A Fantastic Weekend: The Courage Conference 2016
If you had told my five years ago what I would have been doing October 28th and 29th, 2016 I’m not sure I would have believed you. Planning and hosting The Courage Conference was completely out of my comfort zone and exceeded what I thought possible. I cannot thank the speakers, sponsors, and volunteers enough for participating in putting on this healing event.
The Courage Conference was fantastic! It is hard to describe the energy and solidarity you feel in a room filled with fellow survivors, advocates, and enthusiastic learners.
The space was full Friday night. Though we were unable to photograph the entire room (respecting the privacy of survivors is our first priority), in total we had 120 on site in Lynchburg and over 70 people have been watching online. It was exciting to be able to meet new friends and connect with those whom we had only met through social media and to be all together in one place!
We were honored to have Christians for Biblical Equality International, MK Safety Net, Patrick Henry Family Services, The Sexual Assault Response Program, The YWCA, Stand Up Speak Out, the Child Abuse Special Advocate program and Jason Weidel of MediaScorch podcast network presenting booths full of resources at the event.
The speaker line up was simply amazing!
Rachel Williams-Jordan kicked off the event by building a foundation for the rest of the weekend. Rachel is an advocate with the Sexual Assault Response Program in Lynchburg and because of her training she was able to give us firm facts and figures about the scope of the abuse problem. In a brave moment Rachel publicly identified herself as a survivor for the first time causing many of us in the room to connect with her on a deeper level.
Next up was Monica Daye. The founder of Stand Up Speak Out of Raleigh, NC began with a powerful spoken word poem about domestic violence that immediately grabbed your attention and would not let you go until she was finished. Monica shared about her experience being sexually abused as a child in a place of worship and then hopping from one violent relationship to the next before finding healing through art therapy. She talked about different ways abuse affects young people at different ages and how the effects of trauma show up at different points during your life.
Possibly the most vulnerable part of the evening was when Natalie Greenfield came up to speak. She opened her heart to us and shared what it is like to be groomed and sexually abused as a teen by an older man from her church who claimed to be in love with her. She moved us as she shared the inexcusable response of shaming and blaming by her former church leaders when they were made aware of her abuse. It hit home when she shared how it would have impacted her if just one person from her church had supported her or offered a hug. Despite these challenges, Natalie has triumphantly moved from being a victim to a survivor and gave us hope for our own healing.
It was bright and early Saturday morning when Thomas Edward took the stage. In an earth shaking account of the abuse and torture he experienced at the hands of 10 perpetrators, Thomas broke our stereotypes and confronted us with the fact than men and boys are abused too. His organization, Healing Broken Men, has served many men (and women) wishing to accelerate their healing through a totalistic and relational healing approach that picks up where traditional therapy leaves off.
A common theme with each of the abuse survivor stories was that they took place in a patriarchal church environment. I was thankful to have blogger and minister Jory Micah there to bring to light the connections between patriarchal theology and the presence of abuse. Jory is a force to be reckoned with and she powerfully shared direct examples of patriarchal beliefs that justify and minimize abuse. She then offered us a safer theological interpretation of Scripture focusing on equality, that when practiced, demolishes the power and control dynamics of abusive relationships.
No one speaks quite like Boz Tchividjian. Rarely have I seen someone with the passion, boldness, and experience that Boz has in advocating for the vulnerable in our churches. Boz called out the hypocrisy and failures of the Church to properly respond to abuse and then showed us the way Jesus advocates for the abused and vulnerable.
I ended the day with a mini sermon, a charge to the Justice Generation and a warning to those who abuse and maline God’s image bearers. Change IS coming and this is the generation to make it happen!
Our two question and answer sessions lead by my husband Will Easter ended up being even better than expected. We had so many great questions come in for the speaker panel that I am working on two blog posts answering the questions that we did not have the time to answer at the conference. But, as promised, all questions that we received will be answered.
Charlie Grantham and her husband Nate, used their technological skills to feed the LIVE video of the event to a private group for online ticket holders. They maintained an active conversation with those watching online. If you missed the event, don’t fear! So many people reached out after the event wishing they could have gotten in on the speaking session, Q&A and workbook full of resources that for a limited time we have reopened online viewing ticket sales. Find out more here.
During the survivor breakout session I was honored to be in the room with so many brave survivors. We had a more intimate Q&A session and a chance to talk among ourselves and hear about different resources and suggestions from each other.
The pastors and church leader breakout session was full to the max and I was encouraged to see church leaders staying long past the planned ending time, hungry for information to help protect their Churches. Boz Tchividjian lead this session, answered questions and was able to tell the church leaders about the new intense certification program G.R.A.C.E. is coming out with to train churches in abuse prevention and proper response.
Even though the conference has ended, social media is still a buzz with blog posts, tweets, and Facebook posts sharing individual experiences of healing, encouragement, and education. So far we have already had a story of a woman who attended The Courage Conference becoming equipped to help a coworker find resources and support to leave an abusive relationship this week! Other stories include a long-time victim advocate on the verge of giving up but finding renewed strength to keep up the good fight. Dozens of survivors were visibly moved (myself included) and given quality resources to continue their paths to healing.
To my knowledge, nothing quite like The Courage Conference has ever happened before. For myself, this was a much needed part of my healing and from the feedback I am getting I believe others feel the same way. Because of this my husband and I are already engaging in discussions about the next event!
I am so thankful for each person in attendance. This truly was a uniting weekend for those of us standing up against abuse. I believe, through us change is coming. This is the Justice Generation and we are rising in Courage!