LEWISTOWN - A group of people who have been affected by drug or alcohol abuse have begun a new outreach to help local residents who are dealing with substance abuse problems.
The Turning Point ministry at Bethel AME was established in 2003 through the Rev. Bernard Carpenter, who himself struggled with an alcohol addiction as a young adult.
The ministry closed in 2005, but this year Maria Stringfellow along with her husband, Leonard, and a committee of local Christians revived it again. The 14-week program began in February.
Sentinel photo by MICAIAH WISE BILGER
Maria Stringfellow, leader of the Turning Point substance abuse ministry, studies her Bible in the Bethel AME HOPE Center in Lewistown.
Stringfellow said she wants to share a message of hope with those who feel trapped in a life of drugs or alcohol.
"This program shows people that there is hope, there is a way out because Jesus loves us because of who he is, not what we are or what we're doing," she said.
Turning Point uses a Bible-based curriculum called "Stepping into Freedom." The group meets from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursdays at the Bethel AME Church, Juniata Street, Lewistown.
There is an application process, and the group accepts only people who are serious about reforming their lives, Carpenter said.
"We mean business," he said. "This is not playtime."
But the ministry leaders do not expect anyone to be "clean" when they come through the church doors, Stringfellow said. Participants are assured that Christ will meet them where they are at, she said.
"We have a tendency to condemn ourselves," Stringfellow said. "We want to take the burden off them, to teach that they don't have to feel this way ..."
Turning Point involves a lot of listening and bearing each other's burdens, she said. Conversations about hurting, guilt and hopelessness are encouraged, she said.
The focus verse for the study is Jeremiah 29:11, which says, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
Stringfellow said she saw a young adult struggle with the hopelessness of a drug addiction and eventually reform through Christ. Now the young adult lives a successful life, she said.
Another young woman also began to turn her life around after being saved through the ministry, she said.
After the participants clean up the inside, Stringfellow said the group also wants to give them a chance to revitalize the outside, too, with a makeover and physical fitness activities.
Stringfellow shared ideas of taking the women to beauty salons, and meeting as a group to swim or play basketball at the YMCA, activities meant to encourage self esteem.
The group leader said she also wants to invite families to participate in the process, to help parents understand what their children are going through and realize that it's not their fault.
This is a community problem, Carpenter said. "If we put our minds together, we can put a big dent in this thing."
The team of Turning Point leaders are Maria and Leonard Stringfellow, Jenny Hagemeyer, Jeremy and Brittany Price, Tom Stalnaker, Bernie Zook and Patti Donaldson.