitments for support from all levels of the community and put together a $ 1.8 million budget.

“People are acting out of desperation,” said Frank Tucker, CACS president and pastor of First Baptist Church at New Hampshire and Randolph Streets.

CACS’s efforts include after-school programs, which offer tutoring and training in “coping skills” for children; evening programs, which link teens and 1,000 volunteer adult mentors; and emergency services, which provide “packages” of assistance such as child care and treatment referrals to those who want to get off drugs.

“People questioned whether something substantial could be done if churches took the leadership,” said Tucker, who is also president of the Council of Churches of Greater Washington. “Now people don’t question that at all. Of course, we seek to involve all sectors of the community.”

Missionaries Assess Risks in Colombia

Continued violence and the potential for drug-mafia reprisals against North Americans led to the temporary withdrawal of most U.S. and Canadian missionaries from Medellín, Colombia, early last month. Meanwhile, North American missionaries in Bogotá and other Colombian cities were for the most part staying put and “playing it safe,” in the words of one missions executive.

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There was a total of some 60 North American missionaries in Medellín, a city of about 3 million, at the time of the recent crisis. Some left for the northern coast or for other safer areas of Colombia. Others relocated in nearby Ecuador, and still others returned to the U.S. or Canada. All hoped to return to Colombia.

The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Canada, which, with 20 workers had one of Medellín’s largest missionary contingents, withdrew all 20 at the request of the Canadian government, said the mission’s executive secretary, Paul Kerr. The missionaries were first moved to Cartagena, and then brought back to Canada to assess whether it would be safe for them to return. The Canadian Baptists were also forced to close their day school for missionary children, which served 11 different mission agencies.

“We’re fortunate in that all of our churches have national pastors,” said Kerr. “Where we’re going to be hurting is in the area of leadership training.”

Latin America Mission withdrew two new missionary couples from Medellín. But its citywide evangelistic effort, Christ for the City, pushed ahead full-steam under Colombian leadership, with nearly all of the city’s evangelical denominations taking part.

A small number of North American missionaries chose to remain in Medellín. OMS International missionaries were among them, though they did adopt a plan for quick departure should that become necessary.

“They’ve taken the position that when the American government says to evacuate, they will,” said OMS’s director of field ministries, Grant Nealis, adding, “We feel these people on the field know the situation better than we do.”

According to Nealis, the church in Colombia, including in Medellín, is experiencing tremendous growth. He said this makes the decision to leave more difficult for the missionaries. “Medellín used to be the graveyard of missions,” he said, “but now people are more open than they’ve ever been before.”

Evangelist Luis Palau went ahead with an August 22–27 crusade in Bogotá, despite Colombian government officials’ urgings against it. Overflow crowds of 20,000 attended each meeting, and the only potential incident came on the final day when police at the stadium apprehended a man who had the makings of a firebomb. Palau spokesman David Sanford said, however, that had the crusade been scheduled for the last days of August, it would have been canceled.

Missions executives, such as David Volstad of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA), kept tabs on the Colombian situation through frequent phone calls. Volstad said U.S. embassy officials in Bogotá met in early September with field directors of evangelical missions working in Colombia.

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While not telling North Americans to leave, the embassy cautioned against taking risks and suggested removal of “nonessential” personnel. Some 40 dependents of U.S. embassy personnel were evacuated in the wake of the drug-related violence that followed the August 18 slaying of leading presidential candidate Luis Galán.

Since drug-mafia threats to kill North Americans after the extradition two years ago of convicted drug kingpin Carlos Lehder, C&MA workers in Colombia began taking some precautions. They now “follow a broken routine,” said Volstad, “not a particular pattern.”

By John Maust.

Familiar Territory

Metropolitan rescue missions have faced the problems of substance abuse since they began, and in recent years that has meant drugs.

“We see the consequences of drugs every single day,” said Del Maxfield, director of the Denver Rescue Mission, which cares for 40 men (and next year will begin caring for women). “We work with drug abusers for anywhere from three months to two years, and help them put their lives back together.”

Another veteran in the drug war is Teen Challenge, the ministry founded by David Wilkerson in 1958. It is still serving the down-and-out of Brooklyn, “and all of them have drug or alcohol problems,” said ministry worker Augustine Planas.

Working with 30 men and 12 women at a time, Teen Challenge provides schooling, Bible training and discipleship, and discipline. According to Planas, their success rate is 80 percent.

Pervasive Problems

While many people readily associate drug abuse with inner cities, problems can exist in middle and upper-class neighborhoods as well. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, a group of Christians has taken a program of drug prevention built on biblical principles into city and suburban public schools. Called STARS (Students Taking a Right Stand), their substance-abuse prevention and intervention program is helping 28,000 young people in Hamilton County and thousands more in another 20 school systems around the country.

In 1981, Hamilton County schools listed substance abuse as the number-one cause of suspensions and expulsions, said Robert Rabon, national director of corporate operations for Project 714, which gets its name from 2 Chronicles 7:14. Now substance abuse is seventh on the list. In 1981, substance abuse accounted for 33 percent of all suspensions and expulsions. Today, he said, it accounts for only 5.8 percent.

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“A lot of these problems have fallen into the laps of the school systems,” Rabon said, “and we’re there to help.”

One of the country’s largest chains of psychiatric and substance-abuse treatment centers, Rapha, describes its hallmark as “Christ-centered care.” With more than 20 treatment centers in Texas, Florida, Nevada, and Georgia, the Houston-based program also manages the Youth for Christ/USA Recovery Center in Chicago.

“We work within the system of courts, insurance companies, and hospitals to provide the Christian community with Christ-centered treatment for psychiatric and substance-abuse problems,” said Rapha spokesman Scott Meador. Rapha, which is Hebrew for “healer,” was founded in 1986. “Jesus Christ is the focus for getting to the root causes of people’s problems and getting them back into the community as healthy people.”

By Steve Rabey.

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