Leads to Life
Paula Silva’s marriage didn’t turn out quite as she had expected. Raised in a Christian home and married at 21, her perception of marriage was “if you married a Christian man who shared your same beliefs, then everything was going to turn out alright”. A week after her marriage, Paula found this not to be the truth when she got a taste of her husbands abuse after she asked a simple question of him – “Would you please take out the garbage?”
He reacted with anger and viciousness and Paula wondered what she said that was wrong and caused him to react that way – beginning a cycle of her over-analyzing situations and taking the blame for his abusive reactions. “To the outside world, my husband was a wonderful Christian leader, but behind closed doors he would be very emotionally and psychologically abusive. He was jealous of my attention to our three children,” shares Paula. “He would often use scripture against me because he knew my relationship with God was so important. He knew how to manipulate me and make me believe that I was disappointing and failing God all the time. I began to take on this man’s perception of me and completely shut down and I became a non-person. In his eyes I had no right to opinions, feelings or ideas.” Paula’s husbands rages increased over the years and eventually turned to threats of death for the both of them. “After 25 years of marriage I had never told anyone, which is very common in these situations, but we finally ended up in the pastor’s office at our church,” explains Paula. Getting no support from the church except a stern lecture on divorce, the situation never change and ultimately resulted in a divorce for Paula.
Being Christian and newly divorced, she was met with indifference by her church family. “I thought I was imagining things at first, but after awhile I realized that no one would sit in the same pew as me in church,” Paula tells. “Over time, I met another woman who was going through similar things at our church and we supported one other, until, lo and behold more women came forward. We began to see that women wanted to grow and learn how to focus on the Lord and then their situation. So, we developed a curriculum and began holding support groups.”
These support groups dealt with the topics of setting boundaries, co-dependency and other issues. “We began to realize that the purpose of this group was bigger than all of us and God wanted it to become a Life, ” adds Paula.
And so, FOCUS Ministries was birthed. “FOCUS stands for Focus On Christ for Ultimate Satisfaction. We wanted women to focus on Christ first and our biblical scripture is Psalm 71:5, ‘For You are my hope, O Lord God’. We chose the color purple to let women know that they are part of a royal family,” shares Paula, now the President of FOCUS Ministries. “We eventually got involved in Moody radio and in 1997 we officially became a non-for-profit. We do counseling in several ways – through emails and phone calls, and in-person visits for women, family and friends wanting to know what to do. Last year we had thousands of emails and phone calls and made over 600 new contacts seeking help, out of which 27 of them were pastors wives.”
Today, FOCUS Ministries provides national support groups, counseling and educational materials and also provides training to church leaders in order to help them recognize and deal with dosmestic abuse and violence. “We have also recently developed FOCUS curriculum addressed to teaching teens what a relationship should look like and what the signs of abuse are. Our entire curriculum is faith based. We are beginning to launch Webinars – which will help spread the word not only here but also around the world,” Paula adds.
A Closer Look –
How the Cycle Begins
There is a common pattern where abuse is concerned. Domestic abuse often escalates from threats and verbal abuse to violence. The cycle of abuse alternates between tension building, acting out, honeymoon phase and a calm phase. During the tension building phase, the abuser starts to get angry, communication begins to break down and the tension becomes overwhelming. After the abusive act, the abuser will worry about being caught and will rationalize to the victim what they have done. This should not be conceived as the abuser feeling sorry or guilty. Instead, this is often an excuse to regain control of the victim and the relationship. The abuser may “turn on the charm” or promise and swear to “never do it again” and become actively caring towards the victim. This is the “honeymoon” phase of the cycle and is an opportunity for the abuser to set up his victim for further abuse by throwing them off-guard. Sometimes one phase of the cycle is omitted, and each phase can last anywhere from a few minutes to months at a time.
