This week, the MTS team has been in the South Sudanese Refugee Camp in Adjumani, Uganda, for the first of two, five-day By His Wounds trauma trainings to train 50 African refugee ministry leaders. Here is an update from the team.
After introductions, we allowed the group to set their expectations for the conference. It is so important to give the participants a voice in what they hope to learn about and come away with from these trainings.
After Steve shared the MTS story and how it came to Africa, we launched into the material emphasizing the need to first heal yourself before you can truly help others. Jumah reminded the pastors attending the training that this week is for them, and to try to turn off needs of the people of the church.
Steve and Jumah set the foundation of that each of us is made in the image of God, and how the five types of trauma impacts the outcomes of the beauty of being created in his image. By focusing on the truths outlined in Psalm 139, the participants reviewed and wrote down how God created them; their strengths and how trauma impacts these truths.
In the afternoon, Steve launched into the “tame” topic of the value and dignity of women. As is often the case, this teaching opens up the voices and emotions of the trainees. It is the MTS way that each conference must include women, ideally at least 40%. Out of 50 leaders in attendance at this training, only 11 were women, but Pastor Moses explained that is difficult to find women educated enough to understand the material. Please be in prayer that these 11 women will go on to be a voice for and trainer of many more.
As is often the case in Africa, when asked to draw pictures of how women are viewed in their culture, both the men and women speak to the number burdens that women are expected to bear: weeding, childcare, cooking, and cleaning. And the men? They are portrayed drinking, going off for long periods of time, and expecting their meals on time and clothes cleaned each day.
Steve spoke very clearly from the Bible regarding God’s, Jesus’, and the early church’s positive view of women and the definition of “helper” from Gen 2; not as a servant/slave, but a term that means working together from our God-given, gender-based strengths – different yet complimentary. We also had the men write about times when they respected and loved women/wives, and asked the women to write about when they or others were treated with respect. This led to some lively and honest discussions back and forth between the men and women, which set the stage for future truths to be shared in the group.
Many of you might ask if everyone here speak English. The answer is yes and no. The reality is that most, if not all, know and can speak English at varying levels, but there are so many different languages, we would need 5+ translators. So it was decided that those who needed extra help should sit next to one who could translate as needed.
This day is often the most difficult, as we begin telling our trauma stories, and participant exercises assist the attendees in facing their past trauma.
We began the day allowing participants to ask questions regarding what Steve had shared on the value and dignity women. Questions were asked about allowing women to pastor churches, and Steve answered using contextual scripture and referring to the scope of no longer living under the Mosaic law, but rather the new covenant of Christ.
Next, Kim taught about the biological and emotional impact of trauma. When the word trauma is not even known to the people, how does one go on to explain the impact of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? We use pictures, examples, and much repetition.
Kim shared from her own story what hyper-arousal, intrusion, emotional numbing, and powerless looked like for her. Modeling the sharing of stories and giving examples of the effects of trauma on our body helps others learn that trauma survivors with PTSD often suffer from similar outcomes due to the brain and body’s responses. We use a lot of exaggerated facial and body expressions to help explain these very difficult concepts.
After a short break comes the first of many difficult exercises. The evening before, we had them read “My Fathers Love Letter”, choose a verse that spoke to them personally, and then to draw a picture of God’s love for them. We have the participants refer back to these pictures as a means of anchoring their hearts and minds to God’s love. This is one of the many tools we give to teach them how to ground themselves when their trauma begins to feel overwhelming.
We use a feelings chart, with pictures of different facial expressions, to help them begin to identify how they felt during any traumatic event the has occurred in their life. Next they describe a person who harmed them and how they feel about him or her. The final exercise is always the most difficult. Because we explain the ongoing, internal impact of trauma to the heart is a wound that others cannot see, we ask them to draw a picture of their heart wounds. Then they share their pictures in small groups.
Each of them had experienced so much trauma. We heard many stories of losing everything, their home, their land, their livelihood. This is to be expected with refugees, but to see their tears and hear their anguish is very different from the academic thought of loss. We heard stories of childhood neglect and abuse from family members leading to a great sense of rejection and loss. Men and women shared honestly and courageously, some with tears running down their faces. All drew hearts filled with holes created by trauma, war, family violence, and betrayal. One shared that because he was a soldier fighting the rebels, he is now being hunted and has to hide in the camps.
Identifying past traumas and beginning to speak about its emotional and physical impact is one of the first steps of healing. We also give the participants tools to decrease the symptoms of trauma, using movement and worship to keep emotion moving. Mama Nora always blesses trainees with her story illustrated by her heart pictures. She shared how childhood trauma impacted her heart, breaking it while she struggled with the toxic shame of her abuse.
