I do not believe you can actually “give” someone else hope, but you can help them find hope. There must be some level of hope in them and you are helping restore it. If you personally are running low on hope, consider the following ideas.
This is written in hopes that I may learn the answer myself. You may remember in the post on Hope, Kay’s brother took his own life. We did not know he had lost hope but if we had known then how could we have helped Brian? That has haunted me for twenty years.
I also need the answer for volunteer work in which I’m involved. Court Appointed Special Advocate, CASA, works with children who have been placed in State custody because of abuse or abandonment. Most of these children are placed with foster parents and sometimes with relatives. Some of the older children are placed in State custody because they broke the law. These children are often placed in private institutions with lock down facilities. The State has an advocate, an attorney, and the parents sometimes have an attorney who is an advocate for them. Many juvinile court systems, including Tennessee, believe the child should also have an advocate, CASA.
If relatives are an option for the children, then we find out from the child their preference and why. If a foster home is the best option, then we monitor the child in that home. Discussions with the child are about how things are going wherever they are placed, proper behavior, doing their best in school, etc. We also assure they receive social services that are needed such as counseling.
Many times, one or both parents have a drug problem, alcohol dependency and have been in jail or prison. These children have watched mom’s and dad’s life style, so sometimes they tend to walk in their footprints. CASA volunteers are not mentors but at times act in that capacity. In one hundred percent of the cases, the children need HOPE for a brighter future. Very few have a relationship with God or have had any spiritual guidance. When asked if they believe in God the typical answer is “Yea, I guess so!” Although most CASA volunteers if not all of us are believers, we are not to be evangelists. It’s acceptable to let the children know we pray for them, but not to carry it further. I tell my children at every meeting that I’m praying for them and ask if they have any request. They just stare at me. God has very little meaning for them. I’m struggling with helping these children find hope.
One case is very difficult for me. When I first met JD, he was 17 and one of three brothers I was trying to help. He was housed in a lock down facility about one hundred miles from Bedford County. He came into the first meeting in shackles because he had run away so many times. JD was about to be released to foster parents who also housed his brothers. Six months later he ran away. He wound up in Rutherford County in a drug deal gone bad. One man was killed and another one wounded. JD was arrested in January of 2018 with charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder and three other felony charges. He’s now been bound over to adult court. JD is claiming self-defense, but it seems no one is buying it including is former attorney. The district attorney is not seeking the death penalty, but his attorney informed me that he believes JD is “looking at many decades in prison”. The visitation at the jail is at a kiosk through a computer screen and the typical phone receiver. Written communication is limited to a page or two and copied to a computer screen for him to read. Any contact is very impersonal. His parents either can’t visit him because of their own prior convictions or choose not to visit. JD has some emotional issues. He’s attempted suicide twice that I’m aware of and has had to fight off inmates on two different occasions that wanted have sex with him.
You may be asking why I’m trying to help a murderer find hope and that’s not an unfair question. Years ago, there would not have been any effort on my part. I believe JD must deal with the legal system and take his punishment! He’s still a child of God and deserves an opportunity to have hope for the future days in prison and hope of salvation. He tells me he’s attending a Bible class every Monday, so I hope he’s finding direction there. Matthew 25:31-46 lays out Jesus’s return to earth and judging our works. One of the works listed in verse 36 is “visiting those in prison”. Some people believe that it only refers to visiting Christians imprisoned because they are Christians. I cannot reconcile that it refers to only Christians.
How do I help a 19-year-old possibly facing 50 years in prison or the child uncertain where his or her future with their parents find hope for daily life? The following are thoughts are from Christian writers.
From the ministerial point of view, Rick Warren believes that being in a small group of Christians is vital to helping others find hope. The prayers of a small group can achieve success with the following characteristics:
- Compassion from others who are not too preoccupied with their own problems.
- Faith- In Luke 5:20 a paralytic man’s friends took him up on the roof and let him down so Jesus could heal him. It was the faith of the friends that helped heal him.
- Willingness to intervene otherwise nothing may take place.
- Persistence to not give-up
- Innovative in a willingness to try different methods
- Cooperation with those who are helping
- Sacrificing one’s time, money or whatever to make the process work.
It seems this method can be helpful but the person struggling must be a willing active participant by allowing people into their lives. Some people will be willing to share with another individual but not in a group setting.
Dr. Larry Crabb and Dr. Dan B. Allender (I’ll refer to them as the Doctors) are Christians with PhD’s in Psychology. Their book, Hope When You’re Hurting, looks at psychological, medical and spiritual methods of addressing help. The docs say that when we struggle with life, we ask four basic questions:
- What’s wrong?
- Who can help?
- What will the helper do?
- What can I hope for if I do seek help?
“When we hurt, we ask these questions. And we insist that someone be able to answer them. How we answer those four questions determines what we do and where we go to find help when we hurt.”
The Doctors believe that, “We’re not nearly so bothered by the size of the problem as we are by it’s degree of mystery. It’s not knowing what’s wrong that arouses the worst terror. Mystery scares us because it puts us out of control and leaves us with an option we don’t naturally like---- to trust someone besides ourselves.”
The Doctors suggest six different explanations to what’s wrong:
- Spiritual warfare – The cause is demonic
- Dysfunctional background - The cause is psychological
- Personal sin – The cause is moral
- Biomedical disorder – The cause is medical
- Undisciplined living - The cause is weakness
- Deficient spirituality – The cause is distance from God
The book goes in deep detail about each of these causes. Some of their analysis is too deep for me and there is not enough room to write about it all. If you would like to borrow the book, let me know.
The doctors suggest four resources that may be useful:
- The individual – Responsibility for change falls largely on the individual’s shoulders
- Natural community – Support from family, friends, and ministers/elders might help
- God – The individual must tap into God’s sufficient power. He is all the individual needs.
- Professional help – Trained professionals may be necessary
They remind us that the way the individual answers the first question determines who we depend on for help.
As I researched helping people find hope, I was though there would be a much simpler answer. The following is what I took away from talks with others and reading.
A Christian man who is involved in prison ministry fulltime encouraged me to let JD know that I’m praying for him. He also believes the more people that write him the more encouraged he will be and hope can grow. An ex-inmate who attends Riverdale Church of Christ in Murfreesboro meets with inmates on a regular basis. Larry advises that JD must take it on his own shoulders for keeping hope. Praying for him and contact with him will help.
With the limited contact CASA volunteers have with the children, letting them know you are praying for them and offering encouragement seem to be the best course of action. Helping them make plans for a brighter future creates hope. They need to know someone cares about them! The power of prayer is not in the person praying but the power is in the one listening, God.
The Bedford County CASA received eight new appointments for families last month but I’m not sure how many children that includes. There aren’t enough volunteers! If you think you might have an interest in helping children through CASA, let me know. You do not have to be professionally trained, just have a heart for children. CASA staff will give you all the training initially and then hands on experience and God’s guidance will take over.