Walking Beside Them

Pulling families through the crisis of addiction


What do heroin addicts, desperate housewives and Alliance Women have in common? Their paths cross in Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Drug addiction is on the rise in the Balkans, where few resources are available for drug education or prevention. Having an addict in the family is shameful for Bosnians, so they often do not seek help or support. As a result, there are few classes to train social workers, doctors or psychologists to deal with this problem.

Under socialism, drug use was not tolerated. No one remembers hearing about drug problems in the 1960s, ’70s or even ’80s. It is only since the breakup of Yugoslavia and the arrival of capitalism in the early 1990s that Bosnian society has been invaded by vices such as prostitution, gambling and drugs, especially heroin.

No one was prepared. Schools, hospitals, family counselors, doctors and politicians seem at a loss about how to respond. The government has no money for education and drug prevention programs. Social workers have not been trained in the area of substance abuse or addiction counseling. The jails and detox wards at local hospitals do not have enough room to deal with this growing problem.

Young adolescents are being drawn into the drug culture before they can complete primary school. In an already poor economy, drugs are layering crime upon high unemployment and tearing impoverished families apart.

Working Together

There are only a few Protestant faith-based communal treatment centers in Croatia and one in Bosnia. They are having good initial success, but long-term changes often depend on how well the person reconnects with their family, plugs into a local church and reenters society. This is extremely difficult given the lack of knowledge and other resources for those who want to help (such as clergy and other church members).

Over the years, we have seen a network develop of those working in the rehab centers, pastors with a heart for ministry to addicts and people who have gone through rehab and moved back home. Ministry to drug addicts is not part of our formal strategy for reaching Bosnia for Christ. And yet God has brought many of these men and women across our path.

As a team, we have looked for ways to encourage those who minister to addicts and provide resources where possible. Through the Great Commission Fund we have been able to underwrite an annual conference bringing together this fledgling network of rehab directors, pastors and rehab graduates for mutual encouragement and the cross-pollination of ideas. We have also helped recovering addicts finish their schooling or get a driver’s license so that they can obtain employment.

A Vision for Families

One rehab center director (Dado) approached us with a burden for the mothers, wives and children of men who are in rehab. Homes and families are generally demolished by the time a drug addict finally seeks help. While the men are away in rehab, the family is isolated, hurting and many times in financial ruin. A few years later the husband or son comes home clean, confessing faith in Christ and wanting to bring his family to church. Of course, there is a huge gap which usually prevents this from happening.

Dado’s idea was to have a Christian visit the families while their loved one is away at rehab. This person would be able to encourage them, answer questions and possibly meet some physical needs. It would be a way to slowly introduce the family to the local church so that they would be more likely to support their returning son or husband. A great idea, but it required some resources to fund repairs, food packets and other needs.

When we saw the “Women in Crisis” project undertaken by Alliance Women, we thought Dado’s proposal would be a good candidate for funding. We had no idea that God would use the gift to mobilize a new outreach ministry. We have submitted many project proposals over the years, and there is always lag time from when the idea is born and the proposal is written to when we hear whether it has been accepted. Then there is one years’ wait while the actual project funds are collected and then disbursed. This can seem like a very long time for the project recipient, who wants to get going right away. However, in our case God used this time to raise up a team of men and women to put feet to Dado’s vision.

God’s Team

In the three and a half years from when we first heard Dado’s idea, God brought more than a dozen men out of rehab to the Evangelical Church of Sarajevo. They formed a support group for the purpose of mutual encouragement, accountability and help in resocialization. The local pastor is committed to advising and discipling several men in the group. An important component of their activities is reaching out to those who are still caught in the web of drug addiction. They speak to people on the street or at the local methadone clinic and encourage addicts to enter a rehab program.

By the time the Alliance Women’s generous gift actually landed in our field bank account, God had assembled and equipped men and women to visit, counsel and encourage the families of those who have entered rehab. Some are skilled in home repairs, painting, plumbing and electrical work and are able to make homes more livable. If there are school children in the home they may receive school supplies, books, shoes and jackets if needed.

Most important, they share the love of Christ. They are building a bridge one brick at a time so that when the husband returns from rehab his family is already connected to the local church.

At first, most families are incredulous or even fearful when men from the support group come to their door. Gradually, over coffee they begin to open up and share their problems, concerns and questions. The “Women in Crisis” project has helped to make this outreach effort a great success.

Passing the Light

Tanya and her husband were both heroin addicts, and her husband was a dealer as well. He is now serving time in a jail in Montenegro, and Tanya and her two-year-old son are living with her parents in Sarajevo.

Her husband’s arrest was a wake-up call for Tanya, who decided it was time to get help. After going through detox, she was admitted to a methadone treatment program. This may have helped her kick heroin, but she was still captive to methadone.

At the clinic Tanya met Boro and Davor, two former rehab patients from the Evangelical Church of Sarajevo. They talked to her about going to rehab, but she was reluctant to leave her small son. They told her that Jesus could set her free from drugs once and for all just as He had set them free. Tanya started coming to church and home group. She asked us to pray for her complete healing and release from the power of drugs.

Jesus healed and saved Tanya, and today she is a beautiful part of the local church body. She is taking classes to improve her chances of getting a good job. She works at the Source Center part time as our cleaning lady and is doing a great job as a mom. Please pray for her. She is growing in her faith and would love to see her husband come to faith in Christ.

The darkness in Tanya’s family is being pushed back. Her mother came to her baptism and started coming to church and the Alpha course regularly. She gave her heart to Christ earlier this year. As you can imagine, Tanya is ecstatic.

Not many people would reach out to drug addicts. All too often we consider them a lost cause. But Christ died for them and wants to bring them from darkness into the light.

If you would like to help with Recovery Ministry in Bosnia-Herzegovina, please contact us. This is a very young ministry with many short and longer-term opportunities to serve.

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