The resources that the IEF provides for combating addictions stood out especially during the 1970s and 1980s when the consumption of heroin was booming, so the impact on detoxification was very noticeable. Although there has been a decrease in the consumption of heroin and other drugs in the Roma community, rehabilitation processes are still in need.
3.1.1. Anti-Drug Discourses: From Contamination of the Body to Illegal Activity
In our analysis, a set of anti-drug discourses have been identified in the three churches that are recognized as playing a key role by our study participants. The first one consists of perceiving one’s own body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, so it becomes essential not to contaminate the body with harmful substances such as drugs. The consumption of drugs is, therefore, forbidden, since it represents an attack on the integrity of the body. This is one of the most recurrent arguments already highlighted in the literature that explains why drugs are prohibited [12
] within this denomination. The incorporation of these norms in the day-to-day of the members of the IEF contributes to overcoming addictive behaviors, and thus, to initiating detoxification processes. The same rationale also prevents church members from committing suicide, as will be argued in the next section.
Our subjects’ testimonies shared how their conversion process implied the internalization of a second important anti-drug discourse, that is, how drug trafficking is considered to be incompatible with being part of the IEF, because it is an illegal activity. For this reason, among many other respondents, Pedro not only gave up his addictions but also stopped drug trafficking. Pedro and Carmen trafficked drugs, which in their case meant that both had been sentenced to prison. This rehabilitation goes beyond health and promotes a radical transformation in their new lives.
Thus, a third anti-drug discourse is widespread, which is how social recognition is connected to respect due to adherence to Pentecostal norms. Therefore, someone who does not respect the norms will not have a positive image within the IEF and the Roma community in general. This is the case of those who engage in drug consumption or trafficking, and therefore, the effect of the social control is to persuade people to stop such practices. In these cases, penalization measures are envisaged, such as not receiving communion, the sacrament in which those publicly baptized participate during Sunday services. Likewise, they will not be able to hold positions of responsibility such as that of pastor, since they are contaminating “their temple.”
Jonathan is a 60-year-old Roma man, married, father of 4 children and a grandfather. He has been participating in the IEF for 37 years, 32 years of which have been as a pastor. He is part of the group of Roma men who experienced the conversion process during the 1980s (at the start of the IEF) when he was a drug addict, and after detoxifying, he became a pastor.
“God made you free, he has given you the freedom to choose, he does not force you, but he calls you. The Iglesia Evangélica Filadelfia is a delegation of God on earth to call you, and through the Iglesia Evangélica Filadelfia God calls you to put your life in order and to get out of the existing mud that brings the sin that there is into the world and that poverty often makes you embrace, because poverty sometimes makes you embrace sin in order to survive. The Church that announces and proclaims a message of cleansing is the voice of God, so that believing it, you can come out from the bad and unhealthy habits.”
(Jonathan, 60 years old)
It should be noted that a similar process is also recognized beyond the church, reaching the Roma community in general. This connects with the idiosyncrasy of the ethnic minority, which, regardless of economic status or level of education, gives greater recognition to people who respect Roma values. Our study participants explained how since their conversion they have accomplished a personal revaluation incorporating the Pentecostal norms, among which were the rejection of drug consumption, the condemnation of violence and the abandonment of illegal practices.
As part of these anti-drug discourses, and recognizing groups at risk such as the youth, the three Churches organize a wide range of leisure activities such as football matches, prayers for the children, Bible studies or dinners aiming to keep the youth engaged and active there, moving away from harmful contexts and risky circles. The anti-drug discourse is embedded in many activities, including those oriented toward the children. Samara is a 35-year-old Roma woman, who is a female pastor, and emphasizes the importance of educating children about rejecting drugs. In her narrative, she refers to the case of her 11-year-old son:
“My son is being raised in the Gospel which is a healthy environment, in which drinking or getting high with drugs is not often seen, nor going out at night and returning at the end of the morning, because in my house it would be inconceivable that my son would do that—never say never—but likewise my child and the children around, too, know that God demands that they stay clean, because our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, so we have to keep it clean. It is something that God demands of us, and our children grow in this environment.”
(Samara, 35 years old)
3.1.2. Supporting Environment
For many of our study participants, their initial involvement in the church represented entering a supportive environment that allowed them to make crucial decisions in their lives. One example of this was Jonathan, who clearly identifies his participation in the IEF as a key element in overcoming his drug addiction. Jonathan identifies in his conversion process a personal transformation that has allowed him to change the course of his life. Most of his previous friends died due to drug addictions or are in prison for illegal activities. He is convinced that had he not joined the IEF, his fate would have been that of his friends. Jonathan described his first contact with the IEF and how he found the needed conviction to giving up drug consumption:
“I realized that the road I was taking was not the right one, and when I arrived at the Iglesia Evangélica Filadelfia, I met people who had gone through my own personal situation and some of them had come out of the anguishing situation in which I found myself, and they were for me a sort of a mirror where I looked at myself. I also found support from people who felt sorry for me and who God put in my way to help me out, to know how to advise me, to have patience (...) and with the help of God and with the love and affection of the brothers and sisters I was able to get out of that dark cave I was in.”
(Jonathan, 60 years old)
Jonathan’s words highlights the support network that is represented by the community of church members. Both cooperation and complicity are key factors for the consolidation and success of the rehabilitation processes. The affection and support found in the community help to reverse the isolation, loneliness and social refusal they have previously faced. In this regard, Jonathan notes that the support of the brothers and sisters in the church helped him out of “the dark cave” where he was.
