“I never thought I’d be in this place…preparing to set forth a real new plan for our church, of hope and healing for women.”
“This place” for Damaris (pronounced Dah-mah-reese) Chatas is Horizon Christian Fellowship East in El Cajon, where she is Director of Women’s Counseling Ministry. To look at her is to see a vibrant, enthusiastic woman with enormous energies all directed toward serving God.
It hasn’t always been that way. When Damaris became a Christian on Dec. 14, 1985, her life of addiction to drugs and alcohol was made worse by serious marital abuse and memories of childhood sexual abuse. She was the mother of a two-year-old son.
“I became a Christian,” she says, “at the lowest depth of my life.”
At first she rejected her friend Christine’s attempt to present the claims of Jesus Christ, claims that she shrugged off as “fantasy.”
“There’s only one way out,” Christine told Damaris, “and that’s Jesus Christ.”
Eventually Damaris’ marriage became so violent that “there was really only one choice. Either I was going to kill myself, or I was going to try this fantasy.”
Her prayer that day was simply, “Lord if You’re real, help me!” In the 11 years since, God “has worked with me, and I have worked with Him.”
She began trying to restore her marriage and even bore a second child, daughter Ericka, in 1987.
The abuse only worsened. Finally, in 1990, Damaris knew she had to get out of the situation to insure the safety of her children and herself.
At that time, she says, “The Lord reached into my life in a very powerful way and rescued me and my children…I did not have the strength, but God had phenomenal strength.”
The next two years were a time for painful healing, counseling, and getting a degree in nursing to support herself and her children.
“Many days,” she says, “I thought I’d never get better.”
A major challenge was dealing with the childhood sexual abuse, which had gone on to the age of 13 and were committed by a member of her extended family. Finally, 25 years after the abuse ended, Damaris was able to put her arms around the perpetrator of the abuse and say, “I love you, and I forgive you.”
The result for Damaris was instant freedom from bondage to what she calls the “life dominating sin” of unforgiveness.
Though the life of her former husband, now living in northern California, has continued in an ever-downward spiral, she allows her children, Ricky, 13, and Ericka, 11, closely-supervised time with him. She feels only compassion for him and a desire to see him recognize Christ as “the only way” — just as she did.
“I’ve experienced both – forgiveness and unforgiveness,” says Damaris. She laughs and adds, “Forgiveness is so much easier to live with.”
As Damaris was dealing with these difficult issues, God led her to Skyline Wesleyan Church in Spring Valley. In time, she became involved with women’s leadership, using her experiences to help others.
Next, God’s path for Damaris led her to Horizon Christian Fellowship East, where she told Senior Pastor Mike Burns of her deep desire to minister to hurting women. He showed her entries in his prayer journal where he had prayed for someone to come to lead just such a ministry. Before placing her into leadership, he sent Damaris for counseling training at Horizon Bible Institute in Clairemont.
Now, at Horizon East, Damaris heads up a team of 18 lay counselors, many of whom are former victims in their area of expertise. She accepts no pay for her services.
“This is a ministry that wants to help women,” says Damaris. “All kinds if women. Women who don’t know Jesus, women who do know Jesus, who are dealing with terrible issues. There’s only one way, like my girlfriend told me years ago, and we want to show them that way.”
Peggy Leslie of El Cajon is a freelance writer.
Horizon East hosting “For Women Only” symposium
Under the leadership of Damaris Chatas, Director of Women’s Counseling Ministry, Horizon Christian Fellowship East is hosting its first annual “For Women Only” symposium on Oct. 26, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the church. Facilities are located at 2990 Jamacha Road, El Cajon, at the junction of Jamacha and Campo roads.
Keynote speaker will be Dr. Lee Hannah, Ph.D., director of Oasis Counseling. The following workshops will be offered: Domestic Violence, Sexual Abuse, Grief Recovery, Singles and Sexuality, Teenage Rebellion, Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome, and Your Identity in Christ.
Cost for the symposium is $15 pre-registration by phone, or $20 at the door.
For further information, call 670-4312.