"Blink of an Eye," a short, locally produced film that underlines the dangers of drug addiction, has made headlines in recent months about whether real drugs were used in one of its scenes. Almost lost has been a 12-minute segment that traces the life, and death, of a teenage dancer who takes a prescription opioid to deal with pain in her knee, turns to illegal drugs to feed her new drug habit, and dies of a heroin overdose under a Western New York overpass.
That segment will be the cornerstone during three services this weekend at Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church in Clarence.
"We look to bring another piece into the opioid crisis that many people kind of ignore. That's the spiritual aspect," said Pat Jones, lead pastor. "Drugs are a means of people trying to escape their pain. We know there's a lot of heartache out there and we want to try to address it."
The church congregation includes Camryn Clune and her mother, Patty, both actors in "Blink of an Eye."
The services will take place at 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 9 and 11 a.m. Sunday at the church, 8445 Greiner Road.
Patty Clune – whose sister died from an overdose – will speak, as will Erie County political, medical, police and social service officials on the front lines of the opioid epidemic. Information will be available afterward for individuals and families challenged by addiction. All are welcome, Jones said.
Q. Can you talk about the scope of the opioid challenge for churches?
I've been in ministry 35 years and I don't remember a time like this. I'm hearing stories about people taking out second mortgages to put their kids through rehab, or having friends who've been to rehab four times and the child has been in jail, and they just don't know what to do anymore. There is a feeling of powerlessness that this thing has gotten families so bad that they don't know how to help, and that the addicts don't know what to do, either. For those who have started the journey and flopped, I think there's guilt, shame and all kinds of things. The stress level on families I'm hearing as I've walked alongside folks is that there is declining health among older parents who are facing this, too.
Q. Why did you decide to host these services?
We were praying over how we can touch our community and one of the things that kept coming up was the deep need to address addiction. We have several folks that are going through recovery or have lost loved ones. Our children's director said during one of our discussions … that during the past year her son has lost eight friends from either high school or college to overdoses. We realize how rampant it's been.
As a part of these services, we're going to have some recorded testimonies. One is from somebody who just came out of a rehab and is on the path to recovery. Another is in our Celebrate Recovery program and has celebrated their two-year anniversary. Patty Clune is going to give her testimony about what happened to her sister and why that's a motivating force for her to try to help others. We will have resource tables including for Teen Challenge, In His Name Outreach, Total Freedom, Celebrate Recovery, Kids Escaping Drugs, Christian Counseling Ministries of Western New York, and the Erie County Department of Health.
Q. How big is the congregation, and how diverse?
Our average weekly attendance is around 1,200 to 1,300. We do have a wide diversity from African-American to Hispanic to immigrant families from Albania, Ukraine and Peru … within the congregation but we're majority white. That reflects our area. We say when it comes to this and other issues that the Up and Outers are just as lost as the Down and Outers. While maybe the issues are not as economic as they are for some of the folks in the city, people are people. There's broken relationships, whether you talk marriages or between parents and kids. There's the same stresses over jobs, and drug and alcohol addiction is just as high among Up and Outers as it is among Down and Outers.
While we've planned for these services, I've also found an aside that many people haven't thought of. Someone in the congregation who is dealing with long-term pain said, "I hope you're fair. Some of us have dealt with long-term pain and the only thing that has helped us is these opioids, and now, because of the misuse of them, we're finding it increasingly difficult to get the help that we need."
Q. Why does God allow addiction, overdose and its related sufferings?
The broader question is, "Why does God allow anything to happen in the world?" The short answer: "Do you want a god that allows free will or not?" God is sovereignly setting boundaries on the world but in allowing free will, people make choices. There is a path of redemption for anybody. There's a neat saying around here in our college ministry, called Ignite: "It doesn't matter who you are or what you've done, God wants to ignite new life in you today." We believe that's true. It doesn't matter how bad people have been, what they've done, God has the ability to redeem any soul that wants redemption – and he has the power to even overcome addiction.
Q. What message does God, through Jesus, have for the addicted? For their loved ones? For counselors and others who look to help?
My son, Justin, helps lead a transformational prayer ministry here at the church. It basically helps people go back into their life and take apart their biggest trauma, and tries to show that God was there during that time, hasn't abandoned them and wants to set them free. That's another thing that gets to the core issue of why people try to escape with drugs and other things. That's another thing we're going to be offering to people because we believe that's important.
We believe this whole thing stems from the unresolved issues people have within themselves. God has created us with a sense of eternity, with a place that's meant for him to fill and for purpose and fulfilment. Jesus said, "I came to give life and give it abundantly." The hope is this: The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to anybody who's willing to come to him. If that's true, there's no addiction that's stronger than death. The ability to overcome any of this is available if people are willing to seek it out. We know it can be messy, but we're willing to walk alongside you. If you're alongside somebody going through it, we're willing to help lift up your hands and pray for you, to listen when you have to cry and express the frustrations.
Q. You make a meaningful point about consequences. Can you share?
I don’t want people to see God as a magic bullet, that if I come to him and submit my life to him that suddenly absolutely everything will change. What will change is that we’ll begin to change, and make the right choices. The consequences of our sin are not taken away but the guilt of our sin and the (eternal) penalty of our sin is taken away, and we begin a new journey that starts transforming everything.
In some cases, change has been instantaneous when someone comes to Christ. Other people have had to walk through a process. ... God will make power available for you to overcome those things that have entrapped you, whatever they were.
The consequences of some of the things that happen in our life do not have to define us for the rest of our life. You can be set free, and that’s the whole idea of the cross of Christ. You don’t have to carry the label “addict.”
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon