This past week, I went to Williams Lake, BC, Canada where the smoke-filled air irritated lungs and formed such a thick fog outside that flights in and out had to be canceled. Why was there so much smoke? Lightning strikes ignited several wildfires, exacerbated by very little rain this season and by trees that have been deadened from an outbreak of mountain pine beetles. In the past, these beetles were destroyed by very cold winter temperatures. But with warmer temperatures over the past fifteen years, the beetles continued to multiply and damage forests. Ultimately, this increased the vulnerability of forests to fire outbreaks and made fires far more difficult to contain or diffuse.
According to Jim Tanis, one of the elders of Cariboo Community Church (CRC) in Williams Lake, last year was a horrific forest fire season, far more severe than this year. Over 57,000 people were evacuated, including his family. Over a million acres of forest were destroyed. Homes were burned down and a multitude of livestock and wildlife were killed. By God’s grace and with prudent, proactive leadership of local leaders, there was no loss of human life.
As Jim’s church searched for ways to respond to the crisis last summer, they hosted and fed firefighters as well as supported a few families to rebuild. In their desire to share God’s love and compassion amidst suffering, they discovered they had a gift that was quite unique from other agencies and government services focused on distributing relief supplies and rebuilding homes. The gift of Cariboo Community Church was the gift of faith in God and extending His love through pastoral care and trauma healing. Thus, when World Renew’s Disaster Response Services offered to train some of the church leaders in trauma healing, Jim Tanis and Audrey Veal volunteered their time for this, first as facilitators of healing groups and then later in an equipping workshop that would enable them to be facilitators certified to train more leaders of healing groups. Together with myself and Mary Crickmore as the Master Facilitator, they organized a Trauma Healing session that was held at their church this past week.
It is inspiring to hear of the testimonies that have come from the participants. Most of them serve as indigenous leaders or with indigenous leaders in communities affected by the fires and living with both vicarious trauma and generational trauma. Here are some of their testimonies:
“My wife and I moved to a reserve about three years ago to do discipleship training. The community we serve with has been shaped by deep wounds of the heart which can fester and lash out in pain. This trauma healing process has personally helped me deal with the grief I experienced from leaving my family, reputation, community, and life in general. I find that I sometimes get angry and feel hopeless when I encounter wounds of the soul. From this training, I feel confident that my wife and I can start a healing group when we return. While God has brought several people to Him through our bibles studies, this process of trauma healing will be an essential way to encourage ongoing development.”
“I love how you (Mary) mentioned ‘overcome’ and ‘stories’. God has taught me that the end game is ‘overcoming’. Our testimonies are stories that encourage us and others to overcome.”
“I appreciate a Bible-based approach to grief and trauma. I also appreciate how this training can be contextualized appropriately to ensure we are sensitive to the historical abuse of indigenous children in residential schools. This trauma healing process is very useful for acknowledging God and equipping the saints to serve cross-culturally.”
“Everything seemed to be going against me to attend this training session. But God shoved me out the door to come. When I picked up the lesson manuals, I was so comfortable with the format and content, I became aware of my weaknesses and I learned how the scriptures answered questions that I was dealing with.”
“The exercise of taking our pain to the cross was an opportunity to tell others about the abuse I experienced as a child and how God restored my life. It was the first time I shared this with others and it was very healing for me to share my current struggles with negative beliefs I am still moving through.”
“Having this framework that is rooted in the HOPE we have in the living Word will be of tremendous value in my life and ministry. I am not someone who is comfortable leading groups, but the dynamic simplicity of the ‘healing group’ is something I am eager to take back to my community on the reserve and to encourage fellow believers there.”
In doing this training as participant and facilitator, I personally realized how important the restoration of hope was for the journey of healing from trauma.
Hope in God grows beauty from the ashes of trauma’s fire.
I was challenged to be more patient with others as they go through natural stages of anger, denial, and losing hope before coming to a place of new reality or beginnings. I was deeply comforted by the realization that God is always present with us no matter what stage of the healing journey we are in. Once we realize the power of His presence, He can more fully become our hope and refuge during times of trouble (Psalm 46).
This training event was also a reminder of how important World Renew’s integrated and holistic approach is for our programs, such that “faith” and “food and water” are nurtured in disaster response and community development strategies. Without food and water for the body, we cannot move forward. Without faith and hope for the soul, we cannot move forward. Join me in praying that each of us discovers today the depth of hope we have in the “overcoming” power of God’s presence and seek every way to share this with others. Pray also for the valiant firefighters and all those who are on the front lines helping others who are vulnerable and traumatized.