Light is a powerful symbol. Particularly as winter nights creep in earlier and earlier, we appreciate the comforting glow of a candle and are drawn to the twinkling beauty of Christmas lights on houses.
We spoke to Agal Counselling who are shining a light of hope in South Asian communities through their work with highly vulnerable groups.
We’ve seen a lot of darkness in 2020, not just from the pandemic itself but also the knock-on effects, like the rise in domestic abuse cases during lockdown. It can be all too easy to lose hope when we see abuse infecting every corner of society, with not much difference inside the Church; our research showed that 1 in 4 churchgoers had experienced domestic abuse in a current relationship.
Didn’t Jesus call us to be different, to be the ‘light of the world’?
One thing that stirs up hope is seeing people respond to incredible darkness with incredible faith. We want to equip churches to recognise and respond to domestic violence, to be light and expose the darkness of abuse. We have a pack for churches that's been translated into eight languages and, with the help of the fantastic women at Agal Counselling, we can now add Tamil to that list.
“You are the light of the world... No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
— Matthew 5:14-16 —
Agal Counselling was formed during lockdown by a small group of professionals, who couldn’t ignore the signs of deteriorating mental health in the Tamil community, particularly with families. The severity of the situation was fully realised when two young Sri Lankan children tragically lost their lives in Ilford, London; they were killed by their father.
And so Agal began. The name ‘Agal’ comes from an oil lamp with a wick, typically used at home. Just like this small lamp brings great light into a home, the counsellors at Agal work to brighten up the lives of families in dark times, such as domestic abuse and trauma of any kind. They're Christian professionals who work with all faiths and none to reach as many people as possible.
Like many cultures, South Asian culture places a high value on the bonds of the family unit, which is why their main aim is to strengthen families. But they also want to challenge the many misconceptions around mental health, including that there’s no such thing as mental illness. Many in the community are also concerned with reputation: ‘What would people think? If relatives knew my child’s behaviour, their future would be destroyed.’
That’s why Agal wants everyone going through dark times to know this one thing: it’s ok to ask for help.
"Just by reading, the word of God brings healing to your soul. At the same time, professional help is to be sought."
— Maharani Kavitha, Agal Counselling —
For Christians who are struggling, Agal's Operations Officer, Maharani Kavitha, also emphasises the importance of seeking help from both God and others: ‘I tell people if they have a headache, they rub Vicks on their forehead and that does something inside the head and relieves the pain. Likewise, just by reading, the word of God sends healing into your soul. At the same time, professional help is to be sought. I encourage people to ask for help - a trusted friend or professional organisation.’
Already this small new start-up is living up to its name by bringing the light of hope through counselling, life-coaching, and signposting people to the right organisations for help. Maharani highlights the volunteers for making this positive impact possible; those who are ‘willingly contributing their professional skills, talents and time, seasoned with love and care.’
So, maybe there were some good things that rose from the ashes of 2020. Alongside Agal, we celebrate in crossing the language barrier with our new Tamil Church Pack, which will open the door for more women to find the help they need.
Together, we can be light in a dark world.
Equip your church
Our Church Pack is a comprehensive resource that addresses common myths and looks at the theology around domestic abuse, as well as providing practical ways to respond to disclosures of abuse. You can empower your church by ordering a physical copy in English, or choose between several different translations available to download.Access the resource