John W. Kennedy
As she drove home after
a Saturday evening at a friend's house 13 years ago, 18-year-old
Jennifer Gaylor looked forward to starting college, studying music
and growing closer to her boyfriend.
A 27-year-old woman on
the road that night left a tavern inebriated, then sped through
a red light at a Springfield, Mo., intersection. Her 1972 Chevrolet
Impala hit Jennifers new and lighter Honda Civic broadside
and kept going until it pushed the auto into a business parking
lot. The drunken driver backed up and drove away.
Jennifer, although wearing
a seat belt, died in the wreck.
Jennifer was the only
daughter of national Chi Alpha Campus Ministries Director Dennis
Gaylor and his wife, Barbara. "As parents we spent a lot of time
thinking about how we could protect her and nurture her into adulthood,"
says Barbara Gaylor, 53. "Despite our best efforts at raising her
with a good value system, we were subject to the drunken driving
behavior of someone else."
Gaylor helped start a
Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter in southwest Missouri after
her daughters death and she remains a community activist,
providing emotional support and resources to those dealing with
drunken driving death or injuries.
Five years after Jennifers
fatal crash, the Gaylors only other child, Jason who
had just turned 18 had his car totaled when it collided with
an auto driven by a drunken driver. Jason survived, but suffered
two broken ribs and had to take painkillers for an extended period.
Largely because of organizations
such as MADD, alcohol laws are stricter. The legal drinking age
has been raised to 21 across the country and the measure for illegal
drunken driving has dropped to .08 percent blood alcohol concentration.
Subsequently, there has been a 40 percent reduction in drunken driving-related
fatalities since 1980. Still, 17,448 people died in wrecks last
year in which alcohol was a factor, with an additional 512,510 people
being injured. While more people use designated drivers, drunken
driving remains the nations most frequently committed violent
be overwhelmed by the prevalence of drunkenness and alcohol-related
violence in society, according to Gaylor. She has found that, through
organizations such as MADD, Christians have opportunities to make
a difference by offering alternative solutions to drinking and driving.
and Ken Horn
here and look for the WANT MORE? link or call 1 800 641
revolutionized the way I see the world," Gaylor says. "I realize
that lost people the broken, the sick, the hurting
need the gospel. Jesus never meant for Christians to create programs
and ministries that only meet the needs of other Christians. Most
of what happens in my ministry happens in the marketplace outside
the church walls."
Growing youth problem
In February, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
at Columbia University in New York City released "Teen Tipplers:
Americas Underage Drinking Epidemic." The report shows that
more than 5 million high school students nearly one-third
of the total admit to binge drinking (five or more drinks
in a row) in the past month.
"The gender gap is gone
for youngsters," says Susan E. Foster, director of policy research
and analysis for CASA. "Eighth- and ninth-grade girls are drinking
and binge drinking at the same rate as boys. Its a dubious
equality. Alcohol is clearly the number one drug for children."
Overall, alcohol use
among teens involves 48 percent of girls and 52 percent of boys.
"The younger you start
drinking the greater your risks of alcohol problems later in life,"
says Foster, 54. "People are four times as likely to become an alcoholic
if they start before 15."
Foster notes that alcohol
damages the brains of young people. "Even three drinks can cause
cognitive impairment," she says. It interferes with mental and social
development, interrupts academic progress and increases the chances
of premarital sex. "If kids drink not even excessively
they are seven times likelier to have sexual intercourse," Foster
Likewise, the risk of
criminal involvement and suicide rises among heavy drinkers. According
to a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism report released
in April, alcohol is a factor in 600,000 assaults and 70,000 cases
of rape each year.
By the 12th grade, 81
percent of students admit to having consumed alcohol, compared to
70 percent who have smoked cigarettes. While the public generally
agrees that no social good results from tobacco use, there is much
ambivalence about alcohol consumption. According to the Gallup organization,
64 percent of Americans regularly drink alcoholic beverages. Beer
is the most popular choice, followed by wine and liquor. Permissive
parental attitudes send the wrong message, Foster says.
"Parents send a signal
by their behavior if they demonstrate that it takes a drink or two
to relax or that you cant have fun socializing without alcohol,"
The habits of friends also can have a powerful influence. Crystal
Piggott of Grand Rapids, Mich., read the Bible, prayed and went
to church with her family. She excelled in academics and athletics.
But at age 17 she started drinking beer, vodka and rum.
