Blog

Nov 22

MTS Update: Fall 2017

God is moving both through and within Mending the Soul in BIG ways here and abroad, and we are excited as we look forward to 2018, believing in Him to do great things! Here are just a few updates and ways you can be praying for Mending the Soul as this year draws to a close, and we dream of the new year:

Fall Fundraiser and Year-end Donations

Our God is faithful! What a remarkable ‘Inspiring Healing’ event we enjoyed with dear friends on November 4th in Phoenix. It’s thrilling to stand and proclaim God’s faithfulness to provide for the direction in which He continues to send Mending the Soul. That evening we surpassed our fundraising goal of $100,000 and raised $142,000! This means the online facilitator training will be able to train new facilitators in cities that want to launch Mending the Soul groups, and anywhere there is an internet connection. It also means that more individuals in East Africa will get training from Jumah, and he will also be able to follow-up from earlier trainings.

But we trust that God’s faithfulness in providing for the future of this ministry will not end there. To continue down the path God is leading Mending the Soul, we need more fundraising partners. Through your increased financial support, we can expand and serve many more hurting people who are desperate for healing.

A generous individual has offered to match all year-end donations up to $10,000. Please consider a gift of $1000 or $500, and watch as it doubles to $2000 or $1000! Imagine investing in a tool that will train 1,000 facilitators. Those 1,000 facilitators will impact 4,000 people. Of those 4,000 another 1,000 become facilitators, resulting in 2,000 facilitators who can provide personal insights and healing to the next 8,000 individuals. And on it will continue, Lord willing!

Can you think of a better investment of your resources that has a lifetime of multiplying impact like Mending the Soul? Through our program, people get their voices back, marriages have intimacy again, parents and children are reunited, suicides stopped, salvation realized, and so much more! All because of the healing God is doing through MTS groups. Many of you know this powerful change in your own life, and the lives of your loved ones.

Donate today!

Praise and Prayer Requests

God is answering our prayers and moving within the MTS organization by bringing:

  • The ideal person to build an online faciliator training program
  • The right videographer to help tell MTS stories
  • A team to launch a more interactive, user-friendly website

As we say goodbye to 2017 and look to 2018, let us boldly ask Him for:

  • Hundreds more trained with our soon-to-be online training
  • The Vulnerable Child Curricula completed November 2018 in Spanish, city, and faith versions
  • A state-of-the-art website launched
  • Significant increase in the support and training of MTS facilitators and caregivers

Upcoming Events

1/10-1/12/2018 Foundations of Intimacy: The Art of Bonding (Phoenix, AZ)

A four-day intensive class taught by Steve and Celestia Tracy at the Phoenix Seminary. Designed for couples and singles alike, this interactive class will asses and examine developmental disorders related to childhood and adolescence, and evaluate treatments and specific methodologies for working therapeutically through them.

Note: Spouses and fiancées of credit students are strongly encouraged to attend with student at no cost, but would still need to complete the application and registration processes. Register for class code: CD504-1 directly through the Phoenix Seminary.

TBD 2018 Princess Lost & Found Training (Portland and Virtual)

Utilizing the beautifully crafted curricula written by Steve and Celestia Tracy, Princess Lost & Found is taught by Rebekah Stines, MSPC, LPC Intern, and equips individuals who desire to mentor and/or support men and women who have been sexually exploited, abused, and traumatized. Addressing the needs of survivors and advocates, this training provides psycho education on the devastating effects of exploitation and trauma and practical exercises to connect with survivors.

Recordings of each LIVE session will be provided weekly for those unable to attend the live training. Active weekly participation in an email discussion and/or private MTS discussion forum is required in order to receive a completion certificate for the course. Complete course is 15 hours (10 x 1.5 hour modules)

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Oct 12

Go-Go Boots, Dreams, and Desires

Author: An Anonymous Survivor

Like most little girls, I loved to play house as a child.  Growing up in the 1970’s, this often meant putting on my big girl white vinyl go-go boots, using sheets and clothesline to construct the “house” in the back yard, and making sure my essential baby doll and tea set were in tow.  Once I entered the world of my imagination, the storyline evolved into an elaborate display of feeding and rocking my baby, serving tea to make-believe guests, and decorating and cleaning the dwelling before my loving, albeit invisible, husband arrived home.  On those days when my unfortunate younger brother acquiesced to playing house with me, he inevitably endured the nonsensical conversation of a young girl dreaming of a day when she would have a husband, baby, and home of her own.  Where laughter, smiles, hugs, hospitality, and love abounded.

My true-life reality in those years was nothing like the idyllic scenario that played out in the back yard during the hours outside.

Home inside, just feet away, was anything but peaceful.  My father had been sexually abusing me since infancy and physically assaulting my brother, while emotionally and verbally tormenting my mother.  He cheated on her numerous times and had addictions to both pornography and gambling, creating enormous financial strain at times.  To exacerbate the situation, he also suffered from bipolar disorder but would not stay in treatment.  My mom had never received healing from her own horrific childhood of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse and coped with the revictimization as an adult by often escaping after work through vodka, valium, TV, and sleep.  Her neglect and emotional neediness produced an upside-down relationship with me, where I was often the parent and she the child.  She loved me and my brother fiercely but did not know how to wrestle against the demons that plagued both her memories and real-life adulthood.  I would later come to realize how this family dynamic especially predisposed me to being revictimized myself as an adult in an abusive marriage.

