Part 2: Church’s Europe Area Develops Crisis Ministry Training – Church News and Events

This is part 2 of a two part series. Read part 1 about how psychological first aid can help Church leaders and individuals support others during a crisis.

In October 2020, a missionary from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serving in Switzerland tragically slipped and died while hiking with five other missionaries.

The tragedy affected many people who needed help in the form of psychological first aid. It is an evidence-based response that has been developed to meet immediate needs in a crisis.

But the head of the Church’s Family Services agency for Europe, María del Rocío Gutiérrez Ramirez, did not have a professional response team or sufficient resources to deploy quickly in such a crisis.

That’s when she began brainstorming with Kevin Broderick, the emergency response program manager for Family Services at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

“Kevin shared with us incredible information and resources that they had developed in order to provide psychosocial support to people in crisis,” Gutiérrez said.

Gutiérrez and the family services team have taken this specialized pastoral service to the next level, developing a brochure published for the Europe zonewhich includes the discussion guide titled, How can I serve others during a crisis? and a self-help guide called, Take on the challengeas well as guides to help children and young people overcome challenges.

Today, they provide training across Europe to Church members and leaders who want to learn how to provide emotional care during a crisis. Introductory lessons and a discussion guide are available in 14 European languages.

Europe also faced major flooding in July 2021 and the ongoing refugee crisis caused by the conflict in Ukraine. Crisis ministry training helps church members and leaders meet the immediate emotional, spiritual, and social needs caused by these events.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The program

Elder Mark Rencher and sister Lizbeth Rencher, a licensed psychologist with a doctorate, were tasked with rolling out the program with the help of local mental health practitioners. They were full-time volunteers at the Church’s European headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany.

“‘Ministry in Crisis’ is a gospel-based approach to psychosocial support,” Elder Rencher told the British Church Newsroom.

Sister Rencher said, “A lot of times when you’re interacting with someone who’s in crisis, you don’t know what to say. It teaches you what to say and how to relate to people in difficulty.

She said these resources are not meant to replace professional help. “We are not here to provide psychotherapy or therapeutic intervention. We are just here to give them emotional support to prevent further harm,” Sister Rencher said.

Gutiérrez told Church News that in some cases a therapist will be needed later. “But at least we get over that first moment where nobody knows what to do. At least people will know how to handle it until the person can be connected to resources. »

In September 2021, Teresa Raposo, a family services counselor and therapist who also worked with the Red Cross in Lisbon, Portugal, piloted the training program in her stake. Gutiérrez said the feedback was very positive.


“Ministry in Crisis” training for young single adults in the Cartagena Spain Stake in 2022.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“The leaders said, ‘It’s good because now we know what to do.'” Gutiérrez said. They told him: “90% of the time a person calls us, it’s because they’re in crisis. So now we can apply these simple questions, phrases and skills. And then from there, we just try to roll that out to other countries and offer it to leaders.

“We have received many comments from bishops and Relief Society presidents saying they wish they had this sooner,” Elder Rencher said.

Eva Diez from Germany said she had always considered herself a close and empathetic person with a desire to bring relief to the bereaved. After completing the training, she said, “I learned to understand more deeply and apply specific resilience tools with people around me who are going through difficulties.”

The skills she learned helped her in her own family. “I believe that being able to have these concepts clearly present and structured in my mind has helped me guide conversations, listen more patiently, and accompany with compassion in a more Christian and healing way.”

Crisis and Refugee Ministry Training

Gutiérrez said this training was tailored to the Ukrainian refugee crisis. Volunteers and missionaries who speak Russian and Ukrainian were able to use the specific training for the Europe zone to meet emotional needs while others provide temporary support to people leaving Russia and Ukraine and seeking refuge in other countries.

Antonio Guerra, a high councilor in the Oeiras Portugal Stake, volunteered weekly with the Portuguese Red Cross at the refugee reception center in Lisbon. The center welcomes refugees and takes care of their file in Portugal.

Guerra and other volunteers provide clothing, bedding and meals to people staying at the center until they find accommodation in Portugal.

Refugees wrapped in blankets at Moldova-Ukraine border

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Guerra participated in the Train others during a crisis, and now he uses these tips when caring for others. “Being compassionate, listening is something we have done all the time with refugees,” he said. “We saw different situations which made me realize how difficult this situation can be for our Ukrainian friends.”

For example, Ukrainian children came from a city that was bombed. The Lisbon visitor center is close to the airport, and when children heard planes taking off or landing, they were terrified of being bombed, Guerra said.

He also spoke to a Ukrainian woman who fled with her daughter, but had to leave her husband and son behind and was sad and worried about whether she would see them alive again.

“I realized that you can provide emotional support and you can serve by doing simple things, it doesn’t have to be complicated. This program is about how to help emotionally, about understanding the needs of others,” Guerra said.

He asked the questions of discussion guideand he listened, showed compassion, spoke of hope and faith, and answered their questions.

“People need a minimum of love, to be heard, that’s what they want. Be heard. Some may not even want to share their experiences; it’s too traumatic in some cases, but that’s okay,” Guerra said. “They just want to receive love and compassion and a hug, to receive a smile and to receive security also emotionally.”

Guerra said the experience of serving people he didn’t know before made him reflect on what he does to serve people he knows, such as those in his branch at the church.

“If I have the motivation to serve strangers, refugees, I should have the same motivation to serve people I know, I can use these principles with them too,” he said. He believes that every member of the Church would benefit from the course.

And after

Brochure can be downloaded and studied on your own or with family members. Gutiérrez also offers training for leaders and members, either one-off training covering the basics or five weeks of more in-depth sessions.

The concepts are useful not only for big events like a major crisis, but also in ministry, like a bishop finding the right questions to ask a struggling ward member, or a mother validating the emotions of her son when he was sad to be leaving home for a school trip (see part one).

“It’s just how to provide emotional support to people struggling with emotional distress,” Gutierrez said.


A woman prays at her kitchen table.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Broderick said this great team — Gutiérrez, Raposo, the Renchers and others — having this information printed and translated into 14 languages ​​has allowed for more opportunities for sharing. They are helping to train For the Strength of Youth (FSY) counselors, and seminary and institute teachers are also reaching out.

Gutiérrez said it made sense to teach these groups these skills because they work a lot with young people – many of whom today struggle with many mental health issues.

“Sometimes young people share more with their seminary teacher than with their parents, and seminary teachers may not know how to respond, what to say, or what to do,” she said. “So in the training for young people, we have included more specific tips and topics.”

Full-time missionaries also learn some of these skills in Europe now, when they encounter people in crisis or the people they teach come to them in emotional distress. And wherever natural disasters strike in the world, there are likely to be elders or sisters affected.

Broderick said, “We’re not going to teach them how to be therapists, and we’re not even going to teach them how to delve into people’s challenges. But we can teach them psychological first aid. And it’s a skill that would really benefit them in their ministry, as it does for all of us, leaders and members.

Gutiérrez said his team is now trying to roll out the program to every country in Europe and have it translated into more languages. She doesn’t want this to be seen as just another program that overwhelmed local leaders feel they have to do in their stake; she wants them to see it as an advantage that they can access.

“They will be more confident if they know what to say and what to do to help people in crisis.”

More resources: Tips for Emotional Preparation for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints