In Depth: The Pain of Abuse

, , , , , ,

Every once in a while, I feel like a blog topic idea merits a more thorough examination. I will call these topics “In Depth”. This is the first in the series.

Abuse must be the darkest blot on our humanity. It generally stems from the misapplication of power, but it is expressed in a multitude of ways. The most common examples are sexual and physical abuse, but people also abuse each other emotionally and even spiritually. The ramifications of abuse span the gamut from unsettling to devastating. We have several missionaries working to counteract the pain of abuse in the communities where they live. Let’s take a closer look at two such examples.

One of our Mission Associates connected closest to Ukraine told me “Everyone has a story.” You sure don’t have to look too hard to find someone that abuse has affected. Missionaries there blame the communism for much of it. Communism not only actively removed God from society — which in turn reduced the value of the individual human being — it also caused poverty which forced people to live in small apartments. These didn’t allow appropriate separations of boys and girls, or kids and adults. They often all shared a bedroom — a recipe for disaster. And one that continues to this day in Ukraine. Even though financial improvements have enabled people to live in more space, that isn’t seen as an important goal for most people. So the sad cycle continues. When something is so culturally rampant, it is often expected that people will develop coping skills, so that they can “just deal with it”. However in the case of abuse, where people’s identity and self-worth are continuously eroded, the long-term affects are crippling.

Our missionaries are working to break this generational cycle by offering counseling to those who are suffering, or who have suffered, through it. Often it is simply a revelation that there is a different way to live! And through education and counseling, people are introduced to the One who can bring true life change. That’s where true healing can begin.

Mennonite colonies are usually presumed to be idyllic places, where peace and harmony rule, and where the greater problems of the world are held at bay. But at least in Bolivia, reality paints a very different picture. I asked one of our missionary families why the word abuse comes up over and over in reference to Mennonites. They gave me several answers. One of the biggest factors is substance abuse. Medications are particularly cheap — a month’s supply of anti-depression medicine costs the equivalent of $1.50! These drugs are often combined with alcohol — a heady mix. Of course addiction exacerbates all other forms of abuse as people strip themselves of their humanity. But there are deeper issues at work.

These communities have been constructed out of a very strict, legalistic faith. Where there is great power, there is usually great fear. In this case, fear is exercised through the threat of forced excommunication, where perpetrators (real or imagined) are permanently dismissed from their home and community. When the religious leaders abuse their power, their wronged subjects are forced to suffer in silence, or face stiff social penalties. Sadly, in isolated, autonomous communities, this type of abuse is common. This problem is aggravated by the sheer ignorance of the people.

There is no education about sex, its meanings or its dangers, so people live in painful naivety. One woman — on her way to giving birth — was unsure about what to expect. She thought maybe the child would born through her belly button! Systemic ignorance gives rise to all sorts of perversions, in which other participants may be willing, or not! It is a slow process for our missionaries to establish relationships that are strong enough that they can handle such sensitive issues, and through them to share the path to healing. While there are stories of change, we feel a deep need to do more!

As listed in this year’s A World of Hope, we are planning to provide a shelter for abused women and children in Bolivia. There is currently no real support network for the abused. Options to extricate themselves from their dangerous or painful situations are very limited as, for example, women are dependent on men for their livelihood. And if a woman choses to leave, she’s likely to be permanently separated from her home, family and friends. A shelter would enable women to learn basic life skills, including how to earn a living, so that she can gain her freedom from her miserable conditions.

Though long for a blog post, this is only a cursory glance at the physical side of the spiritual battle we’re fighting. If you would like to know more, drop me a line, and I can put you in touch with those in trenches. In the meantime, please pray that your missionaries would be perceptive to the needs of the people, and they will be creative in their response to abuse wherever they are. Pray that God’s grace would be extended to those who have suffered, and continue to suffer under it. And pray that we would be able to play an ever greater role of justice in the world, and we could be God’s instruments of change.