By Sandi Thompson-Royer
Can you imagine preaching and telling your very personal story of abuse from the pulpit?
One brave seminary student felt the call to share her story in front of 45 men and women from her presbytery, seminary and a partner church in Madison, Wisconsin, who came together to learn about domestic violence in Guatemala and make plans to be more involved.
Margot, a student from the Escuela Socio Teologica, a Presbyterian seminary that teaches students to be pastors and community organizers, had experienced all forms of abuse by her husband, the father of her three boys. After her six-year-old son was beaten for trying to protect her, Margot decided it was time to leave her marriage. The safety and support of her family and church gave her the courage and ability to leave. Today, she is a strong, independent woman with three teenagers and a goal to pastor a church and work for change in her community.
Guatemala is an extremely patriarchal country. Each day women are killed because of their gender. There are only eight women pastors and very few women elders in the more than 400 Presbyterian churches in Guatemala. For the Sinodica (Presbyterian Women of Guatemala) to courageously step out in hopes of changing the culture is a huge deal!
In our work as mission co-workers, my husband Brian and I support leadership development among the Presbyterian women. For more than 30 years, I have worked in the domestic violence and sexual assault field and know too well that violence against women is a global issue. I am thrilled to see Presbyterian Women’s commitment to breaking the silence around this issue. Leaders in the PC(USA) have decided it’s time to devote the year to having “courageous conversations” in the church, and the Sinodica is joining those conversations.
The Sinodica has strategically prioritized ways to address what has impacted too many women and families. The first thing they plan to do is assemble a team of leaders who will be trained, with help from CEDEPCA, another PC(USA) global partner, to go out into the 25 presbyteries and educate congregations about domestic violence and the ways congregations can support victims.
Second, the Sinodica plans to hold a training for men using Kevin Frederick’s curriculum Men in the Mirror, which has been translated into Spanish. Rev. Dr. Frederick, of Western North Carolina Presbytery, will travel to Guatemala in February 2017 to provide a two-day retreat for more than 40 men. Participants will learn to be more reflective and, therefore, better husbands and fathers. They will then teach men in their home churches.
Lastly, several microloan workshops will be offered to women. Microloans are a way for women to have a small business and earn money, which increases their ability to be independent. These efforts seek to change the culture of Guatemalan churches and communities with the hopes of less violence and healthier communities.
Margot’s story is just one that we’ve heard from our Presbyterian sisters in Guatemala. Abuse happens to wives of pastors, as well. Child sexual abuse is also a problem; we recently heard about a teacher molesting girls in a rural school.
Brian and I are honored to be walking with the Sinodica as they courageously work toward change. Please pray for us and consider supporting our work. If you’d like to learn more about our work, consider inviting us to your spring or fall gatherings in 2017. To schedule a visit, email email@example.com.
Sandi Thompson-Royer is a mission co-worker in Guatemala. You can support the work she and her husband are doing at www.pcusa.org/donate/E200334.