Monthly Archives: September 2011

Churches taking abuse prevention seriously? YES

We counselors rarely note, in public, the positive actions of churches who take seriously the call to care for the least of these. All too often we hear and repeat the news of churches who fail to enact prevention efforts or who botch responses to abuse within the church community.

So, this short blog is to remind us that many churches do work to prevent child and adult abuse and who respond well to abuse confessions or allegations. Today I participated in a phone call where one such church was looking for ways to take their existing practices and policies and make them even better. It won’t make the 6 pm news or the next Christianity Today because there is no scandal to report.

In honor of this church, let me give a couple of suggestions to others who might like to enact their own policies and practices

  • Determine the organization’s foundations and values for policies and responses to alleged abuse

You might think this a strange place to start but it is my experience that if a church/org doesn’t name their controlling values, another set of values will rule the day–and often without anyone knowing it. I have seen churches who make decisions on the basis of limiting liability. I would suggest a better value is protecting the vulnerable from abuse and standing for truth, justice and righteousness. I have also witnessed unspoken values of “fairness.” Since everyone is a sinner, then no sinner can be called out and restricted in their access. Since both victim and offender are sinners, then the blame is to be equally shared, even if the offender is a pastor.

  • Begin with some key theological principles. Study them. Engage in churchwide discussions

Key topics to consider: nature of evil, abuse, impact of sexual abuse; theology of reconciliation, restoration, forgiveness, and repentance (these topics are all different and not to be confused); theology of the state (too many churches see the State as evil and thus they do not begin to think about reporting child abuse)

  • Identify a team to develop policies and to handle abuse allegations and to identify potential risks
  • Craft policies for lay counselors, pastoral staff, child care workers, those who have been accused or found to have committed abuse (e.g., can they attend church; do they need a care team to bring church to them?)
  • Staff to explore how to make the church friendly to current and past abuse victims; consider sermon and Sunday School topics to set agenda and tone
  • Make clear abuse reporting policies to the church (even if not required by local jurisdiction) because of the moral call to protect the weak
  • Background checks for all staff, including pastoral staff
  • Finally, locate capable individuals who can assess, consult, and treat specific individuals in need of help (offenders or victims)

There is more to be done but this is a good start and will take some time to do it. Of course I can’t end without suggesting that churches seek out GRACE for help on either the prevention or response side of things.

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture

When some help isn’t better than none

When is some help worse than none? When it creates more problems than might have been there without it. While that is easy to say, determining the line between helpful and harmful is less clear.

If your help saves a life, that seems good. If your help saves lives but creates or supports a system that destroys others, when do you decide to stop helping or to change the help you offer?

This is what Linda Polman raises and a key issue in her The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? (2010, Metropolitan Books; first published in 2008 in Dutch by the title, De Crisiskaravaan).

Linda tells of a huge problem in the humanitarian aid industry (yes, it is one even if its primary purpose is to provide care for traumatized and displaced peoples). She puts the challenge this way in regard to providing humanitarian aid for those in warzones,

You do what you can for the victims, but soldiers exploit your efforts. They demand money for ever well yo dig and levy sky-high taxes, imposed on the spot, on all the sacks of rice and tents and medicines you arrange to have flown in. They consume a slice of your aid supplies and sell another slice. Among the items they buy with the proceeds are weapons, which they use to drive yet more people into your refugee camps or even to their deaths.

What do you do? Do you conclude that it is no longer possible to cling to the principles of the Red Cross, pack your bags, and leave to help war victims elsewhere? Or do you remain true to your convictions, believing that even if you save only one human life, some relief is better than none? (p. 1-2)

The first 2 chapters detail the problems of the international aid provided to Goma, DRC between July/August 1994 and 1996 when the Rwandan government used their soldiers to force the mass of Hutu refugees and former genocidaires back into Rwanda rather than allow the camps be locations for regrouping of the militias that would try to return to fight the new Rwandan government.

A couple of her observations

1. Not all refugees are the same. Some are truly in need. But a large number of the refugees in Goma brought a treasure trove of materials looted from their own country. Thus, they were less likely pushed there and more likely going there to reconstitute a machine against the RPF in a safe place.