Back in 1975, while I was choreographing my imaginary productions in the back yard, Susan Foh was on another mission with a much less benign outcome.  Through an article published in the Westminster Theological Journal, Foh put forth a novel interpretation of Genesis 3:16 that would send destructive ripple effects through the faith community for decades to come and is still inflicting harm today.  In response to the perceived threats within evangelicalism to the second wave of feminism in the United States, Foh was the first to formally suggest that the “desire” in Genesis 3:16 is a woman’s longing against her husband to dominate him, meaning enslave, possess, control, or usurp authority.  Before then, the most common interpretation of “desire” was an immense, clinging, morbid yearning.  In other words, an idolatrous longing for something from the man that the woman was created to receive from God alone.

This seemingly subtle shift in perspective produced monumental negative consequences for abuse victims.

Abuse-related blog, A Cry For Justice, does a great job exploring in greater detail Foh’s damaging explanation of Genesis 3:16 here.  Although I believe God continues to enlighten our minds and understanding of His Word over time, and that sometimes means revisiting traditional interpretations of Scripture, this must always be done in the broader context of who He is, who we are, and the overarching biblical themes of redemption and grace as He calls us to greater intimacy with Him and greater love of others.

Nonetheless, Foh’s rendering was rapidly adopted by conservative churches seeking to stop feminism from gaining ground in their midst and is now a view commonly accepted among complementarians and patriarchal authoritarians.  Many pastors and other spiritual leaders drank Foh’s Kool-Aid over the past 40 years and continue to dispense its poison through sermons, teachings, writings, and counseling.  The faith community is even seeing the view disseminated further via changes to the actual translation of Genesis 3:16 in the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible, one commonly used in conservative circles and whose main editors are staunch complementarians highly invested in promulgating their point of view.  (This codifying of Foh’s proposition through Bible translation is troubling for many reasons, including those explained here and here.)

And, this is where the rubber meets the road for abuse victims.  Confused survivors who love God and want to obey Him question whether their longing to be loved properly and not abused amounts to a desire to enslave, possess, control, or usurp authority.  The A Cry For Justice blog, however, calls it as it is – “Susan Foh’s interpretation provided the perfect theological excuse for abusive men to shift the blame for their evildoing to their wives.”

I would like to believe Foh did not have malevolent intent and simply did not foresee how her proposition would impose another layer of imprisonment and gaslighting for women who wanted to follow God but suffered in abusive marriages.  The church system I began attending in junior high (and continued to through my early 40’s) believed and taught Foh’s supposition, establishing women as adversaries with hidden agendas and over whom the men must exert control lest they be systematically emasculated.  My abusive husband used Genesis 3:16, along with many other verses commonly distorted by abusers, to justify his maltreatment and punishments.  Unless he was in an especially benevolent mood or wanting to make a good impression in public, even the most minor disagreement, request, complaint, or difference in perspective verbalized by me was often dismissed or characterized by him as my desire to “control” him.  I was regularly told that I was wicked and should submit to his authority.

Yet, even in the fog of my own confusion and soul-searching to try to do the “right” thing, an internal dissonance screamed out silently but clearly within my heart –

“No, no, no!!!  You don’t understand . . . I don’t want to control . . .  I don’t want to usurp authority . . . I don’t want perfection . . . I simply want to stop being hurt and to be loved instead.”

I wanted in those moments what I dreamed of as a child, a peaceful home filled with caring and kindness and to be my husband’s beloved.  This longing for my husband’s love and approval, however, clouded my decision-making as I increasingly focused on trying to please him instead of God.

Especially pronounced over time was the discord between the teaching I was receiving about women as it related to Genesis 3:16 and not only my own internal thought mechanisms but also those of my family, friends, and even cinematic and literary culture.  Four of the top ten highest grossing movies of all time included love stories as major thematic elements.  Perennial favorite classic books by Jane Austin and Louisa May Alcott that sold millions of copies reflected the centuries-old longings of women’s hearts to be cherished by the men they loved.  Silly little love songs consistently were chart-toppers.  And this was just the tip of the iceberg.  Even observing my own daughters at play when young, seeing their imaginations reflecting storylines much like my own decades before, prompted me to seek clarity on the misrepresentation of Genesis 3:16.  My reality, like that of many other abuse survivors was this – “The gravitational pull woman feels towards her man can easily make her vulnerable to his mistreatment.”  I eventually came to realize my sin was not a lack of submission or longing to usurp authority, but rather the idolatry of my husband.  The profound truth of the common interpretation of Genesis 3:16 held by theologians for much of church history, long before Foh’s recent reinterpretation, became crystal clear.

An exercise in Chapter 2 of the Mending the Soul Workbook for Men and Women asks the participant to paste a picture of herself or himself as a young child and then list at least ten characteristics of his or her original design discerned from that picture.  This is a profound exercise for many group participants and sometimes difficult.  It calls upon them to go back to that moment in time and see that little girl or boy through their own eyes instead of the abuser’s.  Often, this process results in one of the first significant healing steps in the group because there is power in understanding our identity in God as His child.

