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During a training about domestic violence for leaders of congregations and Christian organizations, Oscar Benavides, former coordinator of MCC Brazil’s peace program, holds up a sign with one of many misconceptions about abusers. The sign says, “The abuser is drunk and on drugs.” (MCC Photo/Liliana Álvarez Woo)

During a training about domestic violence for leaders of congregations and Christian organizations, Oscar Benavides, former coordinator of MCC Brazil’s peace program, holds up a sign with one of many misconceptions about abusers. The sign says, “The abuser is drunk and on drugs.” (MCC Photo/Liliana Álvarez Woo)

MCC helps Brazil churches address domestic abuse

Emily Will
March 25, 2011


AKRON, Pa. – Ana Lúcia’s husband frequently beats her. When he threatened to kill her, the 30-year-old woman, member of an evangelical church in Brazil’s northeast state of Pernambuco, shared her situation with church sisters.

“They told me a demon was behind it and that I should pray and fast. ‘Pray, sister. Pray and fast so that God triumphs. Are you fasting?’ I said, ‘Yes, I am, sister.’ And they said, ‘Then, do more of it.’ I began to go all night without eating or drinking.”
 
Based on experiences such as Ana Lúcia’s, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Brazil has boosted its efforts within evangelical churches to combat violence against women by their partners. It has become a significant focus of MCC Brazil’s peace program.
 
As a first step to address this problem, MCC Brazil and partner agency Diaconia, a Christian organization that promotes human rights and justice, produced a book to guide pastors and church leaders in their interactions with abused women and abusive men.
 
Authors Aileen Silva Carroll, a former MCC Brazil worker now living in Glendale, Ariz., and Sergio Andrade, pastor, professor and coordinator of Diaconia’s social programs, interviewed 50 women and 82 church leaders in 2008 to learn what was going on at the congregational level. Some of their stories, including Ana Lúcia’s (a pseudonym), are included in the book.
 
Até Quando? (When Will It End?), released in March 2010, counters attitudes in Christian churches that violence against women is a private, family affair, asserting it as a societal issue that congregations, as part of communities, must confront.
 
“The book’s principal purpose is to sensitize church members to the importance of looking at the problem from a Christian perspective and to create spaces and tools to protect victims,” said Oscar Benavides, coordinator of MCC Brazil’s peace program until March 2011.
 
In Brazil, domestic violence is the leading cause of death and disability for women ages 16 to 44, said Benavides, citing statistics from Agência Patricia Galvão, a social organization promoting communications and women’s rights. Every year more than 1 million women are victims of domestic abuse, he said.
 
MCC Brazil and Diaconia are using the book as a tool to train and encourage cooperation among leaders of congregations and Christian organizations. In 2010, the partners provided workshops, conferences and seminars in northeastern and southeastern cities.
 
In these sessions, dozens of evangelical leaders have brainstormed ways to address the issue in a country in which abused women find far too few services: counseling, shelters, training and employment.
 
Ana Lúcia, for example, with a young child and expecting another, wanted to leave her husband but had nowhere to go. Without an education or training, she feared she’d end up a beggar on the street and wondered if she’d substitute one form of suffering for another. Eventually she found work and learned basic life skills—how to open a bank account, to pay bills—to survive as a single mother.
 
Despite the overwhelming challenges they face, women such as Ana Lúcia, not only need to leave to protect themselves but their children from abusive fathers. By doing so, they shine a light on a hopeful future, one without emotional and physical assault.
 
The urgency of working at the issue—awakened by the workshops and conferences sponsored by MCC Brazil’s Peace Program in 2010— prompted MCC’s partner organization, Mennonite Association of Social Assistance (AMAS), to request MCC to assign Benavides and his wife, Liliana Álvarez Woo, a psychologist, to AMAS to assist the organization in creating its own peace program.

MCC agreed, and in March 2011, Benavides and Álvarez Woo moved to Curitiba, in the southeast part of the country, to work with AMAS. They will help construct a peace program that specifically addresses issues of domestic violence to support the families whose children and adolescents attend AMAS’s five education centers.
 
Editor’s Note: The book’s full title is Até Quando? O cuidado pastoral em contexto de violência contra a mulher praticada por parceiro íntimo. Editora Ultimato: Recife, Brazil; March 2010. More information (in Portuguese) about the book can be found at http://www.ultimato.com.br/editora/.