Scott Brinson can barely comprehend the number of emails he's received just in the last year from teens who say they're cutting themselves.
He's met many face to face, asking them "Why?"
Just earlier this month, the ministry leader met a 16-year-old who had a scar over his eye. His dad had hit him with a full beer bottle. The teen moved from foster home to foster home and then juvenile hall to juvenile hall once he started fighting. He was a cutter.
"He said 'I basically mutilated my arm, I was cutting so much,'" Brinson recalled.
The teen shared how he was so numb emotionally and physically that he just had to "feel something other than nothing."
"I think their bodies just shut down," Brinson said. "[There's this] emotional and physical numbness that they have to take a razor blade and cut just to go 'oh, I'm still here, I still feel something.' And they can control it so it's not too much pain or too little pain."
Some inflict self injury in order to punish themselves, saying "God doesn't love me" and "I'm bad," the 44-year-old ministry leader noted. But for the most part, at least from what he has come across, young people have just become numb.
"We're talking about an epidemic, in my opinion – not to just throw that term out lightly," he concluded.
Brinson, who has struggled with depression, started My Broken Palace just a year ago to cater to a whole generation of hurting teens – not just cutters, but those who are struggling with addictions, suffering abuse, grappling with depression and suicidal thoughts, or just plain hurting and alone.
Explaining the name of the ministry, he said, "We all live in these broken bodies yet we hold the Holy Spirit. So we can be whole in Christ but until we leave this earth we'll be walking around in this broken palace."
With a small group of volunteers, the Southern California native dawns on youth events and churches like a triage unit, sets up a makeshift prayer wall (made of canvas) and draws them in – both the hurting and the encouragers.
Whether it's the curious name of the ministry, the large rustic canvas where youths write their prayers, or the attentive ears, the new and relatively unknown group has been able to attract large crowds.
The group's first strategy is to build quick relationships with these youths, said Brinson, who has been working with young people for 20 years (though not as a youth pastor).
"We have people who are very in tune and very comfortable around teenagers and very relatable. And what happens inevitably is these kids are so comfortable because we're a safe third party. They know we're not going to run and tell their parents or youth pastor if they confess they're struggling with something," he said, while adding that the team does much of the time encourage youths to take the step of telling their parents.
What the ministry leader has found while engaging with these teens is that a lot of them are starved for a response or affirmation.
"The sad thing is, at least in my perspective right now, just the fact that they know that they're not alone, that somebody cares even if they don't know who the person is, that somebody takes an interest in them and that it's honest, that seems to be like handing them the golden ticket," Brinson observed. "I don't know if they're not getting any affirmation anywhere else or what's going on out there in their lives, but they're so starved for some type of affirmation that any affirmation seems to totally boost their morale."
My Broken Palace has a small staff that responds to emails and prayer posts that are made on a virtual prayer wall on their website. Others are encouraged to also click on the prayer requests and write a response – which is automatically emailed to the person who posted the prayer.
It's a better alternative to Facebook, Brinson suggested.