Relatively free in the cities but persecuted in the countryside, the church in Vietnam has grown rapidly in grace and numbers
Journals Sophia's World
Last week I wrote about my friend Joseph (not his real name), whom I met while working on an ongoing series on homelessness. After decades of living on the streets peddling for drugs, Joseph’s story had culminated with a miracle—he sobered up and stayed sober for more than a year at age 50, found a full-time job, and began dreaming of ways to serve God in ministry. But two weeks ago on a Saturday night, he called me asking for help: He had relapsed, and he needed to find a rehab program.
My boyfriend David and I met Joseph the next morning, gave him a list of options, and donated some cash, but we wondered about the right thing to do: How can we best help a friend like Joseph? Both of us were born into worlds vastly different from his. David is a blond, blue-eyed kid from an upper-middle-class Baptist family in the Midwest. I’m a missionary’s kid who was raised in Southeast Asian country that issues death penalties for drug trafficking. Neither of us has ever touched hard drugs, so we can guess but never completely understand what an addict’s mind is like.
Joseph, meanwhile, was born into a world that undermined his chances for success: He was born a crack baby to a single mother who purportedly fell in love with a child molester. He was a black kid in the Deep South, where “white folks still had control and saw us [blacks] as monkeys.” As a baby, his mother fed him alcohol to put him to sleep, and as a child, his house teemed with family members and friends who got drunk and high when they were sad, happy, or angry. When Joseph grew big and nimble enough to steal from stores and teachers, his mother encouraged his criminal habits, since it supported her drug addiction. The first time he snorted cocaine, he was hooked instantly, and decided he “wanted to use crack forever”—a choice that sucked him into a life of homelessness, prison, and isolation.
But throughout those dehumanizing years, Joseph knew things were not right. Even as a kid, when he saw the hypocrisy, gossip, and sexual immorality in his ultra-conservative church, when he watched able-bodied, grown adults in his family using their welfare checks not for the well-being of the kids but for their own pleasures, when he saw fathers abandoning women and children, he knew things were not right. Something had gotten all twisted from its original purpose.
So Joseph got angry. Angry at God and the people responsible for taking care of him. Angry at the injustice and evil that had riddled his life. Angry at himself. Anger poisoned his bloodstream—a rage that hurt so much, the only relief seemed to be the chemically induced euphoria of cocaine.
That anger still resides inside Joseph. When he quit drugs, he also gave up his coping mechanism. Without the reality-altering effects of drugs, Joseph has to deal head-on with the fact that he is a human nursing a soul mangled by hurt, sin, and shame— and that, I understood. I may not know what drug addiction is like, but I know all too well that human grief of realizing that something is very, very messed up. I know that mostly because I know my own wicked heart, my own self-destructive thoughts, my foolish actions.
From the 14 months I’ve known Joseph, I’ve seen a brother in Christ who sincerely loves God and people. He loves to hug, loves to sing, loves to help others. But like all of us, he struggles daily with his own sins, and he’s fighting demons that have been scheming to destroy him since before he was born.
Those demons must have been working hard, because it was a battle getting Joseph into rehab. When David and I met him on a Sunday, Joseph seemed desperate to check into rehab as soon as possible, preferably by the next day. “If I don’t go soon, I think I’ll literally die,” he said, and we believed him.
“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” —Deuteronomy 15:11
A week later, after David and I had given him cash for gas and food, he was still living out of his car. Once he asked me for more cash for food, and another night he asked if I could call delivery from Pizza Hut for him. When he met me one night so I could hand him some snacks and bottled water, he seemed jittery and wide-eyed, and I worried over whether he was cold, as he said, or high. Given his history and connections, it would be easy for him to score more drugs. Again, I wondered: Am I doing this right? Am I helping or enabling him? All we could do at that point was pray for him.
Almost every day, I called Joseph or he called me, and each time he had plenty of excuses about why he wasn’t in rehab yet: This program was too expensive, that program was too far, he was still researching, he was waiting for his last paycheck so he could pay for gas and car payments, etc. Finally, when I called him out on it, he admitted, “Sophia, I think my addiction is really trying to procrastinate going to rehab.” I felt his fear. Nobody likes facing their demons. And I thanked God that he was owning up to it.
Two days later, Joseph sent us a group text: He had signed up for a 60-day inpatient drug treatment center. He would start intake the next morning at 9:30. “Pray for me,” he wrote. “Love you all …”
He then asked a favor from David and me. Could we help pay his car payments for the two months he’d be in treatment? The cost would be $450 total. Finances were already tight for both David and me, but David had recently pooled together donations from friends and strangers on Twitter and Facebook to buy 1,000 tarps for the homeless during a recent rainy weekend. People were generous (one guy on Twitter gave $350), so we got more than we needed for the tarps: about $1,300 total, with the promise that the remainder would only be spent on homelessness.
David did the calculations: Minus the amount he spent on 1,000 tarps, we had exactly $450 left—just enough for Joseph’s car payments. We both gasped and laughed aloud, but then I wondered why we were even surprised. Of course, that’s how God works. He always provides, and He uses people to do so.
I had just been reading Deuteronomy, and Chapter 15, verse 11, reminded me of God’s heart for the poor: “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” In that same passage, God reminded the Israelites that they were to give because God has so freely given to them first.
Joseph’s battle is not over. But through that $450 and Bible verse, God showed me His heart for Joseph and for other broken souls. That gave me enormous comfort—not just because I knew God is taking care of Joseph, but because it reflects the same heart my Father has for me, another person still mending her own mangled soul.