Pubdate: Sat, 20 Jul 2002
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2002 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Author: Grant Swank
Note: The Rev. J. Grant Swank Jr. is pastor of New Hope Church in Windham.


I was Mark's substance abuse counselor at Cumberland County Jail.

As I made my rounds from unit to unit, holding one-hour sessions with any 
who chose to attend, I saw Mark walking down the hall toward laundry. He 
worked there.

But what caught my eye was what he had in his hand - all the time. It was a 

After one group meeting, I said, "Mark, are you really reading that book?"

"Yes," he replied in his soft manner. "I have read it through three times 
thus far. I'm on my fourth go-round."

The upshot of it was that Mark had come to the end of himself with his 
drinking and other drug misuse. For years, his life had been a selfish 
mess. Now in his mid-30s, he was desperate.

"I called out to God. I told him that I needed help - and I needed it bad! 
I just couldn't go on out of control," he explained.

"Did any pastor talk to you about God? Were you ever introduced to Christ 
by some believer?" I inquired further.

"No. What I have learned has come through this book. I started at the 
beginning and just kept reading, praying all the time. I did not know for 
sure if there was a God. But if there was a God, I wanted to know him. What 
I mean is that I needed to have him work something out right in my life."

"And how has that affected your stay here?" I asked.

"I have drawn more and more into myself here. I do my job. I read the 
Bible. I keep out of trouble. I am doing my time. And I hope that I am 
growing in my soul toward God. I think I am. I pray that I am."

Over weeks, we kept in touch. I held the class sessions, then I would meet 
with Mark one-on-one. I found him quite amazing. His drive to learn the 
Scriptures was unparalleled.

Other fellows had told me that they were seeking God, but their persistence 
did not hold. I recall Nick, who was a heroin addict. When I met him, he 
was dealing with severe cramps - all over. His head was racing. He was 
sweating a lot, not sleeping. "I want to die."

Nick kept submitting counseling slips for me to see him "immediately." When 
I met with him, he talked nonstop. He had to unwind, get it out, have 
someone nearby, unload. For Nick, it was hell.

He made all sorts of resolves. He was going to be different, never touch 
his "drug of choice" again, start a new life. Of course, I had heard that 
litany before. But, unfortunately, Nick's resolves unraveled.

Not so with Mark.

"When I get out of jail, I'm done with the past. I want a future free of 
drink and cocaine and heroin and all the other stuff I shoved into my body. 
I ask Christ every day to help me see this through," Mark shared with me.

"I recommend that when you get out, you submerge yourself in a Christian 
community that cares and is real. You need other young adults who are on 
God's wavelength. They will stay alongside you, pray for you, read the 
Bible with you, worship with you. You will need them; they will need you," 
I suggested.

Sure enough, when Mark was moved into pre-release, he kept his spiritual 
exercises in place. And then when he walked out to his own free day - 
several years of probation still ahead of him - he walked into an 
understanding worshiping community.

He was faithful to worship and daily prayer with Bible study. He made no 
decision without first consulting the Lord.

He and I kept in close touch. That was sheer delight for me. Having 
counseled many who lost their resolves, it was heartening to discover one 
who truly meant business for recovery.

All that has been several years ago. Now Mark counsels others in one of our 
city hospitals. He sees them when they are at their worst - in detox.

"How's it going?" I asked him recently.

"It's going just fine. Christ has led me out of the dark into his light. 
And, thank him, he is now using me to take another's hand. I know where 
they are because I have been there. I pray every moment that I will be 
there for them as he was there for me."
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