The Guardian (UK) wrote: “Jarrid Wilson: US pastor who ran suicide outreach group takes own life” and summed up the distressing news that faced us last week.
On Tuesday, as the world marked the annual World Suicide Prevention Day, Greg Laurie, senior pastor of the Harvest Christian Fellowship, the Southern California church where the 30-year-old Wilson served as an associate pastor announced that Wilson had died on Monday. He is survived by his wife Juli, two sons, his mother, father, siblings and other family members.
Wilson, with his wife founded the outreach group Anthem of Hope to help people coping with depression and suicidal thoughts. The group founded in 2016 sought to end the stigma of mental illness and connect people to resources, including a 24-hour crisis line.
Wilson had spoken openly about his struggle with depression and his desire to help others. On his Instagram page, he wrote in August: “Admitting you struggle with mental health doesn’t make you a bad Christian.” He also wrote “I’m a Christian who also struggles with depression. This exists, and it’s okay to admit it.”
Last Monday, the day of his death, Wilson officiated at the funeral of a woman tweeting earlier: “Officiating a funeral for a Jesus-loving woman who took her own life today. Your prayers are greatly appreciated for the family.”
That same afternoon, he tweeted:
“Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts.
Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure depression.
Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure PTSD.
Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure anxiety.
But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort. He ALWAYS does that.”(2:01 pm - 9 Sep 2019)
Senior pastor Laurie said Wilson’s death is a reminder that spiritual leaders also struggle.
“Sometimes people may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people,” Laurie wrote. “We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not.”
Wilson blogged earlier this summer that he had dealt with “severe depression throughout most of my life and contemplated suicide on multiple occasions.” On social media, he regularly encouraged others dealing with similar challenges.
In 2018, responding to Anthony Bourdain’s and Kate Spade’s deaths, Wilson spoke about the fact that “our society and culture is in need of a great awakening in regards to priorities, mental health awareness, and the love of God.”
Wilson commented on the manner in which people were “quick to point out what many believe are their (Bourdain’s and Spade’s) eternal destinies.” He quoted Twitter users who had declared such judgments as “Anyone who (dies by) suicide ends up in hell” said, “Suicide is an unforgivable sin.”
He responded saying, “Those who say suicide automatically leads to hell obviously don’t understand the totality of mental health issues in today’s world, let alone understand the basic theology behind compassion and God’s all-consuming grace. Heaven is a place for people who have a personal relationship with Jesus, not a just a place for people who didn’t (die by) suicide.
“We must do better at educating people on things they have a hard time wrapping their heads around. And mental health is definitely (a) topic Christians around the world must yearn to better understand.”
In that post, Wilson challenged the idea some Christians have that those who die by suicide are condemned to hell.
“Christians wouldn’t tell someone with a physical illness like cancer they are going to hell because of their diagnosis, he noted. Neither should they assume it of people with mental illnesses, which can ‘lead many people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do if they didn’t struggle’.”
Wilson’s advocacy will remain strong in the struggle to de-stigmatise mental illness especially in the Bible-believing communities globally. Too many professing believers are still walking in myths and misunderstanding without a proper Godly view on mental illness. Far too many are missing the opportunity to serve that community with one of the best tools for comfort and care: the Bible.
The Bible informs my advocacy for faith-based mental health education and support for mental illnesses. Many people come to church and to a relationship with God because of some level of distress in their life. In faith-based outreach I always remind people: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1 NIV).
It is on God we “cast our care”; it is in him, in the midst of the turmoil we can experience a “peace that passes understanding.”
I extend deepest condolences to all those whose lives have been touched by the work and testimony of Pastor Jarrid Wilson and Anthems of Hope.
Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communications and media professional and a public health practitioner. She holds an MA with Merit in Mass Communications (University of Leicester) and is a Master of Public Health With Distinction (The UWI). Write to: email@example.com