By Kelly Dickey
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — Gathered in the pews of an old brick church, it doesn’t matter to the young girls that it’s a Friday night. It doesn’t matter what the rest of their friends might be doing. It doesn’t even matter that they can’t take off their coats because of a broken furnace.
What matters to the group of 9- to 25-year-olds is God, self-esteem and abstinence.
That’s why they gather twice a month at Restoration Fellowship Ministries at 1207 W. 9th St.
For almost three years, the church has tried to be a safe haven for local girls to talk about issues adolescents face.
Desion Hunter said she started Daughters of Destiny and Rubies and Pearls after moving to Anderson from Houston. She noticed a high number of local youth becoming pregnant and contracting sexually transmitted diseases, and low support and resources for them.
“We do teach the girls to be abstinent,” she said. “Living in the real world, that may not always happen, but we do try to stress that if you can maintain that, then it will really stop a lot of drama in your life.”
Hunter, known at the church as the "First Lady" or "Prophetess," said the girls usually gather for a while before splitting into two groups. Girls aged 9 to 16 years old go to a “Daughters of Destiny” group, while girls 17 to 25 years old are considered “Rubies and Pearls.”
Both sets are encouraged to sign abstinence contracts and attend an eight-month purity class, Hunter said. The Rubies and Pearls get purity rings after they sign the contract and graduate.
“The purity program is one of my big things,” Hunter said.
Abstinence-only programs have long been controversial. Opponents often argue it’s unrealistic to expect teens to wait to have sex before marriage, and that they’re missing out on valuable health information.
A 2007 federal report showed that abstinence-only programs had no effect on abstinence rates. Other studies have shown people who go through abstinence-only programs simply delay having sex and are less likely to use contraception.
Hunter said she knows teens have that desire. Some of the girls already have sexual histories, and Hunter tells them if they absolutely can’t resist, to use protection. But abstinence remains their safest bet.
And the program is much more than encouraging young girls to wait. Both groups work on self-esteem, life skills and healing through God.
Since the girls talk about their personal issues and experiences, everyone has to sign a confidentiality agreement in an effort to prevent gossip and rumors. If anything leaves the group, those responsible will get one warning before getting kicked out.
A typical night starts with both sets praying and talking together. Then they divide into their respective groups.
Daughters of Destiny tend to talk more about bullying, while the older group tends to deal with more mature themes openly, like relationships and sex.
During their Feb. 28 meeting, six Rubies and Pearls gathered in the office of the church to discuss sexual weakness, the deception of comparing oneself to other women and relationship expectations.
While going over review questions from a book they’re reading, “Every Single Woman’s Battle,” Hunter asked the teens their thoughts on the book’s assertion that Jesus sympathizes with every weakness.
“It makes me feel stronger because I know that I don’t have to give up because He’s still there regardless of my struggