Ministering to Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse in Guyana

In this episode of “God on the Move,” Dr. Joy Maria Wilson shares her story of how being sexually molested as a young girl led her to minister to and counsel people who are survivors of sexual abuse and incest; and she recounts her journey of becoming passionate about helping these people be restored to lead rewarding lives. 

If you are a Christian seeking to discover stories of how God moves in different parts of the world, then this podcast is for you.

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Podcast Transcript

This transcript has been edited for readability.

Arne: God on the move.

Dr Joy: For people who see it first, leaders in the body must acknowledge that it’s happening. Leaders in the body must acknowledge that not every person is safe for a child. In my research, I found that predominantly cousins were perpetrators. They were also grandfathers and fathers, and I found this in my counseling practice, older brothers, and mind you, remember I said the statistics are one in four women, one in six men. 

Arne: The Cooperative Republic of Guyana, not to be confused with French Guiana or Ghana, is a country on the north coast of South America, neighboring Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname. Guyana is a part of the Anglophone Caribbeans, meaning it is the only English speaking country in mainland South America and culturally, historically, and politically it is tied with other Caribbean countries. 

A UNICEF report from 2019 finds that ‘epidemic violence (and that is sexual, physical, and emotional) underpinned by harmful social norms or attitudes makes growing up challenging for children and adolescents in Guyana’. It states that quote ‘cases of teenage pregnancies or incest are seen as normal and acceptable in some communities’. End of quote. And further I quote again ‘from the interviews conducted 45% of respondents suggested that to reduce the different types of sexual abuse of children there is need to establish public awareness, education, training and sensitization programs’. 

You are listening to God on the Move, a Lausanne Movement production. And this is a story about ministering to victims of childhood sexual abuse in Guyana. 

The voice you heard earlier is Dr Joy Maria Wilson. She’s a leadership development and counseling consultant, university therapist, an author and lecturer. And this is her story.

Dr Joy: I’m Joy Maria Wilson from Georgetown Guyana, South America. Guyana is bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, but we also share borders with Suriname, Brazil, and Venezuela. I’m also called Shelly. I am a mental health specialist. The focus of my work was mental health from the therapeutic perspective. But my passion is particularly for the behavioral issues. In particular family behavioral issues that threaten people’s character development to the point that it affect their mental health. Very passionate about studying, researching, and teaching in that area.

I came from a background where I was told by my foster mom. It was she who gave me the name Shelly, by the way. But she didn’t have a birth certificate of me until I was 11. Then we found the names Joy Maria, that was given by my mentally ill biological mother. So that was the start of my upbringing. She said I was given to her at six days old. And by the time I was eight or nine, she introduced me to my biological father. And very soon after that, he started sexually molesting me. And that sexual molestation went on right up until I was 15. I lost my virginity to him before I was a teenager. So that shaped my childhood and upbringing that trauma. I was also forced by him into very hard labor that caused me loss of sleep, that caused me to failing in school and to be taken out of school at age 14.

I met my husband very young. I thank God for my husband. God brought him into my life very soon after that trauma ended. I was just 15. My husband 19 and God has preserved our relationship for these past forty-four years. We have lived this family for over 40 years since our first child was born. We just celebrated thirty-six years of marriage. God has been moving, and God allowed me . . . my husband has been such a tremendous support. He’s never stopped me from doing anything. He is allowed me to be able to work, study, raised four children, amazing adults, now young professionals, free with their own families. Made us grandparents of eight, leading their own successful lives. So the two of us have a lot of play time now and to do God’s work. And I often tell people, so God used the US missionary to call me to teach in the church in 2006. She just said to me, ‘A pastor wants a family life seminar. And I told him, you will do it. I’m just calling to see if you’re available.’

And that was the start of what God has been doing. And then that was 2006. Then 2007, the leadership of our church asked me to design and facilitate what was the first ever women’s conference for its five churches in Guyana, founded by US missionaries, the first women’s conference. So I said to my husband, I said, and by the way, we lived in a relationship intermarriage for 19 years before I told him what I just told you. Because I was so ashamed and afraid. I was afraid I’d lose him. How do you tell a man you love or a man who loves you what happened? How do you tell that? But God brought me to the place where I was able to tell him actually, fighting to do life and to stay married and to raise children and to work. I worked full-time for over 35 years. I went back to school as a young adult. I was working, studying and raising family, and trying to do all of that. At one point, over 20 years ago, it became so overwhelming I had a full blown emotional breakdown. And as the Lord healed me out of that with my husband’s love and support, the love and support of very close friends, our children, our family. The Lord healed me out of that and set me on the path of recovery. One day I said to my husband, and that’s when the Lord allowed me to tell him. And I wondered after 19 years, but many people say God had to prepare him to receive that information. And I told him, and he has been so supportive. Nothing changed about his love for me or his support for me after I told him that. And I said to him, ‘One day I’m going to tell this to the world.’ And his words were, ‘Why not? If this will help people, why not?’ 

