For a number of years, I've been involved in the worldwide ministry of Teen Challenge. It has taken me to five continents and dozens of countries, as well as places throughout the entire U.S.
The purpose of Teen Challenge is to facilitate life transformation, one person at a time. And that reminds me of the New Testament passage from Romans 12:2: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."
In 1958, a 26-year-old preacher by the name of David Wilkerson left his church in rural Pennsylvania to go to Brooklyn, N.Y., in an attempt to share the message of life transformation through Jesus Christ to seven gang members accused of murder. His story was popularized by the book and movie "The Cross and the Switchblade."
David became known throughout the world as the founder of the international drug and alcohol rehabilitation program known as Teen Challenge. In April of this year, he died in an automobile accident, but he has left the legacy of a ministry that has touched millions of lives.
Teen Challenge has one of the highest success rates of any alcohol and drug recovery program. It is currently in 240 cities in the U.S. and more than 90 countries. There are urgent requests from 38 other countries for us to bring this ministry to them.
When the Apostle Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans, he wrote specifically to Christians. In verse 2 of Chapter 12, Paul was teaching us that our benchmark is Christ's standards and not the world's. What are the world's standards? Well, we know from Scripture that they are the exact opposite of Christ's.
There is an epidemic of alcoholism and drug addiction around the globe today. But for the purposes of this column, I want to concentrate on the U.S. In the church, we often see the bar being lowered as far as what it means to not be conformed to the world's standards.
The message of the Gospel brings life. The message of the world brings destruction and, eventually, death.
Statistics tell us that in 2006, more than 23.6 million individuals age 12 and older needed treatment for illegal drugor alcohol-related problems. There has been an alarming increase in addictions to prescription drugs.
Despite all the focus on illegal drugs, alcohol remains the No. 1 drug problem in the United States. An estimated 20 million adults abuse alcohol in the U.S. Thirty percent of all 16- through 20-year-old passenger vehicle driver fatalities are related to a blood alcohol content of more than .08.
According to a recent study by the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, more than 28 million Americans are children of those who abuse alcohol.
The Center for Disease Control was asked if beer or wine is safer to drink than hard liquor. Their answer was no. One 12-ounce beer has about the same alcohol content as one five-ounce glass of wine or one 1.5-ounce shot of hard liquor. It is the amount of alcohol consumed that affects a person most, not the type of alcoholic drink he or she consumes.
When our minds are renewed by transformation, we experience life, which is the opposite of death. Speaking of death, statistics say that approximately 610,000 people died in the U.S. in the past decade because of alcohol or drug abuse.
That's a significant number, but compared to our population of 308 million, it could seem small. But I want you to think about this: Every one of those individuals was a human being with a family who loved them.
Parents, spouses, children, siblings were all impacted by their deaths. So let's multiply that 610,000 by seven, and the number affected by those deaths grows to 4,270,000. Then take the 23.6 million individuals needing treatment for drug or alcohol addiction and multiply that number by seven. Potentially, nearly 170 million individuals are impacted in one way or another by drug and alcohol abuse. That's more than half of the country's population.
When I was in Swaziland a year and a half ago, ministering with Teen Challenge, a verse I read in Proverbs jumped off the page and pierced my heart in such a way that it intensified my desire to see our minds transformed, as Romans says, and not conformed to the pattern of this world.
That verse I read was Proverbs 24:11, which says, "Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering towards slaughter. If you say, 'But we knew nothing about this,' does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?"
I have seen the devastation of this epidemic personally in my family, locally among friends, and worldwide. I believe the message of Proverbs 24:11, through the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is that we live our lives in such a way as to help "hold back those being led to the slaughter."
Teen Challenge is the ministry I'm involved in to reach as many as I can who are in need of help. A number of churches in our community — and around the country — have "Celebrate Recovery" and "Crossroads" ministries designed to help those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol; yet because of the vastness of the problem, much more needs to be done.
My question is this: Is the church of Jesus Christ committed to rescuing those heading toward destruction by modeling transformation which comes through the Gospel of Christ? Or are we in the church being conformed to the patterns of this world?
Jesus does not lower the bar for us, but His death and resurrection make it possible for us to be transformed so that we become more like Him.
Because of the years I've spent in ministry, I know that many of you reading this column have personally struggled with some of the issues I've written about. Some of you have stood by the graveside of loved ones or seen first-hand the destruction of a family unit because of drugs and alcohol.
The pain cuts deep in such situations. But with Christ, there is hope. He has set the standard for us to live by. Let's do all we can as the body of Christ to facilitate transformation, one life, one family, one community, one nation at a time.
Rick Souza is a longtime resident of Lodi who now lives in Acampo. He is president of Aerie, Inc., and an appointed missionary with the Assemblies of God. His ministry has taken him to many countries around the world.