Posted by: calloftheandes | August 23, 2016

Trauma Counselors Welcomed and Thanked in Ecuador’s Quake Zone (Interview Part 3)

A Quito daily newspaper, El Comercio described the job of those working to help survivors of an April 2016 earthquake as, “to calm and diminish fear, anguish, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and prevent mental problems”—a task the writer termed as ‘psychological reconstruction.’

Many volunteers for this challenging quake follow-up were trained beforehand by Christian psychologist, Dr. Carlos Pinto, of Reach Beyond. This interview with Dr. Pinto by Ralph Kurtenbach was transcribed, translated and then edited and condensed for clarity.

You have helped by giving these workshops here in the Andean corridor, and also out at the coast, south of the earthquake epicenter. You also went there to personally give talks and offer comfort?

Yes, I also had the opportunity to go to the very epicenter—the disaster zone—something I found consistent inasmuch as not only helping via the aspect of training others to go and counsel to facilitate a healing process after the earthquake, but also importantly, to experience it in the field so as to speak with authority on the subject.

What I found when I participated in the weeks immediately after the earthquake was a need for medical emergency relief. Working with Christian doctors and then groups, I assumed a secondary role. As we came to different tents where people were, I left room for doctors to intervene first. The first appeal for aid was, “My son who was injured,” “My wife’s foot is cut” or “my spouse is in pain,” etc., etc.

So medical care was given first, and once that was concluded and I saw that people’s anxiety about the medical problem had significantly lowered, I approached them to ask, “How are you sleeping?,” “How are you doing with the pain and the loss of your home?,” “What are you feeling?” and “What are you thinking as you look to the future?”

Carlos Pinto

Carlos Pinto

And that allowed me through open questions to respond with messages of hope and yet give them assurances and validate their feelings and normalize their emotional state. That is to say, it’s normal if at night every little noise awakens you or you’re  agitated. It’s normal that your child will not sleep at night because he or she just went through a calamity, and this is part of the shock.

But this will disappear, and at the same time we had some informative pamphlets on how to care for children, the importance of how feelings develop—of anger, sadness or whatever. Then these informative pamphlets also left for the individuals and families whom I visited.

What else would you like to add?

Our learning in this case in Ecuador as a church that has surprised us was that despite the tragedy, the loss has been a godsend in the matter of unity. It highlights the fact that denominational jealousies were minimized. And differences and specific emphases—such as the matter of healing from a Pentecostal view and a Presbyterian outlook—were reduced in relation to the importance of helping a suffering person.

Interestingly, some of those pastors also suffered losses or injuries, helping foster—I think—a much more real empathy towards those whom were ministering to. We also witnessed that the government here in Ecuador has established lines of cooperation and trust with foreign mission organizations—more confidence than before and with increased openness.

I have received information … that some church aid caravans churches have encountered army and police personnel … and even in some cases, staff from the president or his ministers. And when asked, “Who are you?” they’ve answered that they’re an evangelical church simply coming to deliver these foods, wanting to play with the children so as to distract them a bit. And the groups were well received, welcomed, encouraged and thanked for their effort. Beforehand, that wasn’t so.

There’s more, and it was very interesting in my own case. When I gave these conferences, some folk from the police came, including a police major who is a Christian. He asked me to speak at the school for police cadets because police cadets—those who had not yet graduated—were being sent unprepared to the emergency zone.

Then this major talked with others, and I was invited to speak in other venues. It was my first opportunity to give a conference to people from the army because these others were with the army as well as well as with the police. Of course the focus of my content was not exclusively the gospel, but rather I spoke of the psychological concepts relevant to this case. At the same time, they introduced me as a Christian psychologist. In one way or the other, I presented concepts such as those I’m mentioning now—that of hope, that of sharing a belief in one supreme God. I had some doors opened that had not been there before, and I thank God for this opportunity.

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