Home of Wheaton Bible Church's Quarterly Magazine
Pam Davis, the new leader of WBC’s support community for those wounded by childhood abuse and neglect, tells her own story and invites others to find the hope and healing God has given her.
Pam Davis had been attending Wheaton Bible Church for just a few months when her hunt for a place to serve took a sharp left turn.
A recently returned missionary and new faculty member at Wheaton College, Pam selected WBC when she moved to the area: she was looking for a church that offered both contemporary and traditional worship, one with a broad-based missions program, and she wanted to be part of a church with an active ministry to refugees—a group she felt called to serve.
“And,” she adds with a smile, “I didn’t want to go to a big church.” But as she visited churches, she quickly saw that a church of just a hundred or so members could hardly support the kinds of ministries she was looking for, so she started attending WBC and quickly felt at home.
After 22 years as a missionary in Thailand, Pam was eager to help ease the transition for refugees who had come to this area, so she set up a meeting with the Local Impact team to learn about the Refugee Resettlement ministry and how she could serve. At that time, however, few new refugees were arriving, and those already here had been assigned to other Friendship Partners (what WBC calls those who help refugees during their transition to life in America).
In that same conversation, Pam told the Local Impact team about her experiences in Thailand, including the work she’d done with those who had been sex-trafficked and labor-trafficked as children, and who had lived through the tumult of the Burmese war and the harsh existence of life in refugee camps.
As Pam described how she was able to help aid their recovery from that kind of developmental trauma, the team suggested that she look into WBC’s CHAI (Courageous Healing of Abuse and Isolation) ministry to recovering survivors of childhood abuse. That, they said, could be a great place to use her training and experience.
An Answer to Prayer
For Support Ministries Pastor Bill Brown, learning about Pam’s interest and availability was an answer to prayer.
That same week, Ashley Schmutzer, a licensed counselor who, with her husband, Andrew, had launched the CHAI ministry last year, had told Bill that she needed to step back from her involvement as leader of CHAI.
As soon as he received Pam’s contact information, Bill called to set up a meeting. It was quickly agreed that Pam would step in and lead the CHAI women’s group for the spring. In addition, as CHAI restarts for the fall, Pam brought the experience and expertise needed to step in and oversee the entire program for the new ministry year.
The story of how God prepared Pam for her work in Thailand, for her teaching career as a professor in the psychology department at Wheaton College, and for her volunteer ministry with CHAI, began when Pam was just two years of age.
At that time, a small local church reached out to her family—five children under the age of seven who had recently lost their father. Pam remembers how that little Bible church, located just a few blocks from their home, came alongside her young mother and the children, bringing groceries and welcoming them to the church.
It was through that church that Pam came to an early understanding of the Gospel. But even though she attended services regularly through her childhood, it was, she says, more like “playing church,” for her, in part because of issues in her family.
“My family was very dysfunctional,” Pam says. “I come from a family history of abuse, and because of that, it was really difficult for me to figure out how God fit into all of it. We said we were a Christian family, and looked so good on the outside, but inside it was rotten.
“It wasn’t until I got away from my family system and went away to college that I could really understand God’s sovereignty and His plan—even in the dark places,” she adds.
After graduation, Pam taught for a year in the United States but then decided to go overseas for a year as a short-term missionary. Then she decided to stay another year. And another after that.
“By the end of the third year,” she said, “I knew this was a career ministry.”
Initially Pam went to Thailand as a teacher, but as her training in professional counseling grew, she also got involved with missionary member care and counseling, as well as development and relief work. It was in that role that she worked with refugee children who were recovering from the effects of war and forced involvement in sex-trafficking and other childhood trauma—experiences that made her transition into the CHAI support ministry nearly seamless.
That kind of healing is what God did for me. He gave me my strength. He gave me my dignity. He gave me my laughter—and I so want to say to other men and women, ‘This is for you, too. This can be yours, too.’
“That kind of healing is what God did for me. He gave me my strength. He gave me my dignity. He gave me my laughter—and I so want to say to other men and women, ‘This is for you, too. This can be yours, too.’”
