The topic of sexual abuse is usually not given a warm welcome in the church today. It certainly isn’t something that many believers know how to address or discuss with their brothers and sisters in Christ who are survivors of sexual trauma or abuse. (I admit my own ignorance and insensitivity to this topic in the past; I am learning how to come alongside those who have gone through unspeakable abuse and love them as Christ does.) Therefore, it may be tempting to “let it go” or to “let bygones be bygones” and never discuss publicly. It’s certainly more comfortable to not speak about it; but avoiding it surely inhibits the healing process. As Christian therapist Dan Allender said in an interview with Christianity Today, “Abuse has to be addressed in the light, in community.
“ Abuse has to be addressed in the light, in community. ”
Journey to Heal Ministries is a ministry that focuses on helping men and women through the healing process from sexual trauma. According to their website, the ministry aims to provide “trauma-informed and Christ-centered support, education, and life-giving community (to) help women go beyond surviving their past to thriving in the life they were created to live.”
“We try to educate the public, and we also try to come alongside women and men to help them process their stories and find hope and healing in Christ,” Crystal Sutherland, founder of Journey to Heal, told me in a phone interview. Journey to Heal strongly believes that ultimately, only God can heal, and that healing happens when Christ is the source of hope.
“ God just pressed on my heart to share what I was learning with other women who have been through what I’ve been through. ”
Sutherland shared how she started Journey to Heal and her heart for ministering to sexually abused men and women. A survivor of sexual abuse herself, she began a healing process in her late 30’s. When she was a few years into her own healing journey, she said, “God just pressed on my heart to share what I was learning with other women who have been through what I’ve been through.” The book that she wrote detailing the method she used to heal is the basis for her ministry. Sutherland shared how the book grew into a ministry and in 2018, she launched Journey to Heal. “My story was the catalyst, and my book was the catalyst for the nonprofit,” she said.
The ministry is very much alive, with support groups up and running in North Carolina, New York, and Michigan, as well as online. Journey to Heal invites women, ages 18 and up, to come gather in support groups of five or less and work through Sutherland’s book Journey to Heal: Seven Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse together. “We provide support groups, taking women through my book, because it’s a guidebook that basically leads women through seven very important steps in healing,” Sutherland said. “They’re Biblically-based steps, steeped in Scripture.”
“ They’re getting in there and reading the Scriptures, and they’re making it a regular part of their life. ”
In the book, seven tools are outlined that participants can use in their own healing processes. A typical meeting involves reviewing one tool or concept per week, praying, discussing each participant’s week, and discussing what they are learning from the book and how they’re growing. Each group has its own mentor.
Sutherland also shared how she has seen the Lord work in the lives of hundreds of women that have come through her ministry. Journey to Heal invites both believers and non-believers to come into their groups, grow through their healing process, and learn how to find their identity in Christ. “The main way we see this impact on women is they’re picking up—some of them, probably for the first time ever—the Word of God on a regular basis and they’re getting in there and reading the Scriptures, and they’re making it a regular part of their life. And that’s really where the transformation happens,” she said.
“ You’re opening up a wound. You have to have care ministries to back it up. ”
Stories like Sutherland’s are, sadly, not uncommon for Christians and non-Christians alike in today’s world. However, despite the frequency of sexual abuse and trauma, the modern church in America has often been silent on the issue. When asked if she believes that there is a lack of ministries and efforts in the church today to help people heal from past trauma, Sutherland said “yes” without hesitation. “Not all pastors are ready and willing to open this topic,” she said. Furthermore, she explained, “It’s one thing to bring up this topic—that’s great—but you have to be ready because when you start talking about sexual abuse in the church, or sexual abuse in general, you have to provide next steps. You’re opening up a wound. You have to have care ministries to back it up.”
Sutherland believes that it’s not just the church that is mis- or uninformed about how to deal with this issue, but it’s the entirety of the culture. “It’s not just in the church that this topic is not addressed well and right, it’s secularly that it’s not,” she said. “It’s so sad that so many counselors are not trained how to talk about this.”
“ All of our programs are free. ”
“It’s really not just the church. I think it’s our culture as a whole—we don’t know how to do this. But we have to figure it out, because it is an epidemic,” she shared with me.*
An interesting part of Journey to Heal Ministries’ program is the availability of mentors. Journey to Heal provides a form on their website offering men and women who have been sexually traumatized a chance to speak to someone who has gone through something similar. While their mentors are not licensed professionals, they are individuals who have gone through their own healing process and are willing to walk alongside other victims. “We have 33 Journey to Heal mentors across the country, even as far as the UK,” Sutherland said. “All of our programs are free,” she added. Journey to Heal also has a blog, where they feature stories of women who have endured sexual trauma in the past, topics such as holidays that can be ruined for many survivors of sexual trauma, and stories of their fundraising 5K, called the Hope Run, which they hold annually.
“ But the Lord is present in every situation, even awful ones. ”
Restoration through healing is not an easy or linear process. It is painful. It is uncomfortable. It may involve confrontation. It opens up wounds and refreshes the pain that they bring. But the Lord is present in every situation, even awful ones. And He has provided ministries like Journey to Heal to help men and women who have endured sexual trauma or abuse. These ministries are mouthpieces for Christ as they speak hope and kindness into people’s lives.
Restoration is what the Lord wants for His people—and He will help them through. As Allender says:
“The two greatest signs of a restored heart are increased freedom and joy. When you’re no longer in bondage to shame and contempt, you enjoy a greater capacity to be who you are and to delight not just in life, but also in the One who made you to be in relationship with him.”
And that is the hope for ministries like these everywhere.
Journey to Heal Ministries invites you to check out their website. They can be found at https://www.journeytohealministries.org/.
*Editor’s Note: Our apologies. We inadvertently omitted an important part of Crystal Sutherland’s comment about the lack of action on the part of the church in ministering to victims of sexual abuse. She also added, “there are, however, positive strides being made in many churches like mine at Port City Community Church here in Wilmington, North Carolina, and organizations like the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. I attended their 2019 Caring Well Conference and they are doing a great job at approaching this epidemic and responding with trauma informed care and resources.”