So when the church asked me to design and facilitate the conference with the women, I said to my husband, but there’s no way. I’ve gotta tell these women all that Jesus means to me. I gotta tell them everything. And so that was the first time, and I felt the Lord wanted me to do it. Then it was on Good Friday, April 2007 that I first told my testimony in a public space for those women. Over sixty women gathered from five churches. 

And I have been amazed at what the Lord has been doing. How he has helped me. I mean out of school, formal education from 14. But God allowed me, with my husband’s support, to return to the education system, to be able to work successfully for thirty-five years to be able to study. God allowed me to finish three degrees right up to my doctoral studies and now doing a forth. I’m now in seminary . . . I want to know God’s words well to serve well, to teach well. I don’t wanna teach error. But I look at that and so my own experience with mental health challenges has been the basis from which I heard Mother Teresa said, ‘God allowed me to suffer poverty, to make me sensitive to the needs of the poor.’

And now I know God allowed me to suffer childhood incest, make me sensitive to the needs of that particular population. Some people are probably sensitive to the environment because that’s what God has gifted them and called them to do. But I believe this is what God has. And I believe even trial got to be stewarded for God’s glory. And for me, this is what God has given me to be sure of. And I believe even my marriage is something I have to steward for his glory, even my parenting. God trusted us to raise children to be good stewards for his glory there. To work, to serve, you know? So God has allowed me to teach this university faculty for over 12 years in social work and counseling courses. He’s allowed me to teach at the Bible College now for the past eight years, almost, teaching as a counselor educator to pastors and leaders. I serve as a joint faculty of two other universities that I graduated from. But it’s a joy to serve the Lord. And I also serve as workshop facilitator to governments, private organizations.

But wherever I serve, my passion is to help to develop human character. To help to enhance human character. A distinguished professor of the Dallas Theological Seminary Dr Howard Hendricks, he said that, ‘The greatest crisis today is the crisis of leadership, and the greatest crisis of leadership is the crisis of character.’ And it’s in the home and the family that character is shaped. 

I read some research about mentoring character into others. Jesus said, ‘Go and make disciples.’ And I do believe that making disciples is not just the people experiencing salvation, but Jesus said that ‘I’ve come to heal the broken hearted and to set the captives free.’ And it’s my conviction that as we make disciples, where we have experienced the healing power of Jesus, we have to let people know. And there must be a space in the church to facilitate that healing for people. Because I believe the church becomes a revolving door if we get people saved and we have no concern about their brokenness and their broken hearts.

Jesus said, ‘I’ve come to heal the brokenhearted and to set the captives free’. He said, ‘Make disciples’, but he said, ‘I’ve come to heal’. So I believe the two things, and especially in this global crisis, you know, I often said to people COVID came and many other pandemics. The domestic violence pandemic and the mental health pandemic. Those are realities it can’t be disregarded.

And the core of the problem is in the family. And right there is the hidden scourge of childhood incest because current statistics show that one in four women, one in four women, one in six men have had unwanted childhood sexual intrusion. And Christian psychologist, Dr Joshua Straub, he had shown in his work, his research, he wrote Safe House that predominantly, he said, 90% of child abuse happens by people children know, love and trust. Research in Guyana showed it too, that predominantly it happened in the home of the victim or the perpetrators. So yes, there’s human trafficking, but it’s not strangers who are predominantly sexually abusing children.

Researchers of the Philippines showed how incest has intensified. Parents are making videos of their children and selling them. So as a church, those issues can’t be ignored. That’s where the rubber hits the road of the issues people are suffering with. People are suffering with other issues but for me, as I contemplate the growth of human character development and behavior, we could not ignore what’s at the roots, what’s happening in families. Then children go to schools when they ought to be emerging from their homes, loved and nurtured and protected and provided for, and to go into the school system or any system go to after they leave home resilient and courageous and ready to learn. Instead, people are emerging to society vulnerable, emerging in workplaces, vulnerable. And that’s the core of the mental health problems, the behavioral issues that threaten people’s mental health. Yes, people could suffer mental health problems because of an accident, because of some other illness that affects the chemical balance in the brain or some other thing. But those issues could not be ignored. Issues of family and behavior that threaten people’s self-worth, sense of well-being, they could not be ignored.

Arne: I want to take a moment and acknowledge that, unfortunately, the audio is slightly damaged on this episode and at times, very difficult to understand. We apologize for this. Please be advised that you can listen to the podcasts on YouTube with subtitles. And also the transcript of this episode is available on our website.

Now to continue with Dr Joy’s story I wanted to know what this healing looks like and how Jesus has worked that process in her own life. 

