Thursday, July 31, 2014

The women of Gressier Haiti part 3

On July 10th ElevateHer entered Gressier Haiti to host a women's conference to encourage the women there to heal and find life from chaos.  This blog is part 3 of an update describing our time together in Haiti.

Part 2-Here
Part 1-Here

Part 3-The women pushed back

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Mathew 18:15-17

I'm constantly having to remind myself that the work of elevating women will be a process and it will not be achieved over night. Changing cultural attitudes against women will be a process. And women embracing a life of freedom, seeing themselves as worthy and valuable participants in society will be a process.

I sometimes forget that there are some cultural systems that are nearly impossible to change and there will be resistance when one tries to speak against those systems of oppression, even by the ones suffering under those systems.  I sometimes forget to be patient in the work of helping women find life.

During the three days spent with the women in Gressier, we experienced resistance from the women as we discussed matters that challenged certain thoughts, attitudes and practices that kept them in bondage and could put their lives at risk.  We kept pushing to offer them a different narrative.  We kept challenging them to let go of shame, we shared with them that some secrets can ruin their lives and the lives of their children and we encouraged them to embrace their sisters in their communities so they can heal as a community. 

However you can tell the strength and power of the old story. The old story is all they know and though it may be a story of pain and oppression, it's familiar and "safe". One sister came up front to share but it was more of a put down for women in unhealthy relationships.  Again I pushed back by saying "One woman's pain could be every woman's pain; if a sister is struggling love her, feed her and encourage her; do not put her down because her story could be yours, or your daughter's".

Another example was in regards to the women engaging their husbands and significant others in the conversation, whether it be in terms of using condoms, testing for stds and asking for fidelity in marriage. I used the example of Matthew 18:15-17 to encourage the women that there are biblical ways to enter their partners in the conversation especially when sin, disregard and dangerous/risky behaviors are present. One woman raised her hand and said: if you are married to your husband, I don't think it's necessary to involve others in these types of personal matters (as described in the above scripture). She continued: "Perhaps you can cook him a meal, approach him kindly and gently and have these conversations with him, surely he'll listen".

After she made her comment, I asked  the other women "how many of you have the kind of relationships our sister describes, where all it takes is a good meal and good timing to have your husband value your concerns?" Many of the women laughed and shook their heads to indicate that that is not their reality.

The truth is women in developing countries and developed countries continue to not have the power to negotiate and speak on issues concerning their bodies and their well being.  And when you attempt to give them permission to do so, you will be confronted with fear and great resistance.

And I get it. This is a constant struggle of mine. I'm always thinking: How dare I enter their lives and preach a message of their worth, when all around them a different message is being preached? How dare I speak of truths that empower them, when they can't even ask for their partners to use condoms? I understand their push backs, it's almost like they're saying "you come here and try to give us hope and send us back home to the same homes and communities that oppress us and rob us of our dignity"?

How does one live in the same conditions when they've been given information that can be empowering? You resist. You fight back.

In counseling terms this is called cognitive dissonance, in layman's terms it simply means when two things/ideas don't go together, we subconsciously try to do something to achieve balance or to alleviate the discomfort. Their resistance could be a way of fighting the dissonance, the discomfort present. 

As they push back, we, at elevateher, will continue to challenge thoughts, ideas and systems of oppression; systems that are ungodly and put the lives of women, children and communities at risk.  Next year we will return to Gressier as our work is not done. 

We were honored that these women opened up to us and shared their lives and their stories with us.  We do not take this privilege lightly.  Even now, we're planning and praying to see how we can best serve our sisters.

Please continue to pray for us and Join us as we elevate women wherever the Lord sends us.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The women of Gressier Part 2

On July 10th ElevateHer entered Gressier Haiti to host a women's conference to encourage the women there to heal and find life from chaos.  This blog is part 2 of an update describing our time together in Haiti.  Part one of the update could be found here.

The three days were filled lessons on  grief, forgiveness, setting a vision for the future, and we closed with a lesson on HIV/AIDS awareness.

