posted by Rebecca
Those lights strung across the ceiling, they said, had been hung there for a wedding. The gentle glow made a perfect substitute for the harsh fluorescents in the Listening Room.
This was a time to shine the light, but softly, for now.
The Shining the Light Conference for sexual abuse survivors and their supporters took place on November 6th and 7th at the facility of New Covenant Christian Fellowship in Greenville, SC.
By the time we all gathered on Friday evening, the food tables were loaded with food, courtesy of some kind people (one in particular) from New Covenant. Every time there was a break, people gathered around those tables, a perfect place to relax from the tension of simply being at such an event.
The evening before, Tim and I had visited in the home of friends who had four boys. The boys knew we were having a conference but didn’t know what it was about—only that they couldn’t come. They suggested that we could liven up the conference by placing zombies strategically here and there in the hallway and elsewhere.
We decided against it.
Forty-five attendees from nine different states sat around the decorated tables. About 16 of these attendees self-identified as abuse survivors; the ones who were not were their friends or family members, or had simply come to learn and to care.
It was an amazing gift to have others attend who were there simply to learn. They were there to learn from the speakers, but they also seemed very eager to learn from “us.” I found that humbling.
Over the course of that evening and the following day, we thought that people would often avail themselves of the Breathing Room, where they would find rocking chairs and chocolate. But apparently no one needed to escape during the sessions—the only use for that room was for talking and prayer between or after sessions. And at the end of it all, the chocolate was still there, uneaten.
The conference was a warm, safe environment, which was huge.
In the first session Friday evening, Dale and Faith Ingraham of Speaking Truth in Love Ministries talked about the need to break the silence in our churches about abuse, telling their own story of breaking the silence in their own church and community.
Dale and Faith Ingraham connected well with the audience. I liked the way they are so respectful of each other.
Dale and Faith are wonderful advocates who are very accessible.
I’m thankful for those who are willing to expose evil in very uncomfortable places.
It was encouraging to see people who are willing to bring this topic out into the open.
The formal part of the evening ended at 8:30, but some of us didn’t leave till after midnight. We went to our respective places with anticipation of the day ahead.
What a wonderful start to the weekend! Our loving, just, compassionate, purposeful God is at work in our midst.
I loved the sweet spirits demonstrated in those who attended. Looking forward to tomorrow.
Some local people were hosting visitors that they met for the first time that evening.
Having my guest stay with me was also a very important part of the weekend. She was simply a delight.
I’m thankful God allowed me a part in her being here, sitting and talking and listening let me see the Holy Spirit’s work in the situations she was in. It is remarkable the strength and discernment He gave her while those men spoke untruth to her.
Saturday morning began with . . . more delicious food, of course, which was available all day at every break. Dale and Faith spoke about “What Helps and What Hurts” in walking with abuse survivors on their journey. Dale opened the discussion to the audience, to ask others what had been helpful and hurtful for them.
Not necessarily saying “I’m praying for you.” But just praying for them.
The statement (over and over): “God will always treat you with dignity and respect” was one of the strongest healing messages I heard. I had to hear it over and over again, because that was inconsistent with the god I learned in 12+ years of the BJU culture (a demanding, perfectionistic, distant god). It aligned more with the God I learned at church and in my Bible classes, but that God and the god of cultural fundamentalism and Jay Adams’-style of “nouthetic” counseling are different.
One thing that helped me to realize it really was that bad was seeing how angry my pastor was about my abuse and the horrible counseling I received at BJU.
Shauna Galloway of the Julie Valentine Center (www.julievalentinecenter.org) presented the hard numbers and realities about abuse in our communities. This information wasn’t surprising to the abuse survivors in our midst, but for some, it was a shocking wake-up call.
Then a panel answered questions, a panel consisting of Dale and Faith; Shauna and a police officer; and Tina Anderson, an abuse survivor who has been through the court system three times with two different abusers, still trusting and hoping in God. We probably could have filled another hour with all the probing questions that were being asked and excellent answers being given.
At every break the connections and interactions only increased.
Meeting people face to face I’d only met online was a great bonus! Deepening and strengthening ties to people I already knew and finding new people to bring into my life are some of the non-listed events of the conference.
I struggled with not wanting to identify myself as a victim of abuse; of initially wanting to kind of “fade into the crowd.” But the shame I expected to feel never came; instead, I found loving believers who respected me and wanted to learn from my experiences. The atmosphere of love, dignity, and safety was simply beautiful.
This conference was an opportunity to practice my “voice” in a safe place. I felt safe enough to just talk and mostly drop the snark.
My strongest impression is the lingering wonder that so many people cared enough to be there. I’m amazed that people came whose lives/families hadn’t been touched by abuse—they didn’t “have to” pay attention or care (they could easily dismiss the issue as irrelevant to their lives), but they came. They came, and they listened, and they hurt with us and they cried with us. That alone helped to scrape a layer of man-made impediment off of the face of God for me … the Church cares? Wow!