Dr Joy: As you think healing, my first help was my foster mom and her sister, or her daughter, her only daughter. They were tremendously helpful and supportive to me, the best they knew how. Some of her children, her daughter’s children, they have been very helpful. But sadly right in that family, others were abusive. But you learn that all families are dysfunctional without the people living surrendered to the Lordship of Christ. People don’t know how to live in marriages and families. So I don’t say that to blame anyone, but we are talking about giving a true picture.

But God brought a mentor. I was a very little girl, a mentor and a godly neighbor who’s still my friend today. A godly neighbor and my husband. My husband, as I said to you, he’s been in my life since I was 15. I’m gonna be 60 this year. My husband and just a few in the body of Christ. Just a few in the body of Christ. 

In June 1992, my only sister of both biological parents died. And in the space that crisis God brought a brother in Christ. My friends at school said that I mentioned it. Some people talk about the slip of the tongue. When your heart is burdened with something, it comes out when you probably didn’t intend to say it. So I don’t remember consciously telling my school friends, but when I met some of them years after they said that I told them about the incest that I went through as a child. But for me, consciously telling it to someone was that day 30th of June, 1992. And my only sister, both biological parents died.

And much of this is told in my autobiography. Jesus Removed My Grave Clothes. It’s on my publisher’s site. It could be retrieved online. When I told my brother what my father did and about my mother and God brought him to be a brother and to help me. And God brought other people. There was a beautiful couple. A husband and wife, ministers, they have been tremendously supportive. In all true difficulties of family life because, remember I mentioned, it was 19 years before I told my husband. So all those years I’m suffering and struggling with a deeper emotional pain while trying to deal with the day-to-day issues of married life and family life. And thank God for saving my soul.

We got married in 1988, and I surrendered my life to Christ’s name, and I’ve lived in the house of God since then. Every Sunday morning in church, every Sunday night in church, almost every Wednesday, more in church than not in church on Sundays. And I now fully trust God’s word. It’s a living, powerful word. Indeed, it cuts to the bone and the marrow, the transforming power. I love the house of God. I love the preaching of God’s word, and a lot of my healing, although I sat in a congregation for over so many years before my pastors even know what I suffered as a child, but nonetheless, God did his transforming work through the ministry in his house.

So I’ve been in one church for over 25 years, and now I’m in another church for the past nine years, going on 10. But a lot of my healing happened right through the ministry of the Word, and I thank God. The Bereans are probably my family. Cause I’m the kind, I always have a book and a pen in the church. I write everything down. That’s my learning style. And it’s been to my benefit because I’m very attentive to the Word. And as I’ve grown as a Christian and learned the disciplines. So along with God bringing a few people to help me and nurture me and counsel me and love me, but it’s been good pastors, the preaching of the Word.

And then when I started tertiary education, 21 years ago, God did a lot of healing in my classroom. So I worked as a secretary for over 25 years, and worked as a library assistant for almost 10 years. And in that process started tertiary education. I said to people, clearly God has gifted me and called me to help, but I wanted to help in another way. So I did my bachelor’s in social work and I often tell people I went to university because I still wanted to know how to help people, but God helped me first. So through my bachelor’s in social work and my master’s in counseling, psychology. As I learned, God helped me to apply to my own life and I continue to learn, I do my doctorate in Transformational Leadership and all the way I’ve been learning and healing.

God brought wonderful woman in my life. God’s calling on her life is deliverance. Some sectors of the body don’t believe in deliverance ministry, but there is a place for deliverance. Jesus said, ‘I’ve come to set the captives free’. Some people are held captive. In my case, I was held captive by the trauma I suffered as a child. And so for me that’s where the name for my autobiography came from. Jesus removed my grave clothes from John 11, because for me, when I got saved, it’s like Jesus said ‘Come forth’, but I had grave clothes. And for me, the grave clothes was the trauma that I suffered as a child. Jesus said, ‘Loose him’. And for me, I had to be loosed. I had to be loosed from that bondage. 

So the healing has been a process and I continue to heal and to grow because I embrace healing right in the context of sanctification. And that growth from glory to glory. We’re not done till we get to glory. So I’m still healing and growing. 

Arne: I believe this is so important for us to understand: healing is a process. Even after so many years, Dr Joy is still healing and growing. I love how she put it, that she can do so because she embraces healing right in the context of sanctification. It is this healing that opened up doors for her and allows her to speak and serve in various ways today. 

Dr Joy: I currently serve as university therapist at one of the universities I graduated from. So that’s a tremendous opportunity to serve faculty, staff, and students, and again, as counselor to help people. As I said to my clients, my job is to help you to work through everything that threatens your mental and emotional well-being so that you could focus on all the other interesting things you want to be doing. My job is to help you work through that so you could graduate. So that’s one opportunity. As I mentioned, God used a missionary to call me to teach in the church since 2006. So since then I’ve been doing that as a guest teacher in churches and Christian organizations in Guyana, out of Guyana, in the United States, in Barbados, in Trinidad, in Jamaica, wherever I had opportunity. And I have opportunities. As a matter of fact, in March, I’ll be teaching at an assembly. They want me to address the issues of sorrow and shame for their women’s conference. And so wherever I have opportunity to teach, I believe God gifted me. The scripture teaches in Revelation that you overcome the evil one in my own paraphrase by the word of your testimony and the blood of the lamb.