Wendy Alsup addresses the importance of identity in her blog and provides this powerful conclusion regarding the need to speak up against Foh’s damaging construal of “desire” in Genesis 3:16 and those who wish to continue to promulgate it through various means, including revising Bible translations –

When William Tyndale translated the English New Testament, he did so, in part, to break the power of spiritual abuse. He wanted to give the most vulnerable members of the Church the power to defend themselves through truth. We believe the straightforward translation of Genesis 3:16 . . . helps pastors, lay leaders, and women themselves to understand the larger context in which women find themselves in this broken world. This in turn, aids in promoting the spiritual growth that is necessary to break the bonds of emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse. In many cases, only when a woman grows in her understanding of her God-given agency and identity as an image bearer can she finally step away from such abuse. As well, only when the godly men around her have a healthy understanding of her God-given agency and identity can they help free her from abuse.

Psalm 73:25-26 NKJV –

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

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Sep 12

Churches as a Haven for Whom?

Author: An Anonymous Survivor

 

“If I want to find an abuser, I go to church.”

These words emphatically stated by my attorney, Diana, seemed to hang in the air between us as I looked quizzically at her while simultaneously recognizing the veracity of her statement.  Mumbling something incoherently, trying to manufacture a tepid defense of faith communities, I was nearly paralyzed at the bluntness  — and, sadly, the piercing truth — of her declaration.

I had come to Diana amid a painful separation from my husband, after leaving a marriage of more than 20 years filled with every form of abuse including physical, emotional, verbal, financial, sexual, and spiritual.  Raw from the trauma of decades of abuse and overwhelmed with the chaos created as my narcissistic husband raged against me and anyone who tried to help or protect me, Diana quickly became not only my advocate but also a friend.  Standing just over 5 feet tall, the tiny Scotch-Irish family law expert pulled no punches.  She was a scrapper who often used colorful language but had a huge heart of compassion for clients like me and was a presence far larger than her physical size.  Opposite of me in temperament and personality, she was exactly what I needed for the ensuing legal battle to protect my children.  She became my voice when I had not yet found mine.  She would advocate for me when I did not yet have the strength to do so myself or was confounded by the legal morass.  She quickly saw through manipulations and deceptions by my husband and his allies.  And she always, always called things as she saw them.

As hard as I tried to develop a response to Diana’s bold assertion, I was both instantaneously aware of its accuracy and deeply saddened at its legitimacy.

Her comment was supported anecdotally by years of experience in family law and helping clients just like me.  As she had listened to the details of my husband’s seminary training, participation in various church ministries, and insatiable hunger for leadership opportunities all while simultaneously severely abusing me at home, she knew she had seen this same scenario many times before in the decades of protectively standing by clients.  Although the details of each case varied, the bottom line was the same – abusers using God and Scriptures to justify the most abhorrent behaviors to their families.  Diana shared stories with me of nameless clients and their abusers who, like my husband, tormented their spouses and then cloaked it under religiosity, as if God condoned it.  One client was not just figuratively beaten with the Bible, but physically pummeled with a giant hardcover volume even while suffering from a severe, life-threatening illness.  The horror of that imagery was inescapable.

Beyond her first-hand experiences, it turned out experts and researchers support Diana’s statement.  But, many pastors tend to be oblivious to the fact.  As chapter 3 of Mending the Soul points out, abusers often have a banal quality to their existence, and what is exceptional about abusers is their commonness.  Monica Taffinder, a Christian counselor who specializes in trauma recovery, told The Christian Post in 2014, “I really think people don’t think that it happens in their congregation.  I mean, [pastors] know these people. They see these people. They go to dinner with these people. They worship with these people. I know they’re savvy enough to realize that there’s just as much as they don’t know people in their congregations as they do, but still.”

abusers often have a banal quality to their existence, and what is exceptional about abusers is their commonness.

Boz Tchividjian is a former prosecutor, law professor, and head of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE).  GRACE focuses on educating and training the Christian community to recognize, prevent, and respond to child abuse.  Tchividjian understands better than most individuals the common dynamics within churches and other ministries that cover and perpetuate abuse.  Tchividjian believes that Protestant churches, groups, schools and mission fields are “magnets” for would-be molesters; ministries and schools do not understand the dynamics of abuse;  and “good ol’ boy” networks routinely cover up victims’ stories to protect their reputations.  High profile ministry investigations and lawsuits over the past several years reveal the disordered inner workings of numerous institutions entrusted to care for the spiritual (and sometimes physical) wellbeing of their charges but fail to do so — frequently with tragic lifelong consequences.  Common threads run through the stories: authoritarian settings where rule-following and obedience reign supreme; counseling techniques that emphasize victims’ own culpability; male leaders with few checks on their power; and a perversion of the Bible to justify all three.

