Pastor Donearl Johnson
Pastor Donearl Johnson learned a lot about trauma and how it affects kids in their development when he worked at Spaulding for Children for 11 years.
Pastor Johnson held many positions at Spaulding, including providing all IT support for federal grant projects. He also learned throughout his work about childhood trauma from Dr. Bruce Perry, the internationally recognized authority on children in crisis, and other experts about trauma.
Donearl Johnson today is Lead Pastor at Life Church Auburn Hills. There Pastor Johnson serves in the local school community with children and families who have been exposed to trauma. There are many challenges that these children face due to their exposure. Also, there are several families in his community that have been made through adoption and he desires to equip families and the church community on how to best serve them.
Pastor Johnson is committed to teaching those who interact with these children to become as informed as he became at SFC. Johnson feels that these families can benefit from guidance about trauma and its effects on a child’s development.
One statement Pastor Johnson heard while working at Spaulding is a saying he will never forget. And he puts it into practice.
“We spend too much time reacting to the behavior, instead of responding to their needs,” Pastor Johnson said. “It is better to respond than to react.”
Pastor Johnson is committed to teaching those who interact with these children to become as informed as he became at Spaulding. Johnson said he feels that these families can benefit from guidance about trauma and its effects on a child’s development.
Examples of what he’s learned that he’d like to share include:
- Take the time as needed: It may take longer to feel an emotional connection with children who’ve experienced trauma in their lives, likewise, it may take longer to see positive changes in their behavior.
- Don’t expect the child to behave like kids who have not been through what they have.
- Don’t judge. Just give them support.
Recognizing different types of trauma – including physical – can help us understand their behavior, Pastor Johnson said. For example, when a child turns away from us when we reach out to embrace them. Don’t blame them or yourself. Touch can take on a completely different meaning than intended. Learning this can help us manage our expectations and understand their behavior.
“If you see a child in a wheelchair, you don’t say, ‘Get up and walk,’” Pastor Johnson said. “For children who have been exposed to trauma, they too have scars and inabilities that are not that visible, but they are very real. Therefore, you need to manage your expectations and support accordingly.”
Pastor Johnson hopes to train his staff at the church on some techniques that he learned from the child welfare community. Also, he plans to partner with child welfare professionals to help his staff and entire church community learn more about childhood trauma, its effects on children and their families, and best practices to serve those in need.
He believes that by sharing with each other trauma awareness – everyone can make more informed decisions about how we help advance the healing journey for a child.