Wow! Kyoko and I had an amazing experience representing The Hope of Survivors (THOS) at the United Methodist Church General Conference (UMC) in Portland, OR! It lasted two weeks and was the General Conference that meets every four years so delegates from all over the world attended.
We were blessed to share our hearts and help victims, bring awareness and education to many about clergy sexual abuse (CSA), and bring the great Help and Hope of THOS to all that came.
We received such appreciation for this precious ministry, such support and encouragement, and lives were transformed—including ours!
I do not know if my words can adequately express all that my eyes saw, or my ears heard, or my heart felt, but I will try to share some highlights of this awesome two weeks.
*One pastor pointed up to the beautiful woman on THOS sign and said, “At first I thought this was a ‘Make Up’ booth. We all laughed and went on to speak the truth about CSA and he became so appalled he exclaimed, “It makes me feel like getting out of the clergy!” We reassured him to please stay and be a voice exposing CSA and an advocate for the hurting. He agreed.
*One lady walked up to our booth as she read our sign. She was distraught and said, “Hopefully one day there will be no need for such a ministry.” Then I responded, “Unfortunately, that day will probably only be when Jesus returns!” We explained to her how thousands of years ago CSA had been going on with Eli’s sons having sex with women serving at the tent of meeting—and wherever you have clergy leading—there can still be abuse of that power until Jesus returns. She understood by the end.
*A lady from Uganda came by our booth and after looking at our signs said with such disgust, “They rape our women all the time—and nobody says anything! Nobody reports anything! Nobody does anything!” To accept such evil is itself evil!
*Praise God we had an iPad at our booth to show everyone the wonderful THOS website. It was a great visual tool to explain CSA, how it helps victims, how to get more resources, all about Baylor University’s research, all the helpful services at THOS, and to sign up for quarterly newsletters.
So many International clergy and people came by that could not speak English! So we could easily go to “languages” on the website and translate everything into their native language. We often translated the site into French for those from the Congo and South Africa, or Russian for the two pastors from Russia (they could speak English but thought it could help others when they return to Russia), or to Spanish to those from Mexico. The iPad was invaluable for translations, a visual tool of THOS site, and useful in signing people up for the newsletter. God used the iPad in a mighty way!
*Three pastors from the Congo came by that could only speak French. After reading THOS website in French they kept saying, “Tres bien, tres bien, tres bien!” Then they said in broken English, “Flash, Flash—pay, pay,” as they rubbed their fingers together. Kyoko understood they were asking what was the cost for a flash drive for this site. She said, “It is free—free online.” They were astonished and so thankful!
*A Pastor from Kenya looked at THOS sign and explained that many will rape women there in order to have more children! This was an unbelievable tragedy!
*Many of the UMC leaders shared about their safe sanctuaries and ethics training to keep their churches safe. We agreed how important education and training is to preventing CSA.
I had printed off the UMC policies and findings about Sexual Misconduct in Ministerial Relationships. Their policies recognized the heinous abuse when clergy betray this sacred trust both of children and adults. They reported, “The prevalence of sexual misconduct is shocking. According to The Book of Resolutions, a recent study revealed that of those surveyed, ‘More than three-fourths of the clergywomen and half of the laywomen had experienced sexual harassment in the Church.” This was a real eye-opener to all at how prevalent this abuse really is—even in the UMC!
*So many were amazed to discover that CSA is not a crime in ALL States. We told them it was a crime in only 13 states and D.C. We had a blue folder detailing CSA, Baylor University’s research, THOS information, and colored maps of the U.S. The 13 States and D.C. were shaded in green to represent those having laws making CSA a crime. And the States in yellow depicted those with pending legislation. We explained that Baylor’s research suggested that prevention of CSA runs on two tracks—education and legislation. So these blue folders with this information and maps served as good visual tools!
*We were told that a predator pastor admitted that he would target “ugly” women in his flock so no one would believe them if they ever told on him. If he was exposed, he would ask, “Why would he want to have sex with such an ugly woman?” How horrible!
*A pastor came to THOS booth and told us that he knew of a pastor abusing congregants and was forced to resign. Unfortunately, this predator just changed denominations and continued to abuse the vulnerable.
*One person walked up and pointed to the words on our sign “Pastoral Sexual Abuse” and asked us, “Which side are you guys on?”
We of course answered, “On the side of the victims and on the side of truth!” We were told that when victims sue civilly, the civil suit is usually against the offending pastor and the church as well. She told us it is awful but this causes the church to be on the same side as the predator. She cringed as she told us that!
