Thursday, November 17, 2016

We Go to the Focus on the Family Visitors Center

"I once had a woman on a tour who had been helped by our counseling service,” Betty the Focus on the Family tour guide told us. “She told us that she had been considering taking her own life. As a nurse she knew the drug and the dosage she could take to make her death look like a heart attack. Just before she took the drugs, the phone rang, and it was a counselor from Focus on the Family.” The woman had asked for prayer a short time before. The counselor referred her to a good counselor she could meet with, and her life was changed for the better. And that is why she wanted to visit Focus on the Family’s headquarters.

We were told two hundred thousand people visit the facility in Colorado Springs every year. Focus on the Family was founded in 1977 by psychologist James Dobson to support families. Their most prominent ministry, a radio program called “Focus on the Family,” airs five days a week. It explores issues of parenting, relationships, sexuality, and more from a conservative Christian perspective.

Dobson was the host of the program for many years, but since he stepped back from leadership, the program has been hosted the current president of Focus, Jim Daly. The program is carried by over 2000 radio outlets in North America, and Focus on the Family ministers in scores of countries throughout the world (where their work often takes other formats). For instance, in China, there are radio programs that explore family issues, which because of government restrictions can’t discuss matters of Christian faith.

The radio programs encourage people with needs to contact Focus for help. Obviously when the program began that was via snail mail and phone and now via email and social media. We observed a social media center with a map on the wall where the people are that contact Focus at any given time. It was through this ministry that the suicidal woman Betty talked about found help. Focus has contact with hundreds of Christian counselors throughout the United States which make up their referral list. Traditionally there have been churches and Christian ministries that distrust counselors and psychologists, but that’s not the case for Focus (which should not be surprising given that it was founder James Dobson’s profession.)

Focus on the Family also produces radio theater programs, most notably “Adventures in Odyssey,” a program for children. The long-running program includes The Imagination Station, a mechanism which allows the program to make use of genres from historical fiction to comedy to science fiction. A children’s play area in the headquarters features a recreation of the small town of Odyssey, an airplane for children to climb in, and a three story slide. Odyssey was the first foray Focus made into drama, but since then the ministry has made other productions about topics from Squanto to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to the Chronicles of Narnia.

We asked Betty our tour guide about ways we could pray for the ministry of Focus on the Family. One thing she suggested we could pray about was that Focus could still effectively minister to people in the aftermath of the election. Focus takes conservative stands on social issues, particularly regarding abortion and same sex marriage. This, which has made the organization controversial through the years.

Focus on the Family is one of many Christian organizations (like Navigators, Greater Europe Mission, and Compassion International) that have headquarters in the Colorado Springs area. With so much to see, we were glad we took time to see Focus on the Family.

(Full disclosure: The Focus on the Family bookstore stocks the Bill the Warthog books I wrote, so we have to love that.)