And it’s fitting with my profession as a therapist because there’s the issue of skillful use of self in the counseling practice. And I believe God has gifted me and called me to use my life as a testimony of his healing power, of his transforming grace. As I know that I know. When I suffered breakdown in 1999. I read in Jay Adams’ Competent to Counsel, that a breakdown is a breakdown to build up, to bring us to the end of ourselves. And I believe that’s what God did, to bring me to the end of myself so that all will know that it’s only by his grace I could be who I am. It’s only by his grace we could have stayed married. It’s only by his grace I’ve been able to parent. It’s only by his grace I’ve been able to work full-time for thirty-five years, to retire, to come back, to be able to serve again, to retire into a career and to greater service for him. It’s only by his grace. 

So wherever I have opportunity to teach, actually it’s a pastoral title being a mental health specialist. When they called me last year to teach their women’s conference and to teach in their Sunday morning service to address strictly the issue of mental health. And more and more now, ministries are calling me to address the issue of mental health. Just recently, a church had me for their mental health Sunday to speak from the perspective of mental health. So wherever I have opportunity, I could tell other stories, but I have my story of God’s glory. So I get excited about telling it. And that allows me to tell it in the context of teaching the gospel of Jesus, because that’s the real power to salvation, the gospel of Jesus. My story is not the power, the gospel of Jesus is the power to salvation.

So that’s what it looks like. Teaching wherever I’m asked to teach, sharing wherever I have opportunity to share. I’m teaching a course in the Bible College on how to counsel victims affected by incest. In March I’m doing that. When I was asked to it, my doctoral dissertation and the first I believe in Guyana and perhaps in the Caribbean study, incest among Christian women, and that was my doctoral dissertation. The title is ‘Ministering to Victims of Incest: A Model for Church Response’. It’s available online And when I was asked by the college president to teach that, okay, that’s the book they’re gonna use for the course. So I’m excited to have opportunities to serve. If a church wants me, I’m very passionate about marriage and parenting. So I enjoy doing family life conferences for churches or seminars, parenting seminars, marriage enrichment seminars, marriage preparation. I love talking to youth. The other day, in school InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, they had me talk to their youth camp of over about over 60 youth, to address youth and mental health. Wherever I go and get the opportunity, I say how I have suffered but also to say how Jesus has helped me. 

Arne: Having listened to her story and her ministry as a preacher and teacher, one question in particular was pressing on my mind. How can the church help? What can we do to support those individuals who are victims of sexual abuse? And what can they do? From my own pastoral background I know how pressing this issue is, but also how limited pastors are in their ability. 

Dr Joy: So the people who’ve been through it, I’m delighted to let them know my doctoral dissertation is dedicated to them, to every person across the world who has suffered. I dedicate my doctoral dissertation and I dedicate it to you with great confidence that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. He healed me. And He will heal you if you let. 

For people who see it first, leaders in the body must acknowledge that it’s happening. Leaders in the body must acknowledge that not every person is safe for a child. In my research, I found that predominantly cousins were perpetrators. They were also grandfathers and fathers, and I found this in my counseling practice, older brothers, and mind you, remember I said the statistics are one in four women, one in six men. So it’s important for the church to embrace that child protection is for everybody. Safety is in the home, is for everybody. It’s not just for women and girls. The home must be a safe place for everybody. 

For me, what I needed is someone who I could have told that story to and I didn’t know who I could tell it to because back when I was a little girl going to Sunday school or a young married woman in church, there was no counsel. That’s why I’m very excited about the opportunity to serve at a Bible college, to help to raise a Christian counselors. 

To counsel such women, Christian psychologist Dr Diane Langberg, she said, ‘People who suffer childhood trauma or any kind of trauma’, but let’s focus on childhood trauma or childhood sexual trauma. But she said they ‘need time, talk and tears’. They need time, talk and tears. And from Larry Crabb’s counseling text, he talks about counseling is encouragement, enlightenment, and exhortation. So as a Christian counselor, you have to be so in tune with the counselor, the Holy Spirit. You have to be so in tune. I’m very, very passionate about the spiritual disciplines. God has given us those to live by. Jesus said he has come that we might have life and have it more abundant. And we see in Scripture, in the book of Peter that God has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness. So how do we hope to live for God without dependence on his Holy Spirit? How do we hope to work for God without dependence and his Holy Spirit? And the Holy Spirit is the teacher and the counselor. 

