What motivates someone to violently take another person’ life? It’s a question we’ve all been asking ourselves recently. How does a young person get to the place where he will bring a gun to an elementary school or place bombs on a crowded street? And what can we do to prevent others doing the same?
As I think about the events of the past few months, I wonder if one of the factors that led these young men to do what they did was a sense of despair. Seeing no other way to ease the pain and alienation they experienced, they lashed out at others. Certainly there were other factors, but to my way of thinking, a critical piece was a lack of hope.
It was a lack of hope that took the life of a young boy named Tanner. I met Tanner last summer when I travelled to South Dakota with the First Congregational Church of Bethel. We travelled to La Plant to join Simply Smiles, an organization dedicated to bringing hope to children through person-to-person partnerships, for a one week service project. While there we worked side by side with the Lakota Sioux residents of La Plan to build safe, affordable housing and rebuild community. Tanner and his dad were among those we met.
A few months after we returned from South Dakota, we learned that Tanner had committed suicide. This bright kid who dreamed of being class president and helping reclaim his people’s heritage was defeated by a sense of hopelessness so profound that all he could do was lash out- in this case against himself. He was twelve.
There have been others. We heard stories of children as young as eight trying to kill themselves. How does an eight year old even know what suicide is? By seeing it happen over and over again.
The people of First Congregational Church of Bethel want to do something to fight back against the despair and violence that took Tanner and others like him. We want to send a message to all young people that there are people who care about them and will stand with them. One of the ways that we’re doing this is by sending another team of volunteers to South Dakota this summer. We’ll rebuild some houses, spend time with the kids, learn from the elders and spread a little hope.
We want to invite you to join us! We have openings for our one week service trip in August. Any person aged 18 or older is welcome. While we are motivated by our faith to serve in this way, there is NO religious activity on this trip. Any person of good will, regardless of faith tradition, is welcome.
If you aren’t able to join us, your contributions would be welcome. You can send them to the church (FCCB, 46 Main Street, Bethel, CT 06801). We are holding a golf tournament on June 21 at Candlewood Park, a Vendor Fair on June 1 and will have a booth at the Summer Festival. All funds raised will support the work of Simply Smiles.