TO ALL BODIES OF ELDERS
After the recent Kingdom Ministry School, the Society received many expressions of appreciation from you brothers for the fine instruction presented. Indeed, not only did the school remind us of the privilege we have as elders but it provided us with practical direction on how to care properly for our many responsibilities.
As elders, you certainly have much to do keeping your families spiritually strong, studying and preparing for meetings, caring for judicial matters, working at assemblies and conventions. Some of you willingly expend yourselves in building and maintaining Kingdom Halls and even in doing construction work at Bethel or on branch projects. And all of this is in addition to your taking the lead in the field ministry.
Your work in shepherding God's people is also very much needed and deeply appreciated. (1 Pet. 5:1-3) We often receive reports of your hard work in giving spiritual encouragement and personal attention to the needs of individual members of the congregation, some of whom are experiencing very serious problems. This is true of many who have been victims of child abuse. They also need our loving understanding and help. Many of these, even after learning the truth, continue to suffer emotional scars and must cope with unhappy memories. The Kingdom Ministry School drew attention to some of the things that the Bible and the Society's publications show that you, as spiritual shepherds, can do to help such victims. We would like to review some of these points and others with you. We also hope to answer various questions that you have asked about meeting the needs of such victims of child abuse, particularly those sexually abused.
HELPING VICTIMS OF CHILD ABUSE
One way you can show sincere interest is by being a good listener. James counseled: "Every man must be swift about hearing; slow about speaking." (Jas. 1:19) Further, Proverbs 21:13 says: "As for anyone stopping up his ear from the complaining cry of the lowly one, he himself also will call and not be answered." So as patient spiritual counselors, listen carefully when a victim's problem is being discussed. The October 1, 1983, issue of The Watchtower} on page 28, cautions against telling a sufferer who seeks assistance "just to forget" what occurred. Many have found great relief simply in talking with a sympathetic, nonjudgmental elder who can provide "the good word" of encouragement. (Prov. 12:25) Though you may need to ask tactful questions to help the victim express matters, avoid probing unnecessarily or repeatedly into the details of the abuse, which can have a discouraging effect.
Many victims of abuse have learned to handle their emotional scars quite well, which is commendable. If the victim is leading a calm and peaceful life, then there is no need to dredge up memories that have been handled and put in the past. Others can be helped to put this problem to rest. On the other hand, there are still others, as described at Psalm 55 : 17, who 'cannot but show concern and moan' over their turmoil. In such cases, it may be very difficult for them to heal completely. Still, we want to help such ones feel that there is hope. By reasoning on the Scriptures and strengthening the victim with words of consolation and encouragement, elders may be able to help such troubled ones put the bad experiences behind them. - Job 16:5; 1 Pet. 5:12.
BALANCING YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES
Just as good judgment is needed in selecting brothers to serve on a judicial committee, depending on what is involved, so, too, it would be wise to select among yourselves those best fitted to assist certain abuse victims. Since elders have varied abilities, some may be more effective than others in handling these cases. -Compare 1 Corinthians 12:4.
WHAT ABOUT PROFESSIONAL THERAPY?
Some medical professionals and therapists offer group therapy to those suffering from the effects of child abuse. While participating in group therapy by a professional therapist is a personal decision, there could be problems of revealing confidential facts about other members of the Christian congregation during such therapy if a Christian does not exercise discretion. (See July 8, 1982, issue of Awake!, page 8.) Thus, elders can give cautions to their brothers and sisters, such as those outlined in the October 15, 1988, issue of The Watchtower, page 29, under the subheading "Talk Therapies." They can be helped to see that talking indiscriminately to others about child abuse may result in circulating damaging and harmful talk. - Prov. 17:9.
It must be recognized that elders as such are not mental-health professionals or therapists but are spiritual shepherds. (1 Pet. 5:2) Consequently, they should not conduct sessions where victims have come together for what some may view as group therapy. N or should elders spend time reading secular publications dealing with worldly psychology or psychiatry. They should not take on a role similar to that of a professional therapist. Someone who has a serious mental or emotional illness may need professional help.
If a current case of child abuse comes to light in your congregation, elders should do what they can to protect children from further abuse. (See “Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock” page 93.) How might this be accomplished? In the Addendum presented at the Kingdom Ministry School, direction was given that when elders receive reports of physical or sexual abuse of a child, they should contact the Society immediately for legal advice. Thereafter, if it is established that a member of the congregation is guilty of sexually abusing a child, a judicial committee would meet with this one, following theocratic procedures. If the person is not repentant over the gross sin, disfellowshipping action would be warranted. Additionally, elders can encourage parents to review the January 22, 1985, issue of Awake! which provides suggestions on what they can do to protect their children from sexual abuse by anyone, inside or outside the family .-See also Awake! issues of June 22, 1982, and December 22, 1986.
Hopefully, the above direction will assist you brothers lovingly to help victims of abuse, as well as others in the congregation who face different problems. May Jehovah's rich blessing continue to be with you in carrying out your many responsibilities as shepherds of the flock. With this letter we send our warm Christian love and best wishes.
p.s. The presiding overseer should arrange to read this letter to
the body of elders. Thereafter, the secretary should place it in the
congregation file. In the future if elders are called upon to assist
a victim of child abuse, this letter should be reviewed by them.
By earnest prayer and by considering upbuilding, wholesome things, the excelling peace of God will guard the heart and mental powers of these ones. (Phil. 4:6-9) Remind them of the value of keeping their mind on maintaining fine works. When followed, this divine counsel can be most beneficial, enabling them to move forward and find joy. (Titus 3:8) When an individual fills his mind with the many lovable things in God's Word, he is strengthened and refreshed. (Ps. 19:7, 8, 14) Not only can this lessen the pain of any past abuse but it can also restore one's spiritual health.
In some instances, emotional pains of this nature simply have to be endured. Yet, such endurance produces "an ap- proved condition." (Rom. 5:3-5) As "the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort," Jehovah promises to give us sufficient strength so that we are not overwhelmed by grief. (2 Cor. 1:3, 4) The apostle Paul contended with "a thorn in the flesh." Although this made it harder for him to carry out his ministry, he was able to endure faithfully with the strength provided by Jehovah. (2 Cor. 12:7-10) Today, too, a depressed person needs to keep as active as he can with field service, meeting attendance, and close association with the congregation.