Picture credit: Bible Society / Mark Woods
How do we mobilise the resources of our church in trauma healing? According to the Director of Training and Mentoring at the American Bible Society's Trauma Healing Institute, it begins with listening.
Dr Phil Monroe spoke to the African Biblical Leadership Initiative (ABLI) conference in Kigali, Rwanda, and said that while pastors are designed to speak, 'If we don't listen first, we may preach the wrong message.'
He spoke of the prevalence of trauma today, noting that 30 per cent of those who suffer through war and conflict are traumatised by the experience. There's also trauma in the home, he said, with very large numbers of women in particular – but men as well – experiencing domestic violence.
'Trauma or suffering is no respecter of persons or communities,' he said.
Quoting Romans 8.22, he said: 'All creation groans. Believers groan. We long to be out of this body and in the one where will will experience eternal peace.'
Trauma, he said, 'is a terrible wound of the heart. It may not be visible but it is still present.'
It is a 'spiritual wound that affects every part of us. People relive trauma through flashbacks. They numb it with drugs, alcohol, sex, power, or violence – they find ways to not feel. So they find themselves always on alert, always ready to fight or flee at the drop of a hat.'
He said churches found it very difficult to talk about these spiritual wounds: 'These people might come on Sunday and sing all the happy songs, but they have smiles that cover up deep wounds.'
But, he said, most of the Bible is written to the refugees and the traumatised, beginning with Adam and Eve being cast out of Eden and continuing through Cain, the Flood, Hagar, the enslavement of Joseph and so on.
The gospel, he said, comes to us in our relationships, when people come around us and listen to our stories. Trauma brings isolation and shame, and a sense that 'no one could ever love me'. He said trauma victims need empathy and acceptance, and listeners who bear witness and lament, if they are to know God's presence.
Listening and lamenting involves asking simple questions, he said – what happened, what did that make you feel, what was the hardest part for you. 'When's the last time a church had a service of lamentation for the suffering of its congregants?' he asked.
He compared two trajectories a church could follow. 'One that remembers trauma, builds safety, mourns and laments, helps people reconnect and build hope. Or, we can be on the pathway of silence, silence, forgetting, forced reconciliation, isolation and fear. Which one do you think will bring more glory to God and more healing in your congregation?'
He concluded: 'You leaders aren't the true builders. The true builders are those who have been healed. They are rebuilding this country, they are rebuilding the cities. Those who have been wounded are rebuilding families.
'So I leave you with this hope: Jesus our healer enables us to listen and lament and show that the Bible is written first and foremost to traumatised people, not to tell them to just cover up their pain, but to bring them to the cross, because it's at the cross that trauma and triumph come together.'