Russia is facing a crisis of addiction among its youth, but believers are working to help reverse this trend from the ground up.
Sergei started using hard drugs as a young teen, and his addiction swiftly ramped up to the point where he had to quit school. By the time he turned 22, he knew his addiction was already out of hand. He was certain that if he didn’t find help, he wouldn’t wake up one of these mornings.
He began desperately looking for someone who could help him overcome his addiction and survive. Sadly, his circumstances weren’t unusual.
“Russia's youth is caught up in one of the worst health crises in the country's history, with unprecedented numbers of children and teenagers turning to cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs…” wrote researcher Andrew Osborn for The BMJ, a leading medical journal.
“He [Russia’s interior minister] said that four million Russian teenagers were drug users (of a total of 144 million) and that one million of those were hardened addicts. The average age of drug users has fallen from 17 to 11 in recent years…”
Haunting Words for the Future
Russian philosopher and historian, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn refused to be cowed by his country’s totalitarian leaders and sharply criticized their human rights abuses. He was imprisoned for his criticism and briefly sought asylum in the United States.
In his Templeton Prize address, Solzhenitsyn told the world, “Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: ‘Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.’
“Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: ‘Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.’”
Nearly fifty years later, Russia and much of the West seems haunted by his words, particularly the youth who are growing up in a predominantly secular culture.
Living to Serve Others
Young adults died on the streets in the grips of overdose, unseen, unreached. This wasn’t unusual. Sergei knew it, and he refused to become one of them. He’d heard about a program called Teen Challenge that might be willing to help him.
He arrived at the center in the bitterly cold hours after midnight, and the doors were locked. Undeterred, he waited outside for six hours until the center workers arrived to open up. They invited him in, too familiar with the desperation of addicts and the mysterious movements of God to be much surprised.
Their program for recovery focuses heavily on Christ’s redeeming power, and soon after enrolling, Sergei submitted himself to the Savior.
Life quickly began to change for Sergei. He went through the entire program and became an intern, working to help those caught in circumstances much like his own had been. He attended a youth conference at the local church and felt God calling him to dedicate his life to reaching the addicted and despairing.
The team gathered to decide how they could help him on the next step of his journey. After much prayer and thought, they sent Sergei south to start a new center.
One of their affiliated church planters, also a Teen Challenge graduate, will be there to support Sergei and oversee the nascent program. Please join us in praying for Sergei and the other ministry leaders who are hard at work to reach Russia’s lost youth. A great deal of work lies ahead of these believers as they stand as lights in a vast darkness. Pray for the next generation who need to know their Savior!