By Todd Outcalt

This past July, I had the opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico on a mission trip with 30 other youth and chaperones from our congregation. It was a meaningful experience - full of heart, soul and purpose.

During my week there, I worked in a children's home. This place - enclosed in chain-link fence and padlocked - was a ministry dedicated to helping abused and neglected children of all ages. All of the children there had been physically or sexually abused at some time in their lives, most had been removed from their parents' custody and placed under the care of the dedicated women who cared for these children day-in-and-day-out - not all of whom were paid.

Being with these children for the week was not a discouraging experience. Rather, I was amazed at the willingness of these children to open their hearts, to let us express our love for them, and by the end of the week, we were all in tears when we had to say good-bye.

Puerto Rico, like our country, is a land that struggles with the realities of domestic violence. Here are some sobering facts. A domestic battery occurs every nine seconds in the United States. In the U.S. nearly one in four women has experienced domestic abuse (sexual, emotional, physical). Domestic violence is usually cyclical - with the children of abusive homes growing up to model abuse themselves.

Considering these statistics, it stands to reason that many in our congregations have either been abused, or are currently engaged in abusive relationships. Furthermore, when we preach or teach the Gospel, we are speaking to the real hurts and pains that exist inside the home. In fact, if we are looking to change the church, we might not have to look much further than the home.

Leaving the children's home in Puerto Rico, I was struck by how resilient those children of abuse were - how willing they were to reach out to us for love and acceptance. Most of them also believed in Jesus, and looked to Him for their help and salvation.

My prayer is that we can also share our help, our love and our assistance to those who are being abused, and can find new ways to speak to the violence that exists in many homes.

Todd Outcalt is senior pastor of Calvary United Methodist Church in Brownsburg, Ind.