Local churches hold prayer rally to battle opioid ‘crisis’

WELLSBORO — Often referred to as a crisis by local and federal officials, the effects of the opioid epidemic have reached into the church.

Church members are working to fight the battle on a local level by appealing to a higher power with a simple exercise — prayer.

Citing the Bible verse John 10:10, which says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” several churches in the area took action.

Churches in Wellsboro and Tioga counties held a rally at the Wellsboro High School Sunday evening for one reason — to pray for people suffering from opioid addiction and their families.

Nearly 300 people gathered in the auditorium, hearing testimonies, praying and worshipping.

Tioga County District Attorney Krista Deats explained how opioids affect the community.

“It used to be that one out of every five was drug related,” Deats said. “But now it is up to two to three out of every five (arrests) are drug related.”

She added that the crimes were not just the result of possession of the drugs, but such crimes as theft, domestic violence and burglary have their roots in drugs.

“(They) were looking to support a habit,” Deats said.

She cited, that recently she has had to deal with three burglaries in one week, adding that five years ago law enforcement would only have to deal ” with five burglaries in a year.”

The drug’s effects are being felt in the community and local churches.

Pastor Mike Birbeck, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Wellsboro, said congregants had been suggesting the idea of a prayer rally for opioid addiction for a while. Birbeck said both his church and parishoners of the Vineyard Church of Wellsboro spearheaded the event.

“You talk to anyone of the people from the churches here tonight and everyone’s been affected by it,” said Birbeck. “We looked at this (rally) as an opportunity for churches to reach out to the community.”

Birbeck said each of the churches in the area were looking to get past denominational differences and focus on their one commonality — Jesus.

He explained that one of the parables Jesus Christ told in the Bible was that of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10.

A man is beaten by robbers and left on the side of the road to die. As he is lying there, two different religious figures at different times pass by — ignoring him. A Samaritan, who was considered the lowest of the low in society, rescues the man.

Being a religious man, Birdeck said he was sensitive that Jesus pointed out the religious figures did nothing to help the victim.

He explained he wanted the community to know both God and their churches care.

Shawn Mayo, a youth pastor for the Vineyard Church, echoed Birbeck’s sentiment.

“Let us love those we do not know,” Mayo said during a prayer. “Because we know who love is.”

Throughout the evening, a praise and worship band played songs and hymns such as “You Have Set Me Free,” “In Christ Alone,” “No Long Slaves,” “Amazing Grace” and “Come Thou Fount” to signify that opioid addiction is slavery but chains can be broken.

Along with breaking chains, Deats explained that progress was being made. She said state Attorney General John Shapiro met with her and other district attorneys about the issue. She explained he offered advice and support.

She confirmed that the Opioid Coalition in Tioga County was started to deal with issues.

“They are looking for help,” Deats said.

She added that she is remaining optimistic about the situation.

“If we keep doing what we’re doing, we will make a difference,” she said. “We need to come together as a community.”