This post came to me from Jennifer Harris, who is passionate about ministering to abuse victims, particularly children. This is part one of a two part series. I felt it was so important, and so fit the mission of this blog to help people live uncaged, that I invited her to post here.
“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. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment)
This recent Facebook status touched on a deep burden of my heart. I spent my career days in child protective services, and members of my own family have experienced abuse by someone we trusted. I’m not terribly fond of “awareness” campaigns (because most do little to actually alleviate the problems), but I am committed to making people aware of anything that can truly make a difference for those devastated by abuse.
Ministry to children and families touched by abuse is a huge area of need in our churches. There are many more families affected than we sometimes realize, including foster or adoptive families of previously abused children, adult survivors of abuse, and families in which one or more children have been victimized.
There are many ways the church can help. One of the most basic is by simply understanding that these children and families have experienced great trauma and are dealing with tremendous long-term pain and scars. They need understanding, support, and love.
We need to understand these things:
• 1. Children affected by abuse may not always respond in ways we consider “normal”.
• 2. Many things may trigger trauma responses…certain words, music, smells, etc.
• 3. Children who have experienced trauma may not be comfortable participating in group activities; we need to be sensitive to this and allow them freedom to observe from the sidelines.
• 4. Children who have suffered abuse may be delayed academically, emotionally, socially, and/or physically; we need to respect their needs in those areas.
• 5. Parents and families of those who have experienced abuse are under an extreme burden; we need to look for ways to lighten it. That may involve a smile or hug, an “I’m praying for you”, or simply not expecting them to act “normal”. It could also mean taking a meal, giving them a break from their usual church responsibilities, or attending court hearings.
We don’t have to go far to do missions. There is a huge mission/ministry field ripe for harvest that doesn’t require traveling a mile or spending a dime. There are many right around us…even sitting beside us in church…who are hurting and who need us to reach out.
Hurting children and families need to know that there is hope: there is healing and comfort in the Father who holds us close to His heart, as a Shepherd cradles a baby lamb. We must share the Gospel with the unsaved, and we must minister to the injured members of the Body of Christ. We must allow God’s love to flow through us to them; we must be the hands and feet of Jesus to them. Church must be a haven for those affected by abuse…a place where they can feel the safety necessary to heal and grow.