One of the greastest challenges we face today as a culture is how to effectively respond to the growing epidemic of mental health in our communites, churches, and city. With known statistics indicating an average of 25 percent of Americans currently facing a mental health challenge, only about half of those are able to receive any kind of treatment. In a city the size of Omaha, that means there are around 125,000 people in our area whose needs are unmet.
The reality of unmet needs is not recent; the early church faced their own challenges to meet the needs of a growing community. In Acts 6, some Jewish people brought an unmet physical need (hunger) to the attention of the Apostles, who held a brief board meeting before launching the first "para-church organization" by calling seven godly men into the Bread Delivery Ministry.
In more recent history, about 27 years ago, a gentleman by the name of Virg Ediger wrote a paper entitled "How to open a Christian Counseling Center at Christ Community Church in Omaha, Nebraska." Fast forward to the present, and this question has led to the development and growth of the Care Network, a ministry outreach from CCC that includes:
- Pastoral Counseling
- One-on-One Mentoring
- Healing Prayer Ministry
- Spiritual Formation
- Renewal and Support Groups
All of these services provided by a team of collaborative holistic caregivers, sharing a common purpose, approaching needs from varied and multiple perspectives, using many methods and applications to give the best help to each person.
As I came to be on staff with Christ Community Church early in 2014, I was impressed by the variety and reach of these ministries, and began to see a parallel to a book I read as a kid, where people learned that if individuals pooled their resources, the whole group would benefit, and beyond that, celebration and community flowed from this concept. As time passed, the idea has continued to hold meaning for us, and has become a sort of model that we think about as we grow our ministry and seek to overcome unmet needs.
The book is called Stone Soup, and it is based on a folk tale about some soldiers sojourning in a foreign land. The tale goes that as these men were approaching a village, and being very wiry and hungry, they hope to find some shelter and food. The villagers, however, afraid they wouldn't have enough, choose to hide their stores of food, and when the men knock on each door, they are turned away empty-stomached.
Undeterred, these clever men proceed to light a fire, fill their large pot with water, and place a stone in it, bringing it to boil. Curious, the townsfolk inquire what they are cooking. "Stone Soup!" they are told, and when asked if it is any good, the soldiers explain that it is delicious, but could be improved with some garnish. One-by-one the villagers contribute, first some carrots, then some seasoning, eventually adding all the primary ingredients for a fine soup. The soldiers and the townsfolk all eat to satisfaction, and a celebration follows, as the villagers admire "such men don't grow on every bush."
These men, in the uninhibited spirit of Huckleberry Finn, present us with a synergistic social welfare model where the unmet needs of the minority are met by the contribution of "garnish" by the majority. Scripture teaches us to "bear each other's burdens" and to help carry the load of those struggling under the weights of life. Sharing with others, whether garnish or ingredient, seasoning or meat, together, we can overcome the unmet needs of our community.
In our context, this means identifying ways to provide mental health services to those who struggle to gain services, whether by lack of access or affordability. We need to share the cost of professional counseling for those who need it most, but are most unlikely to afford it.
Part of the answer has already begun. In July 2015, Christ Community Church announced the launch of our professional counseling center located next door in The Porch building. CityCare Counseling was established with the audacious vision statement "we exist to eradicate the unmet and untreated mental health needs in our churches, communities, city and world."
We have the kettle, the building, and the Rock, Jesus. We have soldiers who are highly trained to serve Good Soup to the hungry, and, by proxy, help others meet their own needs, and the needs of their families, as hope and healing provide effective solutions to these crucial problems. As a 501(c)(3) organization, the ministry is based on the Stone Soup concept, as the church allows the ministry to operate at below-market costs for space and support, and the providers work on a less-than-average fee schedule. But there remains a gap between these crucial services and many of those who need them.
With an equally audacious mission statement, CityCare hopes to "provide services to 25,000 people in the next five years," which only represents 20 percent of the overall known need, leaving the rest untreated or under-treated. Along with our goals to continue growing and meeting those needs, we need to raise awareness and resources. Each of us must consider whether we can "give in" to the "pot," and add our garnish to the existing Rock.
We ask that along with prayer, you consider CityCare Counseling as a ministry worthy of your "garnish," and contribute financially toward our efforts to bring hope and healing to anyone who needs it, regardless of the ability to pay for it. We are humbled to serve in this capacity, and trust that the Father will meet our needs as we meet the needs of our neighbors.
In Faith Alone,
James Connelly, PHD
Executive Director | CityCare Counseling, Inc.