One day, Jamie Tworkowski might hear from someone who decided not to commit suicide after seeking help from his nonprofit, To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA). The next day, he might speak at a memorial for a girl who took her own life, even after reaching out. "We never get used to stuff like that," says Tworkowski, "but I don't think we're supposed to. That stuff just breaks our hearts and reminds us what's at stake."
Tworkowski, 30, founded TWLOHA in early 2006 while helping a 19-year-old friend, Renee, who was struggling with addiction, depression, self-injury (she had written "F---Up" with a razor on her forearm), and attempted suicide. While Renee debated getting treatment, Tworkowski and other friends offered support; in the meantime, he wrote an essay, "To Write Love on Her Arms," addressing Renee's situation. The name stuck, T-shirts started selling, Christian bands (including Switchfoot) started spreading the word, and a movement was born. Since then, TWLOHA—partnering with the likes of Teen Challenge, S.A.F.E. Alternatives, and others—has responded to more than 150,000 people (many in crisis) and donated over $700,000 to treatment and recovery centers.
Question & Answer
Is TWLOHA a Christian organization?
No. The word Christian, in my opinion, has been abused and misrepresented. It's a label that alienates people. Jesus didn't come to establish a subculture; he came to heal the world. With TWLOHA, we are simply trying to let people know that they matter, that they're not alone in their struggles, and that hope and help are real.
How does your faith inform your work?
My faith is the lens I see the world through. I believe that God loves people and cares about people's pain.
"To Write Love on Her Arms" is a clunky title. Why stick with it?
Our title causes people to wonder what it means. It opens up a conversation and invites people to learn more. Our title says a lot about who we are and how we approach what we do.
How do you promote TWLOHA?
I probably spend half my time on the road. I'm speaking more frequently at colleges and universities, where we are starting more chapters. Folks from our team go out on the Warped Tour and to other music festivals. If you see our tent somewhere, we're not just selling T-shirts. We're there for the conversations.
What else does TWLOHA do?
We also address depression, addiction, and suicide. The big picture is how we cope with pain. We're talking about issues that affect male and female, young and old, rich and poor, black and white, the world over.
What would you say to the church about engaging those issues?
We have to let people know it's okay to be human, to admit questions and struggles. And let's not ignore the tools and solutions. If someone breaks their arm, you don't just pray—you take them to get the bone fixed. Let's do the same for people battling depression and addiction, by getting them treatment and medicine.
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More information about To Write Love on Her Arms (or TWLOHA) is available on its website.
Christianity Today has a special section on death & dying.
Other articles on suicide include:
In the Valley of the Shadow of Suicide | A mother catches glimmers of hope after losing a son. (April 24, 2009)
Suicide — A Preventable Tragedy? | A ministry helps churches handle the complex issue. (July 6, 2000)
CT Classic: Suicide and the Silence of Scripture | Though the church has come to opposing conclusions about the fate of victims, we have a mandate to minister to those left behind. (July 6, 2000)
Previous "Who's Next" sections featured Bryan Jennings, L. L. Barkat, Robert Gelinas, Nicole Baker Fulgham, Gideon Strauss, W. David O. Taylor, Crystal Renaud, Eve Nunez, Adam Taylor, Matthew Lee Anderson, Margaret Feinberg, and Jonathan Merritt.