My favorite moment was during our last session on HIV/AIDS, many questions were being asked.  A woman stood up to ask a "hypothetical" question: suppose my husband and I were married for 22 years, the first 6 years we lived together and after that he moved away to the US for 16 years; upon his return I asked him for an HIV test before we connected sexually, at which he agreed, however the test revealed that he was HIV positive, what should I do?

You should have heard the commotion in the room after the question was asked. I wanted to cautiously approach her question as to not bring any new ideas that could disrupt the community and create more harm than good, while at the same time speak truth that may benefit the women and promote change in their communities. So I gave the safe answer: "this is a complicated situation that may need more attention because one approach will not work for all families; this is a personal issue because there are couples that may choose to stay and work things out".

But I gathered that my safe answer was not satisfactory for the women as they continued to speak among themselves.  And I was completely comfortable allowing them to chatter among themselves; I was overjoyed to see them engaged in conversations.

A surprising response came from a male spectator who lingered around the entire three days; he even asked for a copy of the materials to be in his ministry. He asked for permission to speak and I gladly gave him the mic because the work of elevating women will need our brothers who understand the worth and value of women. He stepped forward and asked the woman: "is this a real life question because if it is I'd be more than willing to helping you navigate through making the best decisions for you and your family". He went on to say: "women be very careful when making these decisions as to not put your lives at risk. I also want to caution you to not accuse your husbands of wrong doing without proper investigations because wrongfully accusing him can cause him to leave. If he comes home with a different shirt from the one he left with, wait for an explanation before jumping to conclusions".

Let's just say his last few statements did not sit well with the women at all. One in particular exclaimed if my husband returns home with a different set of wardrobe, he has some explaining to do. We laughed, we debated and we were better for entering the discussion.

There's something significant about giving women the opportunity to discuss and think critically about their lives, their bodies and issues going on in their communities.  When women are given information, resources, opportunities and the affirmation that they can, trust me you will see communities changing. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Women of Gressier, Haiti part 1

And then God answered: "Write this.
Write what you see.
Write it out in big block letters
so that it can be read on the run.
this vision-message is a witness
pointing to what's coming.
It aches for the coming-it can hardly wait!
And it doesn't lie.
If it seems slow in coming, wait.
It's on its way.  It will come right on time.  Habbakuk 2:2-3

After months of planning with my dear friends Sally and Jen, elevateher entered Gressier, Haiti to work with the women within that region of Haiti. 50 women leaders from 10 different churches gathered. Though we had a sense of the issues the women were facing, we really had no idea what we were walking into in terms of the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the women. Because of this reality, we started the conference by asking the women of the issues that are most pressing in their communities. 

We prefaced that first session with a reminder that they were sisters and to treat each other as such, to not gossip or betray their sisters' trust when they hear of certain struggles and challenges during the conference. They received bracelets that said "ou se se-m" "you are my sister" to communicate this truth.

We used the text Ruth 1 to help the women look at the many challenges Naomi was facing to connect and to help set the foundation for their own struggles. At first the women hesitated to speak of the challenges they were facing but Naomi has a way of helping women get real with their pain.  Once they got started, we could not get them to stop. One woman said of course we have struggles and they're very similar to Naomi's. Several others chimed in saying: "The earthquake on January 12th, things were hard before the earthquake but they've exacerbated after, hunger, lack of resources, no work, infidelity, diseases, sexual abuse, lack of security...on and on it went. Each time a sister would speak, my heart would break because I knew that behind every struggle were 10 other complications.

And it was with those challenges in mind that we opened our first session on trauma and how to heal from the wounds of trauma. Of all the traumas the women suffered they zeroed in on one in particular: sexual trauma. The challenge with sexual traumas in those communities is that everyone suffers alone. Everyone hides and holds the secret and shame of sexual trauma alone.

So we presented the women an opportunity to receive information and enter the process of healing from shame, guilt and suffering alone.

I'm never sure how the women will respond when they receive new information, I'm always fearful that it's too much or too foreign for them to handle. But the response is always the same: women fired up to find out how they can protect their families and communities and encouraged to enter the journey of healing. One woman said "I came in empty handed and now I'm leaving full".