After lunch we returned for what we called the Service of Lament: an opportunity for abuse survivors and those who care about them to grieve together toward hope, to weep forward.
First Dale spoke about Jesus’ love for the vulnerable ones, based on Matthew 18, and His anger at those who will abuse any of these little ones that He loves so much. His words about millstones and justice do, in a way, bring hope.
I think it’s finally getting through to me that God isn’t OK with abuse—sexual abuse, abuse of children, abuse of adults, emotional or verbal or physical abuse, and even spiritual abuse. He’s not OK with it; it’s the antithesis of His nature and character, and to perpetrate—or tolerate— abuse in His name is an abomination.
Sharon Gerber (www.sharongerbermusic.com) played her beautiful piece “Into the Night,” born out of her own time of darkness and lament. . . . and hope.
I loved Sharon Mulfinger Gerber’s cello music and audio-visuals shared during the lament service! Her music is so deeply moving. It seemed perfectly suited to the tone and purpose of the service of lament.
Tina Anderson spoke, of terrible abuse, of terrible counseling . . . and hope. And another and another and another. More and more. Some with moving collages or other artwork.
Not everyone was able to end with hope that they themselves were currently experiencing. But everyone was willing to . . . hope that there was hope.
I was very wary of the service of lament. Afraid of it being upsetting or triggering; not really sure if I was ready (or even knew how) to grieve. Not feeling comfortable at the thought of being in an emotionally charged environment. Worrying that certain “emotions” would be expected from me, and not knowing if I was even able to express emotions publicly. I don’t cry in front of people. BUT, the service was an incredibly moving experience. I felt no shame in my tears, and was oblivious to the emotions of others. It was interesting to see the various ways that others chose to express themselves. And it was beautiful to continue to see the message of hope conveyed over and over.
Those who shared part of their story, their art or poetry, did something incredibly brave and beautiful. I’m so grateful I was able to attend and learn more about the difficult topic of sexual abuse in a place that felt safe and full of hope.
Hope seemed like an unnatural conclusion to come from this event. I would have expected grief, and sorrow, and maybe empathy. But, after hearing others share their stories, and tell of the love and peace they found in God, I was encouraged and amazed. God made beauty somehow flow out from those who have seen incredible darkness; it flowed out through music, and through art, through raw honesty, and through praise. God has promised to make beauty from ashes, and I think that was incredibly evident in a way I’ve never experienced.
Sharon Gerber closed with a moving cello rendition of “A River Flows in You,” reminiscent (to me anyway) of the river that Jesus talked about in John 7:37-39. A great source of hope.
At the end, Faith Ingraham stood at the doorway, to give a white rose to each abuse survivor who wanted one—a symbol of innocence.
Even going to take a rose at the end—part of me hesitated, wondering if I was worthy (despite all the head-knowledge). Truths working their way from my head down to my heart.
And even as we closed, people kept talking together, praying together, even laughing together.
This conference was a wonderful experience. It was a privilege to be there.
SO thankful to have been there, and meet you all! I am for you and stand with you, to expose and shine the light on evil among us.
The weekend was a beautiful, informative, and healing time.
It was an enriching experience and was full of God’s presence. I left in awe of these beautiful survivors and the people who love and support them.
What a fantastic conference!! I was thoroughly impressed with the speakers, format of scheduling, and all the way down to the lighting and atmosphere of the room!
I think it was very healing for and valuable to all of us. It was definitely very worth all your work and labor of love.
This conference was a blessing to me in so many ways.
My heart is so moved and encouraged and thankful to those who shared their lives this weekend. God is at work, in His time, in His way, through His love through His people.
The Holy Spirit was present and I hope bringing healing to hurting souls.
I think the overall message that I left the conference with was one of hope. Hope in being reminded that I’m far from alone in this journey. There seems to be some kind of mysterious “bond” that I continue to find with other survivors. Meeting those who have not only survived their abuse, but have found a loving God who has patiently led them towards wholeness, one step at a time.
One conference attendee offered these words, which I’ll reflect back in closing:
I thought these words from Isaiah, were perfect words for all the attendees of this conference: I believe this Conference accomplished…
“bringing good tidings to the meek,
binding up the broken hearted,
giving liberty to the captives,
and opening the prisons to them that are bound;
reminding us to rest in ‘the day of vengeance of our God;’
comforting all that mourn;
giving you beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
that you all might be called trees of righteousness!!!!
the plantings of the Lord!!!
that HE might be glorified!”
We trust that the Holy Spirit is at work, and that Jesus Christ is being manifest in Love. We’re thanking Him for a weekend when His presence was made known through His people. And we continue to hope.