Welcome to day 20 of the Living Advent Calendar. Each day we meet an ordinary person opening doors of love and hope for others in extraordinary ways. Today my friend Mandy Marshall shares about her journey from a life changing encounter in Zimbabwe to becoming the Co-Founder and Co-Director of Restored, an international Christian Alliance working to end violence against women. Over to Mandy to share her story.
‘I was in Zimbabwe. I’d just finished speaking in a church when a woman came up to me and asked to speak to me in private. We went to her house, a mud hut with thatched roof, and through the translator she started to disclose all this horrific abuse that her Christian husband was perpetrating on her. It was awful.
I asked her whether she had informed the Pastor. ‘Yes’, she said. ‘What did he say?’ I asked. ‘He told me I should pray more, submit more and stop nagging him.’ That made me so angry but there was worse to come. She added, ‘I’ve done all of that and he still beats me.’ Then the killer question came, ‘You’re the expert, what more should I do?’
My heart shattered into a million pieces. It took all of my will not to cry at that point but to advise her to try and keep herself safe in her home and community. The reality was, the church was the only ‘safe’ space for her in this rural community but this wasn’t safe at all. I was angry that the very place a person should feel safe, feel loved and cared for, had become a place of danger. Possibly even life threatening due to ignorance, misunderstanding, misinterpretation of scripture and a patriarchal culture reinforced in the church.
In the two hour journey back to the city I raged at God. I mean properly angry at God. I let rip big time. ‘Why have you allowed this to happen? When are you going to do something about it?’ I heard this calm, firm and loving voice coming back to me staying ‘When are you going to do something about it?’
I’m not one to take a challenge lightly, so continued to protest at God. ‘What can I do?’ ‘I’m just a kid from a council estate from the North West of England, who am I to try and tackle this massive issue? I’ll get nowhere. No-one will listen to me and besides I don’t have x,y, z oh and while I’m at it nor a, b and c.’ I went on to list out all the skills and experiences I would need to start to address this issue, as if God didn’t know.
God listened and for each and every protestation I placed before Him, and in return He gently reminded me of all the training, experiences, opportunities, platforms and skills I’d gained over the years, until I was left stumped. I had a choice to make. God was not going to force me to do this but I did have a choice. I could choose to carry on doing the work I was doing with Tearfund, which was making a difference and seeing change happen, or I could take a risk and work to engage the church to end violence against women, especially one of the most prevalent forms, domestic abuse.
In that moment I could almost tangibly feel God sharing the hurt and pain of the suffering that this woman had endured and millions like her. It was utterly heart breaking. I chose to take a risk and began taking steps to set up ‘Restored’ – a charity working to engage the church to end violence against women.
Founded in 2010 Restored aims to answer two questions, ‘Where is the church?’ and ‘Where are the men?’ when it comes to ending violence against women. Restored trains churches, produces free resources, has a men’s campaign called First Man Standing and works with Christian survivors of abuse via an online network and forum.
Violence against women is universal. One in every three women globally will be affected at some point in her lifetime. In the UK, one in four women is affected by domestic abuse. Violence against women takes various forms such as female infanticide in India, female genital mutilation across Africa, bride kidnapping in Central Asia, domestic abuse fuelled by machismo culture in Latin America and rape in conflict in the Congo. The list is endless.
What is important is that we recognise the underlying drivers of this very diverse pattern of abuse. These are all abuse of power, primarily male power over women. The answer is an empowerment of women and the transformation of male attitudes and actions based around the laying down of power. That is a profoundly spiritual as well as practical challenge.
Jesus was a man who modelled service, sacrificial love and respect for all; women and men. Why have our models of masculinity got so far away from him?
At Restored we seek to equip churches to be able to respond effectively to survivors and perpetrators of violence. We want churches to break the silence, shame and stigma around abuse and be safe spaces for survivors and places where abuse and stigma are challenged and there is no collusion with perpetrators. We also mobilise men through our First Man Standing Campaign to respect women and challenge each others’ attitudes and actions.
Everyone has a part to play. Action is needed at every level from global standards of the Sustainable Development Goals ( aka Global Goals) and norms down to our own personal behaviours in our families and communities. The church is present in a vast number of communities worldwide and has a massive role to play. Restored aims to equip the church to do this effectively and we have distributed over 13,000 copies of our church pack which helps church leaders and members to respond and trained the leaders and safeguarding officers responsible for over 4,800 churches.
Together we can achieve so much more to end the scourge of violence against women.
This starts with me and you. God challenged me to step up and to act. What is God saying to you on this issue? We have a choice to make. What will yours be?
Here are some ways in which you could play your part:
- Check yourself. Are there any attitudes and behaviours towards women that you need to change? Ask God to reveal areas that need to be put right.
- Feel like you don’t know enough? No worries, download Restored’s free church pack and read on. http://www.restoredrelationships.org/churchpack
- Short on time? Watch Restored’s Myths of Abuse clip here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaKpZVQ4l8M&index=28&list=UUvyAAqQYf99ORYecSwroKTA
- Donate to Restored on a regular basis. Restored can only do what it does with people like yourself giving to enable the work to happen. Can you give the price of a take away drink per week to this work? give.net/Restored