2. The international community came in droves, almost seeming to try to make up for the failures in Rwanda for the past several months. But they didn’t understand that many of these folks were either perpetrators or related to them.

3. Not all of the deaths reported as due to cholera were in fact illness related. There were many that were killed for failing to be loyal enough to the Hutu extremist groups

4. NGOs have to market themselves and thus spend lots of money to get contracts to help more

5. NGOs hide the fact that many of their stuffs were taken by Hutu leaders so the NGOs would raise the number of people they were helping in order cover up that they lost a large percentage of materials/food to theft and corruption

6. Journalists are more likely to get their way paid to cover a crisis by an NGO, thus raising questions about the images they send back. Likely not going to be as objective.

Now, none of this suggests we shouldn’t provide humanitarian aid to refugees in warzones. But it does remind us that our help can also hurt others. Being wise as serpents and harmless as doves is a lot harder than we might expect.

Given our trip to the region next month, I have to remember that our good intentions are not always enough. I’m not sure how our help can hurt but if we don’t ask the questions, we won’t know either. Here are some open questions

1. Does short-term trauma recovery efforts start a healing process but fail to keep it going thus encouraging more hope than discouragement?

2. Does bringing people together to talk about trauma unintentionally trigger trauma or feelings of rage (we won’t know if some people are considered the “wrong kind of people”)?

3. How does taking pictures or filming any part influence the “data” we think we are collecting?

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Filed under conflicts, Congo, counseling, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Rwanda, Uncategorized

Magazine Note: CCT on Global Issues and Challenges for Counselors

Volume 18:3 of Christian Counseling Today (published by AACC) is now out. If you don’t normally see this publication, you might want to lay your hands on a copy. Here is some of the content

  • Report on the Cape town Declaration (Lausanne Congress) and its vision for seeing counseling as mission (by Brad Smith and Fred Gingrich). You can read the whole Cape Town Declaration here.
  • Some thoughts on the cross as it relates to kingdom culture by Samuel Rodriguez
  • Diane Langberg’s important essay, “Trauma as a Mission Field.”
  • One of my former students on the state of religious persecution in China and the state of church based counseling. A must read if you are thinking about ministering in China.
  • An excellent article by Naji Abi-Hashem about 21st century challenges to the work of counseling
  • I and Josh Straub have a brief introduction to basic competencies for those who want to work internationally (had to get that in there!)

In addition, there are several other good essays dealing with the tragedy in Japan and Haiti, trauma in relief workers, and more. None of these are very long articles but they do serve to prime the pump. They should get you excited to think globally and act locally as a counselor.

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Trauma Recovery Work in the DRC and Rwanda

Location map of Rwanda

Image via Wikipedia

It is official. Diane Langberg and I have our tickets for our upcoming trip to the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda where we will be interacting with trauma victims, pastors (who are also trauma victims), Bible Society and World Vision workers, and probably medical and education officials as well.

We leave on October 10 and arrive in Uganda on the 11th. We will be traveling into the DRC in the northeast quadrant (picture tiny plane!) near Bunia and also to Goma, on the shores of Lake Kivu and under the shadow of a large and active volcano. There we will be observing the work of the American Bible Society and She’s My Sister as well as meeting with rape and trauma survivors.

On the 17th, Lord willing, we’ll drive from Goma into Rwanda to Kigali. There we will be joined by colleague Carol King (Langberg & Associates therapist) and Josh Straub of the AACC and our Rwandan compatriots Josephine (WV) and Baraka (IJM) and will lead a  three-day training seminar re: trauma recovery resources and best practices. The plan is to return home via Kenyatta airport and Brussels on the 22nd.

Prepping for the trip includes everything from shots to planning who does what training segments. Those of you inclined to do so, pray for the logistics there as World Vision Rwanda puts the final touches on the location of training and invitees. A lot of work must happen for this to go smoothly. Also, there is an effort to raise funds for this (Project Tuza) at the AACC World Conference in Nashville the last week of September. Pray that attendees will catch a vision and support us as they can.

Anyone wishing to donate can here.

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Filed under Congo, counseling, counseling science, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Rwanda, trauma, Uncategorized