The Ministry God Had for Me
“I really believe,” Pam says of CHAI, “that this is the ministry God brought to me. I was looking for a place to serve, and God said, This is the place I have for you. And that has been very similar to the trajectory of my life. The ministries that God brings to me have been far more effective than the ministries I have tried to make work on my own.”
Pam also mentions another important reason for the commitment she feels to CHAI.
“I have experienced such phenomenal healing in my own heart as an abuse survivor, that I know there’s hope,” Pam said. She points to Proverbs 31:25 as a Scripture that parallels what God has done in her own life: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.”
“I think that so often what happens in abuse is that those things—our strength, our dignity, and our laughter—are stripped away from us. And many of these victims become people who feel powerless and weak, humiliated, and sad. And yet I believe that when we have experienced the faith, hope, and love of recovery, we are clothed with strength and dignity and laughter.
“That’s why I want to be involved in this ministry,” Pam said, “because that kind of healing is what God did for me. He gave me my strength. He gave me my dignity. He gave me my laughter—and I so want to say to other men and women, ‘This is for you, too. This can be yours, too.’”
Pam describes CHAI as “a ministry to those who were abused as children or who are still working through really significant childhood traumas. Our vision is to provide a safe place for people who have all experienced similar trauma to come together and find a place to begin to heal and to begin to tell their story in a way that is both safe and healing for them.”
A Typical Meeting
For those who will decide to be part of CHAI this year, the group will be using a curriculum called The Journey Begins, a guided study based in Scripture and written for people who are recovering from all forms of childhood abuse.
“Those who decide to be part of CHAI,” Pam says, “will experience a very safe, closed group, where they will get to know well the six people and two leaders in their group. During the twelve-week course, the first half hour is large-group teaching and Bible study. Then for the next hour and a half we break up into small groups of six members and two facilitators, men with men and women with women, for some guided activities that are based around the topic of that night’s study.
“Our hope is that as those who attend begin to get more comfortable and move through the twelve-week session, they will get to the place where they will be able to share more of their story,” Pam said.
“Actually,” she adds, “we don’t think it’s wise for people to come and just blurt out their story at the very beginning. Sometimes when people do that, they don’t ever come back. So what we ask people is, ‘Can you tell your story from a thirty-thousand-foot perspective?’ Then, as people feel more safe and ready, they can ‘bring their airplane in a little closer,’ maybe telling a few more details of their story.”
The CHAI ministry is based on the belief that healing happens as a result of the interplay between the healing work of the Holy Spirit and the healing work of the community.
Worth the Risk?
When it comes to the question of whether attending a group like CHAI is “worth the risk,” Pam has a personal answer.
“I think for most of us who have a history of abuse, one of the things that we are very aware of is that sometimes we struggle to trust or we struggle to love fully with our whole hearts. Love is so central to the message of the Gospel, and I think sometimes our abuse history wreaks some of its greatest havoc on our ability to love God and to be loved by God, and to feel His love.
“So why risk? To me the greatest reason to risk healing and recovery is so that you can understand more about the abundant love of God and how that love changes us and how it makes us more free to love others,” Pam said.
“What I have discovered is that sometimes the deepest trauma and tragedy of childhood abuse is how the enemy uses it to keep us from fully functioning in God’s love for ourselves and for others,” Pam said. She points to the closing verse of 1 Corinthians 13, which reads: “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
“Those three things—faith, hope, and love—are all interwoven in the Gospel. And I believe the Cross is the reason we can have hope as abuse survivors. When I think of the Cross, I am reminded that there was first death, then life; first great suffering, then great glory; first pain, and then joy. As we are stuck in the suffering, the pain—what feels like death in sexual abuse—we can look to the Cross, where we find the path to faith, to hope, and to love.
The Cross is the reason I can be confident that there is real hope for abuse survivors—and for anyone—to find healing and the deep experience of God’s love.
Is CHAI for You?
CHAI meetings are held on Thursday evenings, beginning September 12. The fall session will begin with two open meetings that provide the opportunity to learn more about what CHAI is like before making a commitment to become part of one of the closed groups, which will form by September 26. For meeting details and other questions, send a confidential e-mail to CHAI@wheatonbible.org.