HAZARD—With the drug problem in Eastern Kentucky having been described as an epidemic for over a decade, local leaders are trying any and all ideas to stop the spread of this disease in their communities.
“Faith in Our Future,” a forum organized by Chris Fugate, pastor at Gospel Light Baptist Church in Hazard and former Kentucky State Police (KSP) trooper, was held at the Perry County Public Library on Wednesday. The forum was the first step for Perry County’s local government and faith community leaders toward a new anti-drug initiative centered on a more spiritual approach.
Dan Smoot, president and CEO of Operation UNITE, which is backing this faith-based initiative, said he knew this plan worked because it had been done before in Clay County when he was working with the KSP.
Smoot explained he had been on a drug raid sometime around 2006 and two pastors had asked to come along to pray with those being arrested — an experience that not only worked to change the lives and attitudes of the offenders but also of Smoot.
“The way I think and the way I police was changed after that day,” Smoot said.
One of the pastors from that experience, Ken Bowling, said he had worked his whole pastoral career to help his community with the crisis it has faced with drug addiction, however could never really make any headway until he helped start the faith-based initiative in Clay County.
“I’ve had as much education as I can stand, and none of them (sic) taught me how to deal with a drug addict — and that’s got to change” Bowling said. “I realized the reality I had been living in as a pastor was not the reality my community had been living in.”
Bowling said his community started with a meeting just like “Faith in Our Future,” except at that meeting only six people showed up. In three months, however, that number had skyrocketed to more than 165 people gathering and praying together on Saturday mornings for and with those in need in the community.
“It’s hard to do things alone, it’s hard to push through, but when you’ve got another brother with you, you can,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-District 5, also attended the meeting. He said he was proud of the work UNITE had done in his district and of the efforts those like Fugate and Bowling had made to further help the communities.
“We can’t wait for the addicts to come to church, you’ve got to come to them,” Rogers said.
Leaders from nearly every aspect of local government attended the meeting as well as representatives from numerous congregations and churches in the county. Bowling called for those leaders to put their differences aside, whether religious or political, in order to collectively address the problem and actually make some progress.
Rogers agreed, adding that he wanted everyone to know about and become part of this initiative.
“I want this to reach every nook and cranny, because there’s people out there, right this minute who are suffering and hurting, particularly kids, particularly those young people whose parents in so many instances have deserted them,” Rogers said.