John and Pauline
Problem advice by email
John and Pauline live in the south midlands area of UK. For some years they have applied their skills learned in recovery support, to give email advice to inquirers from a low-key evangelistic site which addresses felt needs and life problems. Their gifts are vital in helping hurting people. Many outreach websites need support advisors like them.
It was through a drugs tragedy that the Lord called us into the ministry of supporting vulnerable people. We first became involved with Shekinah Mission, a Plymouth City Mission project for the homeless, lonely and addicted, and also with Prison Fellowship. We were trained to listen to people with crushing burdens of pain, to victims of alcohol, abuse and other horrors, without judging them or telling them what to do. Five years later we visited our son in Sydney, who introduced us to the Internet. On our return home, we heard of SOON Ministries through a friend and joined SOON’s email team as a way of continuing our caring ministry in future years when, perhaps, we may not be as mobile as we are today.
We do not claim to be genuine ‘counsellors’, just Christians who have been trained to listen to people. We rejoice to find that listening skills are highly transferable to email, the key requirements being patience, gentleness, and a willingness to accept that they do not have all the answers, because, as the old counselling proverb points out, they never walk in another person’s moccasins and so can never fully understand that person’s pain.
Some of the work is very painful indeed. One of our first correspondents was a teenager in great distress, who had slashed her wrists. We replied at once, but received no reply. Another young adult had suffered horrendous abuse. She became a personal friend and her death (by natural causes) affected us greatly. Such tragedies are rare, but they do occur.
We are often conscious of divine guidance. A lady wrote to the SOON site about her involvement in witchcraft. Contrary to our normal practice, we quoted scripture in our initial reply, assuring her that the blood of Jesus cleanses believers from all sin. Although we did not know it, blood played such a central part in the evil rituals of her former life that this scripture overwhelmed her and the divine arrow went right home.
Our approach is not ‘in your face’ evangelism. We know that we must first listen to people’s pain without being fazed by strong language or horrific stories. When they have gained someone’s confidence, we may have opportunities for sharing the Good News. Thus the nurse, in her 50s, who wrote “I tried to kill myself on June 8th”, is now a believer (although she cannot yet cope with church). An abused teenager in an isolated former whaling station, wrote to say “Yes I would love to talk about trusting the Lord to help... that would be fantabulous...”. But we also had to help her overcome a desperate urge to harm herself, first waiting patiently until she could begin to control her inner turmoil and then writing several times a day to encourage her, sending her digital photos of England as rewards for not cutting herself!
Not surprisingly, we often receive a dozen or more emails a day. Some can be answered in a few lines, but others take much prayer and thought. So how do we cope with this part-time ministry? At times the honest answer is “with difficulty”. John spends many hours writing and Pauline supports him with prayer and counsel, being very tolerant of his neglect of household chores. Together we rejoice over all who seem to benefit from their ministry of non-judgemental listening, grieving over those who do not persevere in their search for peace, and giving praise for all whom the Lord brings to Himself via this ministry.