Drug epidemic highlighted at weekend prayer walk
There is strength in numbers, especially when prayer is involved. That's why dozens of local churches from all denominations will gather as one this weekend to pray for the riddance of drugs in the county at the Hands Up Prayer Rally.
It's an issue of epidemic proportions across the nation, and Haywood County is not immune. One in every three deaths investigated by the medical examiner is caused by prescription drugs overdoses.
Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher believes the rally will be a valuable way to raise awareness of the county’s drug problem.
Over the past couple of months, Christopher has created a drug enforcement partnership to combat the issue with the help of other law enforcement agencies across the county. So far, about 50 percent of the drug cases involve prescription pills. The other 50 percent equally involve meth, crack/cocaine and marijuana.
However, he knows that simply arresting offenders will not help rid the county of drugs.
“Solving this problem is three-prong,” Christopher said. “To deal with this epidemic we must not only enforce but educate and provide outreach programs to inmates and addicts.”
That’s where raising awareness through events like this weekend’s rally comes in.
“We have a lot of support in the faith based community because we are interested in helping people change their lives,” Christopher said.
Jean Parris, who heads up the Drugs in Our Midst program raises awareness about drugs in the community, says the event will be a powerful way to educate the public and bring the problem to God.
Her dedication to the cause began back in 2011, when a close family friend was shot in Canton in a drug related death.
“I thought and knew even before he was shot what pain drug addiction causes for families,” she said.
It was then that she realized that drugs aren’t just a problem in big cities.
“This is a rural, church based community and that should not be happening here,” she said. I just felt like I needed to bring it to people’s attention.”
Through the program, she has organized hundreds of presentations and even created a support group for families of addicts.
“Having met a lot of addicted people and their families, they all say that they were able to get through their addiction and get clean only with prayer and the help of God,” Parris said.
Teressa Spencer, director of ministries at Long’s Chapel United Methodist Church said she became aware of the county’s drug problem after attended one of Parris’s Drugs in Our Midst presentations at Haywood Community College.
That’s when her daughter, Christine, who is 19, came up with the idea to gather together in the community and pray with those in need.
She said she views the drug problem as a religious and humanitarian issue.
"If we are supposed to be Christ in the world, we would not stand by and let generations die to drug addiction. Jesus would be marching Saturday. It's a serious issue. It's killing people and it matters," Christine Spencer said.
The march will not only raise awareness, but will give the churches a chance to reach out to those in need.
“We have to bring the church to the addicts, not wait for the addicts to come to the church,” Spencer said. “We need to go to them. That’s what our mission is. The church is not just a building, it’s the people in it that go where they are needed to be the light of Christ to those who don’t know him.”
Throughout the walk Saturday, people from all denominations will be stopping to pray at seven Waynesville locations, including several churches and the Open Door.
“I think the walk is going to say, ‘We’re not judging you. We are here to help you.’ We are saying that we are aware of how big this problem is and we are here to help in any way we can,” Spencer said.
She looks most forward to seeing what the power of prayer accomplishes on Saturday.
“God is going to work all of this out. He already is bringing healing. All of us coming to him praying at once is phenomenal because prayer is powerful. I’m just excited to see how many prayers will be answered,” Spencer said.
All are welcome to join the Hands Up Prayer Rally. which will assemble at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28 at the First Baptist Church of Waynesville. The group will walk and pray at each of the following locations: First Presbyterian Church, the Haywood County Courthouse, The Open Door, St. John's Catholic Church, Grace Episcopal Church, and Waynesville First Methodist Church.
There will be a barbecue dinner, music and fellowship following the prayer walk at Long's Chapel United Methodist Church. Food tickets were sold in advance, however there will be some at the door first come first serve. Tickets are $8 per person.
There will also be plenty of resources for community members who seek addiction help or wish to become involved in different ministries for addiction.