“How’s your swordplay?” Dan Allender, author and counselor, frequently asked of the teachers, staff, college students, and others gathered at First Reformed Church in Sioux Center, Iowa. That may seem an odd question to pose of a community wrestling with the aftereffects of abuse. But it’s part of Allender’s strategy to heal from and combat abuse—employing the Bible and other resources to “sharpen our swords” so we can be knowledgeable and effective in fending off and defeating evil in the world.
Allender was speaking at the educators’ session of the “Healing the Wounded Heart” conference at First Reformed and Dordt College on September 28 and 29. The conference was held in light of incidents of sexual abuse that occurred at Sioux Center Christian School. A complaint against a teacher was made in October 2017, prompting an investigation that led to the teacher being fired and subsequently arrested. He was initially charged with two counts and eventually with 146 counts of sexual misconduct. In September 2018, the former teacher was sentenced to15 years in federal prison, having pleaded guilty on one count of sexual exploitation of a child as part of a plea agreement. He will be required to register as a sex offender upon release.
Even a year after the abuse, the whole community is still “dealing with trauma,” said conference attendee Jill Friend, a teacher at Sioux Center Christian School. She said that the community has moved ahead but added, “I felt personally ‘stuck’ in a place that was not healthy.” Her takeaway from the conference was “the deep sense of hope for the future because of the promises in God’s Word but also a deep realization that the healing will not come about unless we are willing to come face-to-face with the grief, anger, and shame.”
Dordt College and Bethesda Christian Counseling were partners with Sioux Center Christian School in hosting the conference. “Sadly, sexual abuse is rampant in our world, and we need Christian leaders today who can lead effectively in challenging ministry settings,” said Aaron Baart, the college’s dean of chapel. He said that Dordt was more than willing to support the effort. “Dan Allender is a world-class leader in this field, and we are thrilled to have him here help teach and lead us for a couple of days.”
Josh Bowar, Head of School at Sioux Center Christian School, said that one of the main reasons the school decided to offer this conference was to provide faculty and staff with a shared understanding of the negative effects of sexual abuse—how it happens, the trauma that happens as a result, and how to work well with students, families, and each other. “We are on the healing journey together,” Bowar said.
Opening the conference to members of the community on the second day was a recognition that the impact of abuse is far-reaching. Bowar said people left the conference “with much to process, to connect, and to apply,” adding that he thinks the staff will have left with the feeling of “empowerment.”
The school plans to do small group studies on some of the books that Allender suggested so that they can continue to process what they learned at the conference. Bowar said the school will continue to provide counseling for students and staff as well as parent and student discussion groups. Seventh and eighth graders also meet in groups with an adult mentor in an activity known as “Grace Groups.”
Resources recommended at the conference included Healing the Wounded Heart by Dan Allender and The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk.