By Mylinda Baits
We were informed 15 minutes before our training session was to begin that one of the participants had attempted suicide the week before. She was struggling with multiple family issues and deeply depressed by her current life situation. Thankfully supportive staff was surrounding her, but we needed to know what was happening so that we could be prepared to address whatever reactions that might come up to the material we were presenting on trauma and its affects. There were indeed some rough moments for her during the three-day Healing Arts Toolkit training that I co-facilitated for rural and urban health promoters at AMOS, A Ministry of Sharing, in Managua, Nicaragua. Understanding the effects of trauma on the body, mind, spirit, and relationships helped us to create a safe and secure space for grace and growth in spite of the difficulties she and the other participants were experiencing. When trauma or extreme stress happens, normal coping strategies fall apart, but there are ways we can learn to help us regroup and heal from life’s inevitable losses. The creative process of healing demands risk-taking, resilience, and messiness.
Recently I received training and have been using the Healing Arts Toolkit in my work with various national partners and colleagues throughout Mexico, Central, and South America. The Healing Arts Toolkit was created by First Aid Arts: an artist-founded organization to equip and train aftercare providers working with survivors of trauma like human trafficking, violence, and forced displacement, to use the expressive arts in recovery and healing… helping wounded hearts heal beautifully. Their vision is to use what they love, ART, to undo what they hate. The devastating effects of evil expressed in violence, greed, and exploitation are worthy of hate. The proven healing effects of creativity and beauty as expressed through visual art, music, movement, drama, symbol, and storytelling shared in community can be used to hold and heal the wounds that break our hearts.
I have heard the stories of women who have been told most of their lives that they didn’t matter. I have seen the scars and downcast stature of women who have suffered physical, emotional, sexual, and spiritual abuse. On occasion I have held some who have been berated, manipulated, and isolated. I have also witnessed glimpses of transformation, grace, and empowerment in those same women as they learn to breath deeply, move intentionally, draw, write, or sing their stories to make some kind of sense out of their experiences while reconnecting with themselves, others, and the very Source and Hope for their lives.
Using the Healing Arts Toolkit has allowed me to provide safety and structure to the creative experiences I have been leading as an International Ministries global servant in Latin America. Repetition and ritual create a trust-filled space where participants can take creative risks to explore and express their feelings, practice self-reflection and awareness, and form relationships while building community with others. One of my favorite songs is “I Will Change Your Name” because it describes what God has promised all of us and what I have witnessed with my own eyes. It says,
“I will change your name
You shall no longer be called
Wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid
I will change your name
Your new name shall be
Faithfulness, friend of God
One who seeks My face
On the last day of our Nicaragua training, as the small groups were sharing how they experienced the symbolic imagery activity that we use to facilitate personal story sharing, the same woman who entered the workshop quite depressed pointed to an image of a burnt-out tree and shared the following insight:
“This tree represents my life.
From the outside, all looks dead,
but I am still standing.
There is still life within me.”
All of us witnessed a glimpse of grace, a hint of healing, an affirmation of hope, a reason to rejoice. Thanks be to God.
Mylinda Baits is a pastoral artist, activist, advocate, and co-laborer in ministry who is passionate about the prevention of all forms of exploitation, particularly human trafficking, the healing and transformation of trauma victims, and the resilient witness of the people of God in the Iberoamerica-Caribbean region. Traveling extensively throughout Latin America, Mylinda partners with International Ministries colleagues, national church leadership, and social change organizations to address and eliminate the exploitation and trafficking of women and children in and from Latin America. Compelled by Jesus’ invitation to come, grow, and change, she strives to embody grace and seek justice through accompaniment, mentoring, and modeling the use of the expressive arts in community worship, trainings, and trauma care for victims. Mylinda uses her gifts of hospitality and pastoral care to create sustainable and safe spaces where the souls of servant leaders and direct service providers who do the hard work of rescue, relief and restoration can be nurtured and renewed.