Bartholomew County’s struggle amid the opioid and heroin addiction crisis will be part of the focus at the local version of the 2017 National Day of Prayer at noon May 4 at The Commons in downtown Columbus.

Organizers said that if they attract even half of the recent 650-person gathering at The Commons about the issue, for “Moving the Needle,” then such interest would be heartening.

“This is the biggest problem (locally),” said Steve Fisher.

He’s one of a seven-person organizing committee for the event that has been celebrated in Columbus since the late Jean Bunton of Garden City planned the first one in 1992.

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Congress designated the first National Day of Prayer in 1952 to ask for God’s guidance for the nation. Locally, leaders of the day have long stressed the importance of Christians standing in unity — a theme that Jesus echoed just before he went to the cross.

By the mid-1990s, the gathering drew 500 or more, including students from schools such as St. Peter’s Lutheran, for several years. In recent years, crowds have been smaller, ranging from 125 to 200 people.

The annual event actually is connected to a 72-hour Bible reading marathon beginning at noon May 1 on the City Hall steps. About 360 volunteers from more than 30 local churches will read aloud from the Protestant Bible, from the books of Genesis to Revelation, over a microphone on a covered platform until noon May 4.

At The Commons gathering, various community leaders will pray for specific segments of the community. For example, Ed Reuter, emergency operations director for Bartholomew County, will offer petitions for first responders. Magistrate Joe Meek will pray for the legal and judicial system.

Robin Hilber, a member of the local Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress, will pray about the drug problem.

Jay Phelps, the overall coordinator for this year’s local celebration, sees submission and humility before God as a significant element for the National Day of Prayer.

“It’s important for us all as Christians to come together to lay everything at the Lord’s feet,” Phelps said.

He added that he noticed that some of the people attending the recent “Move the Needle” event acknowledged that they believe spiritual beliefs play a role in people’s recovery.

“This is a spiritual battle,” Phelps said, adding that it affects every community segment that will be prayed for at the event, from businesses to law enforcement. “This issue also is splitting families apart and it’s hurting the church, too.”

Phelps mentioned that God understands the complexity of the challenge before the community.

“There’s no issue that we bring before him that surprises him, and there’s not one thing that he can’t handle,” Phelps said. “The great thing about the National Day of Prayer is that it crosses denominational lines, racial lines, and other lines.

“We’re coming together as one collective body of believers. And we certainly can’t fight this drug epidemic on our own.”

Fischer, who has led many of the local day of prayer gatherings in recent years, sees a link among the practical, medical, physiological and spiritual elements with drug abuse.

In recent years, Fisher has led “Walk to Emmaus” retreats in the Jennings County Jail. Amid that, he has met with men who talked about severe addictions to various substances. Some said they were so desperate in jail to have a substitute for their drug of choice that were grinding shoelaces and smoking that.

“We are addicts,” one told Fisher.

Like many, the ministry leader believes in a multi-faceted approach to the problem.

“These things are all connected,” said Fisher. “This is definitely a spiritual issue, too. The addiction becomes a person’s god.”

Fisher’s interest in helping addicts stretches to his role as a board member of the local Salvation Army, which sometimes admits local residents into its faith-based Harbor Lights drug treatment facility in Indianapolis.

“God answers prayer, and he can change everything,” Fisher said. “But we have to seek him.”

Fisher said he remains committed to events such as the day of prayer even when it may appear that such faith-oriented activities have little immediate effect. In nearly every public discussion he has had on prayer, he cites the Scripture passage from 2 Chronicles 7:14 as a key to prayer’s impact: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

“As long as I’m breathing,” Fisher said, “we’re going to continue praying.”

They've got a prayer

What: Local celebration of the National Day of Prayer.

When: Ending celebration service is noon May 4. But a 72-hour public Bible reading on the City Hall steps will begin at noon May 1.

Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus.

National theme: “Your Great Name.”

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.