In his work, Tchividjian emphasizes the need for congregations and pastors to understand that churches are targets and havens for abusers. One study has found that 93 percent of admitted sex offenders describe themselves as religious.  Although GRACE focuses primarily on childhood victimization, the same dynamics come into play with spousal abuse as well.  Several national studies suggest that roughly  1 in 4 women experiences intimate partner violence at some point in her adult life.  Other research indicates that domestic violence is as prevalent within the faith community as in the broader community, and some experts argue that church cultures with the common threads described earlier are breeding grounds for spouse and child victimization.  In these environments, the rates are likely to be exponentially higher than average.

Renowned researcher and psychologist, Lenore Walker, explains another dynamic — “Women with strong religious backgrounds often are less likely to believe that violence against them is wrong.”  In part, this is because spiritual leaders are not speaking up against abuse within their congregations.  The June 2014 Protestant Pastors Survey on Sexual and Domestic Violence, a first of its kind, revealed that 65% of 1,000 surveyed Protestant pastors have spoken one or fewer times about domestic and sexual violence, with 22 percent indicating they addressed it annually, while 33 percent mentioned it rarely.  Ten percent of pastors said they had never taught on it.  These results suggest that the overwhelming majority of pastors do not consider sexual or domestic violence central to other religious themes they deem more important.

Further, a key conclusion of the study states that nearly three-quarters of the faith leaders surveyed underestimate the level of sexual and domestic violence experienced within their congregations.  (These numbers do not even venture into the lesser documented abusive patterns of coercive control that are emotional, verbal, psychological, financial, and spiritual without necessarily incorporating physical or sexual abuse but nearly always precede it.)   The research then points to a chilling reality – “for many women who are religious, one of the first responses to abuse by an intimate partner is to seek help from their pastor or other faith leaders. This first disclosure is critical; research consistently shows that the advice of the first person a victim tells will in large measure determine her next steps.”

The fact that churches are far too often a haven for the abuser instead of the victim should compel us to understand why, and then act to change that.

For Diana, her experiences with clients like me and first-hand interactions with their perpetrators, including my ex-husband, have shaped her adamant conclusion.  The last place she would suggest a survivor turn to for assistance is the exact setting where I met my abuser – at church.

Son of man, I’ve made you a watchman for the family of Israel. Whenever you hear me say something, warn them for me.   Ezekiel 3:17 (MSG)

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Jul 31

Is it anti-Christian?

Author: Steven R. Tracy, PhD

Is it anti-Christian to admit the church sometimes fails abuse victims? Is it anti-Christian to admit that abusers often misuse the Bible?

My published research is very rarely referenced by the secular media, particularly a journal article I wrote almost a decade ago. So, I was quite surprised this past week when I received a flurry of emails and calls regarding the alleged misuse of my research on domestic violence. Specifically, two Australian journalists, Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson, conducted a year-long investigation on domestic violence (DV) in Christian homes. Their findings resulted in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) story entitled “’Submit to your husbands’: Women told to endure domestic violence in the name of God.” This report has created a vicious firestorm in Australia. The journalists have been vilified in the Herald Sun for launching a war on Christianity. Furthermore, Baird and Gleeson have been accused of misusing my research to promote their ungodly agenda. Others have stated that I agreed with the critics that my research had been misused.

Here is the backdrop to controversial report. Very little quantitative research on domestic violence in religious homes in Australia has been conducted. So Baird and Gleeson conducted qualitative research through extensive interviews with abuse survivors, counselors, and pastors. Their findings are sadly familiar to those of us engaged in abuse ministry in the US. They discovered that while the Bible, churches, and pastors can be a great source of strength and nurture for abuse survivors, this is not always the case. The Scriptures are often misused by abusers to justify their abuse. Church leaders are often inadequately trained on the complexities of domestic violence and end up hurting abuse survivors who come to them for help. In short, they discovered a great need in Australian churches to response to DV in a more effective, informed manner. As I read this report, I quickly deduced that these journalists had discovered a great need in Australia for sound Christian abuse resources to educate and guide church leaders. Does this sound familiar? This is precisely the need (in America) which led Celestia and me to launch Mending the Soul in 2003.

So is it anti-Christian to admit the church sometimes fails abuse victims and that abusers often misuse the Bible? Of course not! We can’t solve a problem we won’t acknowledge. It is because we love Jesus and the church he established (Matthew 16:18) that Mending the Soul is dedicated to developing the highest quality resources to help the body of Christ understand, prevent, and respond to abuse.

Please pray with me that God will use this ugly debate in Australia to wake people up to the reality of domestic violence and the need for corrective action. It appears that to some extent this is already happening in an ABC follow up article by Baird and Gleeson, “How to navigate the research on domestic violence and Christian churches: A few frequently asked questions.” Pray that God will continue to expand Mending the Soul’s capacity to aid the church around the world in responding wisely and effectively to abuse. Yesterday, ABC published my response (Asking Christians to do better by domestic violence victims is not an attack on Christianity) to this debate regarding the alleged misuse of my research. Here is what I said:

7/26/17
As an outsider to Australian culture, politics, and church life, I am reluctant to weigh in on Aussie debates. However, after numerous inquiries from Australians and Americans regarding my views on Julia Baird and Hayley Gleeson’s article “’Submit to your husbands’: Women told to endure domestic violence in the name of God,” I feel compelled to respond. Many have concluded, with great alarm and animus, that Baird and Gleeson’s article is an attack on Christianity (a “demonization of Christian tradition” as one editorialist put it). Much was made of the fact that they highlighted my citation of research showing that the group of American men most likely to abuse their wives are conservative Protestants who attend church sporadically, while not giving equal emphasis to the corollary finding I also cited— the group of American men least likely to abuse their wives are conservative Protestants who attend church regularly.

