The Association of Adventist Women held their 37th annual meeting on November 16, 2019 entitled “Domestic Abuse: A Workshop on What the Church Can Do” in conjunction with the Humanities Department of Loma Linda University Health. The event was followed by the AAW’s annual banquet and presentation of the Woman of the Year awards. Both were held on the campus of LLUH.
Speakers for the workshop included the husband and wife team of Mable Dunbar, PhD, and Colin Dunbar, MDiv, who spoke on “The Root Causes of Unhealthy Relationships” and “Forgiveness Recovery and Restoration.” Jon Mundall, MD, presented a case study and Tamara Schreven described her riveting personal journey through abuse. All four are from the Women‘s Healing Empowerment Network a support network for abused women based in Spokane, Washington. Barbara Hernandez, PhD, director of Physician Vitality at Loma Linda University Health, spoke on “Who’s Abusing and Why It’s Hard to Break Free.” Former Women’s Ministries director for the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Carole Ferch-Johnson, PhD, one of the Association of Adventist Women’s Woman of the Year awardees, was also interviewed. A lively panel discussion took place with numerous participant questions.
Mabel Dunbar, PhD (left) and Tamara Schreven (right) present at the AAW Conference on November 16.
Throughout the presentations it was acknowledged that a Christian background can unintentionally contribute to trapping people in abusive relationships. Communities that define the male role as all-controlling are a risk factor for fostering abuse. The Christian principle of forgiveness can be misinterpreted to support staying in an abusive relationship. I found Dr. Hernandez’ ability to define and counter the most common excuses used in a religious setting to stay in an abusive relationship particularly useful. It was emphasized that Jesus’ love and grace require Christians to actively assist the vulnerable, preventing further abuse, before assisting abusers to change.
Many who attended spoke of how much they appreciated the practical nature of the talks. Numerous LLUH students attended and I was pleased to see quite a few community members were sponsored to attend. The parameters required to continue safely in an intimate relationship after violence were clearly defined. I found this particularly useful to help premature reconciliation. I have always advocated abused partners to leave but I did not realize that preparing the items needed to leave, such as identification and money, could take significant time and planning. Dr. Ferch-Johnson discussed how pastors and physicians, who may have responsibilities to support both parties, can balance their attentions and how those helping the abused need to step back at times to avoid burnout. There was also discussion about what red flags in the dating relationship correlate with future abuse. Some information presented on nutrition seemed off topic. Overall, I found the conference comprehensive and ready to apply. The conference is being prepared for viewing on the Association of Adventists Women’s website.
The banquet was a festive affair with live cello music and excellent food. Many had changed from church wear into more formal and sparkly attire. The Association of Adventist Women awarded four Woman of the Year awards in differing categories. Carole Ferch-Johnson, PhD was awarded Woman of the Year for Outstanding Achievement for her leadership in supporting women in church employment and in church communities throughout Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific. During his introduction, William G. Johnsson, long-time editor of the Adventist Review, mentioned he might be a little jealous of Dr. Ferch-Johnson’s academic book on non-verbal communication in Acts being published by the prestigious Peter Lang.
Linda Mendez was awarded Woman of the Year for Youth Life for her work supporting the EXCELL tutoring program and running the UReach cafe at the Loma Linda University Church. Corene Stennis established Stennis Enterprises and has coordinated five annual A Woman 4 All Seasons conferences, brings together all generations of women in the church and her community of San Bernardino for a weekend of mentoring and support. She received the Woman of the Year for Community Life. Chris Oberg, MA, long-time senior pastor of the La Sierra University Church was awarded the Woman of the Year for Spiritual Leadership for strengthening spiritual life for students and faculty. Everyone in attendance was touched by her spontaneous and heart-felt hug of Sandra Roberts, Southeastern California Conference president, who introduced her.
Linda Mendez’ colleagues from the Loma Linda University Church were in attendance as she accepted the Woman of the Year Award on November 16.
Immediate past AAW President Lourdes Gudmundsson was recognized for her prior leadership skills and past president Georgia Hodgkin recognized past award winner Elsie Chan for her immense contributions to AAW and the Loma Linda University Church Pathfinders organization. Both functions were artfully organized by Priscilla Walters, treasurer of the Association of Adventist Women.
Nerida Taylor Bates, MD, PhD, is former faculty at Loma Linda University Health’s Pediatric Department. She is currently the Interim Vice President of the Association of Adventist Women. Her writing interests include supporting new mothers, helping teens, manage their sexuality and issues affecting female physicians.
Main image: The four 2019 Woman of the Year Awardees (from left to right): Linda Mendez, Chris Oberg, Corene Stennis, and Carole Ferch-Johnson.
All images courtesy of the author.
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