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Lutheran Disaster Response

Healing Amidst Turmoil


Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.” 
Psalm 30:2 

Caring for the Caretakers

For decades, the Middle East has been a region of tumult. Civil wars, political instability, and an increased number of refugees and displaced peoples have impacted millionsIn countries like Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, the majority of the population has been affected by some kind of strife. The collective trauma of the region was a sign to the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), an ecumenical partner of the ELCA, that there was a need for help.  

Leaders in the MECC saw how the turmoil in the Middle East negatively affected the emotional wellbeing of people across the region. In 2018, the Theological and Ecumenical Department of the MECC began a Trauma Healing and Spiritual Counseling program to address the mental health issues in communities throughout multiple countries. A few months after the program began, Lutheran Disaster Response began supporting its development. 

However, healing as a community begins with individualsAs one of the participants statedWe need to be healed at a personal level. Without the [program] I would have run away from the problem.”To address personal emotional and spiritual health, the program had three main objectives: provide psychological, moral, and spiritual healing to participants, provide training to identify strategies and coping mechanisms to respond to trauma, and build a network among ministers and laypeople from different contexts to share their experiences with each otherBecause clergy are often in the position of counseling and supporting those who have experienced trauma yet have no one to turn to in dealing with their own mental health, developing techniques to manage their personal trauma was an important first step in helping entire faith communities heal. 

Addressing Trauma

Since 2018, the ongoing Trauma Healing and Spiritual Counseling program has held multiple workshops throughout the Middle East, originally targeting ordained ministers and later expanding to include laypeopleAs faith leaders, they were able to develop their mindsets to better serve their communities. When asked about the workshop, faith leader said it was new experience, as if I was in a spiritual exercise. I felt that it was important to build myself for the sake of my internal peace. I learned how to transfer the information to the others and how to make decisions without hesitation.  

Workshops last five to six days and have group sessions that include an Introduction to Stress Symptoms and Traumas, Emotional Maturity, Emotional Support, Spiritual Accompaniment, Art and Music Therapy, and Physical Activity. Later iterations included one-on-one sessions to work through personal anxieties. 

The array of sessions took varied approaches to address different aspects of trauma, how to work through them and how to build resilience. “I started to better hear what is going on inside me, to think of others, especially my children. I started to feel my ability to confront. I learned to absorb anger,” said one participant. “The sessions – the personal and group sessions – helped to empty myself and to listen well. 

During post-workshop evaluations, many participants voiced similar reactions. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive as faith leaders expressed a new understanding of the trauma they experienced and how to navigate it: “I learned not to exert too much on oneself and to elevate my self-esteem. I learned to take the initiative towards others, but with continuous self-care,” expressed another participant.

Not only does this counseling program support faith leaders that have experienced trauma, but it also gives them the skills they need to go back and assist their communitiesParticipants were invited to follow-up Training of Trainers workshops to help them engage with those who might come to them for guidanceAccording to Father Gaby Hachem, director of the Theological and Ecumenical Department, many groups are still in contact with one another and have participated in follow-up virtual programs.  

Adapting to New Challenges

With each new workshop, the program evolved. Participants expanded beyond rostered ministers to nuns and laypeople. The first workshops were in Iraq and later ones were in Syria and Egypt. Then, COVID-19 hit, and travel and in-person gatherings were out of the question. While new workshops were postponed, the team continued online follow-up with past participants. The previously planned sessions will continue once travel is viable again, says Hachem. 

In the midst of the pandemic, tragedy struck again in LebanonOn August 4th, a set of explosions in the port of Beirut damaged the city for miles and killed 190 people. It shook the city to the core. “The Trauma Healing and Spiritual Counseling team could not but think of all these people and what could be done to help them,” Hachem said after the explosion. “Many MECC contacts who know about the program are calling for the demand to help in this aspect.” 

A new program is being developed by the team, targeting youth in Beirut. The goals of these workshops are to help participants understand the disaster and accepting the resulting trauma and the impacts of losing loved ones and property. A group of psychotherapists, pastors, and nuns have already been recruited to guide and support participants. Additionally, the youth will receive training on how to accompany their peers on their healing journeys.  

