From Awareness to Understanding to Ministry...Abuse and the Body of Christ

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.  Those who follow my blog closely may be aware of a couple of things related to this.  1st...I'm not terribly fond of "awareness" activities, for the most part.  I addressed that here (Bugs Bunny, Facebook, and Stewarding the Story) and here (The Anthony Case...My Thoughts).  2nd...Child Abuse is a subject near and dear to my heart.  Not only were my career days spent working as a foster care caseworker, foster care unit supervisor, and program coordinator for foster/adoptive parent recruitment/training/assessment for our six-county area, but our own family has experienced the trauma of abuse by someone we trusted. I've posted about that in various places on the blog as well. 

I follow an organization called G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) on Facebook. I don't agree with everything they post/publish, but I am thankful for their work in this area.  

This morning's status from G.R.A.C.E. touches on a deep burden of my heart today.  As I said in the "Bugs Bunny, Facebook, and Stewarding the Story" post mentioned above, I don't think there are a whole lot of people out there who don't realize that child abuse happens.  And I don't really think that a lot of the "awareness" campaigns actually *do* a lot to make a difference.  But there *are* things that can be done to make a difference, and I am all about making people aware of anything that can truly help children and families dealing with this type of trauma.  

Here is this morning's status from G.R.A.C.E...

When a church fails to grasp the dynamics of child abuse, it is ill-equipped to “welcome these little children in the name of Christ” ~ G.R.A.C.E. Facebook Page

And my comment on it...

This morning's status from G.R.A.C.E. touches on a deep burden of my heart today. Blog post coming...even if you never click over to my blog, I hope that you will watch for this one and read it. We need to be prepared to meet the needs of children and families touched by abuse. Such a hugely needed area of ministry in our churches...to be willing and able to love, understand, and support those who are dealing with the long-term results of trauma...to be the hands and feet of Jesus to children and families who are hurting. A huge mission/ministry field not only in our back yards, but in our church pews...one for which we don't have to travel a mile or spend a dime. There are so many more families touched by this than we often realize...if our family, with two parents who had careers in child protection, can be affected, ANY family can.

This is such a huge area of need in our churches...ministry to children and families touched by abuse.  There are many more families dealing with this than we sometimes realize, in many different ways: families in which one or more children have experienced abuse, adults who experienced abuse as children, families who are fostering or have adopted children who experienced abuse in their family of origin, and others.  

And there are many ways that we as the church can help.  One of the most basic ways we can help is by realizing that these children and families have been through great trauma and that they are dealing with tremendous long-term pain and scars.  They need understanding, support, and love.  We need to care enough to get educated and then dig in and provide that understanding and support.   We need to understand that children who have been affected by abuse may not always respond in what we consider "normal" ways.  We need to understand that there may be physical manifestations of the abuse.  We need to understand that all kinds of things may trigger trauma responses in these children (and adults)...certain words, music, smells, etc.  We need to be sensitive to the fact that children who have experienced trauma may not always be comfortable participating in group games or activities, and we need to allow them the freedom to observe from the sidelines.  We need to realize that children who have experienced abuse may be delayed academically, emotionally, socially, and/or physically, and we need to respect their needs in those areas.

We need to understand that parents and families of those who have experienced abuse are under a tremendously heavy load, and we need to look for ways to make that load lighter rather than heavier.  That may be as simple as giving them a smile or hug, letting them know we are praying for them, or just not expecting them to act "normal".   It may involve a little more...taking them a meal or  offering/allowing them a break from their normal church responsibilities.  Or it may involve really getting down in the trenches with them...things like going to court with them, listening and grieving with them, etc. 

We can't all go outside our city, state, or country to do missions...and we don't have to.  There are so many people right around us...even sitting by us in church...who are hurting and who need to be ministered to.  Children and families affected by abuse are among those.  There is a huge mission/ministry field ripe for harvest that doesn't require travelling a mile or spending a dime.  Hurting children and families need to know that there is hope...that there is healing and comfort in the Father who holds us close to His heart as a Shepherd cradles a baby lamb.  We need to share the Gospel with those who are unsaved, and we need to minister to the injured members of the Body of Christ.  We need to let God's love flow through us to them; we need to be the hands and feet of Jesus to them.  Church needs to be a haven for those affected by abuse...a place where they can feel the safety they need to heal and grow.  

