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What I Did on My COVID Lockdown

A Letter from Elmarie and Scott Parker, serving in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria

Winter 2021

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Dear friends,

“What sensations do you notice in your body right now?”
“Are you in your High Zone, your Low Zone, or your OK Zone?”
“What is a Resource that makes you feel strong or safe?”
“What do you feel when that happens?”
“Is there something different you can do right now?”

I focused on learning the Arabic translation of these phrases (and others like them) for the Middle East Council of Church’s (MECC) “Strong Kids / Strong Emotions” trauma resiliency program during much of my Winter 2020 COVID lockdown.

We use these phrases a lot.

That might seem like odd conversation to be having with elementary-age kids, but these are the conversations that help them learn the skills to become emotionally resilient during tough times.

Like much of the world, life radically changed in Lebanon when the global pandemic hit. Months of back-to-back lockdowns and social distancing requirements meant immediately putting Strong Kids on hold. Finally, MECC was able to hold two eight-week (socially distanced) Strong Kids courses during November and December of 2020.

Rana with ‘Conscious Discipline’ Feeling Buddies.

While it was so hard for all of us at MECC to go so long without any Strong Kids courses, the ten-month hiatus also gave me the opportunity to invest in training around trauma resiliency and to prepare for resourcing my MECC colleagues via WhatsApp since working in-person is restricted.

I was able to work online with the Trauma Resource Institute and receive training in the Trauma Resiliency Model (TRM) and Community Resiliency Model (CRM). I then passed on the insights from these courses to my colleague and co-facilitator Rana (who is also my Arabic language tutor and a child psychologist for MECC). Together we developed a more in-depth resiliency curriculum for Strong Kids.

In a nutshell, TRM and CRM teach regular people to manage their symptoms of trauma by tracking and managing their body’s natural sensations. For example, if a loud noise were to trigger a past traumatic experience, I might be able to notice that my heart is beating faster and I’m much more agitated (we call that the “High Zone”) or maybe I feel numb and depressed (we call that the “Low Zone”). Those are natural biological responses and nothing to be ashamed about.

At Strong Kids, we teach participants to notice when they are in the “high zone” or “low zone” and then to use “Help Now” strategies to get themselves into what we call the “OK Zone”. Thinking about something that gives strength (resourcing) or making physical contact with something solid (Grounding) bring us back to a place of resiliency and wholeness (the OK Zone).

Maybe that all sounds like pretty deep and complicated stuff for kids. We’re discovering, however, that it’s very relevant and in step with our denomination’s Matthew 25 commitment of standing with vulnerable communities.

Since October 2019, Lebanon has experienced a revolution, an economic collapse, a pandemic and the August 2020 port explosion. MECC is seeing more kids who are facing stress-related abuse in the home, and even kids from the most supportive and loving homes are feeling the stress and pressure of such difficult times. Helping kids address their trauma will help them navigate their future.

One Strong Kids participant’s Resource Envelope–their family.

MECC’s Strong Kids work is also very practical. In addition to integrating CRM and TRM insights into our curriculum, we also use the “Conscious Discipline” curriculum to help children identify emotions and self-regulate. Rana spends a lot of time working with what we call “Help Now” strategies—practical things participants can do if they are in their “high zone” (overly anxious or angry) or in their “low zone” (depressed or numb). Taking a walk, counting down from 100, pushing against a wall or naming 3 colors in the room may sound simple but they work. It’s exciting to see the kids practice the skill then come back the next week to share how they applied it to a situation at home.

Plus, Strong Kids is just a whole lot of fun! We reserve a lot of space for imagination-focused craft time related to our topic of the day because it’s in those moments of play that real confidence-building, self-expression, and healing happens. During the session on “resourcing” Rana encouraged the kids to create things that represented strength and support and comfort. Some kids highlighted their religious faith through art. Other of the kids made little foam versions of their family members. All the kids became very animated when they had a chance to talk about the strength they found in their “resource.” Then they all began to make boxes and decorated envelopes for storing their “resources”—a tangible reminder of where they find their encouragement.

This is a hard time for everybody, everywhere. In the midst of the struggle is opportunity. It is beautiful and essential to help kids find opportunities for healing and growth during these huge challenges, and it’s a privilege for me to work with my MECC colleagues to develop these opportunities. Elmarie and I are so grateful to you for being vital partners in this work that matters so much to the heart of God. Thank you for your prayers and emails, your zoom invitations and financial support, your care and encouragement. May we all continue to be daily sustained by Christ’s grace.

Scott and Elmarie Parker

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