A pastor spends eight days in a drug rehabilitation center
Richard Reising

Richard Reising

How many pastors get to experience a week living undercover as a recovering drug addict in a drug rehab?

Just one that I know of: me.

I would be staying in a house with 15 other guys who had just come off drugs, come out of years of prison and were facing both physical and psychological pain.

Even though I was going in under cover, the fear and anxiety I felt going in was certainly real. As I go into the house my head’s down, no eye contact. I’m not looking confident or confrontational.

I’m shown to my room where I’ll be sleeping or laying awake for the next seven nights with three other guys in the same room who are just coming off drugs and dealing with psychosis and a range of different physical and mental issues.

And I’m on the top bunk of a creaky old wooden bunk bed that’s too short for me and I have a pillow that’s more like a dead animal stuffed in a bag than a pillow.

I hear reports of sleep talking about violence saying things like “I’m going to cut your throat, stop snoring” which was not comforting when I am a snorer myself.

I experienced this sleep talking myself as the man in the bunk below mine was saying things in his sleep like “You’re a dog” and “I’m going to cut your head off.”

Needless to say I didn’t sleep too well, but then again neither was anyone else in the room. Now I’m used to working full time at church, so being in that environment I guess the question might be “Did I feel far from God around all that pain?” You know when it comes to pain, people question where God is?

Well I felt so close to God in that house. And not because of the possibility I might have been standing face to face before him sooner than I’d hoped, but because of this passage from the Bible which kept coming back to me over the week:

Psalm 34:18 – The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

I realized being in that house, around all that brokenness, that God really is close to the broken hearted but maybe I wasn’t which made me question if I was really close to God if He was somewhere I had ignored or been naïve of up until now.

While I was missing my kids, some of these guys didn’t get to see their kids for months at a time. This changed my perspective and I experienced that when you focus on some of the problems others are facing, yours seem a lot smaller.

Coming from a culture consumed with complaining on social media it was refreshing to be around people that actually have reason to complain but aren’t. Instead they are learning how to face their issues properly and not just vent online.

Even though I was undercover, I realised something. I really did need rehab. I needed rehab for my selfish and hard heart. I needed to spend time with broken people and while I didn’t do much for anyone there, a lot was done for me just by being there.

I found if you’ll just get closer to people, you’ll see the truth, that these are God’s kids and He loves them as much as He loves me and they may have been abused and trampled on and rejected just like Jesus was but He is watching to see how we treat His kids and whether or not we’ll judge them and heap on more labels or if we’ll help them see how important they really are and help strip the false labels off their lives.

A week came around and it was time for me to tell the group who I really was and say goodbye. So as I began telling them I’m a pastor, their jaws are just wide open. One guy confessed that he had been saying to other guys in the house “I think Jimmy is an undercover cop”.

But we got through that and I encouraged them and told them how impressed I was at what they are doing, and then I packed my bag with an hour or 2 before I had to leave to go to the airport and come home.

So I went and sat outside at a table out the front of the house. One guy came out and we’d become pretty good friends over the week.

He was my age, and we had become pretty good friends over the week so I wasn’t sure how he’d take it that I was not who he thought I was.

So I asked him “How are you going?” And he started to open up to me and he said this:

“When you said you were leaving to go home I just wanted to burst into tears. When I was young, my best friend died, and after that I went from Caravan Park to Caravan Park and was never good at making friends and never really opened up to anyone. And now I finally just made another friend and you’re leaving. It’s like it’s happening all over again.”

The reality hit me that I had more to offer than I thought. I could be a friend to someone who doesn’t have friends. And even though it wasn’t a new idea for me, I experienced this reality in a new way.

People are dying lonely without a friend and without knowing God and I could offer both friendship and the love of God to someone else that needed it. Both of these things were shown to me when I felt far from God and now as a Christian I must do the same.

So, what was the point of all this? What should you do with it? What’s the application for you? God is close to the broken hearted. Do something for hurting people and you will experience God.

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