AVA Materials Making a Difference in Colombia

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA (December 6, 2011) – The introduction of Advocacy for Victims of Abuse (AVA) material here already is making a difference in Covenant Churches as pastors and lay leaders are introducing the topic to their congregations.

Following a recent training conference, participants have preached sermons about the issue, says Yvonne DeVaughn, director of AVA, a project of the Department of Women Ministries. “For example, in the coastal city of Barranquilla, a sermon was preached about God´s intentions in his creation of human beings from Genesis 1 and 2 and how that never included violence! At the end of the sermon, people gathered in a circle as a symbol that everyone is equal in God´s eyes, and prayed, resulting in two people breaking silence about their past abuse.”

Another pastor called together the 15 couples in his church, and they talked about their marriage relationship and how it should be one of mutual submission without one partner dominating the other, says DeVaughn.

Those from Barranquilla are already teaching and using the AVA training materials in their churches, with a focus on couples and youth, DeVaughn adds.

The training session was held November 16-18, when 51 men and women gathered to attend a three-day AVA conference sponsored by DH Pacto Colombia, which stands for the Colombian Human Rights Project for Women and Children.

Participants included pastors, leaders and volunteers from different regions of the South American country. Two delegates from Mexico also attended.

Attendees were trained to be regional coordinators, who will develop strategic plans to help reduce and prevent abuse as well as advocate for victims. Oftentimes, people wanting to help victims cause more hurt because they don’t have the proper materials or training, says DeVaughn. Resources that can be shared in churches also were presented.

Covenanters from the United States and missionaries to Colombia provided the training. In addition to DeVaughn, the team included regional coordinators Mary Lou Sander from Medellin; William DeVaughn from Hope Covenant Church in Chandler, Arizona; Teresa Hillis from Grace Community Covenant Church in Tucson, Arizona; and Covenant missionary to Colombia Cathy Campobello.

Hillis as well as Mary Lou and Gary Sander translated materials and workbooks into Spanish. They also provided interpretation for conference sessions.

A variety of interactive methods were used to engage participants including drama, testimonies, art, prayer, role plays, simulated exercise, and shared experiences, says DeVaughn.

She adds that one especially powerful group exercise was “In Her Shoes,” designed to help participants understand, in a very compressed period of time, the ups and downs a battered victim experiences over many years.

Men and women voluntarily exchanged shoes as they went through the exercises. “They used bandages and makeup to cover their bruises and tape over their mouths to reinforce the reality of dealing with domestic violence alone,” DeVaughn says.

The conference ended with a commissioning ceremony, and each new regional coordinator lit their neighbor’s candle to underscore their commitment to be a light in the darkness for those who are abused.

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