Category Archives: Missional Church

4 Reasons I Promote Scripture-Based Trauma Healing


[Note: broken link fixed. If anyone is interested in taking this course with me this summer, see here.]

As a psychologist I have had a front row seat to observe the destruction that traumatic experiences have on individuals and families. And as a professor training future counselors I see the necessity of passing on best practices for treating those with symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). New understandings of trauma’s impact on bodies, minds, souls, and relationships appear on the pages of our academic and clinical journals. As a result, I read daily about innovative attempts to hasten trauma recovery for individuals and even whole communities.

With a world filled with trauma, it is clear to me we need an army of psychologists and mental health practitioners. How else could we address problems faced by 60 million displaced peoples in the world at present? How else could we address the scourge of sexual abuse, where worldwide 1:4 women and 1:6 men have experienced sexual violation before they reach the age of 18?

So, given the needs I have just mentioned, why would I spend considerable time and effort to promote a bible-based trauma healing training program? Let me tell you four key reasons I think this program is essential to address the world-wide problem of trauma. [Note, this is NOT a paid advertisement.]

Trauma disrupts faith and identity. The church must be at the center of the response

While many practitioners recognize the physical and psychological symptoms of PTSD, fewer have noticed that trauma disrupts and disables faith and connection to faith practices. Just now the scientific community is beginning to track this problem and acknowledge the role faith plays in the recovery process. Some are brave enough to suggest that failing to utilize faith practices and communities in the recovery process is tantamount to unethical practice! But most mental health practitioners have had zero training and experience engaging faith questions as part of treatment. The field of psychology is waking up from more than 100 years of training practitioners to ignore, even reject, faith as essential to healthy personhood. If faith is essential to most people on the planet then any intervention must engage faith and spiritual practices if it is going to consider the whole person.

Dr. Diane Langberg recently reminded a world gathering of national Bible Society leaders that trauma needs in the world are far too large for any government to handle. The only “organization” in the world situated to respond to at both a micro and a macro level is the Church. But is the church prepared? We need the church willing to understand the nature of trauma and participate in supporting faith and Bible-based healing responses. These responses include practices the church has not always been known for: validating, supporting and comforting victims, speaking up about injustice, inviting individual and corporate lament, re-connecting oppressed people to God. We need the church to be a safe community for victims.

The Healing the Wounds of Trauma (HWT) program fills this void. It offers basic trauma education, illustrates how God responds to traumatized peoples and provides simple yet effective care responses average believers can enact without being professional caregivers.HWT_USA_2014

While I believe we psychologists with specialized skill sets are essential to trauma recovery, much of what we do can be done by every day individuals. I tell my students that most of counseling is not rocket-science. Being present, listening well, building trust, validating, asking good questions, and walking with someone in pain is largely what helps counselees get better. With a little training, the church can be at the forefront of the trauma healing.

But we need an army…of capable trainers who reproduce

There are approximately 2.2 Billion Christians in the world today. If we decided (and I am not suggesting this AT ALL!) to only serve traumatized Christians, we do not have enough capable practitioners to serve those in need. The ONLY way we would be able to serve this population is to train up capable trainers (wise, able to work well with others, understand group dynamics, know when to be quiet, etc.) who are then able to reproduce themselves and make even more trainers who subsequently serve ever increasing populations. This creates a cascade effect—1 trains another who each, in turn, trains others. Conservatively speaking, one training of 35 future trainers could reach up to 15,000 traumatized people in 3 training generations.

To maintain quality, the program must be able to be delivered and passed on in a consistent manner. The HWT program is designed not merely to educate participants regarding trauma symptoms and good care/healing practices but how to pass on such knowledge and skill to others. The facilitator (trainer) handbook provides a wealth of information to ensure that the quality does not erode as the information is passed on.

Experiential learning trumps lectures every time

In the West, we cherish academic lectures as the primary training mode. Lectures enable a speaker to give a large amount of information in a short period of time, with minimal interruption. A good lecture casts vision, identifies problems, and points to effective responses. But a lecture cannot produce skilled practitioners. Any academic mental health program worth attending will require practicums where head knowledge is put into repeated practice.

Consider this scenario. My father is capable of building a house. He sits me down and he spends hours gong over the steps to building an addition to my house. I listen, take notes, and even handle the tools that will be used. Am I prepared now to build the addition? No! If I am to build a proper addition, I will need to do so under his close supervision. In fact, most of the hours of lectures are not necessary at all. What will be more effective is his teaching me as we build together.