No African training would be complete without the topic of the spiritual impact of trauma. In the west, we often view the effects of trauma through a biological lens, but the Africans typically view it through a spiritual or demonic lens. In truth, this is a place where we can learn from each other, as it is not an either/or but a both/and. Steve taught very clearly on the biblical truth that a believer cannot be “possessed” by a demon, as this implies ownership, and believers in Christ have been adopted by Him, thus belong to Him and not satan
Jumah expounded on this, using examples of the pastors who continue to cast out demons week after week from the same people, who shake, cry, and even faint. In truth, they are responding this way physically due to hunger, extreme sadness, or from trauma symptoms. For many of these pastors this is a common practice, but now they have a greater understanding. One of the leaders asked, “How do we know if it is demonic, trauma, or another response?” We were able to encourage them to ask questions and actively listen to their members while in prayer, so that they can discern if the individual is impacted by demonic harassment (vs possession if they are believers) or by other physical or emotional needs. Many attendees found this part of the training very enlightening and helpful for their ministry.
We began the morning with worship and a short devotional. A woman named Alice presented. She is one of the few women who preaches occasionally, though she has not attended church in the camps recently due to spiritual abuse. The final words of her devotion rang with such hope. She said, “Like they did at the cave where Jesus was buried, the angles will roll away the large heavy stones so that we can get to Jesus.” Yes! The angels will help move the large and heavy stones of abuse in their hearts so that they can get closer to Jesus. Beautiful!
We gave the participants the, “I will heal thy wounds” picture of Jesus embracing a child as homework, and asked them to write what they felt when they looked at the picture. Here are just a few of their comments:
“Even though I was neglected and abused by my family, Christ loves me and cares for me.”
“I am cared for even though I am lonely. I am protected during insecurity, and loved and cared for by Jesus in times of difficulty. I am encouraged in times of problems and torment.”
“This is how I felt when I was alone in a hospital bed and everyone believed I would die, and a man of God (a pastor) visited me and I gave my life to Jesus and lived.”
Jumah moved us into the next section where we taught on the spiritual impact of trauma and how trauma impacts our relationship with ourselves, God, and others. It is here we begin to introduce the truth that it is okay to voice feeling rejected by God, to have the desire to hide from God, and to doubt God. We did some exercises that allowed the participants to write down and share these feelings with each other in small groups, allowing them to begin to drain the poison that trauma creates in one’s heart. It is also one way to assist them in beginning to rebuild their relationship with God.
Steve spent a lot of time discussing the biblical principle that it is okay to wrestle with God, like Job, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk did. We can wrestle with, pray to, wait on, and refuse to give up asking God to intervene. Steve also reminded the attendees that Jesus was also a refugee; he was betrayed and suffered all types of abuse so we can cling to him, because he knows and understands.
The participants shared letters of lament, and we heard so many cry out to the Lord while sharing their pain of losing everything when they fled South Sudan, their homes, and their businesses to live in the refugee camps. Many shared of abuse by their mother, father, or husband, of single parenting, and crying out to the Lord for school fees and food. Others had their land or church taken from them without cause, and a number of women shared the pain of their husbands taking on more wives. It was so difficult to hear their hearts of pain, and yet, like the psalmist and prophets, they lifted their troubles up to the Lord, asking how long while standing firm on God’s promises.
Steve covered the topic of toxic shame and guilt, such an important topic because toxic shame accompanies all abuse. It is also important for the participants to realize that in their own pain and shame they often are guilty of hurting others as well. In this section, we focus a lot on rejecting the lies and standing on the truth of God’s Word. A favorite activity of ours is the lies and truth exercise, where lies about God, others, and yourself are read aloud, followed by a countering truth from Scripture. When the lie is read, all shout out “Lie!” And when the truth is read all shout out “Amen!”
As with other mornings, we start out with beautiful, joy-filled worship. We quickly transitioned into large group sharing where both men and women shared how their individual abuse and trauma had impacted their relationship with God and others. It was fantastic to see their understanding of the spiritual and relational impact of abuse and trauma as they applied the teachings from their homework assignments. It also became evident they are beginning to understand the importance of healthy community for healing.
Jumah shared beautifully from Psalm 78:70-72 how God chose David to be kind because as a shepherd he took good care of his flocks. He shepherded from a heart of integrity, and God asked him to do the same for His people, Israel. From these few verses and questions, Jumah challenged these leaders to do the same. He reminded them that our hearts control our attitudes, and our hands are to be skilled. From here, the leaders moved into a time of reflection on how well they were conducting their relationships in ministry, marriage, and as a parent.
