Bringing Healing the Wounded Heart Conference to Wisconsin

Wounded Heart

Last November, we were thrilled to visit Manitowoc, Wisconsin for our Healing the Wounded Heart conference. Here, Autumn Bosch, Director of Group Counseling and Training at Faith Church Manitowoc, writes about how their church of about 500 people rallied around the cause of speaking truth and hope to survivors of trauma and abuse.

We had the opportunity to hold a Healing the Wounded Heart conference at our church last year in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. That may not be impressive to the reader who is used to living in a metropolitan area. Manitowoc is located on the rocky coastal shores of Lake Michigan. It is a small industrial town with a population of around 35,000 people. It is a town that has had opportunity for growth, but has never been able to grow beyond that mark for the past few decades. You may recall in the media of late the controversial Netflix show on Steven Avery, Making a Murderer. Yup—that’s Manitowoc.

The journey to bring Healing the Wounded Heart conference to Manitowoc began in the setting of the Lay Counseling Certificate training I received through The Allender Center in 2013-14. At the end of our training, we were challenged to dream and step into the redemptive parts of our story. My dream to bring the conference here to Manitowoc was really just a dream, I thought. Fast forward a year and, after many conversations and much prayer, our church community and leadership were on board. That year of preparation and prayer is worth a written paper of its own, but I’d like to tell you about the path the Lord led us down as a church.

Our little church of around 500 people has been slowly building a lay counseling ministry to our hurting community. The majority of women that come to me for counseling have a history of abuse, and I have used the book The Wounded Heart in my work with these women for years. It has proven to be simultaneously the most hated and loved book these women have ever worked through, and my heart would sink each time we contemplated having this conference in a larger church in a different community. If we held the conference in a larger city with easier accessibility and a larger attendance base, the very people who we desired to reach would not have the means to attend the conference. We knew after prayer and a battle that we had to risk the possibility of failure. The whole reason we desired this particular conference was for the particular needs we face at Faith Church Manitowoc.

We developed a prayer team, knowing that the spiritual battle would be great. The message Dan brings, one of hope and restoration with love, is hated by the enemy. In the first months the oppression began with distractions and heartache for both our Pastor of Adult Discipleship and myself. The weight and magnitude of the message to be brought was felt on a personal level. But the prayer team would pray and we would persevere.

The weight and magnitude of the message to be brought was felt on a personal level.

The cost of the conference was too much for a small church to come up with. Did I mention that we are a small community without a lot of resources for financial buffer? Yeah. That actually was one of the main concerns for us as we began this endeavor. What if we can’t make the financial commitment? Considering that the men and women we needed to attend this conference would not be able to afford the ticket price, we knew that we would also have to give a lot of scholarships. But we pressed on.

Our Marketing Team helped to spread the word and do mailings, and we began to see the attendance grow. Our hope grew and our hearts were encouraged. People began signing up. Our mentor church, Christ the Rock in Appleton, was a huge help to us through the process. They had made this commitment before with The Allender Center and knew the Wisconsin terrain well. They encouraged us and came alongside our marketing by connecting us with resources and spreading the word as well.

Our Senior Pastor had asked the question at our staff meeting, “What sermon series would be helpful to lead us up to the Healing the Wounded Heart conference?” It was a good question. What topic would be helpful for our little congregation to hear in preparation for the word being brought by Dan? We settled on the “hot” topic of sexuality through the eyes of Solomon. Song of Solomon it was! It was a gutsy and heroic move on the part of our Pastor. Gutsy, I say, because there was a contingent of people who boycotted the series, believing that the pulpit should not be used to talk about sexual things. (Right. Did I mention the evil one was working full speed leading up to the conference?) The battle was intense at times, and there were moments when I wanted to give up. But the Lord would encourage at just the right moments, and we would see an unexpected blessing around each hesitation.

As we entered the last week before the conference, we hit our goal. With more than 250 attendees, we were able to seat everyone comfortably in our sanctuary of 400. It was an intimate atmosphere, and because our church is located on the southern end of the city, we were able to offer plenty of dining places, as well as a lakeshore of walking trails for the hearty of heart to walk, run, think, and pray.

Because we are a smaller congregation, we saw our people come together to serve those coming into our church. Our hospitality team not only served the participants snacks, water, and nutrition in between sessions, but they offered their kindness and care. It was an intimate experience from the moment they walked into the church until the time they left.

We saw our people come together to serve those coming into our church.

Dan brought his message of hope for the hurting. Those who attended were largely made up of those already in the helping field. They were lay counselors, social workers, psychologists, nurses, and doctors. However, many were there who heard for the first time the message from Dan that there is intimacy along with hope that Jesus desires as he pursues their broken hearts.

Upon leaving the conference, a local social worker came up to me and thanked me for having the courage to hold this conference. She herself was not a believer, but came anyway to see if the message received would help her with the people who were believers that she worked with. She told me that what Dan offered at the conference was life-changing for her, that she once again had hope for the faith community and her clients, and that healing can happen within the faith context. A psychologist friend of mine said after the conference, “You know, I will never be the same again! This conference has changed my life and the way I practice!”

As I reflect on the impact that this conference has had, I think that we are still feeling the effects in our lay counseling ministry as well as within our church. Awareness has increased, and eyes have been opened to the idea that harm happens to all of us, not just the sexually and physically abused. Eyes have been opened to the idea that kindness kills shame and contempt, and contempt polarizes and cripples the work of the Cross.

If you are considering hosting a Healing the Wounded Heart conference, I encourage you and your community to dream together about making it happen. It’s hard, it’s messy, and it just might be the most impactful, hopeful conference that this world needs to hear.

Autumn has been attending Faith Church Manitowoc with her family since 2001. She was involved teaching bible studies and leading Women’s Ministry before she joined the Counseling ministry in 2009, where she now works as Director of Group Counseling and Training. She is a Professional Christian Life Coach and completed the Lay Counseling Certificate through The Allender Center. Autumn’s heart and passion is to help men and women understand their story and how it impacts their current relationships through counseling, teaching, and leading groups.