Spiritual Direction Integral to Healing in a Modern Children’s Home

August 12, 2021
By Rev. Beth Tuuta, Chaplain
Louisiana Conference, The United Methodist Church

As a United Methodist clergyperson, I am a part of an itinerate system of pastoral leadership and am called to relocate throughout our Louisiana Conference, as needed and deemed appropriate. Even so, I never expected to return to my hometown of Ruston in any capacity, much less as a preacher, nor did I ever expect to become the preacher and pastor at the place we always called “the Children’s Home.” Yet here I am, using every God-given talent, every tool I’ve mastered, every experience I have had, and every ounce of faith, every single day offering the salve of the Holy Spirit to the physical and psychological trauma that our children have endured.
 
How can I begin to answer a child who has experienced the worst abuse you can imagine when he or she asks, “If there is a God, how could God have let these things happen to me?” And they do ask this exact question… over and over and over.
 
The answer is not a simple one, of course.  And the answer is better understood as it becomes a part of their journey during the short time we have with them. Layer upon layer of new opportunities to learn about and experience their God-given worth do make a difference. We do not just teach Christ’s message; we do all we can to show Christ’s love and acceptance in every moment of their time with us.
We do not just teach Christ’s message; we do all we can to show Christ’s love and acceptance in every moment of their time with us.
By Rev. Beth Tuuta

 
Much of the Children’s Home’s success in psychological therapeutic intervention and remedial education comes from meeting children where we find them.  We must truly know the child before we can help the child. We must assess their true needs physically, emotionally, educationally, socially, and of course, spiritually.
 
As soon as our children are oriented to their new temporary home, we work to learn their spiritual stories. Clearly, this is not the same as their “religious” story. “Going to church” is not the full picture of an individual’s spiritual life or their relationship with God.  Did they have a spiritual home life?  What is their prayer life?  Are they even open to the possibility of inviting God into their hearts?  The initial assessment is critical to meeting the child where we find him or her on his or her spiritual path. We then craft an individualized plan to support each child’s spiritual growth. We want to present them with tools and experiences of God that can give them a lifetime of help and hope.
 
We explore options, support their choices, and encourage them to begin or strengthen a prayer life.  In addition to traditional chapel services, we have seen very promising results in small groups meeting in a comfy “youth room”, outdoors in our prayer garden, or anywhere we can make a connection.  We share the Gospel, shaping God’s message to the child’s cognitive level, mindset, needs, and experiences. 
 
This is our challenge at our three children’s homes around the state of Louisiana:  Each year, we welcome hundreds of children to a safe place where they can be open to God’s love, begin to seek God’s love, and learn to recognize God’s love.
 
In my first few months at the Children’s Home in Ruston, we had a young man come to me who introduced himself as an atheist. I thanked him for coming to our worship service because they have a choice whether or not to attend. As I spoke with him, he shared with me that he used to believe in God. I asked what changed that. When he stated his reason, he began to crumble emotionally. Sobbing, he asked the question so many of them ask. He said he wanted to believe in God, but how could God allow the things that had happened to him. Over the next weeks, the young man was able to accept God’s Love and request to be baptized, giving his life to Christ. When he left our care, he requested to be plugged into a church where he was going. The beauty of the United Methodist itinerate and connectional system is that we have sister churches all over the world. We connected him with a church where he now attends Bible Study and worship. He will have a church home wherever he lands.
 
Even though we are a United Methodist ministry, there is no Methodist indoctrination at the Methodist Children’s Homes.  We support and help shape the children’s spiritual lives. But without the support of the faithful Methodist people, we could not continue to be the well-respected provider of behavioral health care in the state of Louisiana.  Rather than indoctrinating, we respect a child’s faith and encourage a path to spiritual maturity.  Never shy of our Christ-centered mission, we unashamedly guide children and families to experience God’s love by following the teachings of Christ.
 
 
The Methodist Children’s Home of Southeast Louisiana and Greater New Orleans is nearing completion and anticipates moving children in need and staff into the home in the fall of 2021. For information on the program, go to www.lumcfs.org
 

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