Counseling is a lonely job. Counselors are often tucked away in their office, meeting with clients one on one, day after day. They see so much human brokenness and pain first hand. Moreover they have to do it all alone. It is not an easy task as problems become more complex and get entrenched in culturally shaped issues. Although counseling is not a popular profession among South Asians in North America, there has been a heightened interest in psychological studies in recent years among the younger generation. It is also noteworthy that those who have some kind of formal training in the field are getting involved informally in their churches or communities in providing care within their limited scope of practice and expertise. All of this and many other reasons led to organizing a consultation of the lay and professional care givers in the South Asian community in North America. The primary objective was to identify resources within the community and elsewhere in raising the level of care to our community in field of counseling.

The first ever consultation of South Asian Christian caregivers in North America took place in the suburbs of the windy city of Chicago from 5th through 7th of September 2008. It was jointly organized by Parivar International and Agape Partners International. The event was held at the facility of Awana International in Streamwood, IL. It was attended by over 60 lay and professional caregivers from the South Asian community from all across the United States and Canada. Attendees included students, lay counselors, Pastors, Social workers, Christian counselors, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, hospital chaplains, military chaplains and others from Boston, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, Orlando, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Seattle, Missouri, Wisconsin, Regina and of course Chicago.

The consultation began on Sept 5th, 2008 at 6pm with dinner. Sam George, Executive Director of Parivar gave a warm welcome to all delegates and introduced the format of the consultation. The worship leaders for the entire weekend were Abey & Lisa Philip of philipmusic.com. The plenary speakers were Dr. T.V. Thomas of Center for Evangelism and Missions in Regina, SK (Canada) and Dr. Paul Meier, founder of Meier Clinics based in Richardson, Texas. Throughout the weekend, there were 14 topical seminars that ran on four tracks of Youth, Marriage, Community and Counseling practice. Morning devotional reflections on Saturday and Sunday were given by Sam George and Rev. Jai Prakash Masih, Pastor of the Asian Mennonite Church in Chicago respectively. The consultation concluded with a discussion on future plans of iCare network by Dr. Thomas Idiculla of Agape Partners International.

In his inaugural talk on Friday night, Dr. T.V. Thomas talked about the growing family needs among immigrant families and presented a theology of care. He encouraged the delegates with the core theme of Christian Counseling - ‘we care for the hurting, because God cares for them’. He presented God as compassionate and talked about his compassionate care reaching out to people through us.

Saturday began with worship followed by the devotional talk by Sam George. Sam’s message was titled ‘Balm of Gilead: Healing Agents in our Community’ based on Jeremiah 8:22 and the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). He challenged the audience to become good neighbors and healing agents in the community.  The plenary talk in the evening was given by Dr. Paul Meier, in which he shared his call to ministry and journey into teaching and providing care to churches in the USA and around the world. It was an inspirational talk and surely it was encouraging to learn that the perspectives about mental health issues among Asian Indian community were common to mainstream America as well.

Altogether there were 14 presentations. The youth track was presided by Col. Thomas Joseph and three papers were presented - Cross-cultural counseling by Rev. Nate Sauve (Chicago, IL); Substance abuse by Dr. Binu Chacko (Queens, NY); and Crisis pregnancy by Nissy Philip (Atlanta, GA). The marriage track was presided by Dr. Thomas Kulanjiyil and four papers were presented - Marital conflicts by Nevi Christodos (Chicago, IL), Interracial marriage by Shoji Boldt (Chicago, IL); Domestic violence by Veena Keeny (Chicago, IL); and Counseling in churches  by Rev. Dr. David Ravinder (Roselle Park, NJ). The community track was presided by Rev. Dr. T.V. Thomas and four papers were presented - Christian parenting by Dr. Jacob Philip (Danbury, CT); Marriage Trends by Dr. Thomas Idiculla (Boston, MA); Ministry among Hispanic community by Dr. Alicia LaHoz (Wheaton, IL); and Financial Counseling by Brian Kapur (Chicago, IL). The final session on counseling practice was presided by Dr. Thomas Idiculla and three papers were presented - Integration of faith by Dr. Dolly Thomas (St. Louis, MO); Psychiatric Help by Dr. Rajeev Sharma (Chicago, IL); and Lay Counseling Training by Dr. Mabel Koshy (Chicago, IL).

Sunday morning began with an extended worship session led by Rev. Isaac Wilson, retired pastor of Indian Evangelical Free Church and Abey & Lisa Philip. In the morning message, Rev. JP Masih shared from Matthew 11:28-30 about Christ’s invitation to all those who are burdened and broken. He read the passage in Hindi and Urdu and gave an exposition on rest and healing available in Christ.

The venue was an excellent choice for a gathering of this sort. Even some of the local folks stayed at the venue which gave ample time to mingle with the delegates from other states. Food was provided by various catering services. Ample meal breaks and informal settings provided numerous opportunities for interaction among the delegates. Everyone was grateful for an excellent team of volunteers who worked through all the details of the consultation.

The participants proposed several projects. As a pioneer project Parivar and Agape will compile a list of lay and professional counselors in the community. It was also decided to organize regular teleconferences, iCare blog and regional gathering of networks. A five member team will plan out future activities of the iCare network. Future plans will be broadcasted through the iCare Network website – www.iCareCounseling.net. Sam George collected an event evaluation from all delegates and expressed gratitude to all participants who made the consultation effective and successful. A certification of participation was handed out to all delegates. The meeting ended with prayer and benediction by Dr. T.V. Thomas.  Praise be to God for what was accomplished at the first ever consultation of South Asian counselors in North America and for the creation of this informal network across this region of the world.