Eastern student, Rachel Driscoll, isn’t just an excellent student academically and pastorally, she’s a dedicated mother of three, a long-term critical care nurse, has participated in mission work in Fiji and is a key member of her church’s pastoral and preaching team.
She’s also extremely courageous.
Rachel has faced down several serious health challenges over the years, including several major surgeries and a fall from her horse that caused significant injury to her sacrum, hip and spleen. Yet she overcame these obstacles to finish her studies and return to work in critical-care COVID wards, wearing obstructive PPE in a time that was particularly challenging for ICU nurses.
Rachel’s courage is only matched by her compassion. When she sees a need, she jumps in and does something about it.
As a lifelong learner, Rachel was considering the possibility of study when she attended an MST/ Eastern Open Day with her son. Even though she only went to support her son, Rachel became captivated by the idea of the Community Counselling Master’s Degree, having seen great needs both in her church and at work in the ICU.
She wasn’t sure if she should study a course at that level—it was a major undertaking— but after talking with her family and bathing the decision-making process in prayer, she jumped in and embraced the challenge.
As part of her degree, Rachel undertook a remarkable research project aimed at transforming the lives of Fijian women experiencing intimate partner abuse.
Rachel and her husband have visited Fiji several times on mission trips and her husband raises funding for Fiji every year. Her daughter has also been on a mission trip. While ministering among Fijian women over the years, Rachel came to the realisation that three-in-four were in abusive intimate partner relationships. She also realised that this abuse was embedded not only in cultural norms but in a misunderstanding of the scriptures.
Her first reaction was to want to rescue women from these situations and get them out of abusive relationships. However, she discovered this would have devastating consequences for these women. In Fiji, if a woman leaves her husband, she shames her entire village and her culture. A woman can’t leave her husband without bringing shame to everybody.
Rachel’s idea was to help these women understand their true identity using cultural metaphors and narrative therapy. Rachel found images within Fijian culture that she could use to talk about the migration of identity. Then she incorporated theological teachings on the culture of God’s kingdom, versus the Fijian cultural model.
Just as fish migrate among the many islands that make up Fiji, so the identity of the women could move from a place of shame to a place of knowing who they are in God.
“It was really about looking at the difference between what God says about the culture of his kingdom as opposed to their culture,” Rachel says. “It was looking at how their culture perpetuates intimate partner violence and helping these women go on a migration from a shame-bound identity to know who they really are in God–and find freedom.”
Rachel’s hypothesis was that if women could find hope in their journey, it would minimise the risk of extreme despair, and a poor sense of self and personal failure. This could help build better and more preferred identities and a sense of worth, which could be the foundation of culturally-acceptable change.
While a misunderstanding of scripture and patriarchal authority perpetuated the violence, women with genuine faith had greater resilience in the face of the abuse. Rachel’s program aimed at correcting the misunderstanding.
Rachel had been asked to be the key speaker at a four-day women’s conference in Fiji when COVID got in the way.
“I had based my major project and my research around the fact that I was going to Fiji and then, a month before I was to fly out, we were locked down with the first round of COVID. I couldn’t get to Fiji, but God was so good to me anyway in giving me everything I needed to prepare this program.”
Rachel has made the program she created into a book and says it has application for all women, not just those in Fijian culture.
While Rachel hopes she can get to Fiji again, she has recently established her own counselling practice in her local community. She’s currently doing this one day a week, but she expects business to grow as the need is great. She’s very proud to be an example to her children, who are also courageously following God and loving others.
Rachel’s advice to mature-age students who are considering studying is to not hesitate.