*All pastors and clergy from Africa, Mexico, and the Philippines declared they believed the numbers were much higher than the 1 in 33 women Baylor reported will experience CSA sometime in their lifetime in the U.S. They all said MUCH Higher! So Sad!
*A representative from the Sex Trafficking booth came by our exhibit to talk. We told her all about CSA and gave her THOS brochure and said we would come by and talk with her about her ministry later. We indeed went by and she shared the horrible truth about our youth being forced into sex trafficking and how prevalent it actually is here in America. At the end of our sharing, she pointed to THOS brochure and said, “even after all the horror of sex trafficking that she knows well and educates others about, this abuse by clergy was UNBELIEVABLE!” She could not believe that clergy could sexually abuse their sheep in the name of God!
*A woman walked up to our booth and I asked her, “What do you think Pastoral Sexual Abuse Is?” She paused and summed it like this, “A woman is vulnerable; goes to her pastor for counseling; he jumps on her!” I agreed and said you got right to the point. Of course there is much more in between the lines—like grooming, manipulation, secrecy, abuse and control. But yes, she got the abuse in just a few words!
*A lady from Delaware came to THOS exhibit and encouraged Kyoko and I. She said we need to speak this truth in love and that this is a needed ministry. She said all churches should support THOS!
*There were two separate women from the Congo that could not speak any English. We translated THOS website into French for them and their faces said it ALL! They never had to tell us they were survivors—their faces spoke for them! Both were determined to not only get a newsletter but to get Bianca’s email address from South Africa. One of the ladies took 10 button pins to take back for others. We believe we shared with at least five survivors—these two women from the Congo and three others that openly identified themselves at survivors.
Because these were confidential conversations with these three survivors, I will not disclose personal details of our sharing. But let me say that we shared our hearts as only survivors can. The Holy Spirit was ministering and revealing truth as we talked. And I impressed on them that the abuse was NOT their fault. They said this truth was in their heads but not in their hearts yet. I encouraged them that healing is a process and, in time, God can set their hearts free too!
*A Bishop from Myanmar came to our booth. After showing him THOS website with all the help and resources, he expressed how his country needs a service like this. He was very thankful for such resources and signed up for the newsletter.
*A Korean layman walked up to THOS exhibit and simply said, “I KNOW THIS goes on!” He signed up for THOS newsletter and asked, “How can I support you?”
*And last but definitely not least, we met a courageous pastor from Nebraska that was a hero in the face of CSA! He told us he stood by two victims that had been sexually abused by a pastor in his district. He went with them both to the police station to report how this abuser manipulated these vulnerable women into sex. The police had one woman call him as they recorded the conversation. The perpetrator was told by one of the women that the police found out about their relationship and needed to know how this was part of counseling. She asked him, “The police need to know what you called it, so it was part of the therapy? And he boldly admitted, “tell them it was therapeutic sexual intercourse.” What a stunning and twisted admission of a shepherd that was supposed to help the sheep under his care. So he was charged and a plea deal was made. This brave pastor told us that these two women were harassed, blamed, and suffered much hostility by almost all of the church members. It was awful and he too received mistreatment! He followed this predator up until his death. After the abusive pastor died, 12 more victims came forward to tell how he sexually abused them also. And this heroic pastor even wrote a book about this unbelievable ordeal but never got it published. He said after talking with us he might just finally get it published and plans to use real names. He declared, “we need to really tell all the truth and use real names!” As he was leaving our booth he encouraged us saying, “Keep up the wonderful work!”
These are just a few of the many people we talked to about THOS. Although the traffic was slow over the two weeks, we probably talked with about 200 people. THOS does a wonderful work for our Lord! Eyes were opened, minds made new, and hearts changed at this booth! Kyoko and I left this work with more compassion, more zeal, and a renewed mind being transformed by God’s Holy Spirit! I do wish you could have been there too!
Thank you for for letting me accompany Tammy to Portland to volunteer for THOS. It was an invaluable lesson for me to love people. Thank you also for covering us with your prayers. I thank God that He restored Tammy's health to feel strong enough to start the first day of the conference.
Her idea of bringing theiPad to show the comprehensive THOS website was excellent! With several languages available on the website, we were able to reach out to the non-English speaking attendees as well as English-speaking people. People from Africa and the Philippines seemed particularly excited that resources on CSA are available online. Many people we met were appreciative of resources and the work of THOS. I hope that many victims will be helped through the website and it will also help church to combat CSA.