Note from the Editor: Today, we have the opportunity to hear from Kiara Howerzyl on topics that are both relevant to many and deeply touching, too. It’s a three-in-one; you’ll find it very much worth the read. Kiara and Rob Hedrick are on the cusp of announcing a Jiu-Jitsu self defense ministry for women at Roosevelt, and we’ll also hear from Rob in the weeks to come. A more formal announcement with ministry details is forthcoming. For now, Kiara has graciously shared info for our regular Getting-To-Know-You feature, followed by a sermon reflection that is personal but universal too. Finally, we conclude with a piece she wrote in 2007 when she was preparing to travel to Congo with Mending the Soul Ministries. Thank you, Kiara! — JB
Getting to Know Kiara Howerzyl
Where did you grow up and how did you end up here?
I was born and raised here in Phoenix, Arizona.
What’s your job?
I’m blessed to have two jobs that I love, and both focus on empowering people to live their best lives.
1 – Our kids’ tough beginnings inspired me to find ways to reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals and support our immune systems naturally. Tackling these issues has been hugely impactful for our family, and over time this led to me teaching educational classes online and in person with a focus on helping people make similar life changes.
2 – I’m a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu self-defense instructor at Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Phoenix. Learning self-defense changed my life, and when I discovered how much I enjoy helping new students see what they are capable of, my instructor challenged me to become a certified instructor through Gracie University: https://graciejiujitsuphoenix.com. I hope you’ll come in and take some free classes!
Why are you at Roosevelt?
As a foster and adoptive family, we were looking for a diverse church community where each of our children would see themselves reflected in the leadership and in the families around them. When we visited RCC, it was refreshing to see that how we grew our family was not unusual, and this was impactful for us! Everywhere else we had visited, people pointed out that we were an adoptive family and spoke as if we were amazing for growing our family this way. Although well-intentioned and meant to be encouraging and accepting, we wanted to be somewhere that that was not a focus… somewhere we could just be a family.
How long have you been here?
Our family came to Roosevelt Community Church in 2014, after Kineo, a small community church we were attending, closed down.
How long have you been a Christian?
I asked the Lord into my heart when I was 3. He became more real to me throughout high school.
What are your hobbies?
I love jiu-jitsu, trail running, and rare trips away with Andy.
Name two things on your bucket list.
I would love to return to Scotland. My mom is from Glasgow, and I grew up visiting family there regularly. It’s been 20 years since I’ve been back! Gracie University hosts a 4-day Jiu-Jitsu Lifestyle Summit every year, and that is definitely on my bucket list.
What is your favorite book? (I really dislike these types of questions. Lol)
I’m usually in the middle of several books on Audible as well as a stack on the bedside table. Topics – health & nutrition, parenting struggling kids, Christian life, jiu-jitsu, business & personal development, etc.
What is your favorite movie?
I don’t have a top favorite, but one I recently enjoyed was The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind on Netflix. Powerful, emotional, and thought-provoking.
Sunday Sermon Reflection, 5/03/20
It’s just past 10 am. I rush around helping the little girls figure out breakfast, grinding coffee, tidying the kitchen, with the worship service on in the background. Some of us are singing. Others are interrupting, wanting to play out front or eat something else. I take a deep breath and try to hide my irritation, reminding them I’m “at church.” Andy will watch the service with them when he returns from cycling, but I have a jiu-jitsu instructor meeting and won’t be available, so I am watching while doing life as a busy mom of five.
As I finish up in the kitchen so I can listen more closely to the sermon, I notice something. I want to listen, want to feel connected to our church community, even during this time when we cannot be together in person. I want to experience this service live, knowing others are watching with me, not watch the replay later. That has not always been the case for me. Not by a long shot.
Worship ends. Vermon prays, and his words affirm my desire to acknowledge that we’re all walking this road together, even while we’re apart.
Our passage today is from Ephesians, and speaks to God’s glory and how He breaks down the walls between us, creating new life in us and connections between us. It speaks to the potential for what He can and will do through the church community when we are in unity and live for Him.
Vermon speaks boldly, “Imagine more! Ministries that are not limited by the size of our church, that reach those who are not normally reached. Ministries that speak to the issues of our day — issues that people don’t want to talk about, are afraid to talk about…”
My thoughts instantly move to a passion that God brought out of the darkest and most painful times in my life. Learning self defense changed my life. God used it as a powerful agent of healing, as well as a way to connect deeply with others. Tears come to the surface as I think about how much life has changed for me and how deep this runs, but I quickly brush them away, not wanting my kids to notice.
My mind drifts back..
Sexual abuse in the church, as a young teen.
Silenced by my pastor and his adult son, my abuser.
Deep and overwhelming darkness.
Pleading with God, “Help me to believe that You are who you say You are.”
My closed off heart and broken spirit coming back to life. Redemption.
A deep desire to have my experiences and story of redemption used for His glory.
Learning to connect authentically within a church community — a long journey. An important journey.
Still, the temptation to hide. PTSD that at times leads me to walk out of a service rather than ask for support.
Slow and steady growth and healing.
Then our city shut down and our church closed its doors. The opportunity arises to meet face-to-face over Zoom, allowing me to connect on a weekly basis when I sometimes struggle with that in-person.
