Graduate shares story of abuse to help others who suffer

When Elizabeth Warren was assisting at a church camp two summers ago, she knew exactly what to say and do for a fourth-grade girl who confided in her about the fights her parents had and the abuse she endured.

“I had this huge emotion come over me because I had my life story coming back to me,” Warren said.  “At 16 years old, I looked and said, ‘I have been through the same thing and you are not alone.’ She didn’t have a Bible; I ended up giving her my personal Bible to take home with her.”

Warren, a senior at Sacred Heart School in Morrilton, plans to take her life experiences — good and bad — and become a Presbyterian minister.

“I believe the things I’ve been through help me to have the outlook or wisdom or experience to help other people, whether they’re younger than me or older than me,” Warren said.

For the past seven years, Warren has lived a safe life with her grandparents Gordon and Jo Warren, both ministers at Trinity Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Morrilton. In eighth grade, she began attending Sacred Heart School.  

“In religion class or even at the lunch table, we’ll be talking about one topic and four or five different views of what people believe in other denominations,” Warren said. “I have more confidence and strength to talk about Christ with other people.” 

Active in her church ministry, Warren said she enjoys preaching, particularly on Corinthians — “I love preaching on love” — helping at church camps and organizing mission trips. Last June, she organized a trip to the Choctaw Presbytery in Oklahoma to help fix up the small church and minister to the children, including one special 9-year-old boy.

“He had never played with anyone older because everyone was so mean to him” because of his weight and lower-income family, she said. “… That really broke my heart.”

Children like this, she said, touch her heart because of her own rough childhood. At 5 years old her parents divorced after her father physically abused her and her two older siblings.  

In the midst of everything, her mother, Shelley, was battling cervical cancer.

“She was in a wheelchair, couldn’t walk, couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom at night. Couldn’t fold a basket of towels,” Warren said.

Shelley died Jan. 12, 2008, when Warren was just 9 years old. The loss hit her more as she grew. 

“We had a fifth-grade homecoming dance. My aunt helped me do my hair and make-up. Then I got to the dance with the moms and daughters taking pictures. As I started to get older it hit me I was never going to have that,” Warren said through tears. “Those life-changing moments with your mom I wouldn’t have.”

Her father remarried later that month and was given full custody. The abuse continued and when she was 11, Warren escaped the home with her stepsister and finally was able to tell police her father had also sexually abused her since she was 7 years old.

“When the abuse got worse … I kind of turned away from God. I started to believe he wasn’t real or wasn’t there or he wouldn’t let such things happen to a 10- or 11-year-old little girl. I didn’t want to get up in the mornings and go to church,” she said. “I had to get up and go to school and when I got home automatically he’d expect me to come into his room. And God didn’t matter to me anymore.”

He pleaded guilty and is a registered sex offender. Warren has a restraining order against him.

“The exact prayer I was asking for for so long had been answered, and I think that was a huge turning point for me,” she said.

In the fall, Warren will attend Bethel University in McKenzie, Tenn., to study psychology and Christian education. She then plans to attend Memphis Theological Seminary to become an ordained minister who will one day work in missions overseas.

“One thing I push so much is all things happen for a reason,” Warren said. “I honestly wouldn’t change one thing that’s happened to me in my whole life.”

Aprille Hanson Spivey

Aprille Hanson Spivey has contributed to Arkansas Catholic as a freelancer and associate editor since 2010. She leads the Beacon of Hope grief ministry at St. Joseph Church in Conway.

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