The women arrive one by one.Most have at least one, perhaps several children with them.
While all are friendly and greet others with a smile, some seem shy or hesitant, especially when they find that a visiting journalist is present.
Finally, a half-dozen women assemble and sit around the table with their notebooks open. Off to the side, a worker is helping the nearly dozen children find activities while their mothers meet.
Soon, the women turn very serious. One seems to cry a bit while others talk. The leader is pleasant; she smiles, she listens, she empathizes and she prays.
Each of the participants carries an enormous burden that they are only now, slowly, beginning to unload. Each has been the object of physical or emotional abuse and is seeking the help of a Christian ministry called Healing Hearts located in La Carpio, an impoverished western San José neighborhood.
“We began the ministry last February,” explains Eliette Padilla, a Costa Rican who is a missionary with Christ for the City International (CFCI). “We are working withwomen who have been damaged spiritually or physically.”
“There is a lot of violence in our culture,” she adds. “It’s a big problem here and reaches all levels of society and all parts of society.
When children are abused, it damages our future citizens, and that worries us.”
Padilla attributes the high incidence of abuse to the absence of God in the family. Without their roots with God, many men misunderstand their role as the head of the family, thinking, ‘I am the man of the family and I’m in charge,’” she explains.
While there may be a higher incidence of violence among poor families, such as those who are attending the support group in La Carpio, Padilla says that she also is leading a group in a middle class area of San José.
The problem isn’t confined just to Latin American families, explains Dee Johnston, a CFCI missionary who works from her base in Omaha, Nebraska. “It is a widespread problem,” she says. Johnston began working with abused women in her home church in Omaha in 1991 and recently has begun expanding her Healing Hearts organization worldwide through CFCI. She visited Costa Rica in early 2007 to help start the program here.
CFCI also works in a number of other Central American countries including Nicaragua, El Salvador and Panama.
“Dee Johnston and Healing Hearts Ministry have served thousands of women over the years who have suffered the effects of abuse,” says Chip Anderson, president of CFCI. “Healing Hearts also serves those women who want the tools to help others overcome the ravages of mistreatment and cruelty into a life of victory and peace with God. This ministry is a proven instrument to heal, guide, console and train all those who want to work with abused women.”
Johnston has prepared several workbooks for leaders to use as they work to heal abused women. These include “The Trail of Broken Pieces”, “Ministering with Spiritual Balance”, “Breaking Unhealthy Cycles” and “Intimacy in Marriage.”
“Many of those who come to our groups here in Costa Rica are angry with God,” Padilla explains. “It is important for them to look for help. Our program is spiritual therapy along with psychological and emotional help.”
Padilla says that eventually she would like to start similar groups for men and for children since all are suffering when there is violence in the home.
But now, she is struggling to just keep three groups going while she searches for a place to house the program.
“We need to raise funds to establish an office and a place where people can come who need further counseling,” she says.
She is also open to receiving missionaries who would relocate to Costa Rica long-term to participate in the project.
“We can use missionaries who have
empathy and know or are willing to learn Spanish,” she says.
Padilla is confident the program is providing help to people in desperate need.
“Both parties in a relationship play key roles in that relationship,” Johnston explains.
“It is never just one person who is responsible for the actions of the other… She has learned that she has played, as well as her husband, a part in the unhealthy behavior; but since she has accepted Christ, things have changed in a positive way. Today she drives a car, she has a son in the university and she is much better.And, her husband has changed as well.”
More information about Christ for the City International can be obtained online at www.cfci.org or by calling Kellie O’Connell at 227-4717.