The trauma of refugees

posted in: Tony Thompson 1

In Luton, as in many parts of the UK, we are seeing an influx of refugees fleeing persecution and conflict. Even before we receive people fleeing the war in Ukraine, there are over 1,000 refugees in Luton, living in hostels and hotels waiting for resettlement. All having their own stories of trauma. Many of us are regulalarly coming into contact with them and seeking to befriend and support. Recently I came across a very helpful guide,  giving practical information on how we can best support those who have experienced trauma. Some of it is copied below, the full document can be found at –


Normal Reactions to Trauma

Each person responds to trauma differently. It can help people to know that their reactions are normal, that reactions will often vary from day to day, and that they will go away with time. These are some normal reactions when people are overwhelmed by a traumatic experience:

  • Physical: People may find that their heart pounds and they breathe quickly. They may have headaches and stomachaches. They may have trouble sleeping or have no appetite. They may feel shaky or exhausted.
  • Mental: They may be confused and unable to concentrate or to make good decisions.
  • Emotional: They may be anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed. They may blame themselves for what happened. They may be irritable, angry or violent. They may feel numb.
  • Behavioural: They may want to be alone. They may try to avoid how they are feeling by using drugs or alcohol, working non-stop, overeating, and so forth. They may do things that, in the end, will bring them harm, like smoking, spending more than they can afford, engaging in illicit sex, and so on. They may have accidents.

Following traumatic experiences, people must grieve their losses in order to heal. Grieving is a process with ups and downs that often takes a long time.

Children’s Reactions to Trauma

Children may have unique ways of dealing with trauma and are often unable to express their feelings in words. These are some of the ways they may be affected:

  • Emotional: They may become fearful, angry and aggressive, or sad. They may lose interest in life or school. They may feel that they are somehow responsible for what happened. Older children may feel guilty that they survived when others did not.
  • Physical: Their speech may be affected. They may lose their appetite. They may complain about headaches, stomachaches, or other aches. They could have hives or asthma.
  • Behaviour: They may regress and start sucking their thumbs or wetting the bed again. They may have nightmares or bad dreams. They may cry a lot. They may be deeply upset if they lose something that matters to them, like a stuffed animal. They may do poorly in school because they cannot concentrate. Older children may struggle with using drugs or alcohol or engage in risky behavior. They may be more susceptible to self-harm.

Things that will Help Recovery

  • Finding aspects of their situation they can influence or control.
  • Connecting with available resources to begin to rebuild their lives and self-confidence.
  • Taking care of their body by eating well, exercising, and getting as much sleep as their body needs to recover.
  • Re-establishing routines and setting small goals that they can accomplish.
  • Expressing their pain. They should talk to someone who is a good listener. Write or draw about what happened and share it with someone.
  • Telling God how they are feeling, either in prayer or by writing it in a letter or lament (read Psalm 13 as an example).
  • Singing or listening to soothing music.
  • Laughing when they can. Crying as needed.
  • Spending time with people who are positive and helpful.
  • Asking for help and accepting the help others offer.
  • Learning to calm themselves with a breathing exercise.
  • When people are willing, praying aloud with and for them.

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 NIV

Things that will Slow Recovery

  • Making big decisions.
  • Being very busy.
  • Drinking alcohol or drinks with too much caffeine.
  • Taking drugs to sleep.
  • Talking in public about their experience before they have had time to recover.
  • Listening to many others retell their traumas.

Telling Their Story

After a disaster, people need an opportunity to tell someone what happened to them. Telling their story is a very important part of recovery. It allows people to process what they have experienced and begin to deal with it emotionally. After people talk about the facts of their story, and their thoughts about it, also invite them to talk about their emotional experience.

If possible, meet with people individually or in a small group. If you are listening to two or more people together, encourage them to share their story but not to dwell too much on the most difficult parts, as that may traumatize the others. Things to remember:

  • Keep information confidential
  • Listen in a caring manner
  • Do not criticize or give them quick solutions
  • Do not minimize their pain by comparing it with your own pain.

These are questions that can be used to guide your listening:

  1. What happened?
  2. How did you feel?
  3. What was the hardest part?

Use these additional questions, if appropriate, to help them recognize any good things that have come from the situation:

  1. Who helped you?
  2. Were you able to help others?
  3. What gave you strength to get through?
  4. Did you see God in this situation? Explain.

If the person is not able to talk about their experience, ask them to draw a picture and then try to discuss it. Expressing feelings through art can be especially helpful for children who haven’t yet developed the ability to talk through their feelings and reactions.

Writing a lament or a letter to God expressing their feelings can be very healing. The important thing is to encourage them to be honest with God about their feelings. God is strong enough to handle honesty. With time, encourage them to remember God’s faithfulness, even in these trying circumstances.

People should be calm before they leave. Doing breathing exercises individually or in a group can help them relax before they go.

Caring for Caregivers

Caregivers have often experienced their own trauma, and can be further affected by hearing about the experiences and feelings of others. After listening sessions, someone should listen to the facilitators themselves so they can express how they were affected by what they heard and saw. This can be done individually or in a small group. Praying together for trauma victims is helpful to assist the caregivers in releasing the pain and responsibility to God, and to invite God’s power to bring victims the help they need.

Caregivers, too, can benefit greatly from drawing or writing about their feelings.


The relationship between Christ and His church.

posted in: Tony Thompson 0

I have been reflecting recently about the love that Christ has for the church and its implications.

