When there are no adults around.
“Another young man committed suicide…How do we prevent and protect students from death? What can we, as youth ministers, do? Let’s do something …”
This is roughly how my conversation with Mykola, a graduate of the Youth Ministry program at the Kyiv Theological Seminary, began. Currently he works as a teacher in a private school in Kyiv, but for many years Mykola led a teenage ministry in one of the large churches in Kyiv.
2021 began with a series of suicides among adolescents in Ukraine. BBC Ukraine reported: “In Kyiv and the region from January 19 to February 17, 2021, there have been 7 seven cases of children aged 10 to 18 years dying by suicide.”
According to the World Health Organization, suicide among young people is the second leading cause of death after road traffic accidents. There are several reasons why young people want to ‘take themselves out’. First of all, 75% of adolescent suicides come from single-parent families, including orphans. Suicide is very often caused by unrequited love, conflicts with parents and friends, learning problems, mental illness, and alcohol and drug addiction.
It can be noted that teenagers who commit suicide, in most cases, did not have enough loving adults around. Lack of close relationships, emotional intimacy and a credibility gap are listed as the main problems, and suicide is just the tip of the iceberg.
I recall biblical examples from the lives of Job and Judas Iscariot. Their stories demonstrate the importance of social ties in the issue of suicide, if we evaluate their stories from the perspective of the importance of social ties in a crisis.
We read about Job: “I despise my life; I would not live forever…” (Job 7:16) – i.e. he literally did not want to live and even cursed his birthday (Job 3:1). It can be understood, because in one day he lost everything – the children died in an accident, bankruptcy, loss of authority and a terrible disease. But we know that Job’s friends were close to him in his suffering and helped him overcome the crisis (Job 2:11-13).
In contrast to Job, the disciple of Jesus, Judas Iscariot, being overwhelmed with guilt failed to cope with his challenges and committed suicide (Matt.27:3-5). He realized his mistake and therefore tried to return 30 pieces of silver to the people to whom he had betrayed Jesus, but he was rejected: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “What have we to do with it? See for yourself” (Matt.27:4). This highlights the point that it is important to remember that you should never be alone in trials.
During my conversation with Mykola, I suggested different options and ways we can respond to the problem of suicide among adolescents. For example, to understand the problem and find a solution, hold round tables with youth pastors, school principals, psychologists and social workers. Also, prepare volunteers how to reach and help teenagers. And of course, it is vitally important to develop and distribute materials (videos, printed brochures) for teenagers, in a way that reaches the youth culture.
I am convinced that the most important thing that we can do, and have been doing in Ukraine since 2003 – is to train, through local seminaries, youth ministers to work among adolescents and young people – Prepared, educated, motivated, devoted to the Lord, men and women who have dedicated themselves to long-term service to young people. Truly competent specialists in this area, trained ministers who will be at our teenagers’ side to help them get through all the life challenges they may face in their lives. The challenges in society are incredibly great, but we continue to steadfastly follow our strategy in reaching the youth in Ukraine.
This reminds me of this story. One day a man was walking along the beach, when he noticed a boy hurriedly picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?” The young man paused, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean.” The startled man asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” The young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.” Upon hearing this, the man commented, “But, young man, there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along the way. You can’t possible make a difference!” At this the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it into the ocean, turning and said to the man, “It made a difference for that one.”