We seldom realize the power of our words; this is true, especially in the church.They can easily destroy and oppress if so desired.But they can also revive and liberate.
As part of an effort to educate our members about domestic violence, the women of our region have organized lunch workshops in most of our churches, where our team has been able to share information about the scope of the problem, its warning signs, tools of communication, and alternatives to violence.Most importantly, they have been able to share the most basic belief that violence, whether physical, emotional or sexual, has no place in the Christian home, or any home for that matter.
We hope that this is obvious to most of you, though we know that there are many relationships even among Christians where partners don't know how to relate without abuse and power.We have see all too often how the Bible is used, or misused, to oppress women, telling them that it is their duty to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22), even those that yell at, hit, enslave and rape them.The wife is given the responsibility for maintaining the marriage and keeping her husband happy.She is made to feel ashamed if all is not perfect.
Last year, following one of our breakfasts, a young woman approached one of our team members, to ask about the presentation.She couldn't believe the things she had heard Chuyita say.It was the first time that Lupita had ever heard anyone talk of women's rights in the home.It was the first time she heard anyone suggest that a man couldn't do whatever he wanted in the marriage.It was the first time anyone suggested to her that she should not be ashamed of who she was and that all she had endured for 23 years.It was not her fault.Powerful words.
This is the story that she shared.
The happiest days of Lupita's life were spent in a shelter with her mother and sisters where she lived until she was nine.It was then that her mother finally found her salvation from the shame of living in the shelter. She met a man, a "good" Christian man who wanted to marry her and would take in her kids as well.It was then that Lupita's hell began.
Lupita's stepfather was emotionally and physically abusive from the beginning; he began sexually abusing her within a year.Lupita's mother knew about this and rather than risking her meal ticket, turned a blind eye to what was going on; she ignored her own young child's pleas for help for fear of having to return to the shelter!And so the abuse continued for 6 more years until Lupita became pregnant.
It was suddenly no longer a private problem.Unable to hide her pregnancy, Lupita now became the symbol of the family's shame.She was blamed by her mother and siblings for seducing her stepfather and was cast out from the family. Her stepfather then set her up in another shack where he, though still legally married to the mother, maintained Lupita as his wife.She was a confused child, living in constant fear of this man.Rejected by her family and everyone she knew, she had no where else to turn.Aside from suicide she knew of no way out.For almost 20 years this man, the children she bore, and the small shack on a hillside in Tijuana were her entire world. She was forbidden to leave or talk to anyone unless accompanied by this man.
The family did attend church, however, as good Christians should.I suppose that Lupita's husband/stepfather never encountered anything there that would challenge his control on his family and the unique way that he interpreted his faith.Indeed he was quite adept at using religion to maintain his control and the bible was his greatest weapon to keep Lupita's spirit down.
From all outward appearances theirs was the ideal family, and this man was even a deacon in some of the churches that they attended over the years.Lupita felt it was her duty to keep up appearances and it would be her shame if anything threatened the image the family should maintain.
It would be that way still, if Lupita hadn't attended the breakfast that day and hadn't heard some powerful words.
Imagine her stepfather/husband/captor's surprise to learn that women could discuss such things at their breakfasts, rather than just learning how to bake cookies and submit to their husbands.
It has been amazing to see the changes in her since then. She has been working with us for the last year, in counseling and different workshops.It takes time to develop the courage and self worth to be able to leave such systematic abuse, but Lupita did it, several months ago. She did it largely on her own.Along the way, we have held her hand and held her in prayer, helping her as we could.But the decision and the courage were hers.
She is making it on her own now, cleaning houses to pay the rent and the costs of raising three school age daughters.She says that when she struggles with the self doubt and guilt that were heaped upon her for years, she looks at her girls and knows that they too deserve far better than the life that she has had to live.She knows also that to return would be to teach her daughters that women deserve no better.Lupita has been able to make an incredible leap into the unknown.It was a decision that flew in the face of everything that she had ever been told about the world and her place in it.
Her case is extreme is some ways, but there are many, many more women who endure similar lives and who will need much more help to make that leap.That is why we will be building a shelter this year, so that we can offer a safe refuge for these women, an environment where they can tend to their wounds, both physical and emotional, and begin to find and love themselves again.
May God bless you, and may it be God's peace which reigns in your hearts and in your homes,
Adalia and Ray