A letter from Sandi Thompson-Royer, serving in Guatemala
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Over and over the women hugged me with tears in their eyes, personally knowing my experience. In my ear they whispered, “Dios es nuestra fortaleza en estos momentos.” God is our strength in these moments. A close friend in the US who has spent much time in Guatemala wrote, “I’m glad you’re in beautiful Guatemala and being held in its sweet mountains. It is a place where God feels near and our emotions are uncluttered by first world problems. It is a good place to grieve and reconcile.”
As my mom was passing in Nevada, I was right in the middle of a long-planned three-day “train the trainers” domestic violence/sexual assault workshop with over 30 Presbyterian women from all over Guatemala, plus three of my North American sisters who came to be part of the leadership team. As painful and difficult as it was, I was surrounded by love and prayers. As God was welcoming my mamma home, Pastor Azucena Rosal shared a reflection on the Exodus and the strong women who were part of that. We shared communion of tortillas and orchata (a rice drink) served by Rev. Azucena Rosal and Rev. Kathryn Gorman-Coombs from the Presbytery of Albany, NY.
What bound us all together during this training was our commitment to supporting each other. We listened as women from Guatemala shared what domestic violence is like in their communities. Not surprisingly, this description sounded very much like domestic violence in the States: jealousy; monitoring and limiting activity; controlling all the money; accusing the wife of cheating when in fact it is the man who is having an affair; forcing sexual contact; and, of course, physical abuse in various forms.
What is different in Guatemala is a lack of resources. Especially in more remote locations, and in tight-knit communities where many people are related, there is a strong societal belief that what happens in the home is no one else’s business. Seeking help from the church is likely to result in urging the victim to “keep the family together” and in the pastor taking the husband’s side or going to him to urge him to treat his wife better, resulting in more beatings for her. Going to the authorities is often not advisable—police forces are notoriously corrupt, and predominantly male. Moreover, there are only five women’s shelters in the entire country.
On the morning of the second day, Elsa, the treasurer and national leader for the Sinodica, led a devotional focused on the story of the Daughters of Zelophehad. This is an unfamiliar story from the Book of Numbers where five sisters whose father died without sons argue successfully that they should be able to inherit, lest their father’s name vanish from the community. It is a little-known biblical passage focusing on strong women advocating for their own rights. Elsa encouraged all to remember that it is part of our responsibility as the people of God to speak up on our own behalf and on behalf of our sisters, and that God will hear. Those attending were beginning to learn they have a responsibility to be a strong voice against the abuse of their sisters.
Later in the day, Rev. Kathy Gorman-Coombs,* whose home presbytery has had a long-term relationship with the Mam presbytery, spoke. Using her extensive experience working as a domestic violence advocate in her community, Rev. Gorman-Coombs began the conversation about forgiveness when there has been abuse. She spoke about the challenging topics of divorce and forgiveness, borrowing heavily from Marie Fortune of Faith Trust Institute, who long ago pointed out that when abuse happens in a marriage, the holy covenant of marriage is already broken by the perpetrator of the abuse. So for the victim to seek separation or divorce is not to be the one breaking the covenant, but to be simply making visible what has already been done by the one who is violent.
Regarding forgiveness, Rev. Fortune’s teaching is that while forgiveness can be a valuable way of letting go and moving on for some who have experienced abuse, it cannot and should not be forced or insisted on. Even in the biblical texts that admonish us to forgive, repentance is part of the process, and true repentance means a change in behavior, not just remorse and an apology followed by more violence. Kathy shared that when batterers were asked what to tell those who’d been victimized, they said, “Tell them not to forgive us too quickly. We need to be held accountable.” She also shared that sometimes when we cannot forgive, what we can do is let go and allow that to be between the abuser and God, rather than feeling responsible or compelled to forgive.
This led to a spirited discussion with varying degrees of perspectives. But finally, a wise and respected woman stood up and said, “I was very hurt by my ex-husband’s behavior, and, thanks to God, I have found that I can forgive him. But I cannot be in a relationship with him anymore, of any kind. He does not take responsibility for his actions, so I have to protect myself by staying away from him. Even when we forgive, we do not have to be in a relationship with the one who hurt us.” This woman’s testimony led to a discussion of the differences between forgiveness and reconciliation. We came to the conclusion that even when we forgive, we should not necessarily forget the abuse, lest we end up in a position to be harmed again.
And so it was that as women lifted each other up as they attempted to come to terms with and identify ways to address Guatemala’s epidemic of domestic violence, they likewise supported me. This transformative training illustrates the ways in which mutuality is the ideal not only in partnership, but in our relationships with others.
This summer was very challenging for Brian and me. We spent two months in the U.S. with the original plan to visit our supporting churches, but the health of our mothers quickly diverted our energy to focus on goodbyes and precious time with family. Yet, we felt your love and prayers as we struggled. Over 200 Facebook posts and emails arrived within the first few days of my mom’s passing. I received much comfort from your words.
Thank you for walking alongside us on our journey. Please continue to support us through your prayers as we navigate personal trials, and as we follow God’s call in Guatemala. And please consider supporting us financially, for this allows us to work together with the people of Guatemala to transform their society into one that honors the dignity of all.
*With Rev. Kathy’s permission, I have used content in this letter from an article that she wrote.
Please read this important message from Jose Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission
Dear Friend of Presbyterian Mission,
What a joy to send this letter! As Presbyterian World Mission’s new director, I thank God for your faithful support of our mission co-workers. The enclosed newsletter celebrates the work you made possible by your prayers, engagement, and generous financial gifts. We can’t thank you enough.
After I began in April, I met with mission co-workers and global partners and was blessed to see firsthand the mighty ways God is working through them! Our global partners are asking us to help them move forward with life-changing ministries. Because of your support, we can say “yes” to these creative and exciting initiatives.
I write to invite you to make an even deeper commitment to this work. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? We need your gifts to end the year strong. With your help, we filled two new mission co-worker positions and plan to recruit for others. The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer the call to serve.
Second, would you ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s mission budget for 2018 and beyond? Our mission co-workers serve three-year or four-year terms. Your multi-year commitment will encourage them greatly.
Our mission co-workers are funded entirely from the special gifts of individuals and congregations like yours. Now more than ever, we need your financial support.
In faith, our mission co-workers accepted a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission sent them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts?
Jose Luis Casal
P.S. Your gift will help meet critical needs of our global partners. Thank you!
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Tags: Daughters of Zelophehad, death in the family, Domestic violence workshop
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