The HWT program is all about experiential learning. Participants learn as they experience trauma and trauma healing through story, dialogue, and practice. First applied to self and then in consideration of others. This is in stark contrast to most continuing education programs that amount to little more than monologues and passive audiences. While the monologue may give more information, it is highly unlikely that participants can in turn teach what they heard to others. The HWT program is not designed to deliver large amounts of new academic information. And yet, what participants get via experience and practice will be far more easily passed on when they become the teacher. There will be no army of trainers if we cannot quickly get experience and practice and pass on what we learn in simple everyday language.

Good training hinges on contextualization

If trauma is universal, then it might be thought easy to deliver trauma healing training across cultures. This is not so. If I prepare a lecture or training on trauma in my context (the megalopolis of the Northeastern seaboard of the United States) but deliver it on a different continent, my training may be of minimal value. The reason it is sure to fail is that what I had to offer didn’t fit the context; it didn’t speak to the heart of that audience. Good training must be contextualized so that participants immediately recognize trauma in their settings and that interventions make sense. Imagine if I deliver a talk on good conflict skills to a hierarchical society but emphasize the need to speak in “I” language (I need, I feel, I would like)? Such interventions will rightly be rejected as inappropriate. And if experience holds, whatever else I say will also be rejected.

The HWT program is founded on contextualization. Not only has it been translated into many different heart languages, the central stories and illustrations are also contextualized so that the participants can see themselves in the stories and interventions. At heart of each lesson, participants are asked about their own culture’s take on the particular problem. In dialogue, they compare responses to that of biblical passages highlighting trauma, grief, loss, and pastoral care. Nearly every major training point addresses context and encourages participants to develop creative interventions in keeping with key biblical and psychological foundations.

Is the HWT program all a traumatized person needs? No, it doesn’t assume this. Is the HWT program perfect? Of course not. I continue to make suggestions for improvement and the authors and developers are some of the most flexible I know, always looking for ways to improve the materials and training program. There are many other solid programs out there, but few programs I know have refined the content and delivery systems to be able to scale out across the globe. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve the Mission: Trauma Healing team at the American Bible Society as co-chair of their advisory council and occasional trainer.

For a more visual exposure to this training, see this downloadable documentary.

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, counseling, Missional Church, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ptsd, teaching counseling, trauma, Uncategorized

Volunteerism in Africa: To Go or Not to Go?


From time to time you can find essays identifying serious problems with volunteerism by Americans in developing nations. Last year I wrote a short response to acknowledge the real problem with some trips but countered with several reasons why not all trips are created the same and how some short-term trips can be beneficial.

Now, one year later, I have just returned from leading another Global Trauma Recovery Institute group of mental health professionals on a trip to Rwanda (my 6th trip to this tiny country). And once again, I just finished reading an essay by Heather Ruiz who documents some of the more egregious problems created by short-term trips–unneeded “help”, creating a culture of dependency, and a false perception of a need to develop.

Wrestle with the Problems

As a leader of short-term trips, I highly encourage anyone planning a trip to wrestle with these issues. Do not easily dismiss the reasons your trip might not need to happen. If you are unaware of the complexities of “help” I urge you to read the following books:

Preparing to Go

If you decide your trip is still in the best interests of those you will visit, consider the following preparations as absolutely essential:

  1. Pray. Obviously.
  2. Study the region. Know its history, culture (from multiple vantage points), its successes and struggles. Know who is providing aid/help/ministry in this region. Try to make contact before you go to see if you can learn from them.
  3. Ensure you have been invited. Don’t go if you haven’t had a solid invitation, a “come over and help us” request.
  4. Find a cultural guide. Having a bridge person is essential. Such a person should be well-respected by many and already considered a leader among her people.
  5. Examine goals. What really is your purpose? How will you know you have achieved your goals? For example, just because you want to teach pastors how to preach and you deliver classroom training doesn’t mean you have met your goal. Key Question: Did you ask who
  6. Think about after you leave. What do you expect will happen after you leave? Benefits? Struggles? If one of your goals is “relationship strengthening” then consider how this will continue after you leave. Be realistic. How has your work supported local leadership. How will it make their job easier?
  7. Review training materials. One of the biggest failures I have made is not to have my training materials reviewed prior to departure. Review by multiple eyes can catch obvious cultural disconnects. Don’t lecture. Always use dialogical forms of education. You may not be able to cover as much material but what you deliver will be better and more useful. You will learn what works and does not work.
  8. Stay in locations that benefit the local population. Consider your footprint. How will you ensure you are not a burden to your new friends? Try to stay in locations that provide local jobs and where profits go back into local ministries.
  9. Working with children? Plan ahead what you will give. Likely, you won’t be the first to arrive at their village. We’ve had the experience of children asking for things like watches, bracelets, money, candy, etc. Re-read the essay by Heather Ruiz (above) as to the impact of gifts. They aren’t always helpful. Of course it is nice to please children with a treat. Buy a local treat and share that with them.

