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2023 Miracle Offering: Rev. Krista Ducker invites United Methodists to share God's love

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC

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Rev. Krista Ducker. Photos by jlynn studios.

"I often say to people of all ages, what you're dealing with, anxiety, depression, this is what it means to be human. We're all human together. When we struggle, we need not judgment, ostracism, or exclusion. What we need is love, support, and care. People who can help show us the way out, help us with options, help us to see that we are loved by a God who knew us intimately in the womb and created every cell of our body," said Pastor Krista Ducker. 

Rev. Krista Ducker has a unique perspective on the struggles people face. She worked at the Helpline Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and now serves as a chaplain for Avera Health.  

"At the Helpline Center, I would talk to them about what they were struggling with and their thoughts. Then, we would formulate a coping plan to help them through the hard times," describes Krista. "Now, as a chaplain, I talk to people who have been through that. Either they've had very serious thoughts of suicide, mental health struggles, or have even carried through on an attempt. They are at the behavioral health hospital recovering after getting medical care."

In both positions, she has talked with people who have thoughts of suicide. People across the spectrum of ages, income brackets, gender, races, and occupations reach out for help at the South Dakota Helpline Center and Avera Health. The common thread she sees is that people need to be heard, seen, and know that they are of value and worth. They need to know they are loved.

"When I would talk to people at the Helpline Center, I often realized that they really didn't want to die. They didn't know how to keep living," said Rev. Ducker. "So often, the conversation would be how to help them see a way forward to continue in their lives. Sometimes it was as simple as: What can you do to distract yourself when you're alone? Where is the place you can go? Who is someone you can talk to? At its heart, the struggle is often that they feel almost like they're too far gone. They feel like they are too much of a burden to the people they love and get into a place where they don't see another option."

Places like the Helpline Center in South Dakota and FirstLink in North Dakota offer options and resources at a time when it is most needed. These two organizations are the designated recipients of the 2023 Miracle Offering: Road to Hope.

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Krista Ducker sings with other musicians at the 2022 Dakotas Annual Conference in Bismarck.

The Helpline Center offers excellent suicide prevention training—online and in person—shares Pastor Krista. "I highly recommend the training for any clergy or church leaders, especially those working with young people. They also have excellent grief support services for those who have lost a loved one to suicide," she said.

Faith and the pastor can play a vital role for someone facing struggles. Individuals and families with mental health issues face a stigma, unlike those with physical health issues. The stigma categorizes mental health as something that should not be discussed and is unforgivable. 

"People came up to me and said, 'You know, we heard people talking about how this [suicide] was an unforgivable sin and that we would be forever separated from God and the ones we love.' I was able to say there's nothing in the Bible that says suicide separates us from God forever. It's just not true," said Pastor Krista. "I was able to take an opportunity to say that mental health struggle is not a moral failing, it's not a sin, it is not a failure of character. It's an illness that needs treatment, support, and care just like any other illness."

There is not one determining cause or factor of mental illness. However, teens and young adults dealing with mental health issues are also maturing physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

"Their brains aren't fully developed yet. They don't have a concept of time that adults have," said Ducker. "They have feelings like all of us do. But they don't have the life experience and the context. If they are in an environment that is not supportive to them, then they don't have the support to process what's happening in their hearts and minds."

The landscape is different for young people who live with the vulnerability of social media culture. The Helpline Center reports that suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in South Dakota but is the leading cause among ages 10 to 29, 2021. Texting for help is one option offered through the Helpline Center and FirstLink. Some young people and their parents might turn to clergy or their church for help. Clergy or churches do not have to do it all. They can refer people to the Helpline Center and FirstLink.

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"As clergy and people of faith, we really need to step into the gap in any way we can. It is important for clergy to be aware of the resources," said Pastor Krista. "Clergy know that if somebody in my congregation needs help with utility bills or low-cost childcare, low-income housing, or a counselor, we can just have them call 211 or even call with them. We can work together."

Ducker says that providing resources through the 2023 Miracle Offering: Road to Hope to these two organizations is a smart move.

"I think it is a great statement of support to say that we support what these organizations are doing as a United Methodist Annual Conference in South Dakota and North Dakota. It is a powerful witness to our community and our states that we deeply care about those struggling and want to reach out and help them. So we are banding together with those resources already out there to do that work," said Pastor Krista. 


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