In May, I attended my first International Christian Alliance on Prostitution (ICAP) conference. Serving the sexually exploited, Christians affiliated with ICAP are well-acquainted with evil. Their ministries are nothing short of a head-on encounter with brutal forces that prey on children, the poor, and the defenseless. Their work exhausts every imaginable human resource! For me, it was utterly amazing these leaders had the energy to travel to Green Lake, Wisconsin—ICAP’s U.S. host. Yet, it was the Holy Spirit that drew them together for renewal. Through prayer, worship, and shared learning, the power of Christ in Christianity community had its impact. Day by day, their appearance began to change—their backs straightened, the color returned to their cheeks, and their step quickened. God was restoring their strength so that they might serve as Christ’s hands and feet. Before the summer was out, I would watch God Christians battling abuse again—at CBE’s conference in Colombia—our first conference in Spanish.
Beside the Fundación Universitaria Seminario Bíblico de Colombia (FUSBC), CBE convened “Male and Female in Christ: Toward a Biblical View of Christian Identity and Ministry.” Unlike those associated with ICAP, I did not expect to encounter so many victims of abuse or those helping the church address this challenge. Yet, with each conversation, abuse proved a conference-wide theme. Thankfully, two workshops were devoted to this topic: Carolina Ocampo assessed gender and law in Latin America, while Cesar Villanueva considered gender-based violence in the South American context.
Repeatedly, attendees expressed their disappointment with the church—its inability to address gender-based violence or the biblical passages often place women at risk. I watched godly women share their story of abuse at hands of Christian husbands. Their pastors seemed ill-prepared to provide help, answers, or remedies. Over lunch, I listened to leaders, pastors, and lawyers describe the abuse that riddled their Christian communities. The issue had a theological ally—patriarchy believed to be a biblical ideal. How thankful I was that a leading South American theologian, after listening intently to these leaders said: “As a theologian, I work in solitude making theological decisions without voices such as yours. I will never forget your stories. Thank you!”
As with all of our conferences, CBE distributed hundreds of free resources including 300 copies of Still Side by Side in Spanish—Lado a Lado. Once again, resources on abuse flew off our book-table. It was chilling, yet it gives you a sense of how important these events and resources really are! These resources and the conference itself was a theological remedy that attracted victims and practitioners searching for biblical solutions. Seated in the front row, women took copious notes as speakers provided an egalitarian interpretation of Scripture. Once again, backs straightened and spirits seemed to grow stronger.
Leaders considered a future strategies, conferences and additional translations in languages like Portuguese. Why? Despite women’s gains professionally and politically, Brazil has one of the highest incidence of domestic violence in all of South America. Abuse remains a present threat that needs both a theological and social response.
Our summer of firsts at ICAP and also our conference in South America were opportunities to address abuse in partnership with global practitioners and theologians—two groups that need each other desperately. One informs the other, and together we are stronger.