Claudia was the first victim of trafficking I had ever walked alongside. For most of our early encounters, she wailed out her anguish in unintelligible Spanish. The grief, the loss, the flashbacks, the nightmares, and the constant anxiety controlled her life. Everything had been stolen from her.
Week after week, we met in a small storage room at a local church that had donated space for us. A pencil drawing of Jesus hung above the chair where Claudia wept inconsolably. Many times, I shared the gospel with her and assured her of God’s love for her. She would nod and point to the picture of Jesus and fold into the fetal position weeping. I wept, too. Garnering support from local churches to help her set up a household, we loved her in every practical way we could. She improved. She began to use new skills to minimize her symptoms and feel more in control of her life.
A year later, we sat in my counseling office. I mentioned there was something important I wanted to share with her, but interrupting me, she said, “Wait, are you about to tell me the way to God?” I surprisingly nodded. “I have been waiting for you to tell me this!” she said emphatically. Then she listened. She listened like she had never listened before. Jumping from her chair, she said, “Yes! I want this!” So, we clasped hands tightly, bowed heads, bent knees, and Claudia prayed to her new Savior. We wept tears of joy as we fell into a heap, hugging and celebrating the new life she was receiving from Jesus.
I learned a valuable lesson that day: trauma can prevent people from hearing the gospel.
But, trauma also creates a ripe mission field where real, practical, unmistakable love can be a tool for harvest. How do we enter this place? To serve here, we need to steady ourselves while hindrances slowly fall from tormented minds, bodies, and spirits. We must minister patiently with great hope.
I see the cumulative impact of severe trauma upon human life every day and can only imagine the grief the Father feels. The god of this world is destroying human life in so many ways. It’s atrocious and tragic. Christians are needed in this space. Conquering the enemy is our destiny (Rev.12:11), and God tells us to overcome evil with love (Rom. 12).
So how do we lead the traumatized gently, patiently, and wholeheartedly so that they are not alone and ultimately flourish despite their trauma? Here are four ways the church can support post-traumatic growth:
1. Communicate well: How we minister to traumatized people matters. When we understand the impact of trauma upon human life, we can begin a new way of communicating with the traumatized. Education is important in the ministry realm. We need to know people. Being savvy in trauma-sensitive practices of choice, trust, collaboration, empowerment, and safety renews our communication and opens the way for conversations that restore dignity and the power of choice to survivors. Good communication paves the way for the gospel to take root in the hearts of victims and for them to freely choose Christ.
Trauma is an experience that steals power and choice; it can shape development, hinder physical, mental, and relational health, and hinder decision-making abilities. Trauma impacts the entire person—body, mind, and spirit—and can keep its victims trapped in unhealthy cycles, unsafe relationships, fear, anxiety, depression, shame, or addiction in attempts to alleviate emotional pain and suffering. Uninformed, impatient, forceful, or intolerant speech can mimic abusers and reinforce shame and the lies deeply planted into the hearts of traumatized people, short-circuiting posttraumatic growth.
2. Be a companion: Get involved, deeply involved, in the rebuilding process of a life. At my church, I am regularly tapped on the shoulder by women who have been seeking God and safe human connection after decades of sexual abuse by parents or family members. Even childhood victims of trafficking (being sold for sex by a parent, guardian, or another as a child), now grown up, have blended into the crowd and come desperately seeking relief from their pain. I know they are in your church, too, and they need us.
In my experience as a counselor, so many victims want to believe that there is a God who loves them. But abuse creates lies that break down relationships; lies about worth, purpose, and potential, that hinder healthy human connection. While salvation and regeneration of the person happen in an instant, deeply entrenched false beliefs created by abuse take time, patience, and truth to root out. Christians are beautifully positioned to be present, build trust, and model faithfulness in relationships, creating a safe space for victims to explore God’s redeeming love, find his peace, and discover his purpose for their lives.
3. Offer practical care: Help trauma survivors create stability in their lives. Help them identify needs, and offer practical help. Help them know that they are not alone. The traumatized need our tender, loving care; Good-Samaritan-kind of care, care that shows up and costs us something. They need an investment by us, proof that they are worth it. Not toxic charity, but sacrificial love for our neighbor; love that help loosens bounds in the aftermath of trauma and propels them toward growth.
4. Commit to prayer: Without prayer and guidance from the Holy Spirit, we divert like a car out of alignment pointing toward the ditch. Our heart of compassion, our tolerance for the painful places, our wisdom for support, and godly loving counsel will flow from a life of prayer. Victims need you to pray faithfully for the healing of their hearts, minds, and bodies. Prayer also keeps us patient and loving and believing God for posttraumatic healing.
Recently I met Claudia for dinner. “La libertad es increíble,” she shouted above the noisy restaurant. In English, this means “Liberty is incredible!” Her words took my breath. We wept tears of joy and melted into one another’s arms, grateful for Jesus and in awe of the intentional intersection of our lives. Claudia has grown beyond the trauma of seven years ago and now lives in freedom in Christ. She’s now married, and her husband and daughter have since put their faith in Jesus. With perseverance, practical help, lots of love, and big, praying faith, we got to be involved in this miracle of God’s transforming love.