We are told that for the joy set before him Christ endured the cross, scorning its shame. Hebrews 12v2.

In the book of Revelation, we are told what that joy was.

Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready. 19v7

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 20v2

The church, Christ’s bride, is his joy, his delight, his passion, his motivation.

This is something we need to hear and reflect on. We may also love the church, but we can become discouraged by her faults and apparent weakness. We can work hard in the church and see a marginalised and messed up community. Yet she is Christ’s bride, and he will vindicate her.

I am told that Martin Luther told the story of a king (representing Jesus) marrying a poor girl—in fact, a prostitute (representing us). And at their wedding day, she says to him: “All that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you!” And so, she shares with him all her debts and shame. And the king says, “And all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you.” And with those words, he is hers: she becomes a queen, and all his kingdom is hers.

What a powerful picture of the relationship between Christ and his bride.

There are some implications from this.

We shouldn’t separate ourselves the church or be unconcerned about the church. It has been easy to do so after many months of not meeting together. Other things take the place of gathering with God’s bride. We get out of the habit. Let us all decide to re-engage with Christ’s love and passion, his church.

Second, which is especially relevant for leaders within the church, like I me. If the church is Christ’s beloved bride, we must treat her with great respect. It’s so tempting to want the church to look at us, to admire us, to depend on us. But think what that is! Richard Sibbes said, “Many make love to the spouse of Christ.” Trying to get the bride to admire you is flirting with the bride of Christ. True friends do not behave that way. No, if we’re friends of Christ, we point the church to her husband. Isn’t that telling, trying to get the bride to admire you is flirting with the bride of Christ. I find that stops me dead in my tracks. May I never flirt with Christ’s bride.

Then thirdly, if we love Christ we will share his concerns, especially being the champion of his bride.




Being slapped on the right cheek.

posted in: Bible 1

On Sunday I challenged everyone to ask God to open their eyes to understand the Scriptures better. I prayed the prayer myself. I am embarrassed to confess that I was surprised when God answered my prayer!

I have read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7) many, many times. Included in the sermon is the verse “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Matthew 5v39.

What I hadn’t paid any attention too before is that Jesus specifically mentioned right cheek, what is so special about being slapped on the right cheek? I realised if I were going to slap someone, I would normally use my right hand and hit the other person on the left cheek. To slap someone on the right cheek, I would either need to use my left hand or use the back of my right hand.

I know enough to understand that in ancient cultures and some current contexts, where toilet paper is not available, what the left hand is used for! Using the back of the hand to slap someone is equally insulting. Therefore, to slap someone either with the left hand or the back of the right hand is a very great insult. It is to dismiss them as dirt, to treat them with distain, to take away their dignity and treat them as an inferior. It is significantly different then just being slapped.

The next step in my eyes being opened was to recognised that I had never metaphorically been slapped on my right cheek. I have no recollection of being treated with distain, never had to handle being regularly treated as if I were dirt and an inferior, never had my dignity consistently undermined. I realised that I am the privileged one, a tall, white, well-educated male. I am more likely to slap others on the right cheek than to be slapped!

However, many of my friends have had to live with that experience historically and even currently. They experience things I have not. I need to recognise that, and admit that. People experience being slapped on the right cheek for many different reasons, it can be because of their ethnicity, gender, social class, education or for other reasons.

What Jesus says to these people is to turn the other cheek. Doing so is to seek to be dignified, to declare I am equally human. It is saying I should be treated not with contempt but honour. It removes the power to humiliate. It is a refusal to acknowledge that I am inferior. The alternative to offering the other cheek is the expected response, to cower in submission. It is a refusal to hang your head in shame.

The application for me of this instruction from Jesus is therefore to never strike anyone on the right cheek and to encourage and support those who are slapped on the right cheek. To encourage and support them to respond with dignity. Not what I had ever seen before. Thankyou Jesus for opening my eyes to the truth that is in your word.


More reflections on American Evangelicalism from Tim Keller.

posted in: Tony Thompson 1

In my previous blog I quoted Keller on distinctives within American Evangelical churches. In this blog I want share other insights from the same article, this time on why he believes the American Evangelical church is in decline.

My first blog.

The original Keller article.

He identifies six distinct reasons.

  1. The American church only reaches out to traditionally minded Americans, people who believe in a personal God, an afterlife, and moral absolutes. The church is unwilling or unable to reach the highly secular and culturally different who are becoming the majority in the US.
  2. Many leaders within the churches have been found to be guilty of spiritual and sexual abuse. Lack of accountability has led to high profile leader and church meltdowns. Sexual misconduct against women has been widespread.
  3. Linking themselves with one political party and one presidential candidate has alienated them to the 50% of the population with other political affiliations. Those alienated are mostly younger and multi-ethnic.
  4. There is a race problem. In the past the churches supported slavery, were silent during segregation and largely rejected the civil rights movement and were slow in integrating schools and Universities. Now structural injustices and systemic racism are denied despite such concepts being biblical.
  5. There is an anti-intellectual strand within the churches which means they are ill-equipped to reach the growing number of college-educated people. The inability to see the difference between biblical beliefs and American culture is largely due to a lack of scholarship.
  6. There is no healthy model for relating to secular culture. The only options on the table are to re-establish Christendom through government action or to withdraw from the public arena and just build up church.

These are helpful, honest, and fascinating insights from within the American church by an experienced and highly respected leader. We need to reflect on our own situation and seek to avoid these pitfalls ourselves. I think many in the British church are seeking to do this, which is encouraging.

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