So for me, I want to sow, my determination is to live a life. I wanna be fit for the Master’s use. Live a life of such consecration to Christ and such dependence on Holy Spirit so then I will know from Holy Spirit, when to encourage, when to enlighten, when to exhort. Alright, so when I’m dealing with a client who just came in from such trauma, that’s not a time to exhort, that’s not a time to enlighten. It’s a time to show compassion. A time to listen. It’s a time to let them cry, let them talk. 

And one of the things, the authors of Healing for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families, they say counseling and pastoring are distinct ministries. I have great respect for pastors in the pastoral ministry. Counseling and pastoring are distinct ministries. Some pastors could do both. But my passion, and may you talk about what it looks like, what we ought to do, my passion is to see counseling ministries grow in churches all across the world. And I see the counselors acting in the context of Acts six. Those who fed the hungry so that the ministers could preach and pray and study the word. I see my role as coming alongside my pastor to support his ministry so that he can do this work of teaching and preaching. But wherever people have needs of brokenness, Lord show me how to support them and serve benefit. And for me, that’s how I see them being served. But it calls for competent . . . I’m a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. And what they advocate for is clinically excellent with biblically sound intervention. Clinically excellent with biblically sound, or a foundational principle of the counseling ministry is to do no harm. And it means if we’re not clinically excellent, we’re gonna do harm. We’re gonna hurt people. It’s hard work and forgiveness is fundamental in helping people who have been wounded. Forgiveness. But we don’t get to force people to forgive. But yet we must facilitate effective ministry to help them to come to the place of embracing the cross of Jesus Christ, embracing his finished work and learning that it’s only because of Jesus and it’s only by his help I can forgive and I have to forgive my own freedom.

Unforgiveness, because people suffer justifiable error and anger when they’re mistreated. And those are the two core emotions unmanaged that are causing people mental health problems. Jesus said, ‘Be angry and sin not lest you give place to the devil’. The Bible says, ‘Be angry and sin not lest you give place to the devil’.

Scripture also shows God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear, so when we get to those zones of fear and anger where you allow evil interference, it becomes a threat to your own sanity. And I get excited to have opportunities to focus and to learn that. But counselors really need to depend on the Holy Spirit cause every person is unique. Every experience is unique, every intervention is unique. And it’s only by the help of the Holy Spirit it can be done in ways that meets the needs of every person, otherwise, you’re gonna make a mess of it. It’s hard work. Healing is hard work. I often tell people what you see in me, it’s over 30 years of learning and healing and growing. It doesn’t happen overnight. The counselors gotta be patient and those who are trying to heal gotta be patient. Patiently submit to the work of God’s Spirit.

Arne: As Dr Joy was saying, the whole process of counseling and healing has to depend on the true counselor. Jesus himself referred to the passage in Isaiah 61 that says, ‘He has sent me to heal those who are broken hearted’. So I wanted to know, how does Jesus heal?

Dr Joy: I believe a great starting point is salvation. Surrendering to Christ. Accepting Christ as Savior, believing that he died to pay the penalty for all of the sin of mankind, confessing your own sin and receiving him as Savior. Jesus said a profound thing in the gospel of Mark 12, verses 30 and 31 He said to love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind, and with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

And we see in the Book of Romans that the benefit of our salvation is that God puts his love in our heart. We see in Galatians that the fruit of God’s spirit is love. And I believe it’s coming into that kind of intimacy. The Lord Jesus said in Matthew six verse thirty-three ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness’.

And I believe this understanding we just pray to God remove the blinders from people’s minds, that they could truly receive the visitation of God’s Holy Spirit for their salvation, and then embrace all that God offers. It becomes difficult because when you couldn’t trust people who are to care for you, you struggle to trust God. You struggle to trust God, but it’s truly receiving who Jesus is. But then I believe, like I said, biblically sound teaching people then need to benefit from teaching the gospel and the Word of God to help them understand the truth of Scripture as it is applicable to their need. And then the teacher must understand the Bible tells us, all plants follows waters, but God brings the increase. Even as ministers and servants and counselors in the servant way allow the Holy Spirit to do this work. So you might minister somebody into surrender their lives to Christ right away, or you’re working with the counselee and you see them begin to heal right away and begin to embrace through it right away.

But you’ve gotta be patient before the Lord to allow him to do his work in each life. And another critical principle in the healing process is grieving, embracing grief. Jesus said, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ In human form as he hung on the cross in human flesh paying for our sins, he said, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ So I think at a human level we ought to understand it. Sometimes people feel forsaken and they must know it’s okay to say that. I believe people have to learn to lament and grieve before God. Jeremiah was weeping, he was weeping, he was lamenting. But then he said, ‘This I call to my mind, therefore have I hope of the Lord’s mercy that we’re not consumed. It’s new every morning. Great is his faithfulness.’But it has to be allowed to lament. And that’s why I say I’m still healing. 

