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They Are In Our Midst

Allie Hayes and Nate Wagner



HELPING THE CHILD
Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler in Josh McDowell's Handbook on Counseling Youth offer an intentional approach to helping those who've been through this type of traumatic experience.

1. Listen. Be slow to speak and quick to listen.
2. Empathize. Don't lecture, but rather be someone the child can cry with, hurt with, and mourn with. Offer love unconditionally.
3. Affirm. Help the child understand that you believe him or her, and affirm that the child is an individual with infinite worth.
4. Direct. Point the child to God as the source of healing and wholeness. Help the child turn the responsibility of the abuse from him- or herself onto the perpetrator and to realize this process of healing and recovery will take time.
5. Enlist. Allow the child to choose caring people who can encourage and offer a fuller support system. In most states, you must also enlist the involvement of law enforcement and social services. Rather than fearing these people's involvement, understand that they're trained professionals who, for the most part, care deeply about children.
6. Refer. Bring a professional Christian counselor into the situation. It's imperative to invite professionals into this very sensitive situation.

MINISTRY TO THE FAMILY
Too often our response is simply to pretend sexual abuse doesn't exist and to never deal with it, forcing those who are wounded by abuse to continue to struggle on their own, and never finding the hope Christ wants to offer them. Instead, your church can help the children and families who've gone through such a traumatic experience.

An abused child and his or her family need others to come alongside them to provide support and encouragement as they begin the difficult journey of dealing with the abuse and learning to trust again. Abuse shatters trust. If the children who've been abused and their families don't find help and hope in the church, where will they find it?

In his book Caring for Sexually Abused Children, R. Timothy Kearney identifies a number of struggles families and the church must deal with.

• Communication-Church members' gossip about the situation can be very painful for the family, so encourage the church to interact with the family and faithfully pray for them while not taking sides.

• Isolation-Some families isolate themselves because sometimes those trying to help may have the tendency to overcompensate and treat the family as special or different. The family needs to be treated as normally as possible while receiving whatever attention is needed.

• Shame-Help the child and family deal with feelings of shame and guilt by first identifying the difference between true guilt and false guilt. A victim and his or her family have no reason to feel guilty. The true guilt should be placed solely on the shoulders of the perpetrator. Help the family to understand that the child did nothing wrong.

• Love-It's critically important that children and families affected by abuse have people who are willing to take the time to listen intently to their story as they feel able to share it. These families need to be believed without skepticism or judgment. They need people who'll lovingly pursue them and initiate contact with them, recognizing that simply offering to be available may not be enough.


*Patience-The help offered will need to endure, just as the pain and struggles do. Abuse has physical and emotional consequences that can be tremendously devastating and traumatic for the child. These can be lifelong and include things such as sexually transmitted diseases, damage to the genitals, bladder control problems, issues of guilt and shame, feelings of low self-esteem, lack of ability to trust others, depression, anxiety, and anger. Families need people who'll be patient as they work through the physical and spiritual ramifications. Ultimately, they need the church to be real and to become educated about how to properly reach out and effectively care for them.

The horror of child sexual abuse is far too real for so many children in our churches, but thankfully the reality of our God, who loves and cares about us, gives the strength we need to face the truth and provide real help and healing for those who've been hurt. We must do all we can to make our ministries as safe as possible, and be alert and ready to help those who've been wounded -- they are in our midst.

Allie Hayes is a freelance writer and is involved in children's ministries. Nate Wagner is a pastor of student ministries at Sparta Baptist Church in Sparta, Michigan.

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