Building a resilient church as a trauma-informed community

By Rev. Sanghoon Yoo

The trauma-informed community movement is an emerging social movement in the United States. It has received remarkable attention from many professional fields and has catalyzed collaborative efforts among community organizations.

I began my journey in the trauma field about 20 years ago as a social work professional. However, I found that my passion was aimed toward Christian ministries serving young adults; I, therefore, founded The Faithful City (TFC) ministry at Arizona State University (ASU). I became a campus minister and pastor, focusing on intercession, multi-ethnic discipleship and servant-leadership.

As my ministry developed community service and outreach programs, I encountered many individuals who had undergone severely traumatizing life experiences. The turning point for my ministry occurred when I attended the Trauma Informed Congregation Conference in Washington, D.C., in 2015. Since then, I have been compelled to join the trauma-informed community movement as a faith community leader.

The foundation of this movement is the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study that was completed about 30 years ago by Dr. Vincent Felitti and his colleagues. While working on a research project about health issues, he investigated adverse childhood experiences in a large sample size of volunteers. The ACE study consists of 10 questions, and it has shown that more traumatic childhood experiences are correlated with health and mental health problems later in life.

The result of the ACE study became an eye-opening discovery in the health and mental health fields. This study directs the attention of researchers and practitioners not only on the current symptoms patients demonstrate but also the deeper causes of their symptoms based on their history. In addition, the advance of neuroscience and brain development research explains how traumatic childhood experiences affect dysfunctional behavior patterns and how survivors rarely have control over their behavior. As a result, trauma-informed care training has been implemented in the health and mental health areas, generating a nationwide trauma-informed community movement.

Why do we need a community and social movement related to trauma-informed care? Why have I become passionate about this movement? For the effective recovery of trauma survivors, pills and therapy are not enough, according to the ACE study and other research. Survivors need a safe environment with constant care. Any triggers from family, school, work or even church can exacerbate and damage treatment and recovery. The communities from every societal sector must be trauma-informed so that survivors are not re-traumatized or re-victimized. Instead, by being trauma-informed, we can ensure survivors are continuously helped and encouraged for their complete recovery.

The phrases I hear most often at trainings for trauma-informed care and community building are “unconditional love” and “relationship with constant care.” These are also phrases on which my faith is founded. Consequently, I believe that the church has a calling to step up and serve the mission field of trauma survivors and their effective recovery.

Accordingly, I have been enthusiastically involved in the trauma-informed community movement. TFC became a part of the Arizona ACE Consortium that has established a local movement with many groups and organizations. I also launched the Arizona Trauma Informed Faith Community (AZTIFC) network that is growing every day. I am overwhelmed by the drive and commitment of the faith community to address the tremendous needs and hunger for trauma- informed care from the populations they serve.

Several months ago, I taught the first Trauma Informed Congregation training with my colleagues. The first half of the training was about introducing the ACE study and its findings. The second half of the training followed with a theological justification for building a trauma- informed congregation and the implications of doing so. I presented biblical stories and ministerial testimonies during this training. A sequel workshop will complete this introductory training with more practical skillset building and exercises.

With other pastors that I am privileged to call my friends, we initiated Trauma Informed Worship gatherings. During this time, we worship and listen to sermons that are focused on the theme of trauma-informed care. I believe God’s desire and heart is for trauma-informed care and building a resilient church as a trauma-informed community. This mission is a core part of our discipleship journey with Christ to bear Christlikeness in our lives.

TFC has also started a trauma-informed campus movement at ASU. We screened the movie “Paper Tigers” last semester, and next fall we will show the film “Resilience.” I am also collaborating with various departments and programs at ASU to develop a training curriculum that incorporates trauma-informed care for the ASU community.

God has initiated these developments with TFC ministry and the trauma-informed community movement for us to represent Christ’s unconditional and unceasing love to the world. The movement through TFC is advancing at an overwhelming pace. Yesterday, I finished the second trauma-informed recovery group meeting that I initiated with a dear friend from the recovery field. Jesus was right, and he is still right: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Luke 10:2).


The Rev. Sanghoon Yoo is founder of The Faithful City ministry at Arizona State University.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.