Recently I learned of a police officer in a Caribbean nation who was incarcerated because he raped his daughter repeatedly from age 9 to 12. And that hit my heart that I thought it breaks. I often say to people, the brain is more powerful than the most expensive device there is. The brain can’t be compared with anything. The human brain made by God. And the same brain that has worked so efficiently to help me to finish the three degrees that we doing a fourth right now. It has all the memories of all that I’ve suffered, so it’s to teach people to think differently about their problems, teach people that it’s okay to grieve. Loss has to be grieved. This is why the scripture would tell us we must rejoice with those rejoicing and weep with those who weep. There must be a place to grieve. And those are things we have to do for ourselves and teach those we serve to do, and acknowledge healing is a process that will look different for everybody.

Arne: Before we continue with the stories, I want to let you know that we want to share gospel stories from the global church, with the global church. So if you have a story to share or know someone who might have please contact us at [email protected]. That is [email protected]. We would also appreciate your feedback on God on the Move, as this will help us improve our podcasts to the audience. You can find the link in the podcast description. 

Dr Joy: There were some points, cause more than half my life, I absolutely hated myself and wanted to be dead. I said, God, what’s the purpose of my existence? Why did you allow me to be born to a mentally ill mother and then let my father do what he did? The US missionary, who God used to call me to ministry, she’s been in my life. She spent 17 years serving in our church. And it was at a women’s meeting when I told her what my father did. And God has used her tremendously. She shared so many resources with me. But a significant thing happened, and I will show you some significant points of healing. 

A significant thing happened in 1993, I went to a church camp to cook for youths. They wanted somebody to cook for forty-five youths; two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners. And I thought I could do that. Never cooked to so many people, but that was a point of deliverance to me because as I was in the kitchen cooking, God used the missionaries to speak to my own heart and their resource was Christian psychologist, Dr James Dobson’s, Preparing for Adolescence. And so when I told the missionaries at the break how the material helped me, they gave me the five tips on that book. When they were leaving they gave me all the resources, the workbook and everything. That material is the baseline of the work I do with young people.

And I want to share with you a critical exercise I found in it that I did alone in my hotel room and a business travel in 1992 November. Dr Dobson said, the things you hate about yourself, write it down on a piece of paper. He said, and write your prayers, rendering your life to God and asking God to make something beautiful of your life.

He said, burn it. Burn it as surrendering it to God. And I did that, of course, I did it in the hotel sink and put the paper on. This is all in my autobiography, Jesus removed my grave clothes and put the paper on. But the three things I wrote down, because I was told as a child, ‘Shut up, you talk too much.’ And I pray that parents hearing will understand that we have to study our children to understand their personalities, to know from God how to parent them.

I was given the gift of speech for the purpose. God has put me in the earth to serve. Now he’s called me to be university faculty, be a teacher. How could I teach if I couldn’t speak?[Laughs]. But that’s not a matter. But I wrote down, I hated that I talked too much. I hated that I was born to a mentally ill mother and I hated, that my father sexually molested me from a child. And I wrote my prayer and I cried so hard. Crying is healing therapy. I cried so hard and I wrote my prayer asking God to take me and make something beautiful in my life. And I burned that paper. Do you think he answered?

By the time in my counseling class, my lecturer gave us an assignment, the family award, the next assignment, from the work of counselor, educated Professor Gerald Corey, in one of his books, I think in the book Becoming a Helper, the third chapter about your family of origin. And my lecturer, he said, ‘I’m encouraging each of you to do this assignment. You don’t have to do it, but I’m encouraging you to do it.’ And I took the challenge and I did the assignment. I spent all night answering the questions crying all night. I completed it and almost filled a little book. I write things in my journal. It was a tremendous, tremendous point of healing. 

God is so amazing. God had me teach that course six times. That very course that I was taught in my work as counselor educator six times and just like he encouraged me to do that, I encouraged my students to do. That was a tremendous point of healing. 

Counseling in the body, deliverance prayers. I remember one time after a session of ministry, this particular tremendous woman of God, she prayed from first Thessalonians 5:23. She prayed over the company that your whole soul and body would be preserved blameless to the coming of Christ. And to me that was a tremendous point of deliverance. As I mentioned, when I had to breakdown, just experiencing my husband’s love and support, love and support of family and friends, God himself speaking to me in that time and God raising me up out of that space of almost total destruction.

I was on psychiatric medication for eight months. One of the doctors tell me I will walk the street mad if I don’t take the medication. As we think of people dealing with mental health problems, there are some people, whatever is their situation and on the guidance of their medical team, they have to take medication. But I thank God I can testify he’s freed me completely from psychiatric medication to help me to understand. Because there is a place where medication is used to slow the neurons in the brain to help to calm you. But efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy has also been proven through research to help people where through counseling you teach people to think differently.

