Frankly, it's about time. It’s no coincidence Christian media has been increasingly marked by headlines like "Suicide, Mental Illness, and the Church," “1 in 3 Protestant Churchgoers Personally Affected by Suicide,” and "With Rising Teen Suicides, the Church Cannot Afford Mixed Messages on Mental Health." Mainstream awareness has been gaining traction on a national level for a while now. But since my annual wellness check last month, I've been nearly overwhelmed, noticing how much action is taking place at the local community level. All around us—all of a sudden, it seems—there are resources and partnerships taking form and function, specifically working to address the topic of mental health in Brookings, South Dakota. And that is a blessing.
God laid the burden on my heart to start confronting this reality in my own life about two years ago. Now I see others doing the same, right here at home. With every step forward, the Lord is showing me answers to prayers I didn’t even know how to pray yet. We are not alone; the Lord of the harvest is bringing the workers.
As I was preparing to embark on the project last month, I learned that earlier this year, a Mental Health Task Force was appointed in collaboration with the City of Brookings, Brookings County, and the Brookings School District. According to the city website,
The purpose of the Task Force on Mental Illness is to complete a comprehensive needs assessment, create a roadmap of services currently available to the mentally ill, and to propose improvements to the current services available to people with mental health issues in our community.
Early last week, while working on my referral directory project for my Pastoral Counseling class, I checked back to see what the Mental Health Task Force has been up to. Lo and behold, I found the brand-new Brookings Area Mental Health Guide available for download. Right as I was asked to develop such a directory for personal use, here’s a full listing of all our local counselors and services, including details about each provider's areas of specialty. And oh, how I laughed... delighting in the Lord who provides!
So, also last week, I began reaching out to area providers, inviting input about leading an effective care group within our church community. And that's when I discovered the Brookings Empowerment Project—a collaboration of local organizations committed to mental health awareness, support, and education here in Brookings.
The Brookings Empowerment Project strives to empower caregivers and individuals with persistent mental illness by providing them with resources and support. Empower them while they traverse the highly fragmented and poorly resourced mental health care system in our community. Empower them to re-integrate themselves back into our community when their time is right. Empower them to not suffer or experience the stigma of mental illness.
BEP has a vision to collaborate in three key areas: community education, crisis management, and transitional housing. Within days of signing up for the organization’s email newsletter, I received word about BEP’s vision to provide a transitional living home to support individual re-entry into the community… and I could just cry again. This is a glaring gap in our local resources—an area of need that’s been pulling my heart to pieces for years now. And now there’s a group planning to fill that gap.
Brookings Empowerment Project has had a dream since it was created. That dream is the creation of housing for individuals coming out of in-patient care back into community in Brookings. We have a plan, we have identified a property with potential, now we need funding. We are asking for your support to raise the $25,000 necessary for us to take the first step in building our dream. This dream involves renting a building for 1 year and putting in place the necessary support agreements with mental health service providers to make it work. This project will not move forward without raising $25,000 first. We target signing a one year lease April of 2018. Help us "Build the Dream."
This is how churches can partner with outside resources. Many of our “outside” resources are led by dedicated Christian men and women. Part of our role as effective ministers of the Word, as Peter and gang show us early in the story of church life (Acts 6:1-7), is to identify areas where members of the community can step up to serve the community. We can’t all be an ear or an eye; legs are made to do leg work.
The Church is not a service provider. Yet churches often get sidetracked into attempting to duplicate services already available elsewhere in their communities. Knowing our available resources—getting to know the people involved, building relationships with those people, and functioning with them as a part of the whole—is vital to effectively caring for people in the way only the Church can. And when we say the Church has a role to carry out, that doesn’t mean only church leaders are responsible for the work of the Church. Scripture pictures the Church as a body made up of many members with different purposes (Romans 12:4-8), each member serving with the gift he or she is given (I Peter 4:10). We're all a part of this, Church.
The whole New Testament speaks to believers working cooperatively in order to focus on doing what the Church does. I think of Jesus’ ask for His disciples: “My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Jesus wants us right where we’re at because that’s where God put us. The Lord doesn’t envision us doing “silo church.” We’re to work with what we’ve got, right here in the middle of the tension--right in the middle of the and.
And in that, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples” (John 13:35). Looking at opportunities to partner with local resources and be an effective presence for mental health ministry in the world—for the ministry of caring, period—we disciples are positioned to do the very same. It’s not about being all things to all people, but about doing the part we’ve been given.
It's a start. We’re in this together... and it's really starting to feel that way now.