“Our participation was meant by God”

As turbulence continues in the Middle East, the transformative value of the Trauma Healing and Spiritual Counseling program is clear. As one participant stated, “Before the workshop, I was nervous; I used to shout without listening. The workshop gave me a balance within myself. The emptiness and the worries inside me were removed. After the workshop I discovered that I could help [others].” 

As participants face their trauma and start to understand their emotions, they can begin a journey of resilienceThe experience allowed participants to reframe how they thought about daily problems and approach them from a different angle. I gained the audacity, courage and self-trust to speak about what we went through with our friends and people,” expressed a participantOur participation was meant by God.” With continuous self-care, faith leaders will be in a healthier mindset to continue their pastoral roles in helping their communities heal. By taking mental health seriously and building a network of support throughout the Middle East, the MECC is bringing God’s hope and renewal to communities throughout the region.  


Situation Report 3: COVID-19 Pandemic International Response


Be a part of the response:

Please pray for people who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Thanks to generous donations, Lutheran Disaster Response is able to respond quickly and effectively to disasters around the globe. Your gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response (General Fund) will be used where they are most needed.

To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook and follow @ELCALDR on Twitter.

Egypt: ELCA Missionaries Return

As the situation in Egypt begins to find some stability, members of the ELCA’s Global Mission office in conjunction with our companions have determined that things have calmed enough for missionary personnel to return to their work in Egypt. Over the next few weeks the six missionaries will return are:

  • Rev. Peter Johnson, Erin Odgers, seminary intern Paul Schick and his wife, Stephanie, who will return to their work at St Andrew’s Lutheran Church of Cairo and with the St. Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS).
  • Rev. Dr. Mark and Linda Nygard, who will return to their work at the Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Please keep them and their families in your prayers as they begin to find how God will continue to use them in this new reality.

To learn more:

Gifts to ELCA International Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.

Egypt Riots: ELCA Deployed Staff Safely Evacuated

Tensions continue to rise in Egypt following the public cry for Egyptian President Mubarak to resign and the subsequent unrest as the pro-Mubarak supporters clash with protestors. In response the US State Department has called for all US personnel to evacuate the country.

Amidst our prayers for a just and peaceful resolution to this troubled time in the life of the Egyptian people, we raise a call of thanksgiving that all ten of the ELCA deployed staff working in Egypt have safely been evacuated. There two-day long journey took them from Egypt to Istanbul and finally to St. Paul, Minnestota, where they are thankful to be safe but eagerly await the opportunity to return to their work and the ministry partners they left behind.

To learn more about the missionaries and their situation, read the ELCA Missionary Blog Hand in Hand.

St. Andrew’s United Church of Cairo Attacked

Our prayers and concerns for the situation in Egypt range from concern for our missionaries, our companions, colleagues, and friends. The ELCA has a long history of engagement in Cairo, sending mission personnel, supporting congregations and partnering in development work. St. Andrew’s Refugee Services has been a program that has received long support from World Hunger funds and deployed mission personnel, interns and volunteers from the ELCA. The center provides a safe haven, educational opportunities, legal assistance and a community to refugees living in Cairo from throughout Eastern Africa and the Middle East.

The location of St. Andrew’s Refugee Services is in the compound of the St. Andrew’s United Church of Cairo in the heart of Cairo. I am linking here a video produced by the congregational president of St. Andrew’s United Church of Cairo, Iain, of damage inflicted on the St. Andrew’s compound by looters:

The video dramatically shows how close the compound is to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the political demonstrations and conflicts in Cairo. The video is publicly available and can be used in a variety of ways to illustrate the insecurity faced by all in Egypt. Above all, this video brings to our minds the insecurity of the refugee population served by St. Andrew’s Refugee Services, as the services on which those communities depend have been disrupted by the violence and chaos that has engulfed Egypt for the past week.

We should be specific to note that this video does not in any way depict anti-Christian activity. The compound was not breached because it contains a church or a Christian ministry. The religious symbols of the church were not desecrated in any way.

Thanks, to all of you, for your continued prayers for those in Egypt.  ~Megan