By Barbara Burnside, UMCOR Disaster Response Trainer and Safe Havens Board Member
Listening to this year’s Safe Havens IMPACT Award honorees last week brought to mind a Bible verse from Isaiah:
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” ~ Isaiah 40:31
When Deborah Collins-Gousby, Isa Woldeguiorguis and Oliver J. Williams, Ph.D. shared their stories of how they came to this work, how and why they persevere and the love, and the strength they bring to those to whom they have extended the legacy of hope and light, I marveled at what it must have taken for them to overcome obstacles and accomplish so much for those they serve. And then I remembered this verse.
But not everyone who hears those words and takes them to heart has such impact…these are truly extraordinary, special disciples working to end all forms of violence!
Since 2015, the IMPACT (Individuals and Institutions Making Progress Against Abuse in Communities Together) Award has been honoring individuals and organizations whose partnerships and commitment strengthens the work of Safe Havens and contributes to justice and hope for victims and survivors of domestic violence and elder abuse.
It has taken me a few days to digest and reflect on last week’s IMPACT Award honorees’ stories about their commitment and leadership in this vital work. I was struck by Deborah Collins-Gousby’s story about the example set for her by her grandmother who sheltered women and children in her four-room house in Alabama and how Deborah didn’t have a name for the help her grandmother was providing, because “Mr. So-and-So was misbehaving.” She says she came to this work by accident when her journalism work was so unfulfilling, but clearly her destiny was influenced by observing the kindness and activism of her grandmother.
Both Isa Woldeguiorguis and Dr. Oliver Williams see that the impact of domestic violence on children is lifelong. Ms. Woldeguiorguis, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, says she didn’t have a voice growing up, but working on a community level, she found the “power of collective voice and vision” and was able to “help shape the movement.”
Dr. Williams says colleagues and family challenged his attitude and thinking as a man and after spending time at shelters listening to women and children affected by the violence, he realized the need for programs, such as Safe Havens’ trainings, to educate faith leaders in giving the right, helpful and safe advice to victims and survivors. He also attacks the problem from the other side, starting programs for batterers.
These accomplished and dedicated honorees bring to mind what another activist, a 15-year-old Nobel Prize laureate who survived an assassination attempt in 2012 by the Pakistani Taliban for publicly advocating for female education, Malala Yousafzai once said, “I raise up my voice – not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard.” I know I am thankful that these three have raised up their voices!
(For more information about Deborah Collins-Gousby, Isa Woldeguiorguis, Oliver Williams, or past honorees, please visit https://www.interfaithpartners.org/impact-award.)