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Pastor Gail F. Gardner

As a devout Christian and African-American woman nearing my 40th birthday, I finally came to accept that the traumatic experiences I had endured during my childhood, and as an adult, had taken a tremendous toll on me.

Because of this, I had an inability to build and maintain positive relationships; I was prone to capricious mood swings; thus, resulting in many “personality issues.” It was only at this time that I began to understand the culmination of emotional and mental health challenges that had developed from being a sexually abused child, domestic violence survivor, and the victim of a brutal rape by an intruder in my home.

Taking notice of the damage that had been done to my spirit and personality; I began to make a change. I no longer wanted to live as a victim; but parlay my personal tragedies into stepping stones for healing and restoration.

So, why am I telling my story? First, it is important to note that although the effect of exposure to abuse of any kind can be far reaching, help is available. The residue of psychological trauma can develop into any number of emotional and mental health challenges, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the case of rape, incest, sexual, or domestic violence, the victim is at a high risk of re-victimization. For victims of violence or abuse seeking a clinical approach to recovery, licensed mental health therapy is a well recognized and available resource. Without treatment or counseling, flashbacks or memories of the violence or abuse may disturb day to day activities and ultimately disrupt lives.

The 2nd reason I am telling my story is because there is a desperate need for the voice of victims of violence or abuse to be heard. Further, more opportunities for counseling should be availed, as well as accepted, in the African-American community. Even more, these benefits can be realized throughout the congregations within African-American churches. In some churches, pastoral counseling or professional counseling offered by a Christian psychologist is provided with a focus on behavioral standards shaped by Christian values emanating from the Bible. In this country, one out of four parishioners sitting in the pews Sunday after Sunday, wrestle with a diagnosable case of a mental disorder. Yet, few are receiving any help or direction. It is a fact that people are hurting.

Still, the statistics of sexual violence crimes are staggering, especially in a sophisticated society such as ours. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010 Summary Report, more than three-quarters of female victims of completed rape, or 79.6%, are raped before their 25th birthday, with 42% experiencing their first completed rape before age 18. For female victims between the ages of 11-17, the completed rape is 29% and 12.3% for those at, or before the age of 10. The report also adds that 1 in 7 female victims experience their first completed rape between the ages of 25-34.

As a Christian woman who has experienced these challenges, it is my desire to encourage our churches to become more involved with awareness, intervention, and treatment for abuse victims. This can be done by empowering church leaders to utilize all means at their disposal while including relationships with clinicians and mental health treatment entities who are involved in the healing of various issues associated with this type of emotional distress.

This will enable a better degree of psychological wellness throughout all churches as our communities begin to recognize, treat, and stand together to no longer tolerate apathy. In doing so, Christ shall be exalted.

Gail F. Gardner is the founder of The Ingathering Christian Fellowship, Inc., author of the book, Woman to Woman: Gleaning Inspirational Insight From Our Biblical Mothers, and The Birthing Stool. She is also the CEO of Woman to Woman Global Mentorship Network, and CEO of RAPHA! Soul Care and Empowerment Institute. Gail F. Gardner is a pastoral counselor and resides in Orlando, Florida, She can be reached at prosperouswoman08@yahoo.com, or 407.485.6673.


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