Jan/Feb 2010 Clay Meyer
Brandon Chan couldn’t believe the news when he arrived at Tucson High School (Ariz.) one morning. He had just seen his friend the day before, and everything had appeared to be fine. But as he ran from one person to the next hearing the same report, he realized it was real. His friend had taken his own life that very morning.
“He was always a nice kid,” said Chan, a senior football player at THS. “Nobody would have ever comprehended that he had thoughts of suicide. It was heartbreaking for me, and what hurt the most was that I never shared the love of Christ with him. Even though he attended a church, maybe it would have meant more to him coming from another teen’s point of view.”
Chan learned a lesson the hard way. Never again will he pass up the opportunity to tell others about Jesus. If there is a silver lining to this story at all, it may be in Chan’s newfound concern for his peers. The suicide opened his eyes to see how he used to shut out certain groups of students in his school.
“It has showed me that I need to act more like Jesus, spending time with the people who need Him more than anything else,” said Chan, also an FCA Huddle Leader. “We need to get out of our cliques and interact with everyone, even if the person is considered different. Jesus is more important than being popular.”
FCA Area Representative Hector Valenzuela, who leads the Tucson High Huddle and worked with the students following the suicide, continues to draw from the experience to reiterate how important it is for his Christian student-athletes to heed the calling they have to live as children of God.
“They carry the spirit of Jesus Christ within them,” Valenzuela said. “And by living their lives for Jesus they can save somebody’s life because they are showing that light.”
The Problem is Real
They’re out there, right in front of you, and you probably don’t even realize it. They might even be close friends or acquaintances who have put on such keenly crafted masks that their lives appear to be perfectly normal. But deep inside, they are searching—searching for purpose, hope and a reason to live. These young men and women are dying to be heard, and all too often their cries go unanswered. Nobody was listening.
“It was heartbreaking for me, and what hurt the most was that I never shared the love of Christ with him.
– Brandon Chan
Tucson High School Huddle Leader
All around us, teens are dying. They are taking their own lives because they don’t feel important to anyone or have never been told about the one and only Giver of true life: Jesus Christ. If only someone would listen and care. If someone would just reach out it would make such a difference.
One of the most discouraging aspects of the ever-increasing teen suicide trend is the lack of communication about the topic. Everyone, in varying degrees, gets uncomfortable talking about it and would often rather sweep it under the rug than stare it down and take a stand against it.
What will it take to make us wake up and realize the magnitude of the problem? For one, it will take people of great strength and faith who are willing to use the voices and hearts God gave them—Christ-followers who realize that the true price of inaction is more costly than any we want to pay.
Open Your Eyes and Ears
About every two hours in the United States, one 15- to 24-yearold takes his or her own life. Suicide now ranks as the third leading cause of death in adolescents.* While the statistics are alarming, it may be more frightening to note that there are often very few warning signs to predict who is at risk.
Dr. Steven Gerali, author of the book What Do I Do When Teenagers are Depressed and Contemplate Suicide? states that many times students appear to be enjoying life on the outside but are being tormented emotionally on the inside. They are besieged with a lack of purpose and extreme loneliness, which ultimately leads to depression and withdrawal.
“Whether they are positive or negative shifts, you should monitor teens’ emotional changes,” Gerali said. “Situational cues can also serve as warning signs, but be especially mindful of teens who are isolating themselves or withdrawing from others.”
Like wolves isolating a targeted lamb from its fold, the enemy begins to poison the minds of teens who have removed themselves more and more from others, making them believe that nobody would notice, much less care, if they were gone. When this message is the only one ringing in their minds, subtle warning signs can surface—signs like joking about not being around much longer, focusing on certain dates, or no longer making plans for the future.
Awareness is key in recognizing a cry for help. Simply being aware that these actions can indicate a problem allows a person to reach out and make a significant difference in the life of a troubled teen. Thankfully, it is not an oversimplified idea to note that just being in someone’s presence is the easiest way to help prevent a suicide.
Even more preventative is the action of making ourselves available to talk to and support a person who we believe may be showing signs of suicidal behavior. According to Gerali, if we are comfortable bringing up the topic of suicide, we should. He noted that it is a misconception to think that mentioning suicide will lead a person to actually do it. Rather, by bringing it to light, we can explore what the person is really thinking and ideally lead them to a professional counselor for help.
“Developing relationships is so important, and, beyond that, developing depth in those relationships.” Gerali said. “Once a deep relationship has been established, it will open the door to talk about important topics, including suicide. If teens are considering suicide, they will not be persuaded to do it by just mentioning or discussing the topic.”
“We need to get out of our cliques and interact with everyone, even if the person is considered different. Jesus is more important than being popular.” – Chan
Above all, Gerali said, letting a person know they are not alone is the biggest key. We can talk for hours about the hope we have in Christ, but, until a person understands that we really care, they will never hear us.
