As the Christian Reformed Coffee Break representative for Alberta and Saskatchewan from 1992 to 1999, Joanne Van Beek heard her share of domestic abuse stories. She understood the unfortunate reality that the face of domestic violence could very well be the woman sitting next to her in church on Sunday. She learned how the misguided use of Scripture creates roadblocks for abused women.
Later, through her studies at Edmonton’s Taylor Seminary, Van Beek found herself drawn to women’s issues and concerns. In June 2007, with a Master of Divinity degree and a Women’s Shelter Crisis Worker Diploma in hand, Van Beek gathered a group of friends in her living room to share her dream of starting a not-for-profit organization for women experiencing intimate partner abuse. And so RiseupHouse was born. Van Beek is a member of Ebenezer Christian Reformed Church in Leduc, Alberta.
Although she had never led or directed a registered charity, “I Googled the words ‘how to start a nonprofit’ and got started,” Van Beek said. The rest is history.
Just back from a healing retreat held October 29-November 2, 2014, Van Beek possesses the same passion she had back in those early days. Although Riseup House Society, as it is currently called, welcomes all women, the biannual five-day healing retreats, each limited to nine participants, are for Christian women who have experienced spousal abuse. Through small group educational sessions, spiritual rituals and meditations, art therapy, music, and laughter, the retreat strives to create an opportunity for deep emotional and spiritual healing.
Responses from women who attended the retreat clearly indicate they do.
“I experienced forgiveness, friendship, healing, and renewed faith. I learned skills for my future, like recognizing an abuser,” said one participant. “It was life changing!” Another said, “I learned that I am not alone and that there is help. . . . I have reconnected spiritually and feel clear and focused again. The ‘ceremonies’ we did were also powerful and extremely beneficial to my healing.” Another referred to the event as mind-blowing and life changing. “I learned how to breathe again.”
Riseup House has come a long way since that day in Van Beek’s living room when she first shared her dream with a group of friends. The ministry began from a home office. Now it’s located in a lovely, century-old house in Leduc. The first support group was attended by just two women. Since then, 500 women have participated in groups or sought counseling at Riseup House. Women from Alberta as well as British Columbia and Ontario attended the most recent retreat. The ministry now includes board members, three qualified counselors, an office manager, and a part-time grant writer. As well as healing retreats, there are weekly women's support groups, counseling services, a resource library, and educational workshops and seminars.