Dr Robi Sonderegger explains God’s method of preparation and discusses the psychology of refugees and terrorists.
Last month, Australian clinical psychologist and regular CHC guest speaker Dr Robi Sonderegger ministered to the CHC congregation with a special message on “Conquering The Giant.” The “giant” in this case referred to the 4,158-meter-high Jungfrau Mountain, one of the tallest peaks of the Swiss Alps, which he climbed last September with International Christian Fellowship (ICF) Zürich pastor Leo Bigger. On his first visit to CHC, Bigger shared the stage with Sonderegger, exhorting the congregation to a greater level of faith in God.
City News caught up with both Sonderegger for a chat below.
You said during your sermon that “You are ready just the way you are” and “You are already prepared”—relating to whatever destiny or life calling it is that God has for us. Are you saying that preparation has no meaning in a Christian’s life?
No, I think the word has very important meaning. It’s just that the meaning might be very different from what we stereotypically think. There are different applications for the word “preparation”, the same way there are different applications for the word “love”—it can mean a multitude of different things. So, “preparation” doesn’t just mean taking time to get yourself organized; it’s recognizing you already have been organized and that God has been training you for significantly longer than you thought.
The best analogy I can give is from The Karate Kid—you have this kid who comes to Shanghai, he’s being beaten up and then rescued by a good Samaritan who knows gongfu. He gets the gongfu master to teach him some gongfu, who then tells him to take off his jacket, hang it up, and put on the ground, over and over and over, until the boy becomes really frustrated. He didn’t realize that in the thousands of times throwing off the jacket, he was being prepared for gongfu moves—the movements with the jacket were the same movements in the gongfu he was trying to learn.
And I believe that’s how God works. When He in shaping and training us, through the every day incidental things, we don’t think He’s training us, but He is. He is in all things and before all things. So before the major giant, He’s already been training us with the little giants.
Goliath would never have been slain had not a bear and a lion entered David’s path. He was being trained and prepared by God even though he didn’t know it at the time.
So that’s what we’re saying—that preparation is not just something that you consciously do, it’s something that God has been doing for a long time, you’ve just not been aware of it.
So how do we get the most of out this “unconscious” preparation God is bringing us through?
Trust Him. Trust that if He’s bringing a giant in your path, then you are already enabled. For example, some parents struggle with their child and ask God why He gave them such a challenging child … maybe the answer is because they’re ready to handle it. Why did you give me this husband or this wife who has betrayed me? Because God knew that you would be able to handle it. God will not allow you to experience something you cannot handle. Why? Because He loves you.
So the concept of preparation takes on new meaning when you trust Him. So if I have this giant in my path, it must be because I am prepared to take it on so Holy Spirit, tell me what to do next!
Ok back to your mountain adventure—what was your wife’s reaction when you told her about your plan to climb the Jungfrau Mountain?
Oh, she wanted to come! She’s a real outdoors girl and she loves the mountains, so when she heard it, she was like, “Oh, that’s so unfair, I wanna come too! Include me the next time you go!”
What did you do in those four weeks before you climbed the mountain?
I ran on the treadmill—three times (laughs). In the week leading up to it, I was in Indonesia for a few days for a conference at JPCC (Jakarta Praise Community Church), so every morning I was there, I ran on the treadmill.
The problem was when you go to such high altitudes, you’re supposed to go slowly, not from sea level right to the top of the mountain in such a short period of time. It was really by God’s grace. So I truly did no preparation.
It seemed from the video clips we saw on stage that you had a relatively easier time than Pastor Leo!
It seemed that way, but it was hard. There were many times on the journey when I wondered whether or not we would make it, and especially just before the end, there was a vertical snow wall of about 100 metres, we had to climb up with ice picks. I knew we could make it to the top, but I didn’t know how we were gonna come down, because it’s snow and not ice or rock, so there was not way you could bolt yourself to the mountain. You’re just literally hanging on with ice picks in the snow, so if the snow gives way, you fall—there’s nothing you can do about it. So those were scary, scary moments.
So what was your one takeaway from the trip?
I need to be fitter! A little bit more fitness could have gone a long way. Or maybe it’s just I’m getting older!
Did your previous experience in ice-skiing help?
Possibly. I love the mountains so I’m not afraid. But I have a healthy respect for them, recognizing that there are very real dangers. But it was a real God idea, and I thank God that He sustained us through the whole journey.
One of the main reasons you climbed the mountain was to raise funds and awareness for the refugee situation in Northern Iraq and Southern Sudan caused by Islamic State persecution. Give us an on-the-ground picture of what’s happening.
