By Mike McGee
[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]ou might have seen the commercials on VH1, BET, or Comedy Central. They’re beautifully produced but simple: twentysomething guys hanging out in a restored classic car, while one kid watches despondently from a distance. A girl living the popular life cuts class to sob alone in the high-school bathroom. For the online ministry Groundwire, these ads are the tools to connect with hurting teens and young adults.
The second prong is the Groundwire.net on-screen chats. Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, visitors can discuss issues online confidentially with trained volunteer coaches who are devoted to reaching out to others.
Started by Sean Dunn in the late 1990s, Groundwire is an outreach extension of his Colorado-based Champion Ministries. Funded by donations, Groundwire has seven full-time employees and a legion of volunteers. Marilyn Patterson, advancement coordinator for Groundwire and an occasional coach, spoke to MannaEXPRESS in a North Dallas café about her work with the ministry. She is passionate about Groundwire’s strategy for spreading the Word.
A grandmother of two teens, Patterson likes to call herself a “Cradle Christian,” since she was raised in the church. Her professional experiences included corporate training and insurance sales. Insurance wasn’t where she wanted to be, however, so she prayed about it.
“One day a girl that I had known posted on Facebook that she was involved in this ministry called Groundwire,” Patterson says. “‘And by the way, they’re looking for an advancement coordinator if you know anybody that’s interested.’” Patterson jumped at the chance.
Now she speaks to others and educates ministerial groups about Groundwire. “God’s fingerprints were just all over it,” Patterson says. “I had felt for a long time that God was leading me to some kind of ministry; I didn’t know what it was. Turns out this was it.”
Groundwire.net never turns anyone away. A 13-year-old having problems at school is welcome; Patterson herself has chatted with an older woman who couldn’t have children. Common topics are bullying, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts, although feelings of loneliness are the most frequent chat issues. Asked who an average chatter might be, Patterson laughs a bit, looks out the café window and says, “It’s as average as the people walking up and down!”
In 2012, more than 2.5 million people visited Groundwire.net, and 30 million people a month came in contact with the commercials on radio and TV. Groundwire says its coaches have prayed with 5,492 people. In offering “hope to the hopeless” through online conversations, lives have changed, Patterson says.
The key, she explains, is how Groundwire works. Communication between the chatter and coach is private and on a first-name-only basis. Although a young person might feel uncomfortable discussing a subject with friends or family, an anonymous voice, in a medium that today’s computer-oriented youth are comfortable with, can be a huge safety valve.
Man-made borders and time zones are obsolete with Groundwire.net. Coaches in the United States, England, Australia, and Eastern Europe help those in spiritual need. Patterson gives the example of a Muslim girl reaching out to Groundwire–she believed Allah wasn’t involved in her life and derived no hope from prayer.
Even the confounding of language is met with faith-filled optimism. Translation software makes coaching available in 52 languages. Says Patterson: “If you log on and say ‘Hola,’ and if I come back and type ‘Hello, Mike’ on the screen, it’s ‘Hola, Miguel.’”
Absent among the coaches is a judgmental attitude toward chatters. While they’ll offer prayer to the chatter or ask if they can forward a link to more information, listening is the coach’s top priority. A testimonial from “Marissa” tells about her Groundwire experience during a struggle with self-mutilation, depression, and an eating disorder:
“I was angry and I wanted to talk to someone. I felt that I would be judged or shunned if I talked to anyone I knew about such sensitive subjects.” A radio ad inspired Marissa to give the chat feature a try. “The people at Groundwire chatted, prayed, and encouraged me. I could log on at pretty much any time of the day, and there would be someone to chat and/or pray with me.”
Patterson references Romans 8:38-39 to explain Groundwire’s appeal. “There is nothing that can separate you from the love of God,” she says. Exemplifying such a message to those seeking answers can change their way of thinking. “If someone loves me that much, then I want to do whatever I need to do to love back,” she says.
Groundwire doesn’t want to pollute that message of love with judgment, Patterson says. “There’s enough of that going on in their lives,” she says. “That’s why they’re lost, and that’s why we’ve got the numbers that came to us last year.
“It’s just growing and growing and growing!”
Mike McGee is a freelance writer and photographer. He graduated from the University of North Texas and The Art Institute of Dallas. He lives in Dallas.