One of the hardest things for me...as a long time Christian, raised in a Godly home and strong Bible-teaching churches...was coming to grips with the fact that the abuse that caused such trauma in our family was actually part of God's plan for our children and our family from before the foundation of the world, and that it was part of His perfect plan for GOOD in our lives.  That has also been one of the most comforting things for me, once I wrestled through some tough questions and doubts about God's sovereignty and goodness and love.   I am so thankful for a pastor, church family, and dear friends who made a "safe place" for me to wrestle through those things, and who loved and prayed us through those days (and in the case of our pastor, preached a lot of "deep waters" sermons!).  And I am thankful that they continue to do so even now.  We are commanded in Scripture to bear one another's burdens...and we so have so experienced that in so many ways. 

We need to be that "safe place", those loving, praying, burden-bearing people for others who are dealing with similar trauma, pain, and questions.  We also need to realize that we have no idea what another person or family may be experiencing.  For the first few months after we discovered what had happened to our children, we weren't able (for various reasons) to tell but a literal handful...five people...what was going on.  Later we were able to tell a few more, and later still a few more.  However, for most of the most difficult days, almost no one knew what our family was dealing with.  There are still many who have no idea.  We went to church every week, put on our "everything's fine" happy faces (or tried to...some days we were more successful than others), and prayed that we wouldn't fall apart before we got home.   Due to legal, safety, and other reasons, we were unable to be more open about our circumstances for a long time, and because of that, there were times when we experienced unintended hurt from those who didn't know what we were going through.  

We need to realize that there is much hidden pain in our churches, and with that realization, we need to extend grace whenever possible.  Rather than assuming that the child who balks at participating in an activity is being anti-social and needs to be pushed to conform, we need to realize that there may be very legitimate reasons for their reluctance.  Rather than assuming that the person who passed us in the hall without speaking was intentionally slighting us, we need to understand that they may be carrying a heavy, invisible weight on their shoulders that has overwhelmed them to the point that they have no idea that anyone was in the hall with them at all.  We need to realize that trauma can cause behavior issues in children that have nothing to do with lack of discipline, and we need to react in ways that cause those children to feel safe and loved.  We want *all* of our children to feel like church is a safe, wonderful, special place.  {That's a whole 'nother soapbox for me, so keep an eye out for a blog post on that topic soon. :)}  God has so been working in me in this area in the last few years...and all over again in the last few weeks and months.  He's reminded me just this morning of some areas in which I need to extend grace, even as I encourage others to do so.   {I love it when my blog posts step on my own toes while I'm still in the process of typing them...ouch!}

Abuse can touch any family.  If any family should have been immune, ours should. Billy and I met through our careers in Child Protective Services.  We were, and are, super-protective of our children.  We have learned that while we need to do everything in our power to protect our children, we aren't able to protect them from everything no matter how hard we try.  My heart is heavy for other individuals and families, known and unknown, who are dealing with long-term effects of  abuse issues, and I pray that our church and the church at large will be the hands and feet of Jesus to love and minister to them. 

I realize this has been long, and I applaud you if you've made it this far!  I plan to post additional posts on this subject during what is left of this month.  If you have questions or comments, or if you have been impacted by abuse and need support or want to share more, please feel free to leave a comment or send me a personal message by clicking on "View My Complete Profile" on the upper right and then clicking "email".  I would love to hear from you. 

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  ~ Romans 12:15

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill  the law of Christ. ~ Galatians 6:2

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ ~ Matthew 25:35-40

1 comment:

t marie said...

Beautifully said my friend. I hate the events that brought you to this place, but I love the advocate they have created. We would all do well to mimic your heart.