Soon, a women’s self-defense ministry will begin at Roosevelt. Initiated by our leadership, but borne out of my experiences and our combined desire for raw and real connection, emotional and spiritual healing, and relevant ministry that fills a need in our community.
I think of the life-changing confidence that grows through learning how to set and enforce healthy boundaries and defend oneself in real life, and I cannot wait to see the smiles on the faces of the women I will train with at RCC. This opportunity is two long years in the making, but we trust God is directing this path, and our timing, and we cannot wait to see what He has in store for us!
Where is the Hope?
I recently ran across this piece that I wrote in my journal several years ago, as I processed a conversation that weighed heavy on me for several weeks. It is a powerful precursor to so much that God is doing in my life now. Coming alongside pastors who want to ensure their church is a safe place, sharing my personal story and educational material in Dr. Steve Tracy’s Biblical Sexuality course at Phoenix Seminary, discovering jiu-jitsu when my abuser was released from prison and PTSD was at an all-time high, becoming a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu self-defense instructor, and starting a self-defense class at RCC in the near future.
For context: Hirss was a college exchange student who we connected with when someone from our adoption community learned he was struggling deeply with culture shock, could no longer pay for school, and was terribly isolated. We felt led to walk alongside him, and do life with him, so we encouraged him to move out of his apartment and stay with our family for a few weeks. He then lived with my parents for several months, and they worked tirelessly to find a way to fly him back home to his family, in Congo.
October 14, 2007
The house was quiet, and Hirss and I talked as we cleaned the kitchen. Night had fallen, and the children were in bed. Andy had to work late that night. As we washed the dishes, we talked about cultural differences between Congo and America. We talked about education, traditions, and how family culture differs between here and his home country. After a while, we landed on the difficult subject of abuse.
Hirss knows that I am involved with Mending the Soul Ministries and that for weeks I have been praying about going to Congo with the Tracys next summer, to serve on their team ministering to abuse survivors and training the pastors and leaders who care for them. He knows that God is working powerfully through the ministry and that the need in Congo is great. I long to understand more about the needs there and how they can be filled.
I asked how his cousin is doing, and how she has coped with being raped a few years back, during the war. He explained that it’s basically a women’s issue and the men don’t talk about it with the women, but she seems to be doing alright. He went on to explain that she has a son from the rape, and he is around 9 or 10 years old. She would like to get married and have a family, but that will probably never happen, and that is difficult for her. When you have gone through what she has, you do not have the opportunity to marry. Every guy she meets learns what happened to her and finds an excuse to leave. This doesn’t surprise Hirss – it seems that is typical. He explained that rape is such an issue that girls are raised from a young age to know it is their responsibility to avoid getting raped. I am sure I looked absolutely shocked at this. How can that be? How has his cousin dealt with this, having been raped at gunpoint in front of her family? He said that is just the way it is, and that much needs to change. His cousin is the same age as me, so this story hit close to home.
I asked him what happens when someone is abused in other ways – is it the same? He wasn’t even sure what I meant by other kinds of abuse, and I tried to explain. It seems that abuse is not really acknowledged. Physical discipline, for example, is routinely harsh, demeaning, and leaves visible marks on a child, but it is not considered abusive. He waited for me to explain my question, and finally I asked, “Well, what if someone is sexually molested?” and he said, “Oh, that is considered worse than rape. And people will question if you are telling the truth – after all, you are only a child and they will believe the adults.”
I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach. I felt emotional, heavy, sad. I became silent and withdrawn, unsure of what to say in response. Hirss knows I was abused in some way and that God has brought great healing and peace into my life, but I was not ready to share my story, my personal experience with pain and healing, when I was feeling this new pain so vividly on behalf of my sisters in Africa. I apologized for withdrawing and said I’d like to talk more another time.
I went to bed early. I laid there, quiet, remembering so well the pain and hopelessness I felt when I wasn’t believed and protected. The darkness felt heavy. I thought about how it is excruciatingly hard to expose abuse, particularly if you are the victim. When your culture dictates that you are not likely to be believed, and you will probably lose the opportunity to marry and have a family if you admit you were abused, the motivation to hide what has happened to you is even greater.
It has been 2 or 3 weeks since we talked, and still this conversation weighs heavily on me. Where is the hope for these children? For these women of all ages who carry dark secrets of what was done to them? What burdens they must carry.
I think about how blessed I am. I have a voice. I have been freed! The chains of the past sometimes cling to me, wishing to shackle me once more, but I am stronger now. I know how to throw them aside. I have been empowered, and blessed with incredible support in my life – people who have walked alongside me in the best and worst of times, and love me. People who believe in me and support me when God asks me to sacrifice my comfort for His glory by giving up my privacy and sharing my story with others.
But I cannot forget that if I were in Congo, I would either be silent still, dying inside, or I would have spoken up and lost my chance at marriage, at family, at the beautiful blessings I so often take for granted.
I must share my story. I am compelled to speak up and let others know they are not alone. I must tell them that it can be different. Husbands can patiently endure the valleys and painful brokenness their wives must walk through, and see hope and beauty blossom in their life as they heal. Leaders can believe and protect. Churches can be safe havens where broken people find healing.
Lord, please give me the opportunity to share hope.