Battling the Drug Demons
An Assemblies of God layperson and former drug addict recently launched an outreach to support addicts and families devastated by dependency.
Earlier this year, Janelle Lanning Unger, who oversees the recovery ministry at Freedom Assembly of God in Mentor, Ohio, started VIP (Vigil, Intercession, and Prayer) Outreach to fight drugs in a spiritual manner. She says God convinced her to start VIP Outreach following a community vigil.
“At the end, as I looked around, people were still grieving, still looked hopeless and sad, and it didn’t provide any closure,” Unger says.
She spent the next two days in prayer.
“The Lord gave me the idea of VIP because everyone is a very important person to Him and should be to the church,” says Unger, who also ministers to female inmates at the Lake County Jail near Cleveland. “This epidemic is trying to wipe out an entire generation, and it’s time we unite community and church.”
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, overdose deaths, particularly from prescription drugs and heroin, have reached epidemic levels. More than 4,000 people in Ohio died last year due to unintentional drug overdose.
Unger, 51, is no stranger to the drug scene. In her early 20s, she became addicted to cocaine, ecstasy, and crack.
At 24, Unger gave birth to a son but she resumed using drugs and continued down a destructive path. But a year later, she accepted Christ at 25 at Lakeshore Assembly of God in Mentor, was delivered from drugs and has been sober ever since. However, she says she has a close family member who has struggled with drugs for nearly 13 years, including the last nine to heroin.
“My heart is with the hurting, the forgotten, the struggling, the hopeless, the addict,” Unger says.
VIP at Freedom Assembly has drawn more than 100 people in each of its two gatherings so far. A third intercession outreach, which is supported by some other area churches, is set for January.
Because of interacting with Unger and VIP, Lindsey Hutchinson-Kish accepted Christ as Savior and started attending Freedom AG. Unger reached out to Hutchinson-Kish, who had been jailed on drug-related charges, and invited her to church.
Hutchinson-Kish says the initial VIP event inspired her because of inspirational accounts from people formerly hooked on drugs.
“As an addict, you live in a state of constant fear and judgment,” says Hutchinson-Kish, who has been sober for a year. “It’s such an amazing feeling to know that the community and churches opened their hearts and their doors to help show support and love without judgment.”
Tonya Gillispie King, who also accepted Christ at Freedom Assembly after attending a VIP meeting, says she had been in “a very dark, depressed place” trying to cope with the loss of her husband, Justin, who overdosed four years ago.
“The support and love I received at the event was breathtaking,” says King. “I have never in my life felt so accepted and loved. I was finally able to let my grief and all the feelings that go along with losing a loved one to addiction free from my heart. They are no longer bottled up.”
Amber Strnad, founder of Northeast Ohio’s Fight Against Addiction never struggled with drugs, but she has lost friends and knows many who are in the throes of dependence.
“This outreach gives an opportunity to hear stories of hope and deliverance, which is so powerful when it seems like we're losing a whole generation,” Strnad says. “The testimonies given at these outreaches keep me motivated to continue the fight for those struggling with addiction.”
Freedom Assembly Pastor Jason Tatterson is a vocal supporter of VIP Outreach.
“VIP is bringing the hope of Jesus into an especially dark and immense stranglehold that Satan has had on our communities,” Tatterson says. “The vision that God has fostered in Janelle Unger, as well as many others, has put the enemy on notice that we will not allow him to continue to consume our friends and family without a fight.”
IMAGE - VIP Outreach supports include (from left) Tonya King, Janelle Unger, and Lindsey Hutchinson-Kish.