New research is also showing the neuroplasticity of the brain and how just as how trauma damages the brain. Interpersonal research and interpersonal neurobiology is showing how wholesome relationships could help to bring to heal. So that’s why I’m so excited as we think of healing and what healing was like for me. And I often say to people, these are the experiences I had that God used to help me to be emerged. And I’m glad to be able to teach them to other people. So that’s why I wanna teach parents what wholesome parenting must look like, what a wholesome marriage relationship must look like, and how people need wholesome relationships. And it doesn’t mean it’s gonna be perfect. That’s where repentance comes in. That’s where forgiveness comes in. But we must be honest with each other. We must be people of integrity under God. And once we allow his Spirit to move, he’ll continue moving as he is moving sovereignly over all of the details of our lives. Ultimately, to glorify himself.

Arne: With a better understanding of the healing process I wanted to come back to us and our responsibility as the church. What should the local church, as well as the global church do in order to create a space, an atmosphere, a culture where people are safe, free to talk, and one that fosters healing? 

Dr Joy: You’d be interested to know, I did my doctorate in transformational leadership at the Bakke Graduate University, and my major is cultural transformation. And the area of culture I am seeking to transform is just that. To cause audiences to be aware of the behavioral issues, the behavioral problems in families. Dysfunction that leads to the violence with the hidden scourge of incest.

Possibly to be more aware of that and then to show from scripture how we can behave differently. Though I don’t know. I pray to God to raise up more voices to join my voice, but I believe that’s exactly what God has got me to do. There’s still the issue of incest shrouded in secrecy, and it’s a core cause of mental health problems because psychologists and psychiatrists agree that whatever research has shown whatever affects sexuality affects personality. Whatever affects human sexuality affects personality.

So it can’t be ignored. And like I mentioned, I’m a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors, and that’s one of the things the AACC is calling for, that in every church, there must be a mental health day where these issues, and that’s why I’m so excited that I have this opportunity for us to have this nature of discussion to speak to the global church in every church, there must be a Sunday, there must be days when these issues are spoken of from the pulpit. And that’s why I’m glad when I have opportunities to go to church to speak this way from the pulpit because what they say is that when we speak like that from the pulpit, people in the congregation who are suffering similar issues, they know that it’s okay to go to my pastor, to go to my leader to say this is happening.

And so then, because everyone is not called to serve in the same way, my prayer is that the counselors, the psychologists, the social workers, churches will come together and seek to find ways to serve congregations. You know but then we also understand that people don’t necessarily want to be served in their churches because some have privacy issues.

That’s why I see myself on a global mission. Any church, anyone who wants my service, I’m willing to offer. Because I understand that you want a safe, quiet place. But I think too, that the teaching has to begin from seminary. I think there ought to be comprehensive assessments. I was excited in one of my seminary courses, Spiritual Formation, and to see the true to Spiritual Formation course my hurts were discussed. Even at Bakke when I did another course in personal assessment to see that there was this in-depth assessment. And those things have to happen to allow leaders to search themselves before God. I think in that learning process, people must also benefit from therapy right there for whatever they might need. Hurting people, hurt people. So if we are gonna release wounded leaders, that’s how we gonna see some of the problems we are seeing where leaders are molesting children, right? In churches, the family wasn’t safe and now the church family is supposed to be a place of safety and it’s not. You listen to the work of Christian psychologist Dr Diane Langberg, she said for over 50 years she’s served the church, Christian organizations. And if you hear the horror stories of what she has served . . . and my conviction is something has to be different in the body of Christ. Something has to be different. There must be a line in the sand of what’s holiness and what’s safety. So for me, it has to start in the church and the conversation has to continue. I’ve had the experience where people in the church don’t wanna hear what I have to say, whether it’s about myself or just speaking about the issue. But I’ve had to discipline myself to not be concerned with that, but be focused on what I know God has called me because it has to be said. It has to be said. And there is a place for privacy, but there’s no place for secrecy where darkness must be allowed to continue. When a child is being molested in a home and a man is not safe in his home, or a woman is being abused in her home, it’s no longer a private family matter. It becomes a matter of public concern.

Arne: As always, there is so much more to say, and especially with the topic like this it must not be the last word on the matter. But we also want to hear from you. In every episode, we are asking our guests to ask you a question. If you listen on YouTube, please be encouraged to comment your answer below in the comment section or leave your response in the latest God on the Move social media post. We really want to hear from you. And here is this week’s question: 

Dr Joy: What do you need to see the church do? What do you need to see the church do? 

Arne: Don’t forget to comment your answer. And please be encouraged to read Dr Joy’s book and be challenged to make a change. If nothing else, at least talk about it in your church, ministry or your own context. But now to wrap it up, I asked Dr Joy to share a word with us that is on her heart. And then to share prayer points so we can intercede more intentionally. 

