(All names in this blog have been changed. The stories are true.)
After years of working with children who’ve been orphaned and abandoned, if you’re not careful, you can sometimes become immune to the nightmarish history so many children have. It’s not that one stops caring; emotionally shutting down is just a survival mechanism. Week after week, it’s hard to listen to the horrific stories, see the physical bruises and broken bones, and walk with children as the emotional wounds come to the surface.
I was recently going through an extended period, where I felt my emotional scar tissue was getting a little too thick. It scared me. We had gone through a long stretch of receiving children into our home from increasingly horrible situations. Every few days, new kids were arriving. We would see and hear about the situation a child or sibling group was coming out of as they were brought into our care. A person can only emotionally handle hearing about so much pain. I could sense the hardening of my emotions but wasn’t sure what to do about it.
About a week ago, I was walking through HomeDepot, picking up a few items when I received a simple text from our team. “Two new boys, 11 and 12, horrible backgrounds.” I knew without any more details than that, precisely what was going on. Standing in the doorknob aisle, in the middle of Home Depot, I kind of lost it. The tears started to form, I caught my breath, and just stood there sucking in air and trying to pull myself together. I’m glad I was wearing a mask; I’m pretty sure doorknobs usually don’t elicit such an emotional reaction. Yes, the location wasn’t ideal, but it was good to feel those emotions again and realize I hadn’t gone entirely numb to others’ pain.
When I got back to the orphanage, I heard the details of the events that occurred when the new brothers arrived. I had a very “proud parent” moment. Two of our teens, Pedro, age 17, and Jose, 18, both brought to us as toddlers, were in the office when the new boys arrived. As Miguel, who heads our team, told them about the new boys coming in, they responded with a strong “We got this!” and headed out the door.
Pedro and Jose went and found the two new terrified young brothers. Although the new brothers had landed in a good place, they didn’t know this. They couldn’t know this. All they knew was they were dealt a lousy hand in life, and now what little they had was gone. My boys went and assured them they landed well, that our home was a “pretty cool place,” and that they would be fine. It’s one thing for an adult to say these things. It caries a lot more weight when it comes from teens who’ve “been there.” These two teens had taken on the ministry; they were helping the transition of the next kids coming in.
In a few hours, I went from hurting deeply for our two new boys to extreme pride in our two older boys. Sometimes, this is the cycle of ministry. When dealing with life-changing events in people’s lives, emotional reactions can swing to extremes.
Ideally, the ministry is always being passed onto the next generation. We bring in the hurting and broken and walk alongside them as God rebuilds them. Once they’ve come out the other side, they have an empathy and understanding that no one else can. They’ve “been there.” Our Christian walk is much the same; we show up broken and afraid. God brings us in and begins to heal our many wounds. I’m sure God feels deep joy when we each grow from being the wounded to the one ministering to others.
If you’re in ministry and it feels like you’ve lost the passion, empathy, and heart for what you do, please remember why you’re in ministry. Ministry is hard, and people are messy. Much of the time, it will feel like you’re not making a difference. The emotional scars build-up, the calluses become hardened, there will be days when you’re just going through the motions. Hang on, look for those small victories. Embrace those “proud parent” moments. The orphan will graduate from college, the addict will get off the drugs. Marriage counseling will save a couple. Hang on to those moments. They will soften you and allow you to move forward. Allow the calluses over your emotions to peal away. It’s worth it.
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