Trauma changes people. It is like an open wound that never quite heals. And that wound can remain exposed, even festering, across generations. Trauma experts now talk about multiple levels of trauma, including institutional trauma, historical trauma and global trauma.
In the fast-paced world in which we live, where the news cycle moves quickly, people’s trauma can be treated as sound bites with little acknowledgement of the ongoing relentless impact upon them. The ‘before’ no longer exists. The trauma emotionally and psychologically stamps people in a similar way to how the Jews of the Holocaust were physically branded. This brand most often can be invisible to others – but is rarely invisible to those impacted.
Trauma experts now talk about multiple levels of trauma, including institutional trauma, historical trauma and global trauma.
People at the frontline of Australia’s bushfires earlier this year are still dealing with day-to-day physical loss. Houses not replaced. Charred blocks not cleared. They are also living with deep seated trauma. Children who have not spoken a word since day turned to night, and the terrifying sounds of an unstoppable force wreaked havoc in their formerly safe community. Survivors tormented by the sight and sound of severely injured animals and ravaged national parks.
The racial equality movement speaks to both historic and current trauma experienced by people who have been ostracised, ridiculed, jailed, abused, disadvantaged simply for the colour of their skin.
Those who have suffered child sexual abuse; have lived in an unrelenting war zone; those currently at the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic are all likely to carry trauma deep in their souls.
US theologian, Shelly Rambo, who has spent more than a decade studying the theology of trauma, writes: “Trauma is what does not go away. It persists in symptoms that live on in the body, in the intrusive fragments of memories that return. It persists in symptoms that live on in communities, in the layers of past violence that constitute present ways of relating. It persists in the symptoms that fuel present wars … the storm is always present.” (Spirit and Trauma, A Theology of Remaining)
There is no magic wand that takes away trauma.
There is no magic wand that takes away trauma. It is not about trying to excise the wound within a person’s psyche. However, the Bible offers some words of deep wisdom, lament and hope that can speak into people’s trauma.
Several of Bible Society’s overseas partners are offering programs designed to support people who have significant trauma. With help, communities who have suffered trauma – caused by natural disaster; war; genocide; institutional abuse as just some examples – can start to find new ways of being, while still carrying their wound.
The American Bible Society has researched and written a resource, available in Australia as Beyond Trauma: A Practical Guide for Spiritual First Aid. The booklet provides some helpful tips for self-care along with nourishing words from God’s word. However, the very title of the book acknowledges that people who survive trauma can find solace but the wounds are still deep.
Many communities are experiencing significant trauma as a result of the broken, hurting world in which we live. The work of Bible Societies in offering trauma support, practical help and, in some cases, significant Trauma Healing programs, is paramount to the repair of stressed communities.
Bible Society Australia is holding a special appeal to help fund these life renewing programs. For example, the civilian population of Syria has been living on a knife edge for almost one decade. The Syria Bible Society was forced to close its office in Aleppo for the first time during this period of civil war (even when gunfire could be heard around them) – because of an invisible enemy that has shut down the world.
George leads the Syrian Bible Society and writes: “Personally I think our Trauma Healing Programs might have done more to break down the walls and open new doors than anything else we have ever tried to do. Suddenly we have allowed our hearts to link up with others and we have realised that our heartbeats are very similar to those of others.”
Note what George says about the ‘before’ and never being able to return to it: “Are things going back to normal? Maybe the only thing that is normal is the way we are trying to keep our ‘home-life’ the way it was during those good old years. But when we look at one another, we realise that so much has changed. You cannot blame people for being negative, as nobody was prepared for the tremendous changes that each Syrian’s been going through.”
“Suddenly we have allowed our hearts to link up with others and we have realised that our heartbeats are very similar to those of others.” – George, Bible Society Syria
More recently, thousands of people in the Pacific Islands had their lives turned upside down when Tropical Cyclone Harold swept through the region in April. A different kind of trauma, but it still leaves the same kind of inner wound.
Imagine what it must be like to live through a category five cyclone. The unrelenting noise and power of the storm as it lays waste to everything in its path. Homes, schools, medical clinics, crops, water and power, obliterated. Friends and family killed or injured. Precious belongings, vital supplies, favourite toys treated without respect or mercy by a weather event that has no feeling. And in its wake, a sodden, smelly, tattered mess and broken hearts and lives.
In Vanuatu’s Sanma Province, about 90 per cent of the population lost their homes. Bible Society’s Healing the Wounds of Trauma (HWT) project in the Pacific will introduce traumatised families to a resource which already has proved to be helpful for people in the Pacific.
Church and local leaders trained in the delivery of HWT are running sessions within local communities. These sessions are culturally relevant and delivered by people familiar to participants, while also creating connections with local churches where people can connect for further spiritual growth and guidance.
The project aims to reach 6,000 people across Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Tonga, with the focus on people affected by Cyclone Harold, as well as other vulnerable groups impacted by trauma.
As Christians, we claim the words so powerfully expressed in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Through prayer, we can find God’s peace. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)
How can we help those traumatised through events outside their control? Through prayers (“… in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6) and financial support to Trauma Healing programs around the world.