Joining Jesus where discipleship meets justice
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
— 1 John 3:18 (ESV)
“I was the walking dead,” Julia* says. “The deeply rooted inner trauma of being mentally and physically raped by an alcoholic stepfather during my childhood and teenage years had scarred me with a constant cloud of self-doubt, depression, and confusion. To the untrained eye, I was doing okay, but contentment, confidence and self-love eluded me. I was moving through life never finding joy in anything.”
Then Julia met Navigator Anna Marie Peterson, who invited her to walk through a discipleship and counseling program in her home.
“My experience with Anna Marie helped me break some extremely powerful strongholds that had me in bondage all my life,” Julia says. “I couldn’t relate to God because I thought He couldn’t love me like He loved other people because I wasn’t worthy. I now feel His love, His protection, His empowerment and most of all, His peace. My life is different now.” Hope Behind the Veil
Anna Marie could tell countless stories like this one. Stories so ugly and evil many Christians would secretly pray for someone else to come alongside these hurting souls and be the one to get dirty. Instead of looking away in shock, Anna Marie steps into the distress. She enters the pain.
“Family abuse is present in all areas and aspects of life,” Anna Marie says. “Every Sunday morning, domestic violence and abuse enter the doors of the church. It’s important to realize that we are in a fallen world. I always begin on that note, because it’s important to set that stage.”
It’s a stage Anna Marie knows well. More than four decades ago, she was the victim, beaten and silenced by a family member she was supposed to be able to trust.
“I always tried to disciple young women, but I kept what happened to me a secret because of the shame associated with it,” Anna Marie says. “It’s only been in the last 15 years that I’ve begun to talk about it and work on it through discipleship.”
Working as a Navigator under the umbrella of Church Discipleship Ministry (CDM) and as an advocate with the domestic violence advocacy program within her denomination, Anna Marie labors on behalf of families who pay the price of forced silence and convenient denial.
When working directly with churches, she pushes for awareness of domestic violence, acceptance of the work to be done, agreement to contribute to the solution, application of a specific plan, and assessment after two years to determine whether that plan is bearing fruit in the community and church.
“As an advocate, I’m trying to get the church to have someone dedicated to understanding social services so they can help get a woman to a shelter, or have a direct contact with a children’s advocacy center.”
When working with women individually in her home, things get way more personal. Since 2009, broken women, no more than four at a time, have spent 28 three-hour sessions over the course of 14 weeks in a domestic violence discussion group in Anna Marie’s living room. These studies explore the nature of abuse, the effects of abuse, and the healing path of facing brokenness, rebuilding intimacy with God, and finding forgiveness. Scripture memory cards for each session remind the women of God’s promises as their wounds begin to heal.
“In the midst of crisis, the most important response needed by a victim of domestic violence is to be heard, believed, and supported,” Anna Marie says. “Their cry for help is multi-faceted. They need practical advice about safety issues, but they also need help understanding their situation from a theological perspective. They need a spiritual advocate.”
Glow in the Dark: The Church’s Challenge
“God is moving among churches across the country,” Anna Marie says. “Churches are gradually warming up to venturing into family abuse ministry. It is so helpful when I can partner with the church. We can do so much more together.”
In the spring of 2014, Anna Marie continued a journey that began two years earlier with four inner city Dallas churches. They met to establish a team of trained leaders within their churches who will go into the community, make disciples, and operate in the critical knowledge and skills needed to bring healthy response to this resident evil.
It’s not a squeaky clean ministry. It’s heart-breaking. It’s next door to everywhere. But so are The Navigators. So are believers. People who are called to hope, and called to tangible empathy.
“I’m looking for lifelong laborers,” Anna Marie says. “When God calls you, you stay. And that’s what I’m doing, even if it’s four women at a time twice a year. But the good news is, God continues to bring churches to work with me.”
So tomorrow, and the next day, Anna Marie will be knee-deep in other women’s pain, helping them get to that triumphant point where they can help someone else.
“Abuse is a perversion of the image of God,” Anna Marie says. “The church needs to step up to that.”
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