Emotionally abusive relationships can destroy self-worth and will often lead to anxiety and depression and other mental or emotional disorders. The behavior of victims is displayed in a myriad of ways – missing meetings, deadlines, work, appointments, social dates, etc. The victim may become temporarily dependent on welfare for support if they choose to leave an abusive relationship. Without the help of a family or a support group, many become homeless. Children often get caught in the cross hairs of these situations if the victims coping skills are not properly developed. Victims may experience mood disorders, physical complaints and sleep disturbances. They may turn to drugs, alcohol or other addictive behaviors as a coping mechanism. Victims may also become evasive, or overly solicitous and defensive. Other behaviors can include not readily seeking help, and/or becoming embarrassed or confused due to injuries of the head and face. Post-traumatic stress behaviors include: emotional detachment, hyper-vigilance, flashbacks, self-mutilation, aggression and high-risk behaviors.
A Christian Perspective
on Domestic Violence
“There has been an element of abuse in the church for some time now and it needs to be addressed. Because of ignorance, some churches believe if they deal with this issue, they may be in some way promoting divorce,” shares Paula. “What I see with many churches that I speak with is that when this issue is brought to their attention by a couple, the church immediately tries to push for reconciliation. But the issue of abuse has to be addressed; the goal cannot be reconciliation first, it has to be addressing the sin and how it is going to be dealt with.”
Many churches put couples directly into marriage counseling, but what they don’t understand, according to Paula, is that “the victim will be fearful to say anything in an atmosphere that may cause retaliation when they leave. Abusers are usually very good at manipulation and can come across looking like a great man/woman. Sometimes the victim will be in greater danger after the marriage counseling session is over.”
Paula biblically compares abusers with fools. “Proverbs tells us that a fool is right in his own eyes, and this is a very common trait among abusers. It also tells us that a fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart. Also, if someone gets into a heated discussion with a fool, the foolish person will most often laugh or get into a rage, and trying to reason with a fool does not work – just as it doesn’t work with abusers,” explains Paula. “God never said that He wants us to live in sin or to submit to sin, and abuse is sin. In scripture, we see that God gets peoples attention when He tells them not to do something, and when they do, He imposes severe consequences. What we tell women that seek our help is to start setting boundaries and set a consequence. These women need help; they can not do it alone.”
“A popular verse that many churches will discuss with the victim is in Malachi 2:16, where it talks about God hating divorce. If we continue further in this verse we will see that God also hates a man covering himself with violence. God also tells us in the Bible that He hates a proud heart. I am not advocating divorce, people need to seek out God’s wisdom on that. I believe that God will give those asking very clear directions regarding that avenue,” she adds.
Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith. – Malachi 2:15-16
Keeping Everyone Safe, Including the Church
Paula opens up about her experience in ministering to churches across America. Teaching them about their role once they become involved in counseling those who are experiencing domestic abuse/violence is vital. “When churches deal with the subject of abuse, they open themselves up to great risk and danger. We have had abusers show up with guns during meetings or in the pastor’s office. There is a plan of action that needs to be constructed in regards to keeping the church safe. It is so important that pastors be well informed regarding domestic abuse/violence training,” tells Paula. “Abusers need to be directed to a long-term counseling program that deals specifically with the problem. In dealing with male abusers, I specifically will not engage with them as the majority of them do not have any respect for women and will not hear what I am saying. I think men and women have their own language and men relate on a different level, so if the abuser is male, then I feel that they need to speak to a male counselor. Another thing people need to realize is that there is a lot more shame when men are the ones being abused. They normally are not believed in the beginning because many feel this is only a “woman’s issue”, but the reality is this is not a male/female or marriage issue, this is a sin issue.”
Paula explains that there are many churches who seek a quick fix, putting couples into mediation, counseling or twelve step programs, and while these are great programs, they are not appropriate for this situation. “The success rate of abusers changing their behavior is only about 5 percent. Victims need to see reality for what reality is. If the abuser is willing to do the work and put in the time there may be hope, but people need to realize that this is often a long process that can take years and can be very messy.”
Protecting the Family
It is imperative that we guard and protect family and marriage as it is heavily under attack from within and without. “It is a one hundred percent spiritual battle,” Paula shares. “We are fighting against Satan himself and we need to put on the full armor of God. The more we address this issue, the more the attacks will increase. We are told to take a stand against evil. What better way to destroy Christ’s Church than to destroy the family and marriage.”
For more information about Domestic Violence and FOCUS Ministries, please visit: www.focusministries1.org