Sharing Our Difficult Stories

“I remember. So difficult to admit we are being abused. So we hid it from everyone. Because silence hides violence.”

“I felt like a plastic bag filled with water that had suddenly been punctured by a pin, emotion gushing out of the small opening. I was so overwhelmed (that) I felt I had to shut this down.”

“I met with the pastor and told him that this person had been sexually assaulting me for months. He said little and acted as though he did not believe this was what happened.“

“Why tell my story? I ask myself that question often. It would be much easier to just move on and thank God for giving me my life back. Who wants to hear about someone else’s pain and suffering, especially when it comes to abuse? Some of my story may offend some readers; I don’t apologize. It’s my story; it’s what happened to me.”

We are created for deep relationships with one another and with God, to be a blessed community that will bless the nations. When we keep ourselves hidden, when our stories go untold, we cannot be fully known and loved in the way God designed for us to be. This inhibits our own spiritual growth as well as our ability to build healthy communities.

In Safe Church Ministry, we are privileged to hear stories. Many are sad stories from people who no longer feel they can attend church because of their experience of abuse. Perhaps their stories were mishandled by their church communities; they feel shunned, misunderstood, or not even believed. We hear stories from people who carry false guilt and shame, and they often feel completely alone.

It can be difficult for people who have not experienced abuse to understand its deep effects. And that makes it harder for survivors to share their stories. Sometimes, even with the best intentions, our responses to stories of abuse can cause additional harm.

That’s one reason that Safe Church has created an online space called “S.O.S.: Sharing Our Stories.” (You can find the stories by typing “S.O.S.” into the search bar on The Network, network/crcna.org.) It offers a place to share stories, even anonymously. This helps those of us who have not experienced abuse to understand it better so we can respond with greater compassion. It also helps those who have experienced abuse to know they are not alone.

Safe Church’s mandate is to equip congregations in abuse awareness, prevention, and response so that everyone, including those who have experienced abuse, can be respected and protected. Our prayer is for churches to become places where people feel safe enough to share their stories of abuse and places where these stories are received with understanding and compassion, not judgment and shame.

We’d love for all Christian Reformed churches to be places where people walk alongside survivors during the long and difficult road toward justice, healing, and wholeness. To get to that place, difficult stories must be told, and churches need to listen.

About the Author

Bonnie Nicholas is the director of Safe Church Ministry for the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

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