Writing helps Irma survivors confront trauma

A devotional-writing workshop — part of a three-day retreat hosted by Upper Room Ministries in hurricane-demolished St. Martin — helped participants express their trauma in dealing with disaster, and opened up the possibility of future workshops.

Participants were encourage to write about feelings and reactions and even create poetry during the “Peace, Be Still: Finding God’s Peace After Trauma” retreat held Nov. 30-Dec, 2, 2017.

The retreat was attended by 50 to 60 clergy and lay leaders — mostly members of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas affected by Hurricane Irma. Their writings were read aloud by attendees as one way of sharing their experiences in and after the destruction caused by Irma.

Hearing the stories from the gathering of people who survived the storm was especially personal for the Rev. Stephane Brooks, a native of St. Martin who for the last five years has served as International Spiritual Director of Emmaus Ministries.

“We were invited by the clergy leaders on the island,” Brooks said. “We helped empower (retreat attendees) to deal with the spiritual dimension of trauma. We used (the writing) as a way to help them dive deep down into their experiences.”

The Rev. Stephen Bryant, publisher at Upper Room Ministries, speaks during a devotional-writing workshop in St. Martin. The workshop was part of a three-day retreat hosted by the agency, Nov. 30-Dec, 2, 2017, that encouraged people to process their trauma from Hurricane Irma’s devastation. Photo courtesy of Upper Room Ministries.

The Rev. Stephen Bryant, publisher at Upper Room Ministries, speaks during a devotional-writing workshop in St. Martin. The workshop was part of a three-day retreat hosted by the agency, Nov. 30-Dec, 2, 2017, that encouraged people to process their trauma from Hurricane Irma’s devastation. Photo courtesy of Upper Room Ministries.

 

The Rev. Stephen Bryant, publisher at Upper Room Ministries, said the Upper Room team of spiritual responders went at the perfect time — about three months after the Sept. 6 storm and after immediate needs had been tended to by other groups.  

“They had gotten beyond how to survive,” he explained, “but we tried to help them learn how to persevere.”

Bryant said one of the things this retreat attempted was to encourage the attendees to “stop clinging with your anger.”

The retreat was broken into three distinct days of different topics designed to help participants heal and then take those healing lessons home to help others.

The first part was “Be Still.”

“It was just a matter of stopping and helping people put a pause on the anxiousness of recovery. God meets us in the stillness,” Bryant said.

The second part was to encourage participants to “speak your truth, the truth of your story. These were horrifying stories,” he added.

Buildings that were demolished when Hurricane Irma struck the island of St. Martin stand as a testament to the damage caused by the storm. The Upper Room sponsored a three-day retreat that included a devotional-writing workshop to help people process their experiences. Photo courtesy of Upper Room Ministries.

Buildings that were demolished when Hurricane Irma struck the island of St. Martin stand as a testament to the damage caused by the storm. The Upper Room sponsored a three-day retreat that included a devotional-writing workshop to help people process their experiences. Photo courtesy of Upper Room Ministries.

 

“Heal your spirit” was the third theme of the gathering. “If you’ve gotten to dysfunction, what will get you back? It was a call for taking that next step, a time for personal reflection on how to move forward.”

In the midst of all that were writing exercises that shared their faith stories.

“Be still. Get in touch with the experience and giving voice to it,” Bryant said, adding that sharing was “very new and different and very empowering,” allowing those at the retreat to realize “we’re all in this together.”

Brooks said the retreat showed that “people are ready to be in touch with God, where God is leading them.”

Bryant said the Upper Room would like to offer a full one-day devotional writing retreat on St. Martin “to get people to write their faith stories.” He also hopes to take the “Be Still” lessons of brotherhood and faith to the people of Dominica, which was lashed by Hurricane Maria during last year’s particularly violent storm season.

“Our hope is that wherever we go in, that this creates a partnership with a group of people to carry forward the ministry … We will continue to offer to make ourselves available.”

Ghianni is a Nashville area freelance writer and an adjunct journalism teacher at Lipscomb University. News media contact: Vicki Brown, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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