The Guam-Micronesia Mission Women’s Ministries Department recently hosted a double weekend of virtual conferences aimed at equipping leaders with insight on some unspoken social issues on the islands.
The ZOOM©️ conferences happened over two successive Sundays, November 29th and December 6th. The event averaged 200 attendees in each session, with representatives from Palau, Pohnpei, Yap, Chuuk, Kosrae, Majuro, Ebeye, Saipan, Tinian, Rota and Guam. Guest speakers at the interactive meetings presented on physical and mental abuse in the community, offering attendees awareness, understanding, and ideas on how to reach victims and re-educate communities on building bridges of emotional healing.
Lydia Sholing is one of eight WM team leaders on Guam. She felt the meetings were encouraging. “We don't have to live in shame and fear regarding abuse anymore. We are not alone. The meetings gave us resources to help create a safe place and develop a support system.”
A mental health counselor and the WM Director for the Southeastern Conference in Florida, Mithra Williams, led out the virtual conference on November 29th. She helped leaders understand the traumatic feelings a victim might be experiencing. She said listening and understanding where the victim is coming from - emotionally - helps with the healing process. Williams explained that sometimes it takes a lot of psychological unpacking for innocent victims to understand that the abuse was not their fault. She explained lie-based heart beliefs. “It’s when we believe something intellectually, but our heart ‘feels’ contrary to our ‘intellectual’ belief about the situation. Hence, we feel whatever we believe. Belief -whether the truth or a lie- is the reason we feel what we are feeling.”
Williams also presented on the power of forgiveness, not just the forgiveness of others, but also the forgiveness of one’s self. She defined the virtue as “…a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. It’s a commitment to a personalized process of change.” Recognizing that making peace and moving forward is often easier said than done, Williams asserted, "Being able to forgive yourself requires empathy, compassion, kindness and understanding. It also requires you to accept the fact that forgiveness is a choice." She emphasized the many benefits that come from forgiving: “Healthier relationships, improved mental health, less anxiety, stress, and hostility, lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, heart health, and improved self-esteem." In her final seminar, Williams, taught the teams how to start up a support group for victims of abuse or suffering in their own communities. She talked about conditions, logistics, and then addressed the importance of being mindful when it came to the feelings victims may be experiencing, why they experience them, and how to approach them in the midst of their fear, confusion, and even shame. There were several interactive breakout sessions which allowed participants to ask questions pertinent to the different types of abuse on their islands and discuss possible solutions.
Yap WM Leader, Dee Libian, said that she would like to start a support group for abused women and young girls within the next six months. “To start, we would like to schedule the group twice a week. Also, we would work with the existing agencies to maybe identify who would like to join our support group or invite them to one session and see how they feel. This will be a challenge for us, but we are excited to see what God can do through us in this area of ministry. We know we are not professionals, but we can show God's love and compassion for these ladies and young girls.”
Also discussed at the meetings was pornography. This topic, while needing to be at the forefront of concern in the community, is considered taboo in Micronesian society.
On December 6th, a licensed marriage and family therapist from the Beautiful Minds Medical Clinic in Northern California addressed the serious topic. Amanda Anguish, a Christian counselor, shared facts on the mental effects - immediate and long-term - on those who view pornography, and what to do if it has reached homes and possibly already become an addiction for a family member.
Chuuk WM Leader, Desibeth Jordan, shared that on her island she has seen and heard young girls giggling in hidden corners only to discover what they were doing. “They were watching sexual videos on their phones! We should be concerned about pornography. Exposure to pornography can influence a young girl or boy’s expectations about sex, and possibly have damaging effects –mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. As a parent, I just want our children to be safe and warned about this. We should emphasize that they are 'temples of God.’ There’s an urgent need for clarity about the nature of this pornography problem. It is greatly affecting many.”
Jordan believes that the training seminars were very helpful. “Abuse and pornography are actually happening in the islands but some remains silent about it because of the culture and shame. As workers in God’s ministry, we have to talk about it and address how to prevent it or be helping hands.”
Agana Heights Guam WM Leader, Sholing added, “Regarding the pornography issue - it was helpful to bring it to light. If it is hidden, it can't be healed. By exposing it, and affirming that people are not alone in this secret sin, they can create a support group that helps and encourages everyone to be held accountable for their actions.”
In pre-planning meetings for the virtual event, WM leaders from outer Micronesia, shared that as islands continue developing their internet infrastructure, they’ve already noticed that porn has made its way not only to the islands’ adult population, but unsettlingly, that their children are also being exposed to it.
Another speaker/trainer for pornography awareness at the virtual conference was Erica Jones. She is the North American Division Assistant WM Director and public speaker of numerous youth events on both these topics, as well as issues like depression, low-self esteem, and overcoming guilt and shame. Jones presented for the younger ladies at the virtual conference.
Margie Magro, Youth Director in Palau, coordinated a group of teen girls to listen to Jones’s presentation. Magro shared, “The topics covered were very informative and an eye opener, especially for teen girls who grew up in a culture where the topics presented are not talked about at home and seldom at school. The seminars raised an awareness to follow Biblical principles. It also taught our young teen girls that their worth should be based on what God did for them and not what other people think, especially in this generation where social media has such a strong influence on them.”
While WM leaders offer fervent prayers and encourage others to keep victims of abuse as well as the islands’ growing social problems in their petitions, leaders also know that there needs to be a practical approach and physical connection, essentially, a type of person-to-person outreach to help heal the community.
GMM WM is actively developing more long-term outreach programs that address these issues for several islands in Micronesia.
“For Kolonia WM, it was very helpful. It was an eye-opener and educational. We talked about the ZOOM meeting afterwards and everyone that attended said they would now share what they learned with the Pohnpeian community.” - Mona Lisa Tara, WM Leader of Kolonia, Pohnpei
“I am very grateful for both of the trainings and felt and believed both the knowledge and information given were needed for WM to use and reach out to the people of our community who need help in those areas. What I have started now being aware of, as a result of those trainings, only confirmed to me that we need to step out in these areas and I ask for your help in prayer as we continue to put together our plan to reach out to the community this new year.” - Maureen Edward, WM Leader of Palikir, Pohnpei
“I was able to share information not only to my own kids, but to my students as well. [I] also shared with some parents and Bible study students.” - Joahnna Duenas, WM Leader of Talofofo, Guam
“It is important for awareness and educating women. People, especially women, need to be aware of what domestic violence is all about. And educating women about domestic violence is necessary because some cultures here in the islands may not know. People may think it is part of the island culture; that men, the dominant sex in most of the Micronesian Islands, just accept it because it is normal that man as the head of the household discipline the wife, not realizing that the way to discipline is not only bordering violence, but it is violence in a real sense. Is it an issue in Majuro, Marshall Islands? The little I know; it is not as bad as in the islands in FSM. Most men here are humble and they treat their wives with respect. They are not as violent.” - Mercy Ringlen, WM Leader of Majuro