I had been a pastor's wife for 30 years and was asked to keep silent about sinful and criminal behavior of some powerful leaders in our community. I knew I couldn't just look the other way. I had to break the silence.
The leaders of the church where I worked covered up child abuse, domestic violence and other criminal activities. The way they treated women in the church was the same way I had been treated in my abusive marriage for 30 long years. And one of the men who the church leaders covered for was my husband, a pastor at the church where I worked.
Since I had been on staff for 11 years, I knew more details of many stories than these men wished I knew. Threats were made against me, but since my kids were finally grown, I knew the threats were not as severe. Still, I risked a lot to expose the actions of very powerful church leaders.
I knew I would be in for the fight of my life, but I began telling good people the true story of my life and the details of the church's evils. The powerful church leaders pushed back with more evil; they applied pressure, threats of all kinds and more harm than I have time to tell.
For those who have never experienced domestic violence, it's like non-stop terrorism, identity theft, assault, battery, slander and libel, with the perpetrators having access to all of my detailed information, thoughts, dreams, cares, friends, associates, public reputation and more. Imagine if Sadam Hussein had wanted to destroy someone's life: He would not have needed to be physically nearby because he has connections.
I was fired, kicked out of the church and was the subject of multiple church meetings in which the staff was told that if they talked to me or helped me they too would be fired. The church leaders gathered parishioners to tell them how crazy I was and how they should not listen to any of my allegations.
I lost all my friends, business associates, church, support systems, finances, income-earning ability and more.
For years I dreamt of starting a nonprofit to help other women not just be safe in the midst of family violence, but also to help them change their paths by offering creative solutions to the problems that keep women going back to their abusive homes. What most people don't realize is that the abusive men and their allies change their tactics and increase the terrorism after they know the women decide to end their silence. Many women go to their church leaders for help, and discover the hard way that this often makes the situation worse.
I had to drive four hours to find someone who had the experience and expertise to help me and who had not been threatened by these powerful, deceptive church leaders. Eventually I made my dream a reality by founding Dream Bigger. Financially I am still struggling to build support and enough donations to keep the organization afloat, but the number of women who we have helped is amazing!
The outcomes and futures of those who we help are very different than the "average" victim who receives shelter housing from community organizations. So far, 100% of the Dream Bigger women have not only escaped from their abusive homes, they are succeeding in the educational and professional fields, renting, buying and even building homes! Community businesses have helped by donating building supplies, mortgage broker services, heating, roofing and other repairs. Financial and educational coaching has encouraged women to stay in their new homes by helping them increase their income.
Several women have taken in roommates, boarders and exchange students to help make house payments. We've helped several women to apply for business licenses, given tax return assistance to utilize the earned income credit benefit, and assisted in accessing community services that they were unaware of and didn't have the time to pursue on their own due to court sessions, financial scrambling and caring for children.
As advocates it is our privilege to walk alongside these women, search for housing for and with them, type up legal documents to save money, make calls, help fill out applications for community services such as heating assistance, free cell phone, discounted Internet, scholarships and more.
These women are not the only ones who've benefited: Since I had lost all my friends, colleagues and associates, these women and children who were my clients have now become my friends! They are now volunteering their time to help other women. It's a dream come true!
My next dream is to gain funding for our nonprofit to pay for part-time salaries and other creative services we're excited about starting. My past contains a lot of pain, but my future contains a lot of hope.