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    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Renay West: Breaking the Silence

AGTV video interview with Renay West

By Jennifer McClure
Jan. 24, 2010

The Argentine crowd slowly moved toward the front of the room for prayer. The event’s organizer and speaker, Renay West, was standing at the front when she felt a light tug on her arm.

Turning, she saw a young girl hidden amid a sea of black, tangled hair. Stooping down, she began to part the locks, revealing the 13-year-old’s expressionless face.

“I want you to pray for me,” the child said in a monotone, her eyes fixed on something distant and unseen. “I’m in a psychiatric hospital because I tried to kill myself.”

“Baby, of course I will,” West replied. “But why would you want to kill yourself?”

“Because they’re raping me.”

The 13-year-old girl further explained that her uncle and stepfather had been raping her for the last five years. Concerned she was pregnant and desperate to escape the horrors of her life, she had jumped from a fourth-story window at school. Two teachers broke her fall, as well as their arms and legs.

Confessions such as this, though not uncommon at Aguas de Sanidad (Healing Waters) conferences, still startle West. Not too many years ago, she broke her own silence.
A personal journey

To this day, West remembers her dad beating her with a leather belt when she couldn’t swallow a vitamin as a toddler. She remembers being 4 years old and terrified of setting foot onto Colorado’s Royal Gorge suspension bridge when he held her out over the abyss for a laugh.

She lost count of the number of times she made up an excuse to not dress out for physical education at school. She had to keep her bloodied and bruised body out of sight.

Feeling guilty and ashamed, West had remained silent for nearly 11 years about a sexual assault by a man outside the family when she was 10 years old.

By the end of her junior year of college — her first year at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas — West had become suicidal. On May 7, 1987, she had already packed up to move off campus, but she needed to say her last goodbyes to two close friends.

“When I went back, they were in an all-school devotion in the chapel,” she says. “I was like, No stinkin’ way am I going into a church service.

But a few minutes later, West slipped into the back of the chapel. The speaker was speaking to her, she felt, even pointing at her at times.

“At the end, I got up and walked out, but when I did, the fear of the Lord came on me,” she recalls. “I felt like the Lord was saying, ‘You’re not doing that to people; you’re doing that to Me. This might be your last opportunity.’ Someone came and prayed over me, and when they did, I just began to weep for the first time in about two years. God gave me hope and made me want to live. And that began my journey.”

She was 20 at the time. Soon after, she told her mom about what happened when she was 10. But another 17 years would pass before she would openly address other wounds from her past.

In 2004, West, then 37, was home on furlough from the mission field in Thailand, where she had ministered the previous eight years. She was preparing to transfer from Thailand to Argentina when her parents separated.

Seeking professional counseling, West began the healing process. Now, as an Assemblies of God missionary to Argentina, she’s helping others to break their silence as she shares God’s message of hope and healing.
Aguas de Sanidad
Since holding the first Aguas de Sanidad conference in March 2007 at River Plate Bible Institute, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, West and her team have prayed with thousands of abuse victims for healing, equipped them with practical teachings through afternoon workshops, and given them materials to help them continue the journey after they leave the daylong event.

“Aguas de Sanidad is a tool the Lord is using for people to be healed and to heal others” says Sherry Grams, 30-year veteran Assemblies of God missionary to Argentina.

According to Aguas Assistant Director Graciela Gimenez, conservative statistics report one in five Argentine girls and one in 10 boys will be sexually abused before they reach 18. Such reports are helping the church community and even local governments to recognize the value of Aguas de Sanidad.

West notes that Aguas has been decreed an officially backed event by several provincial governments. She explains these decrees are government officials’ way of saying they recognize the value of the event and encourage constituents to participate. In one instance, a provincial government not only invited West and her team to come but also provided the venue, buses and drivers to bring people to the event from their homes, some more than four hours away.

“To them, it’s a good move for their community in dealing with social ills,” says Dick Nicholson, regional director of Latin America and the Caribbean for Assemblies of God World Missions. “But it’s more than just teaching; it’s more than just testifying; it’s also ministering deliverance.”

Typically, an Aguas de Sanidad seminar is a daylong event, requiring about 100 volunteers and attracting anywhere from 200 to 1,600 attendees. West opens the seminar by sharing her testimony in the morning service. Other Aguas team members who have suffered from abuse, such as Gimenez, share their testimonies during the afternoon workshops.

“The most impacting part of the ministry of Aguas is the power to speak about things that before were left in silence,” Gimenez says. “When these silences are broken, the people begin to experience a freedom to talk about their stories and to look for help.”

Afternoon workshops led by professionals provide practical tools for attendees on topics such as prevention; breaking free from spiritual, emotional and physical prisons; and recognizing guideposts along the road to recovery.

In the concluding celebration service, West delivers a message on forgiveness and its benefits as well as a special message about a father’s blessing. Afterward, anyone who would like prayer is invited to come forward and walk through a prayer tunnel formed by two lines of ministry workers.

“We’re pronouncing the blessing of our Heavenly Father over their lives, and we’re believing that blessing is going to supersede any lack of blessing from their natural fathers,” West explains. “As we pronounce it, usually there’s a great move of the Spirit. That’s when the celebration and the joy from the day hits, and there are usually spontaneous baptisms in the Holy Spirit.”

Cynthia Nicholson has served with husband Dick across Latin America and participated in two Aguas events. “For people who have been bound by the chains of abuse,” she says, “it’s incredible to come through the prayer line.”
A wider reach
Originally, Aguas de Sanidad was promoted as a women’s conference, but when soundmen and light technicians working the event regularly responded to the call for prayer, the need for the ministry to expand became apparent. Aguas is no longer promoted as a women’s conference, and plans are in place to add workshops for men later this year.

Also in the works for Aguas de Sanidad is a day clinic where people can come for professional Christian counseling or prayer. Though West says Aguas’ ministry focus is not to provide a live-in facility, she does hope that they will be able to house up to five women and their children in a short-term safe house and to also offer vocational training.

Presently, Aguas de Sanidad produces some printed materials and DVDs of conferences to help attendees along the journey after they leave the daylong event. These are also available in government-operated safe houses for those unable to attend. But in some cases, Aguas can do even more.

For Brenda, the 13-year-old girl who tugged on West’s arm, the Aguas ministry team intervened in her situation thanks to an Aguas team member who is a social worker and psychologist in Buenos Aires. Brenda is now away from her abusers, connected with a local church, and on a journey to wholeness and healing, West says.

Like many victims of abuse, Brenda had lost the belief in her own self-worth, that she was lovable and valuable.

“Every person is born in the image of God,” says Cynthia Nicholson, a licensed professional counselor. “The sanctity of life is foundational to every individual on the planet. Unfortunately sin entered, and victimizers have damaged the identity of the individual. Aguas de Sanidad conferences restore that identity back to what God originally intended it to be.”

“We have a Savior who says, ‘I understand your questions, and I’m not intimidated by your anger,’ ” West says. “ ‘If you let Me, I’ll walk with you, and I’ll help you make sense of this mess, and I’ll heal you.’”

JENNIFER McCLURE is technical editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.
AGTV video interview with Renay West

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