Telling Stories When You Return

I confess that I have had many judgmental thoughts when viewing social media pictures of (primarily) white people hugging little African children. Do they not understand how such pictures foster the “great white hope” mentality that is so destructive to Africans and Americans? I have been a bit sheltered from this during my trips to Rwanda as I mostly interact with other counseling and ministry professionals. Also, I tend not to take pictures because I do not like the way taking them makes me feel distant from my friends and even at a zoo when taking pictures of strangers.

And yet, I want to convey my experience to my friends who have prayed for me and who sacrificially supported the trip. Work to share stories (only with permission if identifying information given!) and pictures that show the strength, fortitude and honor of the people you met. Consider, for a moment, what the reverse would be like if they traveled to see you and brought back pictures of you, your family, and the interior of your house to share with their friends. How would that feel?

And if you are going to share pictures of children mobbing you, make sure you first ask yourself about the meaning of the mobbing. Why are these strangers holding your hand, fighting to be next to you, jumping in your lap. Sometimes it is as sweet and innocent as children getting the opportunity to meet

Waiting for Elders to start a village meeting

Waiting for Elders to start a village meeting

someone they consider exotic, sometimes it may be due to a lack of parental love (once a child asked if he could make an application to join my family), or worse, it may be learned behavior and lacking the feelings you might expect (once I watched a group sing a song but there was no music in their eyes, just rote behavior).

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Filed under Africa, Missional Church

Study Global Trauma Recovery Online!


Dr. Langberg and I are forming our next cohort interested in studying global trauma recovery principles and practice. If you have thought about getting such training, now might be a good time! Check out this link to our website where you can find descriptions/objectives of courses in the series as well as application materials (see links on the right of the hyper-linked page)

 

If you aren’t sure about doing the whole series, just try our introductory month-long course. You can get graduate credit gtc-logoor 40 hours of CEs for just $500. Here’s a few more details:

 

 

  • CEs are NBCC approved
  • Class runs November 9th to December 14th (time off for Thanksgiving)
  • Workload is about 10-12 hours per week (readings, discussion boards, brief response papers)
  • 4 required live 1 hour web conference to discuss material with the professors
  • Focus of the class is to explore psychosocial trauma in international settings

 

 

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Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling skills, Missional Church, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, trauma

Preventing spiritual abuse? Listen to that little voice plus…


Over the summer, I have been writing a few thoughts about the nature and causes of spiritual abuse. At the end of this post, you can find links to those entries. I have been doing this in concert with Carolyn Custis James over at the Whitby Forum. I heartily recommend you read her take as well. This post will give you her latest and also provide links to her previous as well. For those of you who are new to the concept of abuse, here is my definition:

Spiritual abuse is the use of faith, belief, and/or religious practices to coerce, control, or damage another for a purpose beyond the victim’s well-being (i.e., church discipline for the purpose of love of the offender need not be abuse).

Like child abuse, spiritual abuse comes in many forms. It can take the form of neglect or intentional harm of another. It can take the form of naïve manipulation or predatory “feeding on the sheep.”

With this post I want to consider two means by which we might prevent spiritual abuse (both to ourselves and to others)

Listen to that little voice inside

If you are experiencing that ping inside that says you are being mistreated…stop and listen to it. Too often, we ignore that voice inside that says something is not right. And in those settings where leaders wield significant authority, those vulnerable to abuse are most likely to believe (or be told) that their feelings can’t be trusted. This is especially true in environments where a significant portion of the community (e.g., children, women) are treated as less trustworthy.

Now, notice I said “listen” to that inner hitch in your soul. Notice I didn’t say to always “believe” your gut. Our gut isn’t any more or less accurate than any other portion of our being, and feelings may or may not be accurate. But just as we out to pay attention to fire alarms and not grow complacent, we ought also to pay attention to that voice that says something in wrong with how we are being treated.

If that voice is ringing in your ears, I suggest you find someone to talk to who doesn’t have a major stake in how you respond to that voice. Such a person will be less likely to have their own axe to grind. You don’t need someone who tries to force you to stay in an abusive situation or someone who believes all spiritual leaders are abusive giving you advice. That sort of problem only continues the manipulation.

The point of listening to your own little voice is to notice your own experiences and to take them seriously as you explore what is happening.

