In the beginning of 2019, Larry Derksen Jr. found himself in a fight for his life. Years of ignoring his PTSD and anxiety had finally caught up with him and darkness and despair were setting in. Things really came to a head when Marc Jensen; husband, father of ten beautiful children, City Group leader and fellow security team member at Citylight died by suicide. Marc had the reputation of being a dedicated Christian husband, father, and a leader in the church community. Larry remembered thinking, “If there wasn’t hope for Marc, there definitely isn’t any hope for me.”
Raised in an abusive home, Larry shared that his PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) began with his experience of nightly standing at his bedroom door listening to his dad abusing his mom, wondering, and waiting to see if mom would survive the beatings and if we (kids) would be next. The remaining years of his childhood and into adulthood presented more trauma that fueled Larry’s PTSD. A son being diagnosed with brain cancer, a wife that left under the strain of watching her son fight for his life, the loss of a home and livelihood, and becoming the primary caregiver of a severely disabled son.
After Marc’s death, pressure started building even further when Larry’s stepson’s best friend Austin, who attended their home Bible study, had that same look of desperation. Larry asked his wife Heather if she believed if Austin would ever take his own life. The idea was quickly dismissed considering Austin was an upbeat young man with a smile that lit up the world. Two weeks later however, Austin lost the battle to depression and died by suicide.
God in His grace and sovereignty threw Larry a lifeline through another person that attended his home Bible study. The friend shared his personal testimony about his battle with schizophrenia, his many hospitalizations, and his many paranoid and delusional episodes. Larry was in shock. This friend was the most dependable person he knew. After much persuasion and persistency, Larry finally went in to seek professional help and it made a world of difference.
Larry shared that things turned around for him when he realized that his PTSD and anxiety was not the result of God’s displeasure of him nor evidence of a lack of salvation. The fact of the matter was that an accumulation of traumatic events in his life resulted in a change of brain chemistry and the development of unhealthy neuropathways. Healing began when his brain chemistry was stabilized by taking appropriate medication and then he began the work of establishing new neuropathways with the help of a therapist by applying God’s narrative to his past so he could properly understand his present and foresee a hopeful future.
“My wife Heather and I with Susan Jensen (wife of Marc) and a couple of others who have been impacted by mental health and suicide decided to launch a City Group,” Larry described. “Susan shared that she felt people in the church didn’t have a place to go with their concerns about mental health and suicidal ideations. God gave her the vision of No Shame. We all knew something needed to be done in the church community to help people who are struggling with seasons of distress, mental illness, and suicidal ideations.”
A month before the one-year anniversary of Mark’s death, Susan, Larry, Heather, and their team came together and created a community which today is called No Shame Ministries.
“We launched in October of 2019 and the first group had approximately 25 people,” Larry shared. “Mental health impacts 21% of all people annually.” No Shame consists of a discipleship/support community, a destigmatizing educational piece, and mental health coaching program. I called it the three legs of a stool. God has grown it into something far more than that.”
No Shame started with the simple desire to provide discipleship and support. Bringing people together who are struggling with mental health disturbances, suicide survivors, and family members of those who are battling mental illness. What the team began to identify were the numerous holes and gaps in the mental health system. Gaps include insurance programs that didn’t cover mental health, months long waiting lists to get into therapists and psychiatrists, employers that don’t look favorably on missing work for mental health appointments whose provider’s typically work bankers’ hours.
“Where do you go?” Larry listed all the system breakdowns. “How do you find the right therapist that specializes in the area of your need? If you find them, how long will it take you to get an appointment? How many people have an extra thousand dollars a month to receive proper treatment? You also have a lack of education and awareness, especially in the church. Barna Research Group did a study that concluded that church members are twice as likely not to seek out professional help due to the stigma. Unfortunately, there are churches who preach Jesus is enough, however we neglect the fact that the brain is an organ that gets sick just like the heart or pancreas. We treat it as a spiritual problem. It is about prayer but so much more! All these breakdowns create utter hopelessness in people and in the church.”