Was I misquoted or misrepresented? Quite simply, no. Baird and Gleeson cited precisely what I found in the published research. While they did not draw out the implications of the second finding regarding regular church attenders, they did state it. I do not believe they needed to give this corollary equal weight. I utterly fail to see how this makes the article an attack on Christianity. In fact, I find this accusation illogical and defamatory. In conducting their research, they surveyed numerous Christians and positively cited a wide variety of Christian clergy and ministry leaders. They specifically stated, “unlike the Koran, there are no verses in the Bible that may be read as overtly condoning abuse.” However, they correctly argued that often the Bible is misused by abusers to justify domestic violence. They said, “there is no mainstream theologian in Australia who would suggest that a church should be anything but a sanctuary.” Yet they went on to note, based on extensive interviews, that many Christian abuse survivors do not experience the church as a sanctuary. In describing abuse survivors they interviewed who had experienced hurtful responses from Christian churches, they declared that these women “don’t resent the church” [let alone Christianity]. At the same time, these women “urgently seek its [the church’s] reform.” It appears to me that this latter sentiment succinctly reflects Baird and Gleeson’s goal in the article—not to denigrate Christianity, but to stimulate needed reform.

God help us as Christians if we cannot acknowledge our failures, regardless of who brings them to light. Worse yet, God help us if we cry “persecution” every time we are held accountable for hurtful failures. If Baird and Gleeson’s description of how the Bible is frequently misused by abusers and how church leaders often fail to respond properly to abuse survivors (based on numerous interviews with actual abuse survivors and Christian clergy) is an attack on religion, then Jesus himself led the fiercest attacks on religion. His harshest criticisms were not leveled at pagans but at fellow Jewish believers. Jesus specifically called out the religious leaders of his day for their failure to protect and respond properly to the marginalized and abused (Matthew 23:4-36; Luke 20:46-47). Similarly, the Hebrew prophets repeatedly issued stark pronouncements against spiritual leaders who failed to protect abuse victims (1 Samuel 3:13; Jeremiah 22:1-5), failed to confront perpetrators (Isaiah 1:15-17; cp. Job 29:15-17) or worst yet, colluded with abusers (Micah 3:1-12; Zechariah 7:5-14).

Furthermore, as someone with decades of pastoral and academic experience dealing with domestic violence (in North America and globally), I strongly affirm that Baird and Gleeson’s descriptions of how the Bible is often misused by abusers and church leaders alike, was spot on. Those of us on the front lines of abuse ministry cannot begin to count the number of times we have seen biblical statements regarding male headship, female submission, and God hating divorce egregiously misused against abuse victims. Academic research supports this anecdotal experience. There is abundant data showing that conceptions of gender in which males are viewed as superior to females (see Concepts of Gender and the Global Abuse of Women by Steven Tracy) and in which males are attributed great power to control females are predictors of increased levels of domestic violence. (See the Lancet, Global Health article: Cross-national and multilevel correlates of partner violence: an analysis of data from population-based survey and Patriarchy and Domestic Violence: Challenging Common Misconceptions by Steven Tracy). And unhealthy, harmful gender models are certainly found in the Christian church as they are found in the broader community. (See What Does “Submit to Everything” Really Mean? The Nature and Scope of Marital Submission by Steven Tracy.)

Sadly, it seems that many readers have used Baird and Gleeson’s article to further their own political agendas while denying or ignoring the issue at hand—the all too frequent abuse of women and the common failure of church leaders to protect. As a North American church leader, I have apologized to domestic abuse survivors in my country for our church’s frequent failures and my personal failures to listen, protect, and aid. I applaud Father McCullough and Archbishop Freier for their apologies to Australian abuse survivors. I pray that their example will allow others to lower their defenses, acknowledge failures, and work together to better address the very real problem of domestic violence in Australian families, including Christian families.

Steven Tracy, PhD
Professor of Theology and Ethics
Phoenix Seminary
President and Founder
Mending the Soul Ministries

Note: These comments reflects my personal views and should not be construed as endorsed by or officially representing Phoenix Seminary.

 

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May 30

Congo Reflections

Author: Gail Schuknecht - Africa 2017 Team Member

 

It was apparent from the beginning that each of us on the Congo MTS team felt that God had a significant purpose in our being there.  The effort, time and money invested, along with the uncertainty of what was to come allowed a commonly felt trust in that purpose.

   

Sharing our questions & fears about travel, where to go, what to do, food, danger concerns, sleep & health issues along with caring responses and suggestions gave me a consistent sense that I wasn’t in this situation alone. Our shared time together allowed us to hear personal stories of how God had woven our past journeys into our sense of significant purpose & faith in Him. This not only applied to this Congo experience, but through our lives in general.  This process gave way to knowing others and being known, offering a sense of being securely loved. The weeks together consistently encouraged our strong Hope in our Lord Jesus. The process was the Gospel lived out to me.

