What an Abused Woman Taught Me about Domestic Violence Ministry

Sixteen years ago, I left my medical practice in the States and moved to Central Asia where I now serve in medical ministry for women. I live in a beautiful country full of towering mountains and pristine lakes. Its hospitable people are beautiful as well. But underneath many smiling faces, there are often deep hurts.

One of my roommates, a Central Asian woman named Gulmira,* was married for twenty years to an abusive man who kidnapped her when she was a teenager. He often got drunk, beat her, and behaved in a sexually threatening way toward their daughter. Four years ago, Gulmira’s husband was murdered during a fight with a neighbor. Gulmira, now a single mother, is a vital part of our ministry team and shows the Lord’s love to those we encounter.

Her story is not uncommon. We have had frequent encounters with abused women in our clinic. One of our patients was a young woman who became pregnant soon after being kidnapped to become a bride. She ended up losing the baby because of an STD received from her husband. She miscarried their second baby after her husband beat her into unconsciousness.

Anyone working with abused women understands that the issues we have faced in our clinic are difficult. Some of us can identify with abuse, but many simply can’t. Does that mean that those who have never been mistreated have nothing to offer? The answer is a resounding no. We have everything to offer because we have Jesus. Even if we have not been abused, we know a Savior who was. He was mocked, ridiculed, scorned, beaten, and publicly humiliated. We may not know what it feels like to experience that type of abuse, but Jesus does.

“Even if we have not been abused, we know a Savior who was. We may not know what it feels like to experience that type of abuse, but Jesus does.”

I recently listened to a Tim Keller sermon from John 11 about the death of Lazarus. Keller spoke of how Jesus didn’t try to downplay Martha and Mary’s grief over Lazarus’s death. He knew he would raise Lazarus. He knew that joy was coming, yet he cried. Jesus fully entered into life here on earth. He was all in. Following Christ’s example, we should not withdraw from those who are suffering. Rather, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can draw near with empathy and true love.

How to Step into Suffering with Empathy and Hope

There are so many questions surrounding the issue of abuse and how should we interact with women who are victims of domestic violence. I think the following recommendations—fruit from years of knowing and learning from Gulmira—embody the kind of love that Christ showed.

  • Uphold the importance of prayer.
    Cry out to God, the Rescuer and Deliverer. If the abused woman is a believer, help her learn how to pray about her circumstances. If she is not, ask her how you can pray for her, and pray with her when possible.
  • Help her find a safe place.
    If an abused woman needs a house, help her find a place to live. Keep in mind that many women often return to their abusive situations after a temporary reprieve. She needs to decide for herself what to do.
  • Encourage with eternal hope.
    Remind her that the brokenness of this life is not the end. Tell her to look to Christ, who secured an eternal hope that is an anchor for our lives. Explain the peace and life that come by faith in Jesus as her Savior.
  • Be a friend.
    Make yourself available to her and meet with her frequently. Listen patiently. If she appears distant or agitated, remember that she is under a lot of stress.
  • Speak of God’s tender love for her 
    Many abused women see themselves as unworthy of love. They believe that they deserve the abuse. Remind them that they are precious in God’s eyes and yours.

John Stott said that his God is the “lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross … He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering.” [1]

We hope to make our center in Central Asia a place where we can listen to women, tell them about Jesus, encourage them in their faith, teach them to pray for their situation, and offer physical help if they want it. May we, with Jesus’s help, fully enter into these women’s lives and walk alongside them as we share his overwhelming love and proclaim that his redemptive suffering gives us life.

Serving victims of domestic violence is a much-needed yet highly sensitive area of ministry. The following resources may be helpful for those learning how to best serve abused women:

*Name changed

Dr. Olander and her team recently moved the location of their clinic, The Wellness Center, and hope to reopen soon so they can continue serving women in Central Asia. If you would like to donate to their work and ministry, click here.

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Cross (United Kingdom: Scripture Union Publishing, 2012).