Dr Joy: For me, the church must embrace disciplines. Jesus has already given us to live by, he said, to go into all the world and make disciples. A disciple is a disciplined person. Scripture also teaches in the book of Timothy that we must discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness. And God has given us those disciplines and the church must embrace those disciplines. The disciplines of intimacy with God. The disciplines of Word intake, the disciplines of quietness before God, disciplines of rest, recreation, disciplines of service giving, of learning of Word intake of fellowship in the assembly, prayer, of studying the Word. God has given us everything. 2 Peter 1:3, God has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness, everything. We must believe God, we must take God at his word. The scripture says that the just shall live by faith. The just shall live by faith. We must embrace all of God is by faith.

The greatest thing that has happened to me is that I fully trust God’s sovereignty. I don’t question God. I fully trust God, and all I want do at this stage in my life is to be in the places of God, live a life of such consecration that I must be fit for the master’s service. You know, a minister asked a profound question. If Jesus is no longer walking the earth, how is his work getting done? It’s through us. God is moving. God wants to move, and I want be moving where God is moving. We are warned not to grieve or quench his Spirit and where he is not allowed to move, he moves away.

See in the gospel, look that Jesus left the place where he wasn’t welcome and where he was allowed, where he was welcome. The scripture said, Luke 4:40, heal them all. God is on the move and God wants to move and I wanna be moving where God is moving. And I want to live in a way that allows God to move me, move and do whatever he needs to do because I understand I’m just a vessel in his hand. I want live a life of such dedication that I must be always fit for his services. He wants me to speak. I must be speaking. If he wants my hands, he must have them my feet, my mind, my heart. He must have it whenever he wants it. Jesus said the wheat and the tares will grow together. I don’t get to determine what’s wheat and what’s tares. And I wanna be busy about that which advances God’s kingdom. I don’t wanna be distracted with other issues. 

Homes are not safe places. Homes are supposed to be safe places they’re not. I want to be the kind of believer, in my church, whoever comes near me does have the assurance that it’s a safe space. Coming into my presence as a child of God is a safe space. There’s a lot going on, but great leader who lived he said, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’. Be the change you wish to see in the world. And that’s what I’m passionate. I don’t wanna be distracted with what’s not happening. I don’t wanna be caught up in denominationalism. I wanna be about that which advances God’s kingdom and be busy about that. He must find me faithful. When Jesus comes again he must find me faithful. And whatever he has to move out of my life and where he has to move me and whatever he has to do to accomplish that I am totally surrendered. Cause I understand. Thank God who used to teach me it’s not about me. God advances his kingdom and God glorifying himself in the earth it’s not about me. 

We ought to be praying for the persecuted church. I think some of us in places where we are free to worship Jesus and lift up the name of Jesus take for granted how others are suffering, need and advance God’s gospel. We’ve gotta be praying for the persecuted church. 

We gotta be praying for leaders who are serving faithfully, praying for them and for their families. 

And for the people I serve I just pray that they’ll know that God loves them, that he made them in his image. I thank God for Bakke Graduate University where, where God, brought this truth to life for me. That absolutely nothing, no experience you had, could remove God’s image from you. 

I pray that people will be receptive to the visitation of God’s Spirit. God is a good father. He wants to do good to them. He wants to meet their needs if they would let him. 

I pray the church will respect people’s right to believe what they want, and rather than criticize people’s beliefs, live lives of such consecration to Christ, that people will then ask, ‘What’s the reason for your hope?’ And then trust God for wisdom. Tell the reason for your hope. Don’t lose time criticizing people and what they believe. You live what you believe. Hold on to the Jesus you believe, represent him well. Don’t take for granted your ambassadorial assignment. Represent him well. And then let people ask you what’s the reason for your hope, and then be so consecrated to Christ and so surrendered to his Spirit that the Spirit has a multi-use to proclaim for the reason of the hope you have. 

Arne: You’ve listened to God on the Move, a Lausanne Movement podcast, where we want to listen to mission stories from the global church. Through listening to what God is doing around the world, we hope to encourage and challenge the global church to faithful obedience to the Great Commission.

So let’s accelerate global mission together, toward a vision for the gospel for every person. Disciple making churches for every people and place. Christlike leaders in every church and sector and kingdom impact in every sphere of society.

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Guests in This Episode

Dr. Joy Maria Wilson

Dr. Joy is a leadership development and counselling consultant, and a member of different coaching and counsellor associations. She serves government and private organisations and has volunteered with international Christian non-profit organisations. She is the author of two books and, with her husband, the co-founder of a family life and community development non-profit organisation. Married for over 36 years, they are parents of four adults and grandparents. Dr. Wilson enjoys cooking, reading, swimming, interacting with, and helping people.

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