Other ideas

Of course, there is much more objective ideas for preventing spiritual abuse. Education is one of our best means to prevent spiritual abuse

  • Educate the entire church about servant leadership and how it opposes power grabs
  • Educate the entire church about how the Gospel opposes all forms of oppression/abuse as well as opposed the subjugation of any portion of the community
  • Become missional (joining what God is doing in the world, opposed to focusing only on our own mission)
  • Teach leaders to listen as much as they exhort
  • Teach congregants to be Berean with everything that they are learning–to search the Scriptures to see if what is being taught is in accord with the whole of Scripture
  • Teach the congregation that deception and cover-up of abuses by Shepherds never pleases God

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Doctrine/Theology, Evangelicals, Missional Church

A day of trauma recovery: Stimulating talk and an important reminder


American Bible Society

American Bible Society (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today was the first day of the Community of Practice convened by the American Bible Society and their Trauma Healing Institute. The room was crowded with recovery specialists in practice around the world. While a few are mental health experts, many are missiologists, bible translators, linguists, pastors, etc. All are individuals who felt the need to address the pandemic of trauma in their little corner of the world. Participants are working in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South America, Europe, Canada, and the U.S.

It was a stimulating day. Opening remarks by the new ABS president, Dr. Doug Birdsall, reports from ten different areas about recent trauma healing efforts. We heard about what was going on in Nova Scotia to Namibia to Nepal to Nigeria; in South Sudan, Kenya, Thailand, the DR Congo Papua New Guinea and some sensitive areas.

I got a chance to take the group through a fly-over of the cost and context of psychosocial trauma, some recent understandings of the impact of trauma on the body and concluded with a summary of what we know works (and some possible reasons why) and might be transferable and scalable in other parts of the world. Dr. Michael Lyles brought us an update of PTSD and tied it to the experience of the parable of the Good Samaritan. We also heard about resilience training in Namibia and the trauma of persecution and torture in the Middle East.

It is exciting to see what God’s people are doing with just a few resources and to hear how the Bible Society’s program of recovery is maturing and growing by leaps and bounds. However, Doug Birdsall’s meditation on Luke 10 is still ringing in my ears. After sending out the 72 to do ministry, they returned with joy over the great activity they saw. People were healed; demons cast out; the kingdom expanded. Jesus responds to them by saying something rather startling,

Yes, and there is even more amazing things to come. You haven’t seen anything yet. BUT, don’t rejoice over the fact that you have power to cast out demons. Instead, rejoice in the fact that your names are listed in the roll of citizens of heaven. [my paraphrase]

It is good to take heart in the small army of trauma recovery specialists. God is up to something great, even bigger than we can now see. But, it is always more important that he has come and redeemed us. Make sure that you are more happy about your redemption than about what you can do for God.

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Filed under Africa, Biblical Reflection, Missional Church, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, trauma, Uncategorized

How Does God See the World?


My church is running a Sunday School class on missionary activity around the world. 2 weeks ago, the class watched a video about church planting in the countries of Liberia and surrounding countries and this week, I and another couple presented some information about activities in both West (computer training) and East Africa (trauma recovery through scripture engagement).

The leader of the class, Kurt Wood, brought in a map that was drawn by population size rather than geography. He made an off-hand comment that maybe this was a bit closer to how God sees the world, a focus on the people rather than geographical or political boundaries.

What do you think? Check out this link for another example of a population driven map of the world. Which countries are surprisingly large? Small? In Africa, you see that tiny Rwanda is population dense and Nigeria is huge.

I think it is a helpful reminder even if my country of birth is nothing more than a tiny bit of color on top of the USA. There are a number of other population driven maps that can be found on google images.

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Must Read: Diane Langberg on “Trauma as a Mission Field”


My supervisor, mentor, and colleague, Dr. Diane Langberg has been telling us for some time that “trauma is the mission field of our time.” Recently, however, a few Christian NGO/Missions leaders have heard this line in one of her talks and have become electrified by it. I cited it last week in a board meeting at Biblical as I was trying to make the case that developing postgraduate trauma training at Biblical fits our mission: following Jesus into the world.

But, some of you have not heard her give one of these talks. For you, I point you to the World Reformed Fellowship website so you can read a report she made on June 5 regarding the problem of trauma and the opportunity of the church to have a hand in healing this man-made scourge. Below is an excerpt of that short report. Do go to the WRF link and read it in its entirety. The report is not long but it is powerful and includes a couple of specific comments from two leaders in Africa.

