In a small, war-torn, West African nation, sweat began pouring off my brow. The temperature in the room hovered around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but tensions rose as I facilitated a new course we had just written called, “Women and Men Leading Together.” Attending was a small group of local Christian leaders and a few pastors. Even the title of the course was controversial in this highly structured patriarchal culture.
We had just finished reading a segment of the case study called “Rebecca’s story.” It was about the repeated rape Rebecca experienced but was helpless to prevent as a young girl. I looked up to see Victoria, one of the women attending, slip silently from the room.
I found her later at the break, eyes red and puffy from the sobs she had been trying to contain.
“How did you know?” Victoria asked. “That is my story that I’ve tried for years to hide and forget. It happens too often here….” her voice trailing off in sadness.
Tragedy in the form of poverty, sexual abuse, rejection, enslavement, war, and violence is too often a part of women’s stories across the USA and our world. These emotional stories are fodder for social media. What is too rarely told and celebrated, however, is how often redemption occurs. How a beautifully gifted girl becomes an amazing woman who is a force for good in her community—in spite of what has been done to her.
How does that happen? Usually over time, at the hands of patient, kind people who dedicate themselves to find her, see her potential, and open doors for her to heal, grow, and learn. And they also often introduce her to a loving God who is “for” her.
This is why it was a joy to see Rebecca’s story come alive through animation in partnership with IDF’s “Girl Child” initiative. Rebecca’s story is true. I have personally heard it repeated over and over with different accents and different circumstances. And each “Rebecca” I’ve met is so much more than a victim. Over and over these women defy the odds and become part of the solution for others. They become the doctors, pastors, mothers, business leaders, and teachers who are change agents.
Victoria came back to me at the end of that course introduction week with eyes still brimming but this time with joy! “When you invited us to ask God to help us forgive those who had done these things to us, something inside me broke,” she said. “It had been holding me back for years, but slowly that bitterness and anger just began to seep out of me. There is hope, isn’t there,” she smiled. “I now feel this freedom to pursue the work with women in my community that I’ve been dreaming about…”
May we all keep working together to stop the violence from happening to the next generation of little girls like Rebecca and to bring healing and hope to those who have survived it. I’ve met so many amazing women who once were abused and abandoned, but today they have become forces for good across our globe. We need them and so do our communities. Let’s keep joining hands to give them a chance to redeem their stories.
Jane Overstreet is the President / CEO of Development Associates International (DAI), a non-profit organization providing training and consulting in leadership and organizational management to more than 100,000 Christian leaders in 82 countries annually. Jane is a lawyer who has also provided legal consulting for numerous other Christian organizations. She serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations and was an adjunct professor at Eastern University. Mrs. Overstreet has been married for 40 years to Harold, who also worked with DAI before he retired. They have three children and seven grandchildren.