In 2017, the North Carolina Division of Public Health reported 5,762 emergency department visits for opioid overdoses – a 38 percent increase from 2016. According to the N.C. Department of Justice, nearly four North Carolinians die from a medication or drug overdose every day.
When Mike Dixon, pastor of Oakdale Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, realized the gravity of the state’s opioid crisis, he and his church decided to act.
In March of last year, Oakdale Baptist launched Living in Freedom Everyday (LIFE), an addiction recovery ministry. Today the ministry serves about 26 individuals through weekly fellowship and counseling, and it recently extended counseling services to family members dealing with a relative’s substance abuse.
“The Lord delivered me from drugs and alcohol 30 years ago,” Dixon said. “I’ve had a burden to reach out to minister to those that are where I once was.”
Every Tuesday night, participants meet in two Edgecombe County locations for a free meal, co-ed Bible study and smaller group discussions, for which men and women meet separately. Dixon, a licensed clinical addiction specialist, said they approach counseling with a Biblical perspective, studying how scripture relates to participants’ struggles.
“It’s more about how you build your relationship with the Lord. For lost people, it’s evangelism. For saved, it’s discipleship,” he said.
LIFE’s name is founded on John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Dixon based part of LIFE’s curriculum on a book he wrote, “Casting Down Idols Through the Power of the Gospel.” The program takes one year to complete, but Oakdale invites people from the community to join at any time.
Dixon leads the ministry with a team of Oakdale Baptist members who have also overcome drug addiction in their own lives. They partner with Christian nonprofit detox and recovery programs such as Hebron Colony in Boone, N.C., and Bethel Colony of Mercy, in Lenoir, N.C., and connect individuals to those residential organizations when necessary.
LIFE also works with local law enforcement initiatives, such as the Nashville Police Department’s Hope Initiative, which encourages anyone caught in substance abuse to bring drugs to the police without fear of charges, and guides them in beginning a recovery process.
“Part of our vision is to see it multiply, to help other churches implement the program,” Dixon said about LIFE. “We want to reach more people. The epidemic is just getting worse. Too many people are dying.”