Happenings, News

A new lease of life for opium smokers

The Rev Raymond L. Archer, a Methodist missionary in Sumatra and later first locally-elected Bishop of this area in 1950, recounted how he and his church members helped many addicts to throw off their dependency on the vicious opium habit.

‘THAT the opium smoking habit is one of the worst influences in the moral and physical life of the East will doubtless not be disputed by any one who is acquainted with the social problems of this country. Therefore any help which can be given to those suffering from this curse will be a god-send to them.

The city which holds the record for opium consumption per capita in this area is Bagan Si Api Api, situated on the east coast of Sumatra, having a population of a little over 10,000 people.

In passing it might be stated that this city is the home of the largest fishing centre in the East Indies and is the fourth largest fishing market in the world. The people of that community pur-chase about 1m guilders ($400,000 gold) worth of opium per year from the government opium depots, not to mention the large amount which is doubtless bought from smugglers of opium.

About one year ago the writer of this article asked some of the members of our church in Bagan Si Api Api if they did not think it would be a good plan to organise an Anti-Opium Society in that city and attempt to help those who desired to get relief from the opium habit. The idea appealed to them and such a society was formed. The committee is made up of many not yet Christians.

A house was rented which is being used as a kind of sanato-rium in which the patients could stay during the course of the treat-ment. The medicine was sent from Medan to a Javanese doctor in Bagan Si Api Api who is not only a member of the Society, but also supervises the treatment of the patients.

When we were ready to receive opium addicts in the sanato-rium, the people were very timid about being the first to take this new medicine as no one was quite willing to be the first victim.

However, in a short time two Chinese men offered themselves for the treatment. They were about the worst looking specimens of human wreckage that one could imagine. They had become des-perate since they could no longer find money enough with which to buy opium. Hence they said they would be willing to give the new medicine a trial even though it killed them as death could be no worse.

As soon as they began the treatment their friends came in every few hours to ask how they felt and the two men reported that they began to feel better from the very beginning. Inside of 15 days they were cured of the opium habit. Naturally they were very weak physically, yet the old craving was gone.

As a result of the testimony of these two men, scores of others applied for the treat-ment and the little sanatorium was soon booked up to capacity for months in ad-vance. During the past nine months, over 400 men have been cured. An Ex-Opium Smokers Club has been organised and a suitable house has been outfitted by them for their club.

Any person who has been cured of the opium habit may become a member of this club, but if he should fall back into the old habit he is dismissed from the club. This club has now a membership of about 300. Here the fishermen may spend their idle hours in reading, playing games, etc. All the other clubs in the town, of which there are plenty, are chiefly opium smoking dens. Thus, the advantages of such a club will be evident.

Our Chinese preacher holds Bible classes both in the sanato-rium and in the club house as well. This has given many of them an opportunity of hearing the word of God for the first time. A large number of them attend our regular church services and some of them are preparing for baptism.

Of course the test of such work is not the number of persons who have been cured, but the number who stay cured. To the best of our knowledge not more then 20% have gone back to the old habit again. This we consider a very good record.

The work of this Society is entirely supported by the friends in Bagan Si Api Api in addition to the small amounts paid by the people who take the treatment. We have had many calls from other centres to begin this work. Many of these calls we hope to answer later on.’ — MM September 1925, p.1-2.

Earnest Lau, the Associate Editor of Methodist Message, is also the Archivist of The Methodist Church in Singapore.