A letter from Jed Koball serving in Peru
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The distance in her eyes and the trembling of her hands told the story that none of us would ever come to hear. But the details were not what mattered in this moment. She was another victim—another survivor—of sexual abuse in Peru. Her name has been changed in this story to protect her identity, but her age was one all too familiar. I met her on this day four years ago. I will call her Karina. She was 14 years old.
Like other girls her age, she arrived at the Casa del Buen Trato, the only shelter in all of Peru that specializes in the rehabilitation and re-integration of young women survivors of sexual abuse. It is run by Paz y Esperanza, a member organization of our global partner, the Joining Hands network.
I was there on that day because I was leading a mission trip from the Broad Street Presbyterian Church of Columbus, Ohio. A team of 15 adults and high school girls and boys had been invited by the Casa del Buen Trato for one week. The purpose of the trip was to serve alongside the women and girls of the Casa del Buen Trato while learning about issues of violence against women in all places in the world, including our own communities in which we live. Our goals for the week were to help with basic maintenance on buildings and grounds at the shelter; create community with the young women and girls through organized activities; learn about the mission of the shelter and larger issues of violence against women in Peru; and, discern how to integrate this experience into our personal and congregational lives.
Over the course of that week we painted walls, hauled trash, pulled weeds and planted seeds. We played volleyball, made bracelets, and even painted fingernails! We sang together, prayed together, danced together, and shared many delicious meals together. We also learned about the overwhelming and troubling truths of violence against women in Peru: that one in five women in Peru experience sexual violence before age 15; that as high as 90 percent of filed claims of violence against women get shelved and are never investigated; that 35,000 pregnancies occur every year in Peru as a result of rape; and that 9 out of 10 pregnancies of girls under the age of 15 are the result of incest.
Unlike several of the girls at the Casa del Buen Trato, Karina was not pregnant when she arrived. She will not need to receive special classes and therapy to learn how to be a mother at age 12 or 13, like some of the others. She will however receive counseling, medical support, educational assistance, job training, as well as be assigned a social worker and legal council among other levels of support that the shelter´s holistic approach to rehabilitation and re-integration entails.
Over the years I have continued to visit the shelter with other mission teams that have been invited by the shelter. I’ve been assured that our mere presence is an important factor in the rehabilitation process as we help strengthen their community and build trust. Certainly our skills in painting are not the impetus for our invitation!
I’ve also been told that our presence is an encouragement for the work our partners do with local churches, as we strive to make the issue of violence against women a priority for the church. I believe now that such experiences are not only a support for the work of the church here in Peru but also for the work of the church in the U.S. More than one congregation that has come to visit the shelter has testified to new commitment and initiatives to address violence against women in their communities and throughout the world.
And may we never forget that this is a global struggle! This was never more evident for me than at the March to End Violence Against Women held in Lima just a few weeks ago. More than 50,000 of us walked the streets of Lima to the Department of Justice, demanding that the authorities use the full extent of the law to protect women and prosecute violators. Our massive march in Lima was but one of several organized around the world.
This past month another mission team came to visit the shelter; this one from Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church outside of Philadelphia. Like past groups, we tended to the garden and other maintenance jobs, we sang and danced and shared meals; we even had a mani-pedi day! And like all the groups over the past four years, we met Karina.
She has grown over the years—in confidence and determination to pursue a new and better life. Little did we know that our last day at the shelter would also be her last day. She turned 18, and it was time for her to go. She was ready. And, as we celebrated her birthday and all she had achieved, I was presented with the greatest honor I have ever received in all my years in Peru—I was asked to pray for Karina as she transitioned out of the shelter and into the world. As I searched for the words asking God to protect and guide her, I felt the Spirit filling me with gratitude—for our partners who dedicate their lives to young women like Karina, for Karina herself, for her strength, her determination, her faith that inspires beyond what she can ever imagine, and for our God that brings us together, to walk with one another.
I am also filled with gratitude for each of you—for supporting us in prayer, for your financial gifts, and for your active voice and ministry right where you are. Because of you God´s mission in Peru is shining light in the darkest of corners, restoring the Kingdom right here on Earth. Please continue to support us and hold us in prayer, knowing that we hold you in prayer, too!
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