The first-ever Rise Up Against Abuse Rally was held on the campus of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, from March 7-10, 2019. Sponsored by the Offices of University Health & Wellness and Diversity & Inclusion, this rally was the official launch of the new Rise Up Against Abuse initiative, designed to help people use awareness, education, intervention, and prevention to take decisive actions against all forms of abuse.
More than 225 people registered for the three-day rally, which featured numerous abuse survivors, advocates, and inspirational presenters, including two-time Grammy nominee Sarah Kelly and Emmy-winning writer and filmmaker Chris Silber.
The rally began Thursday, March 7, at University Forum in the Howard Performing Arts Center with Sarah Kelly. Kelly sang “Take Me Away” and shared part of her story as an abuse survivor, detailing how she had poured herself into her music as a way of trying to stay safe and away from her abusive pastor husband. “Just like Paul and Silas I was in my prison, and I was choosing to worship God. I stood in the center of all the abuse and I chose to worship God,” she explained.
Following Kelly’s presentation and mini-concert, attendees were invited to visit the Solidarity Wall, a temporary wall erected outside of the campus center for people to write messages of empowerment and support. Those who walked past the wall were each given a letter and a chance to take a marker and add their own message of encouragement.
On Thursday evening, a photo exhibition premiere and reception were held for “Unredacted,” a violence against women photo exhibition created by Clarissa Carbungco, senior photography major at Andrews University. The exhibition remained open throughout the rally.
The rally continued Friday, March 8, International Women’s Day, with a number of presentations. Jennifer J. Schwirzer, a private counselor, writer, TV program host, and presenter from Orlando, Florida, began with “Why Should We Rise Up?” Her topic mirrored the goals of the overall rally — to educate, listen, prevent, and confront. Toward the end of her presentation she spoke about the power of multiplication, which is the power of both ministering to victims and equipping them to rise up.
Sarah McDugal, Andrews alumna, author, speaker, and co-founder of Bucket Brigade Against Abuse and WILD (Women in Leadership Development), stressed the importance of being equipped with knowledge and truth in her presentation “Truths About Abusers.” She emphasized that abuse is not a set of isolated mistakes but rather a systemic pattern of beliefs and actions. “You can believe some of what they say and everything they do,” she stated.
The Psalm 82 Initiative, a ministry team helping churches identify and deal with abuse for more than 15 years, shared about patterns of abuse. The goal was to equip people to recognize abuse patterns and offer help. Judith Fisher, director of the Counseling & Testing Center at Andrews University, and Nicole Parker, bestselling children’s author and biblical counselor, talked about recognizing abuse, focusing specifically on emotional and sexual abuse. Following their presentation, Tanya Asim-Cooper, director of the Restoration and Justice Clinic and assistant clinical professor of law at the Pepperdine School of Law, used true stories and statistics to address interpretations of the Christian Bible as it applies to intimate partner violence (IPV). The Psalm 82 Initiative closed with a final segment about identifying and addressing abuse in religious contexts.
On Friday evening, at Proximity Vespers in Pioneer Memorial Church, Kelly performed and also shared more of her story. She invited the audience to understand the power of worship and how it can help someone going through the pain of abuse. “Worship is an awesome place to find the rest of your life,” she said.
After a moving song service, Latoya Wright, an M.Div. student at the seminary, read the story of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 and discussed how the ugliness of that story still happens today. She told her story of being a victim of sexual abuse and how that impacted her life for years. In her poignant testimony, Wright explained what she calls “the power of the ugly,” stating, “When God’s power overrides the ugly, that’s when it becomes the power of the ugly.” She implored the audience to let God take the ugly out of their lives and to let Him write their stories.
On Saturday morning, McDugal spoke at One Place in Newbold Auditorium while Ty Gibson spoke at Pioneer Memorial Church. On Saturday afternoon, Ty Gibson and Tacyana Nixon, assistant to the vice president for Campus & Student Life at Andrews University, hosted a discussion panel in the PMC Youth Chapel. Part 1 of the panel dealt with questions and concerns related to the church’s involvement with abuse. Part 2 addressed the effects of abuse. Some of the questions raised included how to talk to children about abuse and how to minimize their chances of being abused.
When the discussion panels concluded, Chris Silber and Mekayla Eppers, Mrs. America 2018, spoke of their experiences as survivors of childhood sexual abuse by family friends. They stressed how important it is for children to recognize what abuse is and how adults need to believe children if they say they’ve been abused.
The rally continued Sunday morning with an “Emancipating Survivors” workshop designed only for survivors of abuse and their supporters. Afterward, there was an “Equipping Defenders” workshop for any attendee interested in learning more about how to identify perpetrators, handle criminal abuse, and serve as a defender and healer for abuse victims.
Later, Scott Ward, assistant professor of discipleship and religious education at the Seminary, shared how he survived abuse by diving deeper into a relationship with Jesus. His seminar focused on how to apply Scripture narratives to the negative experiences and how journaling and worship can draw people closer to God.
The rally officially ended with a workshop titled “Preventing LGBT+ Abuse: From Them vs. Us to Us with Them.” Presenters led an interactive discussion about how to have relational conversations that are helpful to families, churches, and schools.
One attendee noted how she came to attend the rally. “I heard about the event from Sarah McDugal. The day I called the national domestic abuse hotline and asked about my personal situation, a friend of mine connected me to Sarah. She started talking to me about how to build a safety plan, and I left the very next day."
The attendee continued, "I heard some things that were really surprising to me about healthy relationships and how mine was so very different than what apparently is normal. ... It’s really easy to feel confused about what happened and to doubt your own reality and so to get delineation on what is abusive was really helpful to me.”
Another attendee and Andrews alumna, Margaret Michel, works in hospital chaplaincy and with those on hospice. At her job she has been exposed to numerous abuse victims. In fact, she recalls having to learn the statistics of what percentage of women who came to the emergency room were abused. “Much of what they are saying are things that I have seen as I’ve interacted with people, and I’m glad that at this point, the church is saying these things here on campus,” she explained. For her, events like this are crucial for raising more awareness about the prevalence of abuse, and she hopes that the university continues to hold more events like this in the future.
Dominique Gummelt, director for University Health & Wellness and creator and co-founder of the initiative (along with Michael Nixon, vice president for Diversity & Inclusion), was thrilled with the success of the rally. She said, “People were empowered through knowledge and education, and they were comforted by hugs, prayers and words of encouragement.”
— Hannah Gallant is University Communication student writer; with contributions from Nehemiah Sitler and Laura Fierce.