Helping young people to know God’s love even when life gets tough!
By Colin Cochrane
(From the April - June 2017 issue of VOX.)
What do you say to a young person who is addicted to pornography? What do you do if a young person talks about ending their own life? How do you respond when you discover that a member of your youth group is harming themselves? How can you support a young person when their family is changing?
If you are engaged in any way with young people in a church, youth organisations or in your family or neighbourhood, then these are questions you may well find yourself asking.
Young people in Ireland are dealing with a wide range of difficult issues and circumstances. For example, of the 835,000 young people on the island of Ireland, one in five will suffer mental ill health. As the church, we are called to come alongside young people and show them God’s love.
Often we find that we don’t know what to do. We are scared of saying the wrong thing or getting in out of our depth. But if the Christians around young people when they are struggling don’t talk to them, avoid the issue, or worse, avoid them altogether, what does that tell them about how God sees them? Maybe they will think, “He doesn’t care about this part of my life. I’m too messy for God. He isn’t interested in helping.”
We know God’s heart is for young people, but if we don’t show them God’s compassion, how will they know that He sees them, understands them, loves them and can help?
The Big House is a non-denominational Christian charity that exists to help young people know God’s love as they encounter Jesus and are cared for by the church, especially when life is difficult.
One of the ways we do this is through providing high-quality, accessible training for youth leaders and volunteers. In Ireland, we are blessed to have Christians with professional expertise, willing to share their knowledge for the Kingdom. They can help us better understand the issues young people are facing, their causes and how they impact their lives. We also have individuals who can provide valuable insight into the young person’s perspective as they share their stories of struggling as teenagers and their experience of God during those times.
In our training, we take time for biblical reflection, looking at how our Christian faith should shape our pastoral response. Above all, we want to give youth leaders practical advice and tools, equipping them to care well for the young people around them. Part of this involves learning what isn’t the youth leaders’ role, and when and where to get further help and support.
Training isn’t the only way that The Big House seeks to help young people and equip the church. Our name comes from our vision of a place where young people can come for camps or weekends away, a place steeped in prayer where they encounter God’s love through His presence and experience His care through His people. This vision isn’t just for the residential centre we hope to have one day; it is for all of our churches and youth groups to become places like this for young people when they are finding life difficult.
We don’t have a place of our own yet. But we do run camps and weekends in other venues. We know from our experience and from that of countless youth leaders that residential camps can be powerful and life-transforming. They may also be times when young people choose to share things they are struggling with and seek God’s help.
We also know that one-off “mountain top” experiences can fade and fail to make a lasting change unless they are part of a regular youth programme or church community. We want our camps to support the week-in-week-out youth work of our churches, and we encourage youth leaders to come away with their young people. Our camps are filled with great craic and fun activities, but they are also places to be honest about our struggles and explore what God has to say to us in them.
We are currently fundraising to provide a counselling service for young people. Counselling can be a very effective way of helping people deal with a wide range of issues, but it can also be hard to access. The Big House previously ran a counselling service in Belfast for two years. During that time, we met with almost 50 young people as they worked through issues including abuse, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, stress, eating disorders, bullying, bereavement, and more. We want to begin providing this service again as soon as possible, and we would love to be able to offer it in other locations in future.
We support youth groups by visiting them and delivering interactive programmes about difficult issues, giving them biblical ways of thinking and practical ways to cope well when things are hard. We provide support for individual youth leaders as well, supporting them as they journey with young people in their group.
At present, our camps, counselling and youth group visits are based in Northern Ireland, but we would love to provide all of these services throughout Ireland. We want to develop and deliver more resources online, too. There is no shortage of demand for what we do, but to do more we will need a lot of help! If you would be interested in supporting The Big House financially, through praying for us or volunteering, please get in touch with us.
To find out more about The Big House, please visit our website: www.thebighouse.org.uk, or follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram at “bighouseireland”. Or get in touch with us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone our office in Belfast on 048 9066 4300.
Colin is the Support and Communications Officer for The Big House (because Swiss Army Knife apparently isn’t a job title). After leaving engineering, Colin was involved in a range of Christian youth ministries. He enjoys using a computer to help The Big House with everything from web design to payroll.