GOLDEN MEADOW, La. (AP) — Houma pastor Dexter Gaspard has come a long way since smoking his first joint at age 12.
Family problems initially drove the young Gaspard into self-experimentation and a full-blown drug habit. By age 15, Gaspard had tried cocaine and eventually moved onto crystal meth, ecstasy, acid, pain pills and heroin.
"The drugs didn't subside; it got worse," the 38-year-old said, adding that the birth of his two children didn't stop him. "I don't remember a time where it was better. It always went further, further, further down."
It was a chance meeting with the pastor of a Golden Meadow church that the Leeville native said changed his life forever. High on drugs, Gaspard tried to interrogate the pastor about the details of certain events in the Bible. The pastor took his time to explain and clear the rebellious young man's doubts.
"It was a combination of God tugging on my heart for a while and starting to prep me," Gaspard said. "All of these drugs I was doing, I always felt there was something more."
Gaspard's experience encouraged him to get clean and train for about four years to minister to drug addicts, sex addicts, alcoholics and indigents in the area — people he says that other churches may not always want.
Last year, Gaspard and his wife Casey founded the Revival Life Church at 215 S. Hollywood Road, which has welcomed about 100 residents from different walks of life, including walk-ins in need of shelter and guidance. The church is also involved in food and clothes drives for the needy and providing addicts with detox kits.
"The Bible specifically talks about taking care of people," Gaspard said. "I think a lot of times what happens is that people take the very people they're supposed to be spreading the Gospel to and they make them the enemy. . A church is supposed to be where sinners can come in, meet Jesus and leave changed forever."
His own history with drug addiction, Gaspard added, has allowed many of his churchgoers with similar experiences to open up to him.
"Jesus sat among sinners and thieves, but he didn't say: 'Oh, you're a sinner and a thief, get away from me,'" Gaspard said. "He welcomed them to hear what he had to say."
Fostering acceptance within the church has also helped recovering addicts respond better to treatment, he added. Many have disclosed prior childhood abuse.
"Whenever I see an addict, I see someone who is hurting and trying to numb something," Gaspard said. "Once you build a sense of family, it's easier to help people walk through their issues and forgive one another."
Gaspard then introduces a comprehensive approach in recovery that focuses on the biology of addiction, the use of practical solutions and the fulfillment of spiritual needs. One of the hardest things to teach former addicts is simple life skills such as paying bills and saving money, he notes.
"(You have to tell them) to deal with life on life's terms now," Gaspard added. "It's normal to feel this stress, this anxiety and that you need to learn how to deal with it and not to run to drugs, alcohol or sex."
Gaspard believes that the solution to rampant drug addiction in the area and throughout the rest of the country lies within the local churches. His ultimate goal is to build recovery houses for men and women as part of his church.
"It's up to us to reach out to these people and say, 'We love you. God loves you and this is not the plan he has for your life.' Whatever you did that you think is unforgivable can be forgiven through Christ," Gaspard said. "I think a lot of people want to help, but they don't know how and just say it's not their problem. It's the church's job to deal with that."
Information from: The Courier, http://www.houmatoday.com