Isaac is a 25-year-old young Roma man who has been a pastor in the IEF for a year. He says that even though he has never been a drug addict, he has had contact with drugs since very early ages. In fact, he admitted to having smoked cannabis when he was 12, and when he was 13, he snorted cocaine 3 or 4 times. Therefore, there was a high degree of risk that Isaac would end up becoming a drug addict as many of his peers did. One of his brothers died because of drugs. However, he notes that his active participation in the church since he was 15 acted as the impetus that allowed him to get away from drugs:
“At 15 years old, I was not a rascal but I was a sort of a dissolute lad, and I was aware that this would not end well (...) A Roma pastor entered the church and simply bet on me. To be baptized in the Iglesia Evangélica Filadelfia, you are asked for some requirements that show you have converted to the Gospel, that you see a change in your life. The pastor came and baptized a few young people from the church, except me. At that time, I smoked, I wore earrings, I was a scoundrel... He (the pastor) had been working with me for quite awhile and he had very strong feelings for me, which always I observed, and talked to me about God and that I would regret it and that I could not continue like this. This man spent 15 months as a pastor in the church, and at least every time he saw me he said, ‘Man, you have to convert, you have to start following God, your house is a Christian house and you will end up very badly.’ I did not pay attention to him, but his words remained in my subconscious, and I thought he was right. In addition, I remember that once he explained to me an anecdote that he imagined that I was walking along the edge of a wall, and he told me you are walking, but at any moment you fall and hurt yourself, stop walking around here and start walking on the mainland. All those words remained with me in my subconscious.”
(Isaac, 25 years old)
For Isaac, the pastor’s trust and support were crucial for him to make the decision to be baptized and to change the course of his life path, giving drugs and tobacco up in order to actively participate in the church. Isaac notes that for him it was very important that his pastor believed in him and that he could change. It is important to consider the impact of this support for this young Roma, who comes from depressed contexts with high levels of drug consumption among his peers. The church represented for this youth an alternative social space where new relations, new habits and role models could be found.
3.1.3. Becoming Role Models
The church is full of people’s stories of personal transformation, and thus, these persons become role models for the newcomers. They serve as examples for the rest of the members of the church and promote a life pattern away from drugs. Thus, those who are in the process of transformation are highly motivated to become role models and to prove to the community their effort to move away from difficult situations.
Next, we find Isaac’s father Pablo’s story. Pablo was a man with a serious cocaine addiction. He also began to participate in the IEF during the 1980s and represents another example of the many detoxifications that occurred at that time. Isaac notes that his father was an orphan at a very early age, and it hurt him a lot because the father figure is very important in the Roma community. When he lost his behavior model, Pablo began to take cocaine very often. With a serious addiction, he joined the IEF and began his detoxification process, which he successfully completed in six months. Once detoxified, Pablo began his training process to become a pastor, and with that, his story became an example to follow within the church. Isaac speaks about his father’s rehabilitation process:
“My father at 31 was a young rascal and a crazy lad with no one around to stop him; he started ingesting cocaine every day and he got addicted, he was hooked for many years, and this had repercussions for gender violence on top of many other problems at home (...) I have not lived it but they explained it to me that my father was nervous (...) My father went to my mother’s town because he wanted to have different friends because he believed that would change him. When my grandmother arrived here, she was a very good Christian and always spoke to him about God. They preached the Gospel to her at church. It was not until my father decided to give God a chance, what in fact occurred was that God was giving it to him. In addition, it completely changed my father. In only 6 months, my father was already raised from candidate to pastor.”
(Isaac, 25 years old)
3.1.4. New Social Relations
The last protective factor identified is connected to the improvement of relationships within the family as well as beyond. This is the case with Pedro, a 47-year-old Roma man who has been participating in the IEF for approximately 8 years. Pedro started very young in the world of drugs and had been taking drugs for 20 years when he first started participating in the church. His partner, Carmen, describes the impact on Pedro’s health:
“My life changed completely. When I observed him, he was also sick, and I observed that with the worship his illness was gradually disappearing. Until there arrived a moment when the doctor said that Pedro was cured, and that it appeared to be a miracle. He had Crohn’s disease and because of that, he gave up medication. From then onwards, there has been a tremendous change at home. I cannot believe it, the way he was and how is he now.”
(Carmen, 49 years old)
Parallel to his detoxification, Pedro explains his recovery from Crohn’s disease as he was back to medication. Thus, due to his new life, he also recognizes improvements of his emotional relationship with Carmen. Both refer to more prudent behavior, a rejection of violence, a better use of economic resources and an improvement in trust in the couple:
“A complete change, I had been hooked on drugs for 20 years, whereas today I do not even smoke. Then, in my life, I thought that I would never see myself like this, because I said, I will be 80 and still be like this, however I do not even smoke, so I have given up all my addictions. I do not leave my house, I go out in the morning for a while to the park, for a while with the birds, then to my worship and from here to my house and I do not go out anymore (...) For me, the biggest thing is that I was able to give up all drugs, tobacco, methadone, I have left everything. I think that today, I still do not believe it, you think that you have been hooked for 20 years, and here since I have been in the cult for 6 or 7 years, it has cleaned me up completely. Not a pill to sleep, not even diazepam, that normally that everybody takes it currently, not even that I take to sleep.”
(Pedro, 47 years old)
Improvements in his relationships have been reported beyond his marriage. Pedro explains how he made new friendships, and thus, he stopped seeing those with whom he used to consume drugs and going to these places. Pedro notes that he moved from being surrounded by drug addicts to getting associated with people who participated in the church and who have a clear rejection of drugs. This new socialization process is also a factor of social pressure that reinforces the change of lifestyle and, consequently, the processes of detoxification. However, the fact of integrating into the congregation, assuming and internalizing Pentecostal values and creating meaning that represented their participation in the church have been sufficient to achieve detoxification.