How a church in Orangeville, Ont., is using trauma training to equip their team to respond to people who suffer
How can Christians and our churches learn to respond holistically to the tangible, spiritual and neurological needs of people who suffer? Joel Zantingh, PRN coordinator for Canada, sat down with Michelle Pasmore, the Newcomer Settlement Team Leader for Compass Community Church in Orangeville, Ont., to explore how they were helping to equip their team.
How does a wife, mom and special education teacher become a catalyst for trauma awareness?
It began when Michelle Pasmore and her husband Ryan went to an information meeting to consider joining a Newcomer Settlement Team that was just launching at Compass Community Church in Orangeville, Ont.
“We had a pull on our hearts that we were to join this team,” she says, “even though neither of us had any formal mission experience.” Her experience working with kids led to starting as children's lead for the Newcomer team as well as work with her husband on the employment team.
Joining the newcomer team
Compass Church nicely articulates the rationale for its Newcomer Settlement Team – it exists to provide compassionate and hospitable settlement support for newcomers to Canada by giving practical help in ways (housing, education/children, medical /dental, shopping/groceries, English as a second language, transportation, employment, finances, technology, government correspondence) that empower them to live self-directed lives. The vision is that their congregation would embody the presence of Jesus to others and to serve Him by loving others as He has loved us; to participate in God's transformation of our community by demonstrating love and acceptance toward all people, who are created equally and beautifully in the image of God.
Michelle and Ryan Pasmore’s leadership developed quickly as they gleaned wisdom from the initial team leader and grasped the holistic framework of the various settlement services from the team.
But the trauma-friendly aspect of their leadership didn’t happen overnight.
The backstory to the Compass Newcomer ministry is a friendship with a woman who came to Canada from Eritrea as a refugee. Through her, friends at Compass church learned about others who needed sponsorship and support. After carefully weighing the decision to become sponsors, Compass submitted their first application of five private sponsorships.
Further sponsorships led them to the government BVOR program. For many churches, this is an additional step of faith because only basic information about the refugees is given. Michelle Pasmore remembers that moment.
God blessed us – I even get goosebumps now as I think about it – with a single mom and her son who was about 12 years old at the time. I had the privilege of being at the airport to greet them, where immediately I had this intense feeling of love as she had her son walked through the door that I have never had for any other stranger. It was absolutely amazing. And they have become a grand part of our community”.
Today, Compass has walked with 22 newcomer families and individuals, which continues to be a vital aspect of their public witness in Orangeville and the surrounding county. Many in the community are grateful for the church’s essential service to welcoming newcomers.
Compass is currently in process with some more sponsorships, including some extended family members of this single mom, to respond to her unique need for more familial support from additional family members.
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it." (1 Corinthians 12:26)
Needs for trauma training
Michelle Pasmore and the team realized the complex needs of the newcomers called for the team to strengthen their awareness of the mental health impacts on individuals and families who have escaped very difficult circumstance. She helped connect the team with Brenton Diaz, after seeing a post online about his work with people in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where there is ongoing complex conflict that involves both Ethiopians and Eritreans.
It became clear to us that we were coming up against cultural differences in how mental health issues were understood. We didn't know exactly the best way to offer support, or how to interpret quietness about past traumas. We certainly did not want to wrongly assume it was disinterest.
Diaz agreed to provide a workshop, which was held last year. The session was not only for the Settlement Team but also invited newcomers themselves and church leadership. With a translator, Diaz was able to share the basics of what mental health is and the how the newcomers might be able to identify mental health concerns, as well as point to resources for people providing support for them.
Brenton Diaz’ desire is to equip churches to respond to people who suffer. “Trauma leaves an imprint in our lives, long after the fact,” he says.
The PRN resource available for churches is the result of his cooperation. It can help any church become more trauma-friendly, in the course of sharing the good news with their neighbours, whether newcomers or not.
Meet Arleen Gomez
Diaz has also inspired trauma-informed approaches in others too. Arleen Gomez, who serves as the care management supervisor of Bridges (at Yonge Street Mission in Toronto), grew up in a Latin community in Kitchener, surrounded by newcomers living with post-traumatic effects from the violence of their Central American countries. while working on her master’s in clinical counselling at Tyndale University, she took a class in trauma therapy from Brenton Diaz.
“When I took that class, it put the cherry on top,” Gomez says, sparking her desire to use her shepherding gifts alongside her therapy skills to this day. Although she is currently not practicing psychotherapy, she uses her clinical skills to complement her pastoral ministry, and she shares her insights on social media through her @trauma.informed.church Instagram account. She has been able to offer seminars to others.
It is a thrill to believe that God transforms us by the renewing of our minds, as it says in Romans 12:2, and then to apply the insights we are learning now from the field of Neuroplasticity. Naming conditions is important, because anyone we meet can be living with mental health challenges, and we need trauma-informed care to impact how we preach, teach, and do pastoral care. The goal is to walk with people towards healing.
A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34–35)
A challenge for all Christians
Back at Compass, Michelle Pasmore is inspired to press on. Her challenge to us all is straightforward.
Bear patiently with people and continue learning. Relationship building does not happen fast. Trust needs to be established naturally. The participant feedback I received from our session with Brenton has deepened our team’s ability to walk gently with newcomers, allowing them to pursue greater healing through the work of Christ, through counselling, prayer and love.
Joel Zantingh of Guelph, Ont., is Canadian coordinator of the World Evangelical Alliance’s Peace & Reconciliation Network (and is also director of engagement for Lausanne Movement Canada). The PRN can do its work through the generosity of donors like you. Connect with the PRN or donate. Invite Joel Zantingh or Phil Wagler as a speaker. Photo by Michelle Pasmore shows 2022 Compass Church Session with Brenton Diaz. Read more of these blog posts at FaithToday.ca/AllThingsReconciled.