I was born and raised in Canada, though I’m currently living in Grand Rapids. I’m married (to a pastor) and have two teenage daughters, a freshman in high school and a freshman in college. In my spare time I like to read, hike, bike, travel, and kayak (in the summer). I have been serving in ministry for over 20 years, the last 12 years teaching Old Testament at two different seminaries. As of last month, I left my job at the seminary to begin working with Safe Church Ministry. Perhaps you are wondering why.
One summer during university, I worked for the Children’s Aid Society in Ontario as an administrative assistant to child protection workers. My job was to type up case notes assessing whether or not to remove a child from their home. I was not naive about abuse, having had friends who were survivors, but that summer broke my heart. I was struck by how vulnerable these children were—unable to do anything to prevent the physical, emotional, and sexual violations committed against them. All they could do was wait for someone else to notice who would then take up their cause and fight for their protection.
When the summer ended, I returned to university thinking I might pursue a career in law to advocate from the legal perspective for those who were being or had been abused. But God had different plans, calling me into youth and campus ministry and later, to teaching and mentoring seminarians who were called into ministry.
Throughout this period, however, God regularly put in my path those who were or who had experienced abuse. I journeyed with them in their pain, listening to their stories, praying with them, sometimes referring them to a counsellor, sometimes crying with them, mostly just trying to be a supportive friend as they sought to cope with the destructive effects of abuse on their lives.
Many of the people I journeyed with were women, and most were part of the church. Some were abused as children by family members, some in dating relationships, and some by church leaders and volunteers (of various denominations).
In most cases, the church dealt with the abuse badly, often turning a blind eye out of fear of the fallout if the abuse became public. The impact of this on survivors was devastating. They felt abandoned, left without spiritual resources or even a supportive community to deal with the trauma of abuse. And while their abusers had made them feel small, worthless, even dirty, the church made them feel invisible.
When the opportunity arose to serve Safe Church Ministry in the CRCNA, I felt God calling me to a more sustained involvement in advocacy both with those who are survivors of abuse and for the work and witness of the church.
As a church, we have an opportunity to embody the redemptive and healing power of the gospel by ministering effectively to those who are survivors of abuse and by cultivating healthier cultures in which every person is protected and valued. When we do this well, we model God’s love for all people in profound ways and live more fully into the calling of the church to join in God’s redemptive work.
My hope and prayer is that over the years to come, Safe Church would continue the good work that Bonnie Nicholas, Eric Kas, Becky Jones, and Safe Church coordinators and teams have done in abuse prevention, awareness, and response that we would grow as a church in our capacity to address abuse with justice and compassion.