This process gave way to knowing others and being known, offering a sense of being securely loved.

Just as this team process developed into love and care to me in a personal way, the process of experiencing incarnational ministry continued to unfold in dynamic ways. Though my nearly 30 years of teaching the concept that “people/students generally don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” seemed to be reinforced consistently. What was wonderful about our time in the Congo was the ways MTS trauma training curriculum is infused with an abundant sense of caring.  The teachings are creatively changed as needed to develop & maintain relational connections of knowing and being known by teachers and participants.  Vulnerability and transparency were apparent and implemented fluidly with love. One of the aspects of MTS is sharing the redemption process of our life trials.  The process not just teaches, but demonstrates the process of safety, integration & re-connection with past trauma, connection with others and the redemptive purpose of our trials through truth in Him.  This is developed through the love of safe/caring others.

The experience was a continuation of my own healing as I heard concepts shared with the Congolese participants.

I would check into my own soul to see how I had honestly and to what depth I had responded to those concepts.  I was in a continuing process, knowing the redemptive power of Jesus in my own life.  As I heard stories from the participants of understanding and redemption, I could pray with understanding as they continued developing their intimate journey with God.

The highlight for me was the privilege of being with 60 Congolese children as they experienced The Vulnerable Child curriculum from MTS.  I saw them respond with caregivers as they heard of their creation and design in the image of God, that nothing that can diminish. God’s safety and comfort is apparent, available always and manifest through safe people in our lives.  Children heard how we are created with feelings we protect in our hearts.  Caregivers shared and encouraged the value of learning and choosing to share feelings within safe relations. These relationships help us to identify fear, anger, guilt and shame. We learned to atone when we have hurt others and being able to place shaming situations as they belong to others. Children became aware of our physical being: good, bad and secret touch.

In a culture where a child has little ability to speak up, we discussed how important it is to be able to say no, go and tell a safe person when touch is inappropriate.

We explored the importance of understanding the impact of our words. All this was done in community with caregivers that will be able to develop and maintain relationships to truly know these children.  This again is what I see as the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus. I Cor. 13:13 shares that Faith, Hope and love will continue.  Our Lord’s secure Love, significant purpose in Faith and strong Hope were abundantly apparent in the DRC.  We were allowed to be His eyes, ears and voice to others while exploring the concepts of MTS trauma ministry with the wonderful people in the DRC. What an incredible privilege to experience.

  

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May 13

Congo Update #9 – Final

Vulnerable Child Conference & Final Update

Today was our final day of the conference and our last day in Congo! This morning we started our day asking the caregivers to tell us about their experiences with the kids yesterday. A pastor shared this experience, I asked the child, “When are you going to accept Jesus?” and he answered, “Now I could accept Jesus!” We prayed together, and I led the child in the prayer of salvation. We then continued talking about his picture, and we went outside. Outside, I wanted him to know that there would be one person in his church that would know him. So we went to my friend, who is an elder, and I said, “This child had accepted Christ. I want you to know him so you can continue to shepherd him.”

This was just one of many stories that the caregivers told about the wonderful experiences they shared with the children yesterday, and today was more of the same. The weather has been beautiful here, and the kids and caregivers got to spread out outside on the grass to do their processing. The children had learned about secret touch so they were instructed to draw pictures about how “toxic” shame causes them to feel and how healthy guilt feels. At the close of the day, the participants performed a beautiful song and dance for us. They then gave us each a length of cloth that is both made and unique to the Butembo area.

Our whole MTS team is so grateful for this opportunity to have come and serve the Congolese people. We’ve all grown so much personally and spiritually, and we are looking forward to our next trip! Thank you to all of our friends and families for your love, prayers, and support–none of this would be possible without you!

 

 

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May 12

Congo Update #8

 Vulnerable Child Conference

It is so exciting to be a part of the first wave of Caring for the Vulnerable Child here in Africa. God is doing so many amazing things, and the conference just builds on itself each day. It’s an honor and a privilege to watch what God is doing in these children’s lives. For the first hour of the day, we took the children to play in a grassy area on the guesthouse property. We had ten beach balls and two soccer balls for the kids to use for play. We played a circle game, soccer, and red light/green light. For these kids, this was a special treat. Their faces lit up when they saw the balls. These children have grown up knowing nothing but war; some of them are displaced from their homes, others are staying at CEPIMA, and most of them have very little or nothing to play with. Not only do these children not get very much play time, getting them to move their bodies while they’re doing this challenging trauma work helps them to work through and process the material and their experiences.

The caregivers spent their time in the morning going through their lessons on the same topics as the children in preparation to be able to facilitate and help the children during their combined processing time. Then in the afternoon, the caregivers joined the children for their lessons on anger, fear, and nightmares. It was such a beautiful sight to see the caregivers sitting with the children, listening to them, and helping them process through their emotions. There was at least one caregiver for every child; it was such a healing experience. It’s wonderful and amazing to see the healing, not just in the children, but the caregivers as well. That is one of the truly unique things about the Caring for the Vulnerable Child, two generational healing model…seeing the caregivers apply what they’ve learned in working with the children—both healing together.

