To North Carolina pastor Sir Walter Mack Jr., saying “just say no” was not enough to deter drug activity in his community. So last fall, Mack launched an innovative outreach that he could have easily called “Just Say Yes to Drug Dealers.”
Mack’s Union Baptist Church in Winston-Salem held a “drug dealers conference” in November dubbed Corner-to-Corner (C2C), drawing more than 250 ex-drug addicts and peddlers, and families affected by drugs and other substance-abuse problems.
More than 30 community agencies and their employees participated in the conference. Additionally 13 local judges gave their endorsement and time to the outreach, agreeing to make mandatory attendance of the conference part of an offender’s probationary status. Local rehabilitation centers also made attendance mandatory for their current residents.
More than 45 participants gave their lives to Christ or rededicated their lives to Jesus at the end of the five-day C2C.
The conference included a variety of workshops, including “The Hip-Hop Culture and My Life,” “Cleaning Up Your Record” and “Making the Transition to Do It the Right Way.” The conference also included a job fair, luncheons, worship services, and testimonies from former drug dealers and people affected by drugs.
Those who attended the conference “graduated” to loud cheers and applause from about 1,200 people at Union Baptist’s Nov. 21 service.
“God used this program to show drug dealers that there are individuals, groups, churches and authorities who genuinely care about their current well-being and their future,” Mack, 38, told Ministries Today.
Patricia Bailey, founder of Georgia-based Master’s Touch Ministries, one of the speakers of C2C, added: “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”
Many lives were transformed by the outreach, including a single father of two who was facing five years in prison. A judge reduced his sentence to only 90 days in jail because of his participation in the conference and ongoing contact with the after-care program.
“We do not advocate that individuals who have committed crimes be given special treatment when they are not working to change their behavior and intentions,” Mack says. “However, we do believe that the grace and mercy on this young man’s life was activated simply because he chose to accept Christ as his Savior.”
Mack, who has pastored his more than 3,100-strong General Baptist congregation for 15 years, said he got the idea for C2C after witnessing a drug transaction that was conducted less than two blocks from the church campus.
“Because this disturbed my spirit, I began to fervently pray and seek God about how to combat this problem and minister to the needs of these individuals who end up living this type of life,” Mack says.
The focus had to be on “the drug dealer—not the drug user, because the drug dealer is the culprit to those who are using the drugs,” says Mack, author of the recently released book, Passion for Your Kingdom Purpose.
“Drug dealers are some of the greatest entrepreneurs in the world,” he says, noting that their “skill” just needed to be “redirected.”
He formed a C2C committee to get the word out about the conference, with a team of 10 volunteers visiting neighborhoods, knocking on doors and passing out fliers to dealers and users on their own turf. C2C’s mission: “To educate, mentor and provide viable alternative options for employment and entrepreneurship to deter current and future drug dealers.”
So how did he engender the trust of drug dealers?
“One of the keys was enlisting the help of more than two dozen former drug dealers who have been delivered from the lifestyle and are active participants in the church,” Mack says.
However, churches in the community didn’t exactly embrace the conference.
“Although we did not receive a great deal of criticism from other churches, Christians or people in the community, there was not a great deal of participation from born-again believers other than our church members,” he notes. “We hosted a free luncheon specifically for church leaders and conference participants, and only a handful of pastors participated.
“While pastors and church leaders are busy people with a great deal of demands on their time, this was an opportunity for them to show their care and concern and reach out to a population of people who are often the topics of their sermons,” Mack continues. “Even though I was a bit disappointed, I do believe that God divinely orders all things. He still got the glory and that is what is most important.”
Mack says that the church has received such positive reactions from people who attended the conference that it will be held again later this year.
“We are working to expand the after-care program and increase the number of employers who participate in the job fair that offers employment alternatives to selling drugs,” he says. “One of the things we found with the conference is that there is an underlying but dominant element of prostitution directly linked to the sale of drugs. This year we will include a component that ministers to the needs of prostitutes.”
For more information on C2C, visit www.unionbaptistwsnc.org.
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