Northern Iraq is very different from Southern Sudan. In Southern Sudan are in refugee camps whereas the Northern Iraqis are in suburbs or cities, so the Christian refugees have fled out of the main body of Iraq into Kurdistan and they’re sleeping in churches, schools, floors … anywhere they can find a space, so it’s not well-organized.
Intervention is difficult, and there’s still a lot of political unrest in the region, which makes it hard for humanitarian aid agencies to come in and be involved.
Tell us about the work that your organization, Family Challenge, is doing there.
Family Challenge is an organization that specializes in mental and emotional health, helping people who’ve been traumatized or had experiences of being displaced, so what Family Challenge is doing now is a new project called GROW, recognizing that not everyone who’s been displaced or lost family and friends are necessarily traumatized. So we want to help build their emotional resiliency so that they don’t become traumatized. We’re going in to do early intervention and prevention—a form of first responder treatment for refugees, helping them out before a problem starts.
In Southern Sudan, refugees are brought to the refugee camps, they are given food rations for 10 days, tools to build their own shelter, so they clear a bit of scrub, get some plastic to wrap around their new dwelling, and that’s it. Now they sit there—for how long? Could be months, years, they don’t know. So it doesn’t take long for despair or hopelessness and depression to set in. We want to build a community using scientific and faith-based principles to bolster their resiliency, create a community so that they can find meaning and purpose for their lives once again.
And how are they coping with what has happened?
Everyone is different because they have experienced different things—some have lost homes or land whereas others may have lost family members or have been raped and tortured. So it’s a broad spectrum: from post-traumatic stress disorder right through to emotional instability in the concerns and worries they will have—”How am I going to provide for my family?” or “Where are we going to live now?” or “What does the future look like?” And these thoughts—if they stay around long enough, can develop into psychological problems.
But not only that, many of the Christian refugees are nominal Christians, and so the first thing that can happen is that they lose their faith, because it’s not deeply grounded, so our goal is also to go and shore up their faith and make sure that they’re standing on solid foundation, so that they can conquer their giants.
You would have heard about the Charlie Hebdo massacre—what are your thoughts on it?
There are two ways to think about it. Firstly, it’s a horrendous atrocity. But it’s also a horrendous atrocity for the world’s attention to be given to it, when at the same time, a major atrocity is taking place in Nigeria where hundreds are slaughtered, and it gets no attention, no three million people coming out to protest that this is not okay. And so when we completely ignore one over another, when it just so happens in a Western city, that’s a travesty. Everyone counts, even in the backwaters of Africa.
The second spin is about the whole concept of freedom of speech—and I’m all for freedom of speech, but there’s an interesting contradiction … you can say anything you want, whatever you want, but don’t you dare say anything about, say, homosexuality—who says what’s right and what’s wrong? I only know one source in the universe that categorically declares what’s right and wrong, good and bad, and that’s the moral law authored by God. I think there’s a deeper conversation that’s yet to be had.
How do you explain the psychology behind an act of terrorism?
I don’t know … I’ve never counselled one [terrorist] myself. I think there’s more to it than we realize. Often we would jump to the conclusion that they’ve been brainwashed, or that they truly believe fundamentally that they will be rewarded for this act of terror they’re performing.
I think it goes deeper than that. There’s a real sense of ingroup and outgroup, that if you’ve not grown up in a loving family where you’ve been shown grace, mercy and forgiveness but one of hostility, violence and hate, then you’re displaced as a human with your identity, and when you find a group, or a band of brothers, so to speak, that recruit you and for the first time you feel a sense of belonging that speaks more than your fundamentalist faith—and you’re willing to do anything for it.
It’s the same thing that happens with kids and peer pressure: those who grow up displaced, they don’t belong anywhere, and so they fall in with the wrong crowd, and are willing to do anything, give up any morals they once had and, give in to sex, drugs, or whatever it might be, just to be accepted—I think there’s a parallel between these two. It’s an act of terror the person conducts on himself.
As CHC enters its fifth year of the trial involving its leaders, what are you thoughts on how we can actively employ right thinking for CHC’s future?
By praising God. It may sound like a strange answer, but praising God is our default position. So we often praise God when a child is sick and gets better, but what if he doesn’t get better? God knows best—all things work together for the good of those who love Him, and so we have to trust that He’s working on a bigger picture which we only get to see a snippet of.
When will you next climb another mountain?
A better question would be: What’s the next giant to be conquered? We’re planning in 2015 to conquer the next giant, it’s top secret at the moment … we’re even already planning into 2016. All you need to know is that it’s completely unlike anything anyone’s done before, it’s truly a giant. And I look forward to sharing that with CHC when it becomes available.
Log on to www.conqueringthegiant.com for more information.