We are the church. That means we are the body of Jesus Christ and He is our Head. In the physical realm, a body that does not follow its head is a sick body. That is also true in the spiritual realm. We are His people and I believe with all my heart He has called us to go out of ourselves and follow Him into the suffering of this world bearing both His character and His Word. And we do go – we send missionaries and the Scriptures; we provide food, clean water, education and jobs for many. And we should. We have rarely, however, seen trauma as a place of service. If we think carefully about the extensive natural disasters in our time such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis and combine those victims with the many manmade disasters – the violent inner cities, wars, genocides, trafficking, rapes, and child abuse we would have a staggering number. I believe that if we would stop and look out on suffering humanity we would begin to realize that trauma is perhaps the greatest mission field of the 21st century.

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Filed under Abuse, christian counseling, christian psychology, Christianity, Congo, counseling, counseling skills, Diane Langberg, Great Quotes, missional, Missional Church, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Rwanda

Planning to go on an international missions trip? Listen first!


Despite the 15 inches of snow we got last week, I was still able to travel to Lynchburg, VA to film a training session (part of a DVD training series by the AACC) with Dr. Josh Straub. [HT to my neighbor who lent me his snowblower so I could finish the driveway before leaving and also to Amtrak that got me there when the airlines couldn’t].

Josh and I met in Rwanda on our exploratory efforts in Rwanda and has been leading the way in our grant preparations for the 3-5 year pilot study we wish to do (anyone have 2 mill lying around?]

The essence of our training followed this outline. I’ll give a couple of examples but since the AACC wants to sell it I won’t give the whole of it away…

  1. Common mistakes made by well-meaning helpers
    1. Naive mistakes
      1. thinking any help is better than none; or that because you desire to go…you should
      2. Failing to listen to locals as to felt needs and solutions
    2. Planning mistakes
      1. Failing to plan for sustainability
      2. Failing to explore the impact of your help (does it make the helpees more helpless? Unintended consequences?
    3. Prejudicial mistakes
      1. Assuming the locals are the only needy ones; failing to have a humble learning stance
  2. Characteristics of a culturally competent helper
    1. Ability to listen well, test hypotheses, etc.
    2. humble
    3. able to walk in the shoes of another
    4. able to develop culture specific info before and during the trip
    5. Not one to be running from problem past (abuse, faith issues, etc.
  3. Considering a plan of actions
    1. Developing a learning plan. Read from multiple perspectives about the people and area you plan to serve; Use google alerts for current developments
      1. Consider history of being helped (prior attempts). For example, if you are serving people who suffered under colonial rule, how will you be perceived?
      2. Listen for existing strengths, local leadership, signs of health
    2. Go, listen some more….long enough to hear honest reflections; debrief (we had some really good questions here!)
    3. Develop obtainable goals and objectives with consideration of sustainability and hand-off to local leadership
    4. Consider privacy and confidentiality issues of those whose stories you plan to use for further fundraising
  4. Concluding thoughts
    1. One of the things I said at the end was the repetition of some thoughts by Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil on John 4. Notice that Jesus’ cross cultural trip to Samaria included his becoming vulnerable to a Samaritan woman (asking her for a drink), asking good questions, avoiding getting caught up in a political debate, and ultimately ending up with the woman being empowered to bring her fellow villagers to Jesus. You know you have done well when you seen the people you help becoming empowered to lead their own people.

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Filed under christian counseling, Christianity, Missional Church

Andy Crouch Coming to Biblical–FREE event


Andy Crouch will be here at Biblical Seminary on May 26 as our next speaker in our lecture series: Conversations on Christianity & Culture. His presentation is entitled: Playing God: Christian Reflections on the Use and Misuse of Power. I highly recommend you signing up  here for this free event. Andy is easy to listen to and careful in his presentations. The previous link will tell you more about him and about Biblical if you need more info.

The topic of power is very apropos whether you are thinking about church politics, abortion issues, healthcare reform or abuse of authority in the church.

Sign up for it since we have limited space. You will want to reserve your spot so you don’t have to watch a simulcast screen in an overflow room.

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Filed under Abuse, Biblical Seminary, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, Missional Church

Podcasts for Pastoral Health


last March Biblical Seminary ran a daylong seminar for ministry leaders and their spouses. Podcasts of the plenary and break-out sessions are now available here for a very low price: http://www.biblical.edu/pages/connect/hazardoustoyourhealt0309podcasts.htm

Consider buying some and giving to your pastor and spouse. Other leaders like missionaries, elders, deacons, parachurch workers, etc. would likely benefit.

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Filed under Biblical Seminary, christian counseling, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Missional Church, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring