With Courage to Call it Out: Mississippi Ministry Addresses Topic of Child Abuse

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Loving and Serving, Southeast

By Carl Stagner

Pastor Willie Jefferson had something on his mind. It wasn’t a pleasant thought, but it was a necessary consideration. Though community-oriented congregations often like to give away goods and services that bring a smile, all the while sharing the hope of Jesus, sometimes the best thing a church can do for persons inside and outside the four walls is take up the hard topics. That doesn’t mean it has to be drudgery; in the case of Tomola Church of God in Lauderdale, Mississippi, a workshop on how to recognize and respond to child abuse was designed to include the whole family.

The headlines disturb and dismay. It’s no wonder churches are among the organizations in recent years scrambling to ensure preventative measures are in place—from background checks to minimum personnel thresholds in children’s ministry, the need is imminent. “We needed some information on how to handle all types of abuse that could take place in the church, or abuse that could be reported to someone in the church,” the church explained. “We need guidance on who to report suspected abuse to, and how to report it. We were tasked to be in prayer and assist with an action plan.”

First Lady Queen Jefferson and Pastor Willie J. Jefferson

Better before than after-the-fact! That’s why the workshop recruited professionals to address the subject with statistics, essential knowledge, and action steps. What should leaders do when child abuse happens in the church or among those who attend? What steps should teachers take to report it? How can children recognize signs of abuse? The Marion, Mississippi, police department joined the local Wesley House management not only to bring awareness to the all-too-prolific nature of the problem, but also equip the church and guests from the community to respond appropriately and decisively.

During the event, children were given opportunity for safe play and fun; snacks, including “snowballs,” were given away, further encouraging everyone—not just those who could coordinate babysitting ahead of schedule—to attend this vital workshop on the first Saturday of June. Further adding to the family nature of the experience, children were given the chance to tour a police car.

Some of the important takeaways from the event were that, in a study of nearly 4 thousand male sex offenders, 93 percent of them described themselves as “religious” or “very religious.” Sex offenders report that churches often have the weakest child-protection policies in place, very rarely provide training on child protection, and are easily manipulated because people of faith tend to be “trusting.” An astonishing 96 percent of sex offenders are known personally to the child. And, most importantly, churches are required by law to report suspected abuse or neglect to legal authorities.

Even human trafficking, which so often seems like a foreign concept to a relatively affluent and secure Western world, is understood as an offshoot of child abuse and neglect. This, and other implications—including the spiritual—were addressed in the “Know Child Abuse” workshop at Tomola Church of God.

Throughout the year, Tomola Church of God is known for serving like Jesus served and loving like Jesus loved—on a variety of other fronts, including basic-supply giveaways, life-skills workshops, and health and wellness fairs.

Brotherhood Mutual, offering a wide range of services recommended by Church of God Ministries, offers a variety of online resources essential to the safe and legal aspects of local church work—including children’s ministry and child-abuse prevention and reporting. Discover more at https://www.brotherhoodmutual.com/resources/.

Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.

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