Photo of Maher*with Hidden Identity, trauma support trainer shares how he trained hundreds of volunteers in Syria and Iraq.
ISIS’ attacks on Christians in Iraq and Syria and the ongoing tensions in the Middle East have caused massive trauma among Christian believers there. One of the pillars of the work of Open Doors is Bible-based trauma care. Trauma support trainer Maher* shares how he trained hundreds of volunteers in Syria and Iraq. They are now helping Christians in their own towns and villages to process traumatic events and to move on with their lives without losing (the) faith.
At one point in the training, group members write or draw out their pain and then literally take their pain to the cross. That is what moves Maher the most when he is training Christians in basic trauma support skills in Syria and Iraq.
Even after training hundreds of volunteers in war-torn countries, this moment is precious to him every time. “We literally have a cross in the middle of the room,” he says. “It’s like a worship time. There are hammer and nails. They nail it to the cross and then we take it outside. We burn the papers with all the pain and then pray about it. It’s a symbolic process where God can intervene and heal the wounds, or at least where the healing process can begin.”
Maher is one of Open Doors’ trauma support staff who travels all over the Middle East to train and support Christians. Most of the time, he trains church volunteers to become basic trauma support caregivers themselves.
Healing the Wounds of Trauma
Maher is also a pastor of a local church in one of the countries in the Middle East. For him, trauma support and pastoral care are closely knit together. He shares about one of the training models that he uses—Healing the Wounds of Trauma—which was originally developed by the American Bible Society and is now used by Christian ministries all over the world.
This training model uses Bible texts and examples of Biblical persons to help traumatized Christians to see what’s happened to them in a different perspective. One of the Bible references used is Psalm 13: “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”
“We start the program with this Psalm, which is one of the great passages in Scripture where David is asking the harder questions,” Maher says. “Why, God, are you forgetting me? Where are you? Are you asleep?”
The overarching question of this first part of the trauma care course, is: ‘If God loves me, why am I going through this pain?’ By studying Psalm 13 and also the story of Jesus crying over Lazarus’ death and Peter disowning Jesus, the participants are encouraged to look at their own struggles through a Biblical perspective.
Maher shares how, during these sessions, the Bible is always open and people continuously discover new insights in Scripture that are relevant for their lives today. “Most people we work with are from traditional churches, the training program is usable in any denomination, such as Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Evangelicals.
During the days of the training, Maher sees people opening up. “There was a lady from Syria who had gone through a really tough time,” he says. “I could physically see the difference between the first and the last day of the training. The first day, she was very closed off and reserved because of the pain she was carrying. During the training I spent time with her and listened to her, and wow! She was a different person at the end of the training.”
For trauma counselors like Maher, these moments of personal pastoral care—often occurring during breaks between training sessions or during meals—can be particularly emotional and challenging. Especially when he goes home afterwards he feels this pressure since most of the times he works alone. “It’s not just the trainings we are impacted by, it’s those moments when people come to you in between the sessions.”
That is why Maher asks for prayer: “I really feel drained sometimes. Pray for us, me and my colleagues, to stay refreshed and to keep living close to God.”
Dear heavenly Father, thank you for your precious Word that is a lamp for our feet and a light unto our paths. We are filled with gratitude, for you will not abandon us nor hide your face from us. Even when our faith is shaken, you watch over us and keep us from the enemy. Together with our suffering brothers and sisters, we want to solely rely on your steadfast love. Our hearts rejoice in your salvation, and we praise you for you have been good to us. Amen.
Please continue to lift up your brothers and sisters in PRAYER, and you can GIVE to support them.