Mama Nora followed up with a story of how she placed a veil over her heart as a result from abuse. The pain in the room was tangible. It was the perfect time for Steve to teach on the power of the cross. From his teachings the trainees were able to stand on the truths that Jesus sees and cares about our pain; He is present in the midst of our pain, and He suffers and understands when we suffer. And the participants drank it all in with great thirst.
After time to do some exercises and expressive art, we heard more stories about the great pain attendees had suffered and of pain they had caused others. One older “mama”shared that she was born during war, was married during war, and is now living in the Adjumani camps once again due to war. And yet, in the midst she is raising 7 children as a single mother, both her own and some orphans. It is a picture of strength to hear the number of single mothers due to war, suicide, and/or multiple marriages by the husbands, who are now raising so many children on their own. Many were professionals back in South Sudan, working hard to support their children and to send them to school, and now they struggle to find enough food and money to send their children to school in the camps.
The final teaching of the day focused on the transformation of our trauma that occurs when we are willing to courageously face our painful past. Kim shared examples from her own healing journey, and Jumah did an excellent job on leading the group in various bodily stabilization exercises that many found very helpful. As we brought the group through the four stages of trauma healing and transformation one could feel a shift in the mood of the room. I would call it “the tangible feeling of hope.” So amazing! So beautiful!
We ended this very long day with worship, singing “My God is good; I will lift Him higher!” Each round sung in a different language; five in all!
The final day of training is almost impossible to describe; the life, the breaking joy, the faces that showed hope once again. The day began with Jumah on forgiveness. This is such an important topic as few in Africa or even here in the west really understand the steps in this biblically-commanded process of forgiveness. Jumah’s words were so powerful, interwoven with his own story surrounding the process of forgiveness of the man who murdered his father.
He stated, “Forgiveness is the central theme of the Christianity. A church that does not preach forgiveness dose not preach the central theme. Forgiveness must flow through our communities, but I know this is very difficult.”
Imagine that you are a pastor living in a refugee camp, surrounded by a multitude of tribes, including those who are leading the murders and desecration of your country. Imagine even further that people from this very same tribe are attending your church. How difficult would that be?
Jumah reminded us all that forgiveness is a supernatural process that only comes from God. He was very clear that forgiveness is very complicated but mandatory. It should follow healing of the victim, it should never be rushed, and it only requires one person, the victim. In short, forgiveness is for the victim, the releasing of the right to seek revenge and to release the offender to both man’s and God’s justice; to the consequences of his/her actions. As Jumah put it, “Hate is very costly. It is easy to invite in but is very hard to get out.”
Steve followed up with repentance and reconciliation. These are such important topics in Africa, because forgiveness of and reconciliation with the perpetrator is demanded almost immediately of all Christians, regardless of the offense. By using God’s word and stories therein, Steve made it clear that although forgiveness requires only one person, the victim, reconciliation (harmony in relationship) requires two. But before reconciliation can occur, repentance – true repentance of the offender – must occur.
Nora followed Steve with part five of her story. Her words truly summed up the whole conference:
Redemption (of my abuse and trauma) in my life did not fix the abusers. It did not take away what happened. But it brought healing to me, which overflowed into my family; my son, daughter, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. It restored the truth of His word which gave me the power to reach out to the hurting and the broken (she has shared her story with the 5 hearts over 100 times throughout the world). Pain from my trauma, healed and redeemed by Christ has brought healing to others.
The final hour was spent listening from the participants, hearing what they learned from the conference. Remember, many attending are lead pastors in their respective churches. Many stated that this training was unlike they had ever had before. That the depth of knowledge, the amount of biblical teaching, and the way it was
We were able to give each participant the following gifts:
Also, Kim and Kurt’s church in Phoenix sent 110 handmade cloth dolls and 150 wooden cars. These were given to the two primary pastors, Bishop Jumah and Pastor Moses (5 each) and 25 each were given to Pastor Leonard and Pastor Santos, from the two churches where Steve and Kim preached before the conference began. Both plan to use them in their children’s ministry.
Next week, a few members of the training team fly home and the rest fly to Arua, to visit the Bidi Bidi refugee camp. There, they will lead the second, five-day By His Wounds trauma trainings to train another 50 African refugee ministry leaders May 15-19 and give out more gifts.
Please be praying for safe travels and protection from satanic attacks for all, and open, willing hearts in the leaders that are attending these trainings.
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