A few students from my Counseling Observations class, along with a couple of others from other counseling courses, loaded onto a 15-passenger van this past Thursday afternoon for our class "field trip." (There was something kind of fun about referring to our class trip as a field trip like we were all in second grade again.) Dr. Stuart Scott, the primary biblical counseling professor at Southern, took ten of us on a three-hour trip to our first stop, Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, Indiana. Faith has become widely known for their strong emphasis on biblical counseling and have an entire wing of their main building dedicated to this calling and practice. (You can see the website for Faith Biblical Counseling at http://www.fbcmlafayette.org/.) This rather large church holds to their conviction that counseling should begin with the church, and this desire is evident in the amount of pastors they have solely dedicated to the task. We were given an overview and brief tour of the church's facilities, complete with a stop at their resource library. The vast majority of books recommended for implementation in biblical counseling, as well as those we have read for our counseling classes, are in stock at Faith's bookstore/library, and you can visit their website to order books, pamphlets addressing specific issues, audio resources, etc. (I was sure to behave myself and only walked out with two books...though I wanted many more!) We were all very encouraged by Faith's mission in reaching out both church members and the surrounding community, and it was encouraging to see how passionate they are about creating a safe environment for biblical counseling at the church rather that only referring church members to the various therapists and psychologists our society has to offer.
After our tour of Faith Baptist Church's main building and community center, we then went over to a beautiful home where we spent the rest of our evening. Vision of Hope is a ministry that has been implemented and just opened its doors this past January. The ministry was birthed from a desire to see real change in the hearts of young people who are in seasons of real crisis, going beyond mere rehabilitation. Vision of Hope is not only a place for rehabilitation/intervention, but one wherein young women are given a picture of God's mercy and the ways in which they have been created in and for Him. Vision of Hope provides residential treatment at the home for young women ages 14-28 who struggle with unplanned pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, or self-harm. The girls stay for a minimum of six months and are assigned a mentor to walk alongside them while they are receiving intense help. The home that Faith has designed for this ministry is more than any of us were anticipating. While taking a tour of the beautiful house, the Vision of Hope director gave us some insight as to why the house was built and decorated as it is. The staff had a desire to create an atmosphere for the girls wherein they not only feel safe while receiving treatment, but also receive a picture of God's undeserved mercy. We have not earned nor deserve any of the rich blessings the Lord has provided, and this is the image the home is intended to portray to the girls. Rather than having an instititutional feel, the house is complete with classic furnishings, fireplaces in both sitting areas, and handmade quilts on each of the beds in the bedrooms. I was teared up when we entered the bedrooms (the ladies on my trip stayed in some of the vacant rooms for the night) and saw the quilts that women from Faith had taken the time to make. Each quilt was complete with a sweet message or Scripture reference in the corner, reminding the girls that there are always church members praying for them. The furniture in each of the bedrooms was also donated, and there is a personalized plaque in each room which gives the residents a message of hope from the families who desired to give so willingly for this cause. We had the opportunity to have breakfast on Friday morning with the five girls who are currently living at Vision of Hope. Although the home can hold up to twenty-four, there are only five at this time. One of the reasons, and a primary way in which we were asked to pray for Vision of Hope, is that there is a shortage of both staff and mentors to be able to minister to more girls. This bit of information was really unfortunate to hear since we could visibly see how powerful this ministry has already been in the few shorts months it has been in operation. However, we were still highly encouraged by the mission of Vision of Hope, and such a ministry demonstrates a clear picture of what church-based, biblical counseling can look like.
Upon leaving Vision of Hope, our group loaded back up into the white van and headed for Brown County (still in Indiana, and I still have no idea what the actual name of the town is). This is where Twelve Stones Ministries is located, a ministry Dr. Scott has mentioned on numerous occasions in our counseling classes. The executive director, Dr. Garrett Higbee, was trained many years ago in clinical psychology only to later have the Lord reveal to Him the true sufficiency of Christ and His Word. Dr. Higbee has always had a passion for family counseling, and this is the way in which the Lord has called him to minister. The vision for Twelve Stones was implemented approximately four years ago, and a spacious and cozy home was built for housing those individuals who would be coming for intervention. Twelve Stones ministers to individuals, married couples, and families, and they cover a wide spectrum of struggles and conditions. Dr. Higbee's experience in psychology is greatly utilized when dealing with those who are on medication or struggling with an apparent psychological condition. Twelve Stones operates under the conviction that "all people need to be reminded of God's love, His promises, and His holiness especially in times of crisis." His constant faithfulness is our only hope in the present and for the future. Individuals come to Twelve Stones for approximately three days, and they are required to bring an advocate with them, an individual who has been approved by his or her pastor. The advocate serves as the primary person holding the counselee accountable, and is also crucial in follow-up after the individual(s) has left Twelve Stones to return home. The staff have gone from thirty counseling cases in a year to now anticipating over one-hundred this year, and they are in the process of buying a new house to allow for even more space to house people coming for help. Not only was I personally encouraged once again by even the environment alone, but also by the way in which Dr. Higbee and his staff are bringing the reliability and hope of Scripture to life. In his own words, Dr. Higbee pointed out that Twelve Stones often receives the cases that local churches refuse: they don't understand the crisis, or want to refer outside of the church, and simply throw their hands up at being too overwhelmed by a particular situation. These are the people that come to Twelve Stones, and so many of those are referred by others who have either heard of Twelve Stones or know the program and the staff personally. The staff continually communicate that they are not in operation to take away from local church fellowship, but rather walk alongside the local church ministering to these sensitive individuals and their issues.
While the chances of having such facilities for counseling at average local churches are slim, there is still so much encouragement and insight to be taken away from visiting such passionate ministries. I was deeply encouraged, particularly at Twelve Stones, not only by how the staff truly desires transformation in the lives of their counselees, but how others see the long-term impact of such an outreach. Both Twelve Stones and Vision of Hope are only housed as they are because of the generous contributions from grants and donors. This is truly remarkable and shows that people see how effective these ministries are, and how needed they are in the Church's mission to a lost and fallen world. We read so much in class about the practice of biblical counseling, learning about the overall goal and philosophy of ministering in this particular way, but to see it lived out in such ways was overwhelming.