By Carl Stagner
The ten-year-old rape victim whose family was told by the courts that children under twelve don’t know what they are talking about. Or the wife who was beaten by her husband but told by police that, without catching him in the act, they couldn’t be certain he was to blame. Half of the children in Ecuador—both boys and girls—are sexually abused by age twelve. The grim reality these victims face is worsened by a culture that looks the other way at the mention of sexual abuse. Church of God missionary Karen Lambert and her friend Cindy Shrewsberry decided enough is enough. Against this culture of abuse in Ecuador, they sparked a revolution that’s making waves from the Pacific coast to the Andes.
No one wants to say a word. No one wants to discuss the problem. Women are widely regarded as having no more value than property, especially in rural Ecuador. Child molestation may be frowned upon, but it if happens, you just sweep it under the rug. To make matters worse, cultural structures reward women for dressing provocatively; if a woman wants to be sure to land a job, she wears something suggestive and is rewarded for it. If she simply wants to get to the front of a long line, her immodest dress can accomplish that. Back at home, if a wife finds herself suffering from abuse, she has no place to go. There are almost no safe houses or victim support systems in Ecuador. Women generally lack education. At least at home, the abusive husband may bring home a paycheck on occasion.
After much prayer and conversation, Karen and her friend Cindy agreed that something needed to be done—and they had to do it. Cindy worked feverishly to assemble a Bible-based curriculum designed to raise awareness about sexual abuse and to bring healing to victims. Knowing that the lack of transportation and geography of Ecuador add to the disconnectedness of churches across the country, the two hosted a training event that brought seventeen women—clergy wives and lay leaders—from as far as the coast. These church leaders could then go back to their churches and communities and spread awareness to the maximum number of Ecuadorians. Soon Karen and Cindy would realize the scope of the issue they were trying to tackle.
“We found out very quickly that almost all of these women had been severely sexually abused,” Karen recalls, “and in many cases were even raped or beaten by their husbands. So we shared that what would help them heal was knowing that they’re not alone. We also made it clear that it is a lie from Satan that their abuse was because they did something wrong or because they are women.”
These seventeen women were pillars in their church. Not one of them had ever talked about the abuse they’d suffered with anybody. Here they were at this event, pouring out their hearts and their hurts. Karen and Cindy surrounded them that day, and in the days that followed, with God’s unconditional love and care. Today, these same women—many geographically disconnected—have formed strong bonds. “They will fight for each other,” Karen explains. “If there is a need in a family, they will call each other and do what they can. That would have never happened before. Now they’re putting what they’ve learned into practice and teaching it in their own churches. They’re starting women’s groups in the churches, and in the community with those who don’t yet know the Lord.
“We knew in all of this that a society will not change just because the women realize they have value,” Karen continues. “It has to go past that. It has to include the men. So in light of a very macho society, Cindy and her husband Keith, along with Jon and I, began to pray about what to do and, finally I said, ‘Cindy, it’s time.’ So we went to a group of twenty-four men, got up, and stood in front of them with our knees shaking.” After walking through another curriculum prepared by Cindy, this time for men, the two were floored by what happened next.
“After several hours of teaching, the men started opening up and sharing,” Karen recalls. “As it turned out, most of them had been sexually abused, too. They said they didn’t realize where all of their anger had been coming from, and how they were passing it along to their families.” At the end of the day, the men were raising their hands to ask Cindy and Karen when they would be returning to teach again.
The chains of generational sin are breaking in Ecuador. Women and men are taking corrective action against the prevailing wisdom of the culture. The revolution has only just begun.
Karen and Jon Lambert serve as missionaries for Global Strategy to Ecuador. Learn more about Global Strategy at www.chogglobal.org.