Most people with mental illness are not diagnosed until 12 years after their first symptom. In the meantime, they find other unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with their distress. Statistics tell us 64% of all prison inmates, 20-25% of our homeless population, 37.9% of drug and alcohol addicts have diagnosed mental illness. Over 46% of successful suicides victims have been diagnosed with mental illness. Churches have prison ministries, homeless ministries, and recovery programs but have yet to address the mental health problems that have led to these societal problems.
This can be a tremendous opportunity for the church to become a source of mental wellness before mental distress turns into mental illness. People will look for answers either in the church or in the world. The world doesn’t have the answer but instead perpetuates the lies. The church can step up presenting the holistic truth of Jesus. The Church is God’s embodied creation and can have a healthy spirit, soul, body, and relationships to experience wholeness in Christ. A deficiency in any of those areas will impact the whole human experience.
No Shame Ministries hopes to be one of the answers for the church and our community. Currently, No Shame is a peer-lead group that meets Tuesday evenings at Citylight Omaha’s West location and Monday evenings at Brookside Church with groups launching at Christ Community Church and Riverview Church in the fall. The goal is to have 30 No Shame groups throughout the metro Omaha area. No Shame Ministries is committed to helping all, Christian or non-Christian, experience freedom through transformation in Jesus Christ from the shame associated with depression, anxiety, addictions, mental illness, and suicidal thoughts by centering on a sound mind, body, spirit, and healthy relationships.
No Shame also offers several services such as awareness trainers, mental health coaches, and will soon establish a warm line to call after hours. The vision is to create a comprehensive medical health community.
“If it’s 10 o’clock at night and you are struggling, you now have a community of people to call for support,” Larry said with understanding. “It really becomes a self-supportive situation…participants talk each other down and prevent distress from escalating. There is just something powerful about having someone available that can understand what you are going through.”
The concept is that the warm-line will become the first step when someone is starting their mental health journey. Warm-line line callers will be offered a coach. The coach’s job will be to spend the next 90 days assisting the caller and their family, guiding them on their path to wellness. Assistance includes daily contact, a wellness check, friendly reminders, encouragement on homework, etc. The coach would be given permission to speak with the therapist and psychiatrist for continuity of care. The coach would meet once a week with the individual and walk through them through a 14-week core curriculum together. The curriculum covers the basics of mental wellness, knowing God, your identity in Christ, and then everything from eating well to healthy relationships. The coach would also help them plug into a No Shame support community group.
Larry wants to equip Citylight and our community of small groups with the tools and understanding to identify and assist with mental health concerns; knowing what to do if someone comes to you in distress or with suicidal thoughts. He also wants to take the burden off pastors and church leaders so they can focus on evangelizing the lost and growing the church.
“Imagine every church having a mental health support community,” Larry explained. “When a church member expresses mental health related concerns to a pastor or leader, the response will be “let me pray for you” and then let me put you in contact with a team of individuals who have been trained to assist you.”
Larry said “The church has always been God’s solution to societal problems, not the government.” The church has established colleges, built hospitals, taken care of the orphans and widows, and cared for the impoverished. Now it’s time for the church to engage in the mental health crisis, which in the end only has a spiritual solution.”
Larry believes when the church starts to meet the needs of the mentally unhealthy, the church will start to see one of the greatest revivals of our generation.
No Shame Ministries invites you to become a part of this wellness movement. If you have successfully navigated a season of mental distress or illness, have a loved one that struggles with mental illness or feel called to be a part of the solution, please contact No Shame. No Shame is training group leaders, sponsoring certified mental health coaches, mental health educators, and is looking for qualified individuals to serve on their board and leadership committee.
Lastly, if you are going through a season of mental distress, you don’t have to walk through it alone. Please reach out to No Shame and they would love to walk beside you on your journey to mental wellness.