Church bringing hope and healing amid drug woes

Ben Greene

Pastor & writer

  • Church planting & multiplication


Drugs have threatened and harmed a whole generation of Princeton, Minnesota, people and their lives, families, schools and businesses since the 1980s.  

But Sara Day, who works in the town of 5000 people, knows a new future has begun. She’s the pastor of Free Grace United, which tripled in size and baptized more than 50 people in 2023. 


“The people at my church are the kids or grandkids of that generation,” ravaged by drug abuse, she said. “This dysfunction, it’s like a disease. People know about Jesus, but they need to be brought back to him.” 


‘Everyone had pretty much given up on me’


Sara, too, has seen God change her life through the church. She first worshiped at Free Grace United’s Elk River congregation several years ago. She was overcoming a methamphetamine addiction while raising a two-week-old baby the first time she visited. 


She wore a jacket, zipped up and hood up, with her eyes fixed straight down at the ground. Shame, rejection and busted relationships ruled her life.  


Then, a woman looked her right in the eye, smiled and hugged her. 


“This was the first time somebody had hugged me in a really long time,” Day said. “This is the first time in a really long time that anybody had seemed genuinely happy that I was there or even looked at me and acknowledged that I was a person.” 


Later that morning, she heard the pastor tell everyone, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve smoked or who you’ve slept with. Jesus wants a relationship with you.” 


“I’d never heard a pastor say anything like that,” Day said. “Wow, somebody just admitted that people slept around in the church. He just said that out loud.” 


She was willing to do anything to have a life like Jesus gave others


Since Day surrendered to God’s turnaround, she has brewed coffee, set up chairs and made copies. She apprenticed under Pastor Brian Sparks and went to Free Grace United Bible College.  


Since 2023, she’s served the Princeton congregation as pastor and wrote a 31-day devotional on healing through prayer. Her husband, Chris, was far from God when they started attending Free Grace United in 2017. But he stayed beside her as she sought transformation.  


Over time, the Holy Spirit started working on him, and he eventually came to trust Christ. Now, he, too, sees that God is helping Princeton’s people with recovery.  


“I see real life change” happening through the church’s ministry, he said. 


Their children also serve in various roles. Their oldest son, Jacob, wrote a 14-day devotional for kids so they could learn from biblical heroes. 


“They’re very on point with the mission there, and they love to help wherever they are needed,” Sara Day said. 



The whole church is salt and light


It’s not just her family; all the church’s disciples have offered grace and help to the community in several ways.  


The church launched a second service on Easter because the auditorium where they worship is already starting to feel full.  


Last year’s Vacation Bible School welcomed 50 kids, and six were baptized.  


There is a recovery group for those with drug and alcohol addictions. A food distribution ministry serves around 500 people a week. 


“It’s hard on our carpet, but it’s wonderful,” she said of assisting veterans and older people, whom she calls “the forgotten people that really grew this country.” 


Many of the volunteers in Princeton now attend or will attend Free Grace United Bible College, like Day did, to develop their own ministries. 


A pastor made for her town


The town has some people who’ve been in jail for drug convictions. Plus, people sleep in cars or under bridges and use drugs in public parks. 


A nearby reservation for Indigenous tribal people has a casino; at the same time, people struggle with poverty. Families that used to live in Minneapolis have left that city, which sometimes brings crime or other challenges to the small town. 


As families struggle, and older generations who hold the traditions of life together die or move into senior living communities, the town has a new source of hope: a church of grace. 


Related: A New Jersey church leads with kindness as they serve their city. 


Day said it’s been a wonderful adventure that God would put her in a place that matches up so well with her history. 


“I didn’t have to work for Jesus to meet me,” she said. “It’s all because of God’s free grace that my life is what it is today.” 


Converge's 10 districts have committed to deploying 312 church planters before 2026. Read more inspiring church planting stories and learn about the goal to send out 312 church planters in five years.

Ben Greene, Pastor & writer

Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.

Additional articles by Ben Greene