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Reflection: A safe house

Kathy Galloway Kathy Galloway, Head of Christian Aid Scotland, reflects on an encounter with a brave young woman who showed her how courage can be found in the midst of great danger.

'God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear... God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.' (Psalm 46, 1-2,5)

The words of Psalm 46 have been speaking deeply to my heart after a recent visit to the state of Rondonia in northern Brazil, a somewhat lawless place with much of its economic activity linked to opencast mining.

Here, I visited the only refuge in the state for women experiencing violence.

Offering sanctuary

Established in the city of Ariquemes by Christian Aid partner SADD, the diaconal programme of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, its director is a priest, Rev Elineide Ferreira.

I was quite unprepared for the slight 27-year-old woman who welcomed us into Noeli dos Santos, the safe house, and shared its work with us.

Surely the task of offering sanctuary to up to 10 women and their children, in a culture that sees violence against women as normal and acceptable, was too great for such slim shoulders?

Courageous

Surely the danger those in the refuge must face (already they have had to move three times, after police sources gave their address to angry men) should not be borne by one so young?

What can it mean to say, ‘God is with us’, when threat, abuse, pain and loss are the daily reality for these women and their children? How is it possible not to feel fear in the face of such intimate violence?

Rev Eleneide, local pastor, wife, mother and part-time social work student, is a pioneer of extraordinary courage and faith.

As well as forging creative links with the local social services, she has acted as a consultant in producing training materials for faith communities wishing to support women experiencing violence.

Refuge and strength

In faith, she bears extraordinary burdens; in faith, moved by her desire not just to care for women, but to change how women are seen, that they are respected as having equal dignity and worth in the eyes of God, she has become in her own person a refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

As she says, ‘Our priesthood is most expressed when we are open to everyone.’

In meditating on Psalm 46, I realise that the declaration ‘therefore we will not fear’ is not a description of feeling but a mighty statement of faith, a decision to live hopefully and with courage in the midst of great loss and danger, rooted in trust in the God who is in the midst of the city, which will not be moved.

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