For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Luke 19:10

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gospel Outreach – Substance Abuse Rehab Center

Michael Procopio, in fellowship at the Saugus Gospel Hall, submitted this report on a Gospel outreach activity in Massachusetts. For four years Christians from Saugus, MA have been sharing the Gospel with men and women during their stay at a Rehab Center.
The rehab facility we are ‘working’ in is a short-term residential rehabilitation facility for substance abuse, including drug and alcohol addictions, for both men and women. It is a transitional facility, meaning that it's not set-up for long-term rehabilitations (90+days), but is intended to be a 3-4 week transitional stop for men and women in between detox and long-term rehabilitation care. Many of the clients have either just been released from prison, or have been mandated by the courts to enroll in the program, although there are those there who have enrolled of their own initiative. It is a 28-bed facility, and the time spent in the facility varies from about 4 weeks in the summer, to about 8 weeks in the winter, depending on the availability of space and beds in the longer-term rehabilitation centers.

The Open Door
Initially, Rick Lawson, one of the Christians from the Gospel Hall in Saugus, was working on the Fire Alarm System at the facility, and through a deep exercise over several years, and much prayer and personal witnessing to several of the program directors and coordinators, was able to arrange a meeting between the head administrator and a couple of the brethren to discuss weekly meetings. When asked, "What night would work?" we replied "What about tonight?"

She arranged the meeting for that evening. We quickly scrambled and got some men together, picked up some Bibles and hymn sheets, and had the meeting - not really sure what to expect, but confident that this was a door God had opened, and we should go through it, knowing that he would bless the efforts. That first night, Gene Higgins (a fulltime Gospel worker) took on the responsibility of speaking to about 15 guys. The response was excellent. We left the meeting that night very excited about the prospects for the gospel in this location.

The door that God opened that night over four years ago has graciously remained open. Our prayer is that God will continue to work in the hearts of both the program directors and the clients at the facility, so that the gospel can continue to be preached at this location into the future.

The Meetings
On a typical Monday night, a number (4-8) of Christians are on hand to assist with the meeting. Usually, fifteen to twenty men and women are in the audience. We've seen as many as 28, and as few as 5 or 6, but the crowds tend to be larger, rather than smaller, which is very encouraging. In addition to the program’s clients, usually one or two of the program directors or supervisors also attend. Ages of the audience range from 18-60, but are mostly younger men and women in their 20's and 30's.

Helpful Clients and Care Packages
Each night begins by getting them all settled down, and the room setup for the meeting - the audience likes to participate and they will arrange the chairs and setup tables and what-not for us as we begin. Due to the fact that these men and women are away from home, and often estranged from their families, we provide everyone with a care package on their first night out - this consists of basic toiletries, as well as some candy, some tracts and a bible.

Relevant Message linked to their Recovery
Once everyone has been welcomed and the care packs have been distributed to the newcomers, the meeting is started with an introduction and a couple of hymns. We give an overview of why we are there, and what we are preaching, and what our intentions are for the audience - because of the unique nature of the rehabilitation facility we are in, we try to link the message of the gospel to their recovery from substance abuse. This has been very effective, as they make connections very easily, and are usually able to candidly discuss the problem of sin and its consequences.

Keeping it Very Simple – Assuming No Knowledge of the Bible
God has placed it on our hearts to be as simple and as transparent as possible, assuming no previous knowledge of the Bible or the Gospel on the part of the audience. In keeping with this, we emphasize that we are simply preaching what God's word says, and that we aren't there as just a "church group".

As we try to sing a couple of hymns, time is taken to discuss them, and explain some of the old-time lines and words, bringing the timeless gospel message of the songs they are singing to bear on their current situation.

Relatively Informal and Interactive
After the meeting is opened in prayer, we have a short, simple gospel message, based on usually only a single verse, or a couple of verses that we read together. We make a real effort to be very simple, and encourage questions if anything isn't understood. It's a relatively informal setting, and it's not uncommon to have significant discussion and interaction throughout the course of the message.

Sometimes the questions can border on the bizarre, but even the strangest questions are asked genuinely, and we have seen God use the questions from the audience to direct the message in a different way, for his blessing.

Candid Chats over Coffee
After the speaker concludes, we'll close in prayer and then continue with personal discussions over coffee and donuts, usually for another half-hour or so. This time of personal conversations with the men and women there has been very profitable, as most of the ‘clients’ are full of questions. Many very candid conversations take place. Nearly every night the vast majority of the clients stick around to talk about the meeting and the message of the Gospel.

The Challenges
Broken Lives
The struggles that the men and women in this program face are incredible. Most of them have had moderate-to-serious ongoing trouble with the law. Many are on post-release court orders, and some are in this program to avoid jail. Most of them have burned the bridges with their families, and their heartache is written all over their faces. Their stories are a tearful reminder of the power of Satan, and the destruction and despair that he sows as the prince of darkness. Most of them have children who have been taken by the state, or parents who, after years of dealing with the lies and deceptions of drug abuse, have severed ties with them, and this weighs on them - for most of them, nothing would mean more to them than restoring those relationships that have been severed.

Keeping Focused on the Gospel in a Balanced Way
With all of this baggage, it's difficult to keep 100% focused on the gospel. The natural impulse is to help with their every need, but God has given tremendous help in this area. The messages that are preached are true to God's word, simple to understand, and, importantly, pertinent to the current circumstances of the audience. Since it is an active rehab facility, attention is given not just to the strict message of the gospel, but to their recovery from their addiction as well. We link much of what they are told in their counseling and therapy to the message of the gospel. They are told that without Christ it will be a constant struggle to overcome their addictions, as they are still under the power of Sin; but with Christ, they will have the power not only to conquer their addiction, but have eternal security as well.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly."
John 10:10 NASB

1600 in Four Years
Only the Lord knows what the future holds for this work - it's currently ongoing, and Lord willing we will be able to maintain it as long as He permits. We have seen several profess, although the nature of their lives and the need to move away from old acquaintances for sobriety reasons has made discipling them difficult.

Over the 4 years, around 1600 troubled men and women have heard the good news of the gospel in this facility, and the full impact may never be known until that future day.

We would love everyone's prayers for this work - it's unique (at least for us), and has special challenges and needs, so we would encourage you to add us to your prayer list, and pray that as the gospel continues to be sounded out, that it's full effect would be seen, as souls trust Christ for eternity.

If you would like more information about this outreach contact Michael Procopio.

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