Helplessness. Hopelessness. These were two of my predominant feelings as I read Barbara Kingsolver’s recent Pulitzer prize–winning novel Demon Copperhead. The story was full of laughter and delight, too. But the bleak realities surrounding the main character in this coming-of-age story carried a heavy and haunting sense of inevitability. Damon (called “Demon”) is born to a teen mom in rural poverty in Appalachia. The deck seems stacked against him as he experiences abuse, food insecurity, theft, family dissolution, homelessness, prejudice, and a slew of unfair circumstances. Underlying it all is the prevalence of opioid addiction in the region, touching nearly every life in the story and leaving destruction in its wake.
There’s a brief vignette in the novel—at a time when Demon is hungry, homeless, and penniless—in which he interacts with a preacher. This pastor helps him in a small but practical way. He gives Demon a ride, has an empathetic conversation with him, and gives him a dollar when he drops him off. But when the pastor drives away, leaving Demon alone on the roadside, I kept thinking, Couldn’t you do more?
S. J. Dahlman’s reporting details the real-life, pervasive impact of opioid addiction in Appalachia. The overwhelming scope of the crisis can cause Christians in the region to feel helpless or hopeless, leading some to be in denial about addiction’s reach even in their own congregations. For others, the seeming insurmountability of the problem can lead to a sense of inertia.
But in “With Eyes to See Addiction, Appalachian Churches Respond to Opioids Crisis,” Dahlman highlights the stories of Christians responding to the promptings of the Spirit to move beyond denial or helplessness into active, practical ministry. The type of ministry these churches provide varies, from developing long-term residential recovery programs to assisting the children of addicts with food and clothing to coordinating transportation for those recovering who are trying to rebuild their lives. Unlike the momentary help of the fictional preacher in Demon Copperhead, these Christians minister in substantial, ongoing ways. As one such pastor, Lisa Bryant, told Dahlman, “When we see somebody struggling with addiction, we see the image of God in them.”
Kelli B. Trujillo is CT’s print managing editor.
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