February 24, 2013

Welcome to Our Church Weekend Away, Don't Forget Your Beer

We have our annual church weekend away coming up this weekend at Niddrie Community Church. Last year we had an amazing time, when at least half a dozen people made commitments to Christ. Of those, five of them are still going on a year later. That in itself is remarkable given the high fallout rate we experience in schemes with those who profess faith.

We have such a mix of people that one of the biggest headaches (behind the scenes) is ensuring that everybody brings the right medication along with them to get through the weekend. We have to ensure that their doctors know they are coming and their care workers and/or social services are aware of where they are going to be. There is Methadone (a prescribed Heroin substitute) to sort out, Valium prescriptions, antipsychotics, and a whole host of other things we need to be on top of to make sure things run smoothly.

Now, I don't want to give the impression that everybody is popping pills in the church. On the contrary, we have several coming along who are professionals in medicine, business, and computing (to name a few). The beauty of working in Niddrie is that people of such differing backgrounds and worldviews can come together and sit under the teaching of the Bible for a weekend. Friendships are forged and strengthened and, God willing, souls are saved and encouraged.

One of the groups that cause us the most concern are our alcoholics. We don’t have that many with us at the moment, but we do have a few. In many ways it is a much more pernicious addiction (not that we rate them) than drugs, often because of the very public nature of the problem once a person becomes overly inebriated (drug addicts mainly conk out when they have taken too much, Valium aside). Quiet souls can quickly turn into raging mad (wo)men.

The problem with alcoholics joining us is that it’s not like we can pop to the pharmacist to pick up their medication and then help distribute it over the weekend. We have to actually ensure that they are drinking enough alcohol to keep them safe but not too much so that they become drunk. All while ensuring we are very clear that this is a lifestyle that is both idolatrous and wholly destructive! On top of that we have to be careful, particularly with those who come who’ve had an alcohol problem in the past, or are in the process of being alcohol-free.

Let’s consider the case of one man currently with us: His alcohol intake has been so staggeringly high for nearly 20 years (exceeding 15 litres of alcohol per day) that for him to stop outright—according to received medical advice—has a high probability of killing him as his body goes into shock. This is a person who needs three litres of cider and a six-pack before he can even get out of bed in the morning! He’s 40 years old, has destroyed his life, doesn’t see his children, and is estranged from his family. He can’t work, is barely able to function, and has no true friends.

When we found him he was at rock bottom, and coming off the back of several suicide attempts. He turned up at the church one day as a last resort because he heard we ‘help’ people. In the last month or so he has been reading the Bible for the first time in his life, and has been coming along to Bible studies. This week, he sat through his first ever Sunday service. He is very keen to learn more about the faith and asks all sorts of very interesting questions. He is what we would call a ‘genuine seeker’ and is no danger to anybody but himself. He wants to come away for the weekend and learn more about Jesus because he likes our community life and because, frankly, he has nothing better to do but sit in his flat alone drinking day and night.

The question is: do we ask him to stay away because we know he will not survive the weekend without a drink? Or do we encourage him to get enough beer to enable him to function without getting drunk and ensure he spends a weekend with a variety of Christians, hears the gospel (that we believe God is drawing him toward), pray for his salvation, and hope that this is the start of a spiritual awakening in which God is going to completely transform his life? My answer? Point me to the nearest shop and I will buy him the beers myself!

Sometimes, work in this ministry is just not black and white. Should he be drinking? No. Never mind whether it’s at a Christian weekend or not. It is killing him. But I would rather him be functioning and able to hear the gospel rather than (a) absent and drinking anyway (more so) or (b) so distracted by being dry that he doesn’t compute the message. The ideal is getting him into a drying out facility, but even that is difficult because he would be considered ‘high risk’by the medical profession given his levels of consumption. The probability is that he would have to do a community detox—bring his drinking levels down—before he could get into a serious rehabilitation clinic. Certainly, that’s the direction he is headed, but for now we are seeking to treat his soul, which is in a far more precarious position than his drinking problem is masking. His unbelief will ultimately kill him. Forever.

Pray for us this weekend as we meet together. Pray for God to save souls and transform lives to be conformed to the image of Jesus. That’s what we ultimately want for each of us. But on schemes, the starting point is not always ideal and we have to live with that and adjust accordingly—not to worldliness—but to helping people out of the pit and leading them toward the glorious light of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.