Turning Tragedy into Ministry
In the event that we do have to face the suicide of a peer or student, we must be prepared. One of the most difficult yet undiscussed parts of dealing with a suicide are the inevitable feelings of guilt that survivors experience in wishing they would have done or said something to keep the situation from happening. When this guilt is paired with the shame associated with suicide, it isn’t difficult to understand why, despite its prevalence, the topic is so uncomfortable to discuss.
Brandon Chan is one of many students around the country facing emotions and experiences that are seemingly beyond their years of maturity. But, through FCA and other campus ministries, they are able to cope with the situations and turn them into opportunities to reach other students who are trying to handle the loss.
Fredericksburg, Va., FCA Area Director Kerry O’Neill has served in three different regions since coming on staff in 1990 and, sadly, has faced the issue of teen suicide in each one. Through those experiences, however, he has seen the powerful binding together of students who have lifted one another up after tragedy.
“The power of peer ministry is clearly seen, as is the power of friendship,” O’Neill said. “The Lord brings healing through other students who aren’t trained or equipped, but who care and love and are there to pray. I have seen that repeated so many times when a crisis happens.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please reach out for help. The idea that you are alone and hopeless or that no one cares about you is a lie. Even if no one seems to care, there is a God who loves you and created you for a purpose. Consider talking to a local pastor or calling the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. Or, visit morethanwinning.org for more about the hope of Jesus Christ.
In these situations, people may turn to us as followers of Christ, and we should then make it known that the love of Christ and His love through us is available every single day. But, in order for that to happen, our ears, hearts and minds must remain open to those around us.
Ultimately, students just want to be heard and to be shown that they are important and have a purpose. Fellow students, teachers and FCA leaders have the ability to show them purpose and value through Jesus Christ. Two powerful verses to communicate this point, according to O’Neill, are Ephesians 2:10 (“For we are His creation—created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.”) and Hebrews 13:5 (“…for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.”).
Whether it is speaking these words of truth to a teen searching for help or just being a channel to connect those who need it to the right people for healing and support, we are never too far removed to make a difference.
“The blessing I see with FCA is that, if it’s not us, we can all be at least like quarterbacks and orchestrate the people who can do the ministry of healing,” O’Neill
said. “I think being a resource and connecting through relationships is key. We can’t just go in, share Bible verses, share a sermon and buzz out. Being in relationship with people is really what brings lasting change.”
Don’t Wait to Change
Any time a teen commits suicide it is tragic, and the inevitable feelings of guilt and anger are sure to follow. While we must take time to heal and process those emotions, we must eventually take up our role as representatives of Christ and use those situations to make a difference in the lives of those around us. It’s a sensitive, scary topic to encounter, but acknowledging it exists is the first step to counteracting it.
We can’t wait for a suicide to happen before we change our way of life and our witness. Living in relationship with those around us is simple, but too often we pass up the opportunities to cultivate them. It’s time to change. We must go beyond ourselves and make the effort to reach out to people with the love of Christ. It will never be too high a price to save a life.
Movie Ministry: ‘To Save a Life’
This month Outreach Films, Samuel Goldwyn Films and New Song Pictures are reaching out to the hurting youth of America through the new movie To Save a Life. The movie follows Jake Taylor, a senior basketball player who has just accepted a full athletic scholarship to the University of Louisville when his life is turned upside-down by a number of issues including the suicide of a childhood friend he’d neglected. Taylor feels a tremendous amount of guilt over the loss of his friend and, with nowhere to turn, reaches out to a local youth pastor who helps him realize there is more to life than sports, girls and good times. It is a storyline that will resonate with and impact student-athletes in many ways.
The idea for the film came from screenwriter and pastor Jim Britts of Oceanside, Calif., who, after being so moved by attending a high school assembly in which nearly 75 percent of the students mentioned they’d either considered suicide or knew someone who did, realized he had to take action.
“I never set out to write a movie,” Britts said. “We set out to start a movement, and the best way to communicate that was through a movie. We wanted to help hurting teens and really empower them to help their peers. We know there is a hope for these kids who feel like they are living in Hell, and I think the messengers of that hope are the members of their own generation. We’re praying that ministries will watch the movie and realize we’re missing kids on campus who are hurting and lonely.”
Currently, FCA is teaming up with these ministries to promote and encourage the viewing of To Save a Life. The film is due in theaters Jan. 22, and additional information can be found at tosavealifemovie.com. Producers also have created powerful ministry tools and resources for both students and adults at tosavealifeleaders.com, a site where FCA Huddle Leaders and Coaches can find study series for use in their meetings.
Take time to visit the sites and consider how the film can fit into your Huddle’s ministry. As it says in the movie tagline: “Some people are just dying to be heard. How far would you go? How much would you risk? How hard would you fight...To Save a Life.”
--For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. To subscribe to STV, click here.
Photo courtesy New Song Pictures