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Published Date: March 9, 2023

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Sacred Wound, Sacred Calling: Elevating Women Survivors Worldwide

What better way of honoring International Women’s Day than celebrating the wisdom of a truly courageous survivor devoted to ending human trafficking worldwide? Meet Stephanie Midthun, interviewed on an upcoming episode of CBE’s podcast Mutuality Matters—Global Impact. Serving with Courage Worldwide, Stephanie allies with trafficked girls and women globally. During our interview, Stephanie disclosed her own story of rape and how it marked her with a “bull’s eye”—a target for future abusers. The tragedy of traumatic abuse is that victims often blame themselves rather than their perpetrators. The shame victims experience is so powerful it often stymies their voice and agency in standing up to future abusers. Fortunately, Stephanie’s story had a redemptive ending thanks to the power of Christ in her church community.

Through Jesus, Stephanie’s “sacred wound” became a “sacred calling.” Jesus not only gave Stephanie the power to speak truth and stop a second rape attempt, but through this experience, God also gave her an indomitable capacity to expose abusers and to build awareness and empathy for survivors like her. Now a model of courage on behalf of those gaining their voice and agency, Stephanie is an unstoppable advocate in helping courts believe and support survivors. What is more, her sacred calling also enables pastors to promote the dignity and value of girls and women. Thanks to Stephanie’s courageous journey as a survivor, culture is shifting—even church culture!

Uniquely brutal, Stephanie’s story is also tragically common.[1] For this reason, throughout history, we find an army of women who were sacred allies to girls and women around the globe. Women like former slave Amanda Berry Smith (1837–1915)—one of the most successful missionaries of her era; or Mary Slessor (1848–1915)—daughter of an alcoholic and mill worker turned missionary to West Calabar (today’s Nigeria); through their sacred wounds these women and many others became allies and advocates to abused women worldwide, recognizing as Stephanie does, that the face of shame, abuse, exploitation, illiteracy, poverty, malnutrition, violence, and marginalization is predominantly female. The network of women supporting women is so powerful that humanitarians and governments turn to missionary women for intelligence as they know intimately and thus recognize the abusive forces that destabilize human flourishing in their communities.

Because we live in a world that devalues women as “other,” women know best how to identify and challenge barriers to their own human dignity and agency. And once women gain their voice, as Stephanie did, God’s truth and power in their work is unmistakable and unstoppable. That is why it is crucial for churches to welcome women leaders who are keenly aware of abusive forces and skilled at advocating for survivors. Churches that welcome women leaders are also communities that support versus distort women’s essential (ontological) dignity and agency (Gen 1:27–30). Intriguingly, secular humanitarian organizations now also call on faith communities to stand with women’s dignity, equality, and leadership.

Stunningly, in 2021 the United Nations issued a “concept note” that identified “religion” as the greatest catalyst to women’s equality.[2] Given women’s equality is fundamental to human flourishing, and since people seek help from faith leaders more than public officials, faith communities have extraordinary influence in shaping cultural “norms and expectations.”[3] What is more, evidence shows that faith leaders are successful in growing women’s dignity and agency without traditional structures, upending practices that harm girls and women.[4] Now more than ever, both secular and Christian humanitarians recognize the importance of:

  • Raising the voices of women faith leaders like Stephanie Midthun alongside theologians to address rhetoric that opposes women’s biblical equality.
  • Recognizing the twin demons of patriarchy—racism and sexism—as opportunities for theological and social engagement and impact.
  • Strengthening male allies in growing women’s biblical equality within faith communities.
  • Ongoing theological and social research to provide evidence for women’s biblical equality as it fosters human flourishing.[5]
  • Building strong relationships across generations of egalitarians, bringing wisdom and strength to their movements worldwide.

These are the very projects CBE pursues alongside our global partners.[6] Thankfully, we’ve seen significant gains in local communities, in churches and denominations, and within Christian parachurch organizations—all evidence of God’s faithfulness to the investment of many worldwide. While the forces opposing egalitarian theology and human flourishing are fierce and strategic, Stephanie’s story illustrates how Christ redeems, heals, and transforms women’s sacred wounds into sacred callings for God’s glory and the flourishing of humans created in God’s image. Her story brings holy boldness, wisdom, and redemptive partnerships across cultures and generations. It’s a stunning example of multiplying Christ’s power from one survivor to another.


Photo by Josh Boot on Unsplash


[1] “Statistics,” National Sexual Violence Resource Center, last modified March 7, 2023, https://www.nsvrc.org/statistics.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “One in five women in the United States experience completed or attempted rape during their lifetime.”

[2] Vineeta Sharma, “How can Feminist Theology Reduce Gender Inequality in Religion?” Economic and Political Weekly (Engage) 53, no. 50 (December 2018), https://www.epw.in/engage/article/how-can-feminist-theology-reduce-gender-inequality.

[3] Katherine Marshall and Alisha Bhagat, “Overview” in Challenges of Change: Faith, Gender, and Development (Washington, D.C.: Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs of Georgetown University, 2008), 5.

[4] Bartelink, B.E., & Levinga, W. 2017. Harmful traditional practices in the context of faith: a literature review. Part of the UK Government-funded ‘Working effectively with faith leaders to challenge harmful traditional practices.’ Research report.

[5] See Mutuality Matters’ recent episode, “Global Impact: Does Good Theology Reduce Gender-Based Violence? with Frankie Quirke” to learn about Tearfund and how their programs are making a huge impact around the world, lowering domestic violence by 83% in places like Nigeria, Brazil, and Sir Lanka.

[6] CBE’s MOU partners continue to make significant strides for women’s biblical equality across Africa. Through various programs, they train local leaders (including police officers, educators, and pastors) on gender-based violence, biblical equality, and how women’s equality significantly leads to human flourishing for all. In 2022, one of the pastoral training’s pre- and post-surveys revealed that the pastors before the training had a 48.7% understanding of biblical equality, and after the training, the pastors had a 97.4% understanding of biblical equality. Like many of our partners, the training used CBE’s Side by Side and their Bibles with outstanding results.


Related Reading

 
Truth Be Told: Leveraging Mujerista and Womanist Theologies for Ministry Among Victims and Survivors of Sex Trafficking

Pornography for Profit: The Link to Sex Trafficking 

Why Men Who Oppose Trafficking Must Fight Patriarchy

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