The United Nations conducts frequent studies on addiction throughout the world. The number is always around 270 million drug abusers globally, but the real number is likely twice that. Many countries don’t report the truth because of cultural shame and political ramifications.
Research by Teen Challenge, the nonprofit my father founded for at-risk youth, reveals that in Pakistan, one in every four men uses heroin, and most of them are addicted. In China, you can buy heroin for the price of a boiled egg. India, it is believed, is home to approximately 20 percent of all drug addicts on earth. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 46 million people in America are classified as having substance abuse disorders.
These figures are enough to deflate the faith of the hardiest of Christians. Are we even making a dent in the world with the gospel?
For perspective, let’s look at the world after Jesus’ ascension. The odds were overwhelmingly against successful establishment of the church. The Roman empire was a shopping center of pagan idolatry and cults that had migrated from Egypt and Syria. Jesus’s followers were harassed and beaten by the Sanhedrin, and they were jailed, tortured and murdered by the Romans. New believers in the church were unruly, while Jews and Gentiles bickered endlessly over doctrine. The apostles plowed new ground every day, unsure of where the next boulder would be.
Yet they forged ahead with one goal: Sow the seed. Paul was determined only to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to his world and to let God do the supernatural work. ”Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything,” he said, “but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7, ESV).
In the sixties, Teen Challenge grew through this same adherence to the message. Drugs, the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Vietnam War had upended the national psyche, causing widespread despair among youth. When God called my father to do his part in his city, he rolled up his sleeves. Generations of families now walk in the light of redemption because one man obeyed.
Proverbs tells us to keep these words front and center: “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you” (Proverbs 4:25). This is our mandate! Be fearless, stay on message and do not waver! Our generation is counting on us.