 

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May 11

Congo Update #7

Caring for the Vulnerable Child Conference

The second day of the Vulnerable Child conference was a huge success! We are caring for 40 children and resourcing and training 75 caregivers! We had a mix of children from local churches and a large number of children from CEPIMA. The children had so much fun learning about their original design and feelings, and the caregivers are open to the material. We have excellent interpreters. Many of them have their own children’s ministries so they are great with the kids, and they are dedicated to continuing care with the children once the conference is over. Mama Abia has been attending the Vulnerable Child conference as well. We found out today that after she sits in the workshop all day, she takes the material back and uses it with the 50 traumatized children that are currently at CEPIMA. Even in the midst of adversity or when difficulties arise on these trips, it’s so hard to be discouraged because of people like Mama Abia who are so faithful to take and use the materials to continue teaching and training others.

One of the children who attended the conference today was a young girl named Farajah (which means courage). Faraja has been at CEPIMA for three months. When she came to CEPIMA, she had previously been at three other hospitals and wasn’t showing any improvement. When she arrived, she wasn’t walking, talking, eating, or sleeping. She came from a family of 10—all nine of her siblings have died. She is now eating, sleeping, and walking with a little bit of assistance, and she is starting to try to speak. When Farajah arrived today she was very shut down and expressionless. As Mama Nora started working with her, she began to open up. For one of the exercises, the children were given a mirror to practice making and looking at their facial expressions. Farajah loved the mirror! She stared at herself and smiled for the entire exercise; this was some of the first expression we had seen on her face all day; it was such a beautiful sight. Even though she has a long way to go in her healing, we are so excited for the progress that Farajah has already made and are looking forward to seeing her grow throughout the rest of the conference.

 

This week we also learned a story about the guesthouse where we are staying. Earlier in the week, during an exercise about things that bring us pain, a pastor shared that when he was 14 years old he was rounded up with 800 other boys and taken to be buried alive “right under that tree over there.” He pointed to a tree on the guesthouse property that could be seen from the conference room window. We were all astonished. Before sharing his story, we did not know the history of the OHAI guesthouse. During Mobutu’s reign of power (Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga was the military dictator and President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1965 to 1997), this property was a military base where his personal guard lived along with many soldiers. Under that tree, 800 young men were buried alive. Many others had also been killed on these grounds in massacres. As a young man, the pastor was brought to the base. He showed the soldiers a New Testament he had in his pocket. They then told him to run and that they would shoot him instead of burying him. Three soldiers lined up and shot at him as he ran, but all of their bullets missed, and he was able to escape. One year after the killings, CBCA bought this property and changed its name from “death to life.” The properties previous name meant “rest” but was referred to as the place of death. The property is now called “ohai” which means life and is a place of safety and refuge for the people. The photo of the men standing under the tree was taken this afternoon during a process group. This place is such a perfect and beautiful representation of God’s redemptive power and plan for Congo. Only God has the power to transform such evil into such beauty. It’s an honor and a privilege to serve these people in this place. This so perfectly represents what Mending the Soul strives to do.

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May 09

Congo Update #6

Last Day of Trauma Conference

Today was the final day of the By His Wounds conference! All morning the teaching was on the MTS healing model and forgiveness; both were received very well. It was a blessing to be able to discuss the topics of forgiveness and repentance: what they are and are not. Forgiveness is a subject that is often debated and churches can struggle to teach it in its entirety. It was great to see the participants receive and grasp these truths. The afternoon was a graduation celebration. Each participant received Mama Nora’s five hearts cross bookmark and their MTS certificate of completion.

A female attorney that attended the conference shared the following:

All those exercises…they help the brokenness of the heart, and they were something that helped me discover myself. I have been a Christian for a long time and pastors have been teaching us about the power of the cross, but I have never understood it fully until Dr. Steve explained it this morning. Then I discovered that not every trauma is demon possession, but that the devil can use trauma to attack and the cure for that is remaining connected. God’s timetable is different from ours. When we are lamenting, we should understand that God will answer in his own right time. Today’s teaching has also made me realize I am not alone, and I am blessed to know the power of forgiveness. Dr. Steve, there are many things that I don’t know, but I know that I will go step by step and overcome. I also learned what true repentance is not and what true repentance is.

Samuel is an evangelist in Congo who is physically disabled and has to use his hands to help him walk. As an evangelist, someone has to carry him to where he is preaching. Several times during the conference he had talked about his struggles and the shame he carried about his disability growing up and that he used to be full of anger until he was saved. This man is such a powerful testament to God’s love and redemptive power. Now his anger and hate have melted away, and he lives to joyfully serve the Lord. Here is what he shared at the close of our conference today:

I thought maybe it wasn’t important for me to come to this conference, but thankfully the people who sent the invitation knew it was. The first way I’ve been blessed this week is by learning that other people are carrying my shame, and I’m hurting them. For example, when my children are mocked they take on my shame, and it is not theirs to carry. I have also realized how I’ve been hurting my wife and my children. These teachings have helped me so much. I know God will give me the strength to help them so their wounds may heal also. I knew that Jesus came down to care for us and gave himself for us, but I realized in this conference that Jesus had wounds too—so he knows how I hurt. The teacher helped me to understand that you cannot heal unless you are willing to give all the wounds to Jesus. Thank you for the teaching. 

