A Bible-based approach to help people who have experienced trauma

(Photo: Unsplash/Kiwihug)

The Bible Society has launched a new programme to help churches, faith groups and chaplains support their communities in working through trauma. 

Navigating Trauma is rooted in mental health best practice and uses contextual Bible reading to help people explore what Scripture has to say about suffering, and God's relationship with those who have experienced trauma.

It spans five core sessions with a further eight optional sessions that take place within small groups led by trained volunteers. 

Bible Society Chief Executive Professor Paul Williams said it was a "significant" time to be launching the initiative. 

"We're only now beginning to understand the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our society," he said.

"Hundreds of thousands of people have suffered the loss of loved ones. Many more have seen livelihoods devastated by the economic fallout, and more still have suffered the mental anguish of anxiety, stress and loneliness as a result of the various effects of the pandemic on their relationships and social fabric.

"But these impacts have come on top of those already occurring and indeed deepening in our society. We live in a world of historically unprecedented wealth, power and connectivity. It's also a world of extraordinary pain, suffering and relational brokenness.

"As Western societies like Britain turned away from the Christian faith that nurtured them and the Scripture that structured our public institutions and private lives, we attempted to replace faith and Scripture at the centre with reason, science and technological progress. We put our faith in those things.

"As good as they are, they have nonetheless failed us in spectacular ways - two World Wars, the Holocaust, the threat of nuclear destruction, repeated financial crises, rising and deepening inequality, a global climate crisis and the alienating nature of modern communications technology." 

The result is a "profound disillusionment" in today's society, with people increasingly wondering where they can turn to for help or resorting to coping strategies "that may make things worse".

"This is the context of modern Britain. A context, yes, of wealth and success on the outside but a context of deep pain, exclusion and suffering if you look more closely; a context of a growing search for something, someone that can help, for a different way," he said. 

Prof Williams went on to say that although the Bible "does not offer a quick fix for these wounds", it has a lot to say about the reality of suffering.

"At the centre of the biblical witness to suffering is the practice of lament, a deep cry of the heart expressing the pain that's been experienced in its rawest form," he said. 

"There are many today who are in pain and crying out for help. Even though it may be inarticulate, there is an acknowledgement of their need of God.

"Navigating Trauma is an initiative that allows the Church of Jesus Christ to come near to those experiencing brokenness in their lives, to listen to them and journey alongside them as they express their heart to God.

"It seems to me that this is exactly where the Church needs to be in this missional moment because it's where God is."

Ama Obeng is a wellbeing group participant who has experienced the positive impact of the Navigating Trauma programme firsthand.

After losing her younger brother to a knife attack in Tottenham, she said the group gave her a "safe" place to process her grief.

"It helped a lot because I guess I didn't understand how to grieve. I didn't understand my feelings. I didn't understand that I was allowed to grieve," she said.

"At times when I would cry, I felt as if I was failing God because I'm supposed to be up and strong and going on, but the programme made me see there's nothing wrong with me and that grieving is a form of healing."

Bible Society President, Coptic Orthodox Archbishop Angaelos said the social isolation of the pandemic had been traumatic for many people, and that there was a "need for someone to reach out".

"That reaching out is going to be us, we're going to have to reach out to each other," he said. 

The Archbishop already has some experience of trauma counselling as he was involved in setting up a similar programme in Egypt with the help of the American Bible Society to support Christians affected by violent persecution there, including a number of deadly attacks on churches. 

The programme brought together church leaders, psychiatrists and social workers in running trauma counselling for clergy and laity, and in creating response teams to prepare for future attacks. 

"It had an incredible effect," he said. 

The Archbishop added that there was "no shame in falling" and that people simply needed help to put their hope in Christ who "himself experienced trauma on the cross" but rose again. 

"And that is what we hope to do with trauma, to realise that our hope is in him and in the world that comes after this," he said.

"And so within the brokenness of this world, the vulnerability of this world, the pain and the sin we see in this world, we will experience trauma in a variety of ways, but we also know that our hope is in the Word of God."