AVA was birthed out of the need to respond to the heartbreaking abuse experienced by women both inside and outside of the Covenant Church. Ruth Hill, Executive Minister of Women Ministries from 1999 to 2011, heard many stories of abuse from within faith communities. As she met with Elouise Spencer, Executive Director of Wellspring Center for Hope, in Chicago, Illinois, over lunch, Elouise gave Ruth a mini-course on domestic violence and abuse. Finishing, she leaned across the table and said, “So, Ruth, what are you going to do about this?” The very serious question required an equally serious response. Ruth replied, ”Whatever the Lord asks me to do, I will do it.” She had begun a journey that continues today.
In December, 2002, it became clear that God’s purpose was to use Women Ministries to bring the issues of domestic violence and childhood sexual abuse to the attention of the Covenant denomination. She shared with leaders the vision to hire a Project Manager to advocate for victims of abuse through sustained and informed leadership. At the 2003 Covenant Annual Meeting, Project 2004 “Light for AVA—Advocacy for Victims of Abuse” was successfully launched.
The response was immediate and enthusiastic. There was great eagerness for tools to minister to victims and many testimonies of those who had walked or were still walking the journey of recovery from abuse. Hope and help were in sight. As the search for AVA’s project manager concluded, Rev. Aleese Moore–Orbih, completing her PhD., answered the call to lead AVA, saying, “I have this dream of how I would educate the whole church about abuse!”
Aleese was unanimously af?rmed by the AVA Search Committee and was consecrated for service at Triennial XI in Portland, Oregon, August, 2004. She began work in September 2004, developing materials, training advocates and speaking to congregations about how to create a healthy climate in their churches so there will be “No more abuse in the Covenant!”
AVA became a strategic initiative of Women Ministries of the Covenant during 2004 and 2005, and Covenanters gave over $178,000 to drive this strategic initiative forward. Under Aleese Moore-Orbih’s leadership, a training component was developed that equipped regional coordinators to in turn equip others on the conference and local levels. The goal of this training was to raise awareness and to educate others about all forms of abuse in order to provide safe sanctuaries for all persons in the church.
In time, Aleese Moore-Orbih moved on to a new position in the field of abuse prevention and advocacy, and in 2007, Yvonne DeVaughn of Casa Grande, Arizona began as AVA Director. Under Yvonne’s leadership, AVA continued to grow as more advocates were equipped and certified to equip others on the conference and local levels. Yvonne has traveled extensively conducting training events and sharing the compelling story of her experience with abuse and the hopeful and ongoing journey of recovery and healing.
To date, over 1,200 persons have taken the AVA local advocate training; more than 65 persons have been trained as regional coordinators.
In November 2011, AVA went international as DeVaughn traveled to Colombia with a team that included her husband, William, also a trained AVA Regional Coordinator, where they led a three-day intensive AVA Regional Coordinator training in Spanish. Forty-four Spanish-speaking regional coordinators were equipped and commissioned to return to their communities in Colombia and Mexico. God is using these people in powerful ways to fight abuse and raise awareness and bring healing.
In 2012, members of the Christian Action Commission of the Covenant Church worked with AVA Director DeVaughn and Executive Minister Gillan to craft a resolution against Domestic Violence. It was brought before the Covenant Annual Meeting in Irvine, California in June and was passed resolutely. The resolution strongly urges pastors, leaders, congregations and individuals to engage with the ministry of AVA at every level, and to work to fight abuse wherever it is found.
AVA continues to grow like a wildfire, pointing to the tremendous need for this important effort. As long as there are women, men, and children who need to break silence about their abuse, there will be a strong and compelling need for this vital ministry.