It was a beautiful end to an excellent conference. Dr. Steve is continuing to improve every day. He was able to help Jumah teach this morning on forgiveness and was also able to participate in graduation. Tomorrow is his final IV antibiotic treatment! We appreciate all of your prayers and support through this time and ask that you continue to pray for all of the team as we move into the Caring for the Vulnerable Child Conference which begins tomorrow.

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May 08

Congo Update #5

Today we have an extra special update for you that you absolutely can’t miss! Sylvi was at our training last year and came and visited us today to give us a report of what she’s been doing with what she had learned. Her and a few other trainees from Beni have been taking MTS to war zones to provide trauma care immediately following the massacres. The video below is an interview of her describing the work they are doing. Sylvi’s passion and love gives you a look into the hearts of the wonderful Congolese people!

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May 07

Congo Update #4

Today we had a break from the conference and the pastors got to spend the day at their churches and at home with their families. This morning the majority of the MTS team was blessed to attend church with Mama Abia at the CBCA (Community Baptiste Centre of Africa) in Butembo. Mama Nora went to church with Katavo where she was asked to speak to the congregation. Our hosts were more than generous, and we had a wonderful time. The sermon at CBCA preached on the Good Samaritan and healing wounds—how fitting for Mending the Soul! The people were so warm and friendly, and we felt blessed to be included in their church families.

After church, we all had the opportunity to visit one of Mama Abia’s CEPIMA clinics. As we pulled up, we were greeted with an incredible welcome. The patients, caregivers, and staff were dancing and singing for our arrival! It was such an incredibly beautiful sight! They showed us in and shared their hearts and their stories with us. Many of the patients spoke about their needs and thanked us for coming to visit. All the clinics are in such desperate need of resources, particularly this Butembo clinic because so many people come from villages located in warzones seeking refuge in the city. Despite the tremendous need and the amount of suffering these people have endured, they were smiling, happy and rejoicing. They gave us many generous gifts including African CEPIMA shirts that were made especially for each one of us and fruit baskets. We brought them each a Father’s Love Letter, the Father’s heart picture and one of Mama Nora’s cross necklaces. We also prayed for their individual needs. Neema was also at CEPIMA today dancing and smiling. It brought such joy to our hearts to be able to spend time with these beautiful men and women. Please keep CEPIMA in your prayers – for the healing and wholeness of the patients, the steadfastness and strength of the staff, and their tremendous need for resources.

Steve finished day two of his IV malaria medication. Tomorrow he has one more treatment, and then they will start him on oral antibiotics. He is in good spirits and is planning on to teach tomorrow. Please continue to pray for his health, and that God will continue his healing work. Thank you MTS family for the continued support, love, and prayers.

 

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May 06

Congo Update #3

Thank you for your continued prayers and support! Day 3 got off to a rocky start as Steve woke up very sick and was not able to teach. Today’s topics included spiritual warfare and the spiritual effects of trauma. Jumah and Celestia did a fantastic job, and the whole team pitched in to help with the teaching as well.

During the check-in this morning, one of the pastors shared that after yesterday’s teaching he took the MTS book to a man who is lame in his congregation; however, the man could not understand the book. So he then took out the Father’s Love Letter and shared with the lame man the love of Jesus. The man “grabbed the letter and read it over and over again to himself and was so happy because he knew that Jesus still loved him even in his state.” In just one evening, this pastor was already using and applying the tools that he was given thus far in the training. This story illustrates the faithfulness and the resourcefulness of the Congolese pastors we meet and train.

Today Neema (her story is found in Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse) came to the conference with Mama Abia from CEPIMA (Centre for the Protection of the Destitute and Mentally Ill, known by its French acronym CEPIMA). On our first visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo, we had visited CEPIMA which are mental health clinics that care for the mentally ill due to severe trauma. While there, we prayed for and photographed a young girl, Neema, who was pregnant and catatonic from the abuse that she had suffered at the hands of rebels. When we returned to CEPIMA five years later, she had received a full healing, moved out of the clinic, lived on her own and was raising her daughter. Today, Neema came with her oldest daughter and her newborn twins. She is now married with five children. However, she and her husband are both out of work and cannot afford to send their daughter to school. The way the community of conference participants surrounded her and supported her was beautiful and very moving. The pastors even took up an offering for her. Please keep Neema, CEPIMA, and the people they serve in your prayers.

In the afternoon, local doctors came to the guesthouse and took Steve’s blood work as his conditioned had worsened over the course of the day. The results came back—he has malaria. Steve was taken to the hospital for IV fluids and antibiotics. He was in good spirits tonight after his treatment and was able to eat dinner with the team. Steve will receive two treatments tomorrow and the final treatment on Monday. Please keep him in your prayers!

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. ~1 John 4:4

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