Time for a Christian listening ministry
Tim Harding introduces a new, multi-denominational Christian listening ministry, due to launch in May
A prisoner tortured by his memory of abusing a much loved young nephew; a young student regularly self-harming to punish herself for being sexually abused by her father; a teenager overcome with self-loathing as he experiences his first love for another boy; an ex-soldier who feels he has committed the unforgiveable and plans his own suicide; a young woman so despairing of ever being a good mother that she is in the process of taking her own life.
All these people have at least two things in common: First, they exemplify the kind of callers who contact the Samaritans’ help line every day; secondly, as most Christians would understand, there is opportunity to overcome their despair through an encounter with the living God in the person of the risen Jesus, who died for them and loves them unconditionally as they are.
Samaritans is a hugely impressive organisation. It is run almost entirely by volunteers, now numbering over 20,000 and organised in over 200 local branches. Volunteers answer over 300,000 telephone calls every month and respond to over 25,000 emails. The demand seems inexhaustible. Samaritans is not a counselling service but a listening service, which offers people a safe place where they can explore their own feelings without being judged and where they can be helped to make their own decisions without advice or direction. The listening volunteers are people from all walks of life, who are well trained by the charity to listen attentively and compassionately, whilst steering clear of opinion, advice or self-disclosure. Despite its Christian origins, the organisation today is professedly secular: Volunteers are trained not to express any religious views or connections.
For many callers – perhaps the vast majority – this is just what they are seeking when they contact Samaritans. However, there are some who still retain an ember of faith and are seeking some Christian consolation and prayer support; some who want to cry out to God in misery or indignation at the unfairness of it all; some who fear or have experienced rejection by their church for their sexual orientation, their life choices or their past failings, but who retain some memory of a God who loves them unconditionally. Is there not a case for such callers to have the option, at least, of calling an openly Christian listening service?
That is not to suggest that a listening service, even an openly Christian one, can or should be used as a happy hunting ground for fervent evangelists. Callers are often highly vulnerable people, who are seeking comfort and compassion, not conversion. It would be entirely inappropriate to suggest to a despairing caller that, to resolve their problems, all they need do is turn their life over to Jesus. Callers call a listening service to be listened to, not preached at. Nor should Christians keep looking over their shoulders at God when they turn to their fellow human beings: The Samaritan helps without dragging in religious reasons; the need of the man fallen among thieves is sufficient for him.
Wary of these potential pitfalls, a multi-denominational group of Christians has recently committed to develop a new Christian helpline: one that wears its Christian uniform lightly, that doesn’t judge, discriminate or instruct, that doesn’t evangelise or present the good news from any particular denominational stand-point; a listening and prayer ministry, whose sole aim is to show God’s love for His people in imitation of Jesus; a ministry, which calls people to Jesus, not by preaching at them but by reflecting and representing His unconditional love for them, and doing so in his name; a ministry that enables callers to see beyond their own suffering to the cross of Jesus himself, that enables them to make sense of their suffering, even to use it.
The name of this new helpline is ‘New Kapporet’. In the Old Testament, the golden cover of the Ark of the Covenant was called Kapporet, the ‘Seat of Mercy’. It provided a holy space in the Holy of Holies, where God would listen to His people. New Kapporet will offer a new space, a space for the 21st century, where all people will be invited to approach God, in the person of His son, Jesus Christ, to tell Him of their pain and suffering and to ask for his help.
New Kapporet has registered with the Charity Commission and aims to launch in May 2020. We will offer ‘Listening in the presence of Jesus,’ and we promise: ‘No judgement, no preaching, no direction or instruction; Just the love and compassion of Jesus for you, as you are.’
The online training of listening volunteers is well underway. The listeners come from every denomination - Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Evangelicals, Baptists and Methodists, the Salvation Army and those with no denomination at all – just a profound love for the Lord. They come from all walks of life and with all kinds of life experiences. There are seven training modules, covering all aspects of Christian listening, including how to listen effectively, how to respond to emotional distress and despair, how to safeguard children and vulnerable adults, and how to handle the most difficult and sensitive calls. In each module, great emphasis is given to how the listener might create space for the caller to encounter Jesus in their particular situation.
The listening volunteers will work from home and ring into a virtual call centre, when on shift, to access calls. However, they will always feel strongly supported and cared for. Experienced leaders will be on call throughout each shift, praying with listeners at the beginning of a shift to prepare them to receive calls, offering support whenever needed and creating opportunity for the listener to pray and de-brief at the end of the shift, to ensure that difficult calls are let go.
Is it coincidence that we will be ready to launch the new helpline in May this year? We think not. In September 2019, when we began this journey, we simply could not have imagined that, by the time we were ready to launch, we would be in the grip of the Coronavirus pandemic, and that so many people would need someone to listen to them and pray with them. There are so many things we could not have imagined. That is why we believe, with all humility, that the Lord is in this work. Every problem we have encountered, every challenge we have faced, has disappeared almost as soon as it has emerged. Of course, we are still worried about whether we will have enough listeners, whether we will be able to cover the cost of the new Freephone number, whether we will ever feel skilled enough, prayerful enough, even Christian enough to do this work well. But we trust in Him and, so far, that trust has been richly rewarded.
If you are interested in becoming a listening volunteer, a prayer partner or just want to support this new listening and prayer ministry, visit www.newkapporet.org or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tim Harding is the director of New Kapporet