Faith community tackles drug problem

Sandy churches unite for awareness, action

Sandy pastor Lowell Weare believes that church has a two-fold purpose.

It is a sanctuary, a place for the faithful and the searching to come for teaching, comfort and fellowship.

But it is also a force outside the walls, a force that seeks positive change in the world.

Weare, who leads Living Way Fellowship, says he and his pastoral colleagues from around the Sandy area are united in their belief that the faith community of Sandy needs to band together to positively change the community.

After much discussion and prayer, the Sandy Ministerial Association - the fellowship of pastors and other Christian leaders from the greater Sandy area - decided it would sow seeds of activism against drug abuse with a drug awareness symposium, taking place from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24, at Sandy Assembly of God Church, 39800 Highway 26.

The symposium, which is open to the public but admittedly geared toward a churchgoing audience, aims to give the community a realistic picture of the drug-abuse problems that exist locally and potential ways to fix them.

'This isn't about being against the people who are entangled with this insidious trap of drugs,' said Charlene Poston, the event's organizer. 'It's about wanting to set them free.'

Weare said that during a recent Sunday morning sermon, he asked how many people in the congregation had been negatively impacted by drugs.

'Sixty to 70 percent of them raised their hands,' he said. 'I gotta think we're not different. We're the same as other churches.'

Weare and his congregation have seen firsthand the droves of people who attend Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous classes at their church six days a week.

'It's grown like crazy,' Weare said. 'And you think about how many people need help compared with those who actually get it - these people are seeing 20 to 30 people in attendance almost every night of the week. Think of how broad this problem really is.'

The truth is, Weare said, many churchgoers have said they don't know whether there is a drug problem in the community, and if so, how bad it is.

'We're trying to kindle in the leadership of the church this idea that we really do need to get into action,' Weare said. 'We're going to need this groundswell of awareness that says let's go for it, let's change this.'

The symposium's organizers say the event has all the ingredients needed for such a groundswell.

Nine guest speakers, all of whom have dealt with the drug culture to some degree, will explain the problems that face the Sandy area, the stakes of inaction and what has worked in other communities.

There will be an 'information fair' in the church foyer, where there will be plenty of literature about specific drugs, statistics of drug use and local resources. Attendees also will watch the video 'Crystal Misery,' a Portland-area documentary dealing with the dangers of methamphetamine.

Keynote speakers include Ken Magee, the special agent in charge of the local Drug Enforcement Administration; Judge Robert Selander of Clackamas County Circuit Court; and Robin Pinkard, a woman who will talk about her firsthand experience with drug use and finding a way out of it.

There also will be a panel discussion, where government officials, law enforcement officers and other experts discuss their day-to-day interaction with drugs in the greater Sandy area.

Panelists include State Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett; State Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches; Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts; Sandy police officer KT Taylor; Janelle McCleod, supervising nurse practitioner with the Clackamas County Mental Health Department; and Jim Cotrell, founder of Teen Mania Ministries and director of Freedom House Ministries, an organization that helps drug users break addictions.

After the symposium, the pastors have planned two follow-up citywide 'prayer and praise' sessions - on Nov. 11 and Dec. 2 at Living Way Fellowship. There the faith community will continue to ask for guidance and will thank God for what he has done, Poston said.

'I can't say enough how important it is for folks to be there,' Weare said. 'The speakers there are the best in their field. There's nothing you can do that week that's more important for the sake of the community than being at this.'

Poston agreed. 'We just hope that the faith community will rise up and understand better how they can be a positive force in the community.'