The notifications came like a tsunami to my cell phone:
“Active shooter situation in San Bernardino”
“Unknown number wounded and killed.”
My first reaction: “Not again. I’m weary of this, I’m discouraged. How long will it be until this happens in my neighborhood . . . again?”
This weekend, in the context of the church, I will be debriefing with our gathered youth the events of the last week. In former days this would have happened rarely and only following an event I subjectively measured as “big.” Or, it might have happened if one of our youth brought it up as a prayer request or if the national news was covering it for consecutive days. It might have been perceived as an “option” but not likely a necessity.
I propose we are in a season where debriefing is now a necessity. With the frequency of terrorist acts and mass shootings now a regular occurrence – more than five have happened in the last two weeks alone – and how social media creates incessant communication, it is important for us as youth leaders to recognize that the trauma of these many episodes no longer lies below the surface for our youth and children. The smiles on the faces of our youth may be hiding anxiety they are feeling. And it is important for us, as leaders, to be honest with our youth in age appropriate ways when we are the ones feeling anxious.
Join me this Sunday or the next time you meet with your youth to reflect and talk as a “family.”
Here is a simple game plan you could adapt in your debrief time to fit your own context:
- Begin with prayer. Ask God to make His presence and peace known.
- Read a scripture of lament and/or hope together. Psalm 62 and Psalm 25 are two of many possibilities.
- Quickly review the facts. It is possible there are youth unfamiliar with the circumstances. Remember, do not make assumptions or guess about details you do not know. Simply speak to the facts that are known so far.
- Briefly share your own reflections, fears or questions. Model for them what you are about to ask them to do.
- Open the floor for youth and other leaders to share their reflections, fears or questions. Continue this until you feel all have had a chance to speak. No one must speak, but everyone should feel they have the opportunity. This could be done in a larger group or you could break into smaller groups according to age level. When they ask questions, and you don't know the answer, be honest about that, and, again, do not guess the answer.
- Summarize what you have heard. Offer a few words taking your group back to the hope we have in God.
- Point youth toward helpful resources – places they can find more information, if they want it, places they can be educated on some of the components of the event, and, most importantly, invite youth and leaders to seek out trustworthy others with whom to talk more about this if need be, including other leaders in the church, counselors, or parents. Remind them your group is a safe place.
- Close with prayer.
Make this plan your own. What other ideas would you add? What's worked well for your groups in the past?