“I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing” (Jer. 23:4), the Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah, describing the beautiful future in store for His people. In God’s kingdom, the shepherd is a picture of goodness: trustworthy, loving, and capable, he guides and guards the sheep with skill and compassion.
To be a shepherd in the church today is a great honor, but also an immense challenge. Pastor Kiula Pendaeli, who leads a church in Shirati, Tanzania, received God’s call to leadership in 1996. Since then, he has experienced both the joys and the difficulties of being a man of God with grave responsibility. A pastor must lovingly care for his people, but is often confronted with their imperfections and their need for mercy. He must tend with great sensitivity to the issues his people entrust to him, and the problems that arise in the church. And sometimes, while helping others, his own heart may be weighed down with burdens from the hurts of life.
Pastor Kiula is a gracious and humble man. He speaks honestly about the limitations he used to experience in his role as shepherd of his church. “I didn’t know what forgiveness really meant,” he says. “And I didn’t know how to listen to people in a way that created healing, the way God intends.” But he had a teachable heart, and God moved kindly in his life to provide help that would smooth away the rough places and reveal the tenderness beneath.
Pastor Kiula participated in a trauma healing seminar that uses In Touch Messengers to guide church leaders through their own emotional healing, and then trains them to counsel others on the same journey. The seminar uses biblically based trauma healing material developed by the American Bible Society in order to address hidden obstacles that might be preventing believers from reaching their full potential in the Lord—obstacles such as grief, anger, hopelessness, and unforgiveness resulting from traumatic life experience. The material is loaded onto an SD-card that slides into the In Touch Messenger, which also contains the New Testament and dozens of encouraging messages from Dr. Stanley. The seminar leader encourages participants to listen to the trauma healing material on the handheld audio device in conjunction with God’s Word, using the Messenger or their Bibles to receive the balm of Scripture as they make their way through the healing lessons.
“From the beginning,” Pastor Kiula says, “it was clear that this was very different from what I already knew about the Bible.” Earnestly engaging with the issues raised in the healing lessons made Scripture more real and personal. Pastor Kiula describes his own struggle with burnout, when the challenges of pastoring became too much and he wanted to simply give up. He would ask himself, “Why not quit? This is too hard.” But the Lord has rest for the weary, and He restores our souls when we seek Him. As this gentle man of God came to the end of the trauma healing course, he found his heart was slowly being changed. “I’m different now,” he says. “I have the strength to continue. Issues in the church are easier to deal with, in ways that really help people.”
Why is this? Pastor Kiula speaks of a matter that seems simple, but with which we all struggle: He describes being less judgmental, choosing to express compassion and understanding instead. Having confronted the wounds in his own heart, he is more able to understand when the difficulties of others are coming from a place of pain. Pastor Kiula’s experience confirms a defining assumption of the trauma healing program: To help others heal, you must first be healed yourself.
The program relies on the Word of God and a probing, reflective approach to guide participants to express and resolve their inner wounds. As they are gradually set free from the bondage of emotional scars by the healing power of the gospel and reliance upon the Lord, they are able to help others take the same journey to freedom. God comforts us, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4). Once participants have completed the course, they are given Messengers to take back to their home churches, where they start healing groups of their own to help their church members also find peace and wholeness in Christ.
For Pastor Kiula, using the Messenger for the healing program, in addition to printed material, is very effective. It increases engagement by allowing participants to listen as they work through the lessons. With this format, hearing becomes an important part of the experience, a real plus in a country like Tanzania that has a rich oral tradition. And having the Messengers makes it easier to extend the program’s reach. “When I see one box containing 50 Messengers,” he says, “I see 50 healing groups starting in 50 church fellowships.”
The momentum of this program continues in Pastor Kiula’s administrative region of northern Tanzania. He now assists at the healing seminars for church leaders, and is encouraged to see this training taking hold and multiplying. His vision for the future is that as the program grows, it will expand into the country’s other regions, bringing spiritual growth for all who are willing to take the journey into the healing arms of God.
As for Pastor Kiula himself, his own journey has had a profound impact on his skill in tending the people God has placed under his care. “This program has helped me refine my identity as a pastor,” he says. A committed shepherd stops at nothing to care for his sheep—including having the courage to tend to his own spiritual growth. The reward, as this shepherd has discovered, is a heart open to a new level of tenderness and love, and a blossoming of freedom in the body of Christ.