"The people I hung out
with started drinking so I started drinking," Piggott says. "I couldnt
buy it because of my age, so I would drink what they bought."
Upon finding alcohol
in Piggotts locker, school officials suspended her and she
missed part of the softball season. Piggott and her friends
then proceeded to smoking marijuana and popping Ecstasy pills.
Nevertheless, Piggott felt insecure and lonely. She became sexually
active. As a community college student, Piggott lost her job as
an athletic trainer and dropped out of school.
"None of that would have
happened if I didnt drink," Piggott says. "Drinking affects
your memory. It hurts your family; it hurts your future." After
completing a Teen Challenge program in Columbus, Ohio, and a year
in Masters Commission in Miami, Piggott has returned to college.
Now 21, she hopes to resume playing basketball.
The media message
Far from the days of Prohibition in the 1920s, alcohol permeates
American society as a socially acceptable, even expected, rite of
passage into adulthood. Children who dont have drinking friends
and arent exposed to alcohol in the home have a difficult
time avoiding media messages that portray drinking as glamorous
and without consequences.
spend more than $1 billion annually on advertising and product promotion
through television shows, Hollywood movies, event sponsorships and
more that expands the coverage widely.
The Budweiser talking
lizards are more familiar to many children than cartoon characters.
Beer, in particular, has become part of the national landscape,
perhaps no more so than at the national pastime. The Milwaukee Brewers
are a major league baseball team playing in Miller Park. The St.
Louis Cardinals play in Busch Stadium; the Colorado Rockies, in
are designed to entice youth. Sam Adams Brewery sponsors a summer
concert festival featuring rock stars. Budweiser is the "official
beer" of World Cup Soccer. Jack Daniels Whiskey is the "official
spirit" of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association. Jim Beam Bourbon
sponsors an Internet search where voters pick the weeks top
rock band. Busch Beer subsidizes 34 weekly NASCAR stock car races
around the country.
According to the CASA
report, underage drinking accounts for 25 percent of consumption
and the beer industry would experience a severe economic downturn
without it. In a Gallup poll last year, 54 percent of teens indicated
they could easily obtain alcohol.
Party down in college
For those who make it through high school without imbibing, college
especially the first year provides an unprecedented
opportunity to experiment.
In high school, drinking
is often exploratory. By college it becomes a lifestyle.
"From a collegiate standpoint,
drinking is as much a part of students culture as books are,"
says Brad Riley, Chi Alpha leader at Oklahoma State University in
Stillwater. "The overwhelming majority are participating in drinking
parties on almost a continual basis."
Chi Alpha ministries,
including a worship center, coffeehouse and activities center, are
on the edge of the OSU campus. Seven bars are located within 300
feet of Rileys office. Vandalized property and broken bottles
are a constant reality. Yet Riley, 33, is more concerned about broken
people. He has built a relationship with nearby bar owners. "If
they see someone drinking into a stupor night after night they will
call us," he says.
Binge drinking occurred
with 44 percent of college students in the previous two weeks, a
Harvard School of Public Health study revealed in March. The highest
rate of drinking, particularly underage drinking, happens at college
fraternities and sororities.
Riley says indulgent
behavior is rampant among college students. "The attitude is Im
going to be a CPA five years from now. But I dont think I
can act this way then, so I better do it now."
The environment encourages
such conduct. Several Texas and Florida beach cities aggressively
market to student revelers looking for a wild spring break with
promotions of all-you-can-drink specials and "booze cruises."
Military no exception
The national drinking age is 21, but that doesnt pose a problem
to many younger enlisted military personnel.
"Drinking alcohol is
a common, even accepted, practice in military circles," says U.S.
Navy Cmdr. James M. Hightower, an Assemblies of God chaplain assigned
to Marines in Camp Lejeune, N.C. "Young people can find ways to
obtain alcohol in our society."
Many have faced peer
pressure since high school to drink, Hightower says.
"Some really dont
like to drink beer or hard liquor, but they feel as though they
have to do it to belong," says Hightower, who has been in the military
for 18 years. "Any kind of celebration a promotion, the birth
of a child compels the use of alcoholic beverages."
Early in his military
career, Hightower remembers being in a meeting where the recreation
officer suggested that a case of beer be the prize for a holiday
picnic athletic contest. Hightower waited for higher-ranking authorities
to nix the idea but none did. So he spoke up. He pointed out that
presenting alcohol as a reward sent the wrong message. The commanding
Hightower, 51, decided
when he became a military chaplain to be with the Marines and sailors
as much as possible to gain their trust, and that meant hanging
out with them socially. At the clubs on base, alcohol is the presumed
first choice in refreshments. He decided his beverage would be water
or a soft drink. In the early days, troops repeatedly tried to buy
him a beer, which he respectfully, but firmly, declined. Now Hightower
is known as a teetotaler and anyone who offers him a stiff drink
is immediately besieged by other troops defending the chaplains
Today, Hightower says,
there are more restrictions on alcohol in the military. For example,
most commanders will not allow alcohol to be served at gatherings
where children are present. During work hours drinking is forbidden.
Before holiday weekends there is always a safety briefing about
drinking and driving. Twice a year there is a base-wide safety fair
in which photos and videos of alcohol-related crashes are shown.
But Hightower notes that
alcohol remains a major contributor to the breakdown of the family.
According to a recent Gallup poll, more than one-third of drinkers
report that their habit has caused trouble in their families, an
all-time high in 50 years of the surveys.
Tolerating drinking can
be deadly. Hightower recalls how earlier in his chaplaincy ministry
he encouraged a commanding officer to discipline a career sailor
whose duties were frequently disrupted because of excessive drinking.
The commanding officer, however, not wanting to jeopardize the alcoholics
retirement, continued to tolerate the behavior. At the time of Hightowers
transfer to another duty station, the man was hospitalized in critical
condition with cirrhosis of the liver. Hightower believes the sailor
died before reaching retirement.
"There are many resources
available if someone is diagnosed as alcohol dependent," Hightower
says. "Getting them to admit it is the real battle."
For many people, abstinence is necessary, according to Dave Scotch,
accreditation manager with Teen Challenge International U.S.A.,
in Springfield, Mo. He says 50 percent of the enrollees at the organizations
134 centers have alcohol-related problems, although its often
in combination with illegal drugs such as cocaine or heroin.
"A lot of it has to do
with upbringing and how people cope with life," says Scotch, 38.
"If families dont teach how to deal with the everyday stresses
of life, we have to teach them at 30 or 35 years old. Family life
is the significant factor in whether somebody goes overboard with
Janie Wead, pastor of
Centro Christiano Casablanca in inner-city Miami, says alcohol abuse
is a key factor in the lives of the areas 6,000 homeless people.
Despite repeated thefts of equipment at the church from those desperate
to pawn something to buy booze, Wead is determined to provide help.
Members of the Spanish-speaking
church, started two years ago, feed and clothe drunks, as well as
offer them a shower. Its a difficult battle; few express an
interest in changing. "Alcohol has a grip that is equal to, if not
greater than, drug addiction," says Wead, who has been an Assemblies
of God minister for 30 years. "We have the only answer to break
that bondage: the power of the Holy Spirit."
One who did change is
Marcelo Nobile. He had been a gynecologist in Cuba before moving
to the United States a decade ago. But in this country, authorities
didnt recognize his medical credentials and Nobile didnt
know English. He could only find menial jobs in restaurants and
grocery stores. Subsequently, his wife left him, prompting Nobiles
precipitous downward spiral into alcohol addiction.
Nobile lost his job and
began wandering the streets. One day in 2000, he stopped in front
of Centro Christiano Casablanca, his head caked with dirt, and began
to weep on the sidewalk. Members of the congregation took an interest
in him and Nobile made Jesus his Savior. He emerged from 13 months
of rehabilitation earlier this year a different person.
Yet it is difficult to
bounce back from the toll of alcohol. Nobile, now 50, is looking
for work and hopes to become a gynecologist in Florida. Meanwhile,
he is counseling those who have a drinking problem.
Police in Springfield,
Mo., didnt find the drunken driver responsible for Jennifer
Gaylors death until two days after that crash in 1989. Because
of the time lapse, all traces of alcohol were out of her system
and the 27-year-old driver faced only a leaving-the-scene-of-an-accident
conviction, for which she served four months in jail. She later
received the same sentence for a driving-while-intoxicated offense
in which her car hit a tree.
"She spent as much time
in jail for a victimless crime as she did for killing our daughter,"
Barbara Gaylor says. "I often wonder how different things might
have been for us if this young woman had learned a different way
to live and make decisions. Maybe she wouldnt have been drinking
that night and our daughters life would have been spared.
Our choices make a difference not only in our lives but in the lives
W. Kennedy is news editor of Todays Pentecostal Evangel.
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