Ministry Helps Men Experience God’s Love Through Human Touch


Decades of research has shown that human touch is essential for babies to develop and thrive. But more recent research shows that it’s just as vital for adults as it is for newborns.

Thursday night Bible study in Skagit County, Washington, sounds like your normal men’s prayer meeting. At Tierra Nueva Ministries, men’s Bible study begins with worship.

Ramon plays the guitar, singing a beautiful Spanish hymn, as the other men pray. The laying on of hands isn’t unusual, but it took these men some time to be comfortable receiving God’s love through touch.

Chris Hoke met most of them as chaplain of the county jail.

“In the jail, guys don’t touch. And on the streets they wouldn’t,” Hoke said. “I think the only place they’d have it is just an over-sexualized sense of touch with girlfriends.”

Julio, who asked not to use his last name, was one of those inmates.

“There’s guys that are scared of being touched because they need to put up a front, that tough guy role,” Julio explained. “And when someone, just some stranger comes in and tells you he loves you, and he gives you a hug, it’s something you’re not used to. It’s a feeling that you feel that somebody cares about you.”

“It was surprising how much guys wanted a hug right when they came through that door,” Hoke said. “Just boom, and they’d want to hug, and some guys would say, you know, ‘Sometimes I come just to get my fix.’ I saw how much there’s a hunger for it, if it’s healthy.”

Programmed for Touch
So why this hunger for touch? According to neuroscientists, our brains are programmed for human contact.

“There’s a whole array of compounds that play together in order to allow touch and social interaction to affect our brain,” Dr. Paul Aravich, a professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School told CBN News.

The hypothalamus area of the brain produces oxytocin, which is released upon positive touch. That compound can reduce fear and increase trust.

For many of the men Hoke works with, positive touch played a major role in their healing and growth.

Their progress was threatened, however, when the jail put in place a “no contact” rule. Inmates were allowed only what they called a “business handshake,” and chaplains were told to reject anything else.

“At first, to me, it seemed like the guys almost became more violent,” Hoke recalled. “Especially in those first few weeks, more fights were breaking out, as if they were swinging just for some kind of contact.”

Dr. Aravich is not surprised at this reaction.

“The lack of touching causes all kinds of changes in brain development and brain organization,” he explained.

In the mid 1900s,Dr. Harry Harlow found this in experiments where he deprived monkeys of physical contact from birth. The results were heartbreaking.

“If you take a social creature, and isolate it, and look at a part of the brain called the hippocampal formation, psychosocial deprivation actually causes a physical injury to that particular part of the brain,” Aravich said. “Our brains were designed to be with other brains.”

Research shows the first sense developed in the womb is touch, as early as eight weeks gestation, highlighting the need for proper touch from day one.

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Dawn Goeb

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