The hardest thing we ever have to do is say goodbye.
Over the last several years running Deborah's House, offering shelter to women and their children who are escaping family situations of extreme violence, we have had the opportunity to work with dozens of families at the most trying times in their lives. They come to us afraid and alone, with no possessions but the clothes on their backs. They don't know who to trust or what will happen to them when they get here. Their self esteem is destroyed from the years of insults and criticism, being told that they can do nothing right. Their bodies are swollen and bruised, and they can't seem to inhabit them well, as if they don't know that their own bodies belong to themselves anymore.
Our work, while they are with us, is first to give them a safe place, where they can not be threatened anymore- where no one can hit or hurt them, with fists or words. In this environment of grace, they will begin to heal their spirits, minds and bodies. Little by little.
While they are in the shelter, they will also learn life skills, take classes on nutrition, job skills, English, and sewing. They will have counseling from our team, psychologists and social workers. Parenting classes are important in helping them find a better way to raise their children, without the fear and violence that they have only known before. Most importantly, they will learn to love themselves and to know grace. The change we see in them after several months is striking. Women whose faces projected nothing but despair, who could not smile at all, begin to laugh. As surely as if they had been dead to this life, they are reborn to a life of joy, a life of love.
And then we have to say good bye.
As with all ministries of empowerment, whether it is pastoring a church to new vision, parenting a child, or running a shelter, there comes a time when we must lead those in our care to be able to stand on their own. Anything less would be fostering dependency.
However, the world we have to send them back into is a cruel world indeed. The jobs that are most readily available, in the assembly plants, pay less than $1 an hour, require long days, and provide no child care. Rents are high for apartments that are barely livable. The public schools where their children will go are overcrowded and sub standard. How does a single mother find her way in such a world on her own?
We have tried to help them find the best jobs possible, and to supplement their income selling jewelry, quilted bags and clothing that they learned to make at Deborah's House. Even so, survival is always a struggle. What they can earn in this economy is barely enough to pay the bills. The temptation to go back to an abuser is great, even if only as a means to survival. That most of the women of Deborah's House choose not to go back is a testament to the fact that they have learned to love themselves far more than to allow themselves to be abused again. They know that they deserve better.
We have a new bright star of hope for us in the Deborah's House Constellation. Gloria* was the first woman we helped to leave a situation of , a home where she was enslaved by a step father and sexually abused from when she was nine years old until she was 33. In the seven years since her liberation, she has been finding her strength, determined to live with dignity and to make sure that other women, especially her daughters, would never know that kind of abuse. A couple months ago, after years of perseverance and through blessed friendships and divine intervention, Gloria bought her own house. Like Deborah's House, it is a home full of love and grace. It is also an inspiration of hope.
The world to which we send them became a little less impossible, a little less cruel.
THANK YOU AMERICAN BAPTIST CHURCHES USA FOR HELPING DEBORAH'S HOUSE MINISTRY TO BECOME A REALITY FOR SO MANY FAMILIES IN TIJUANA, MEXICO!
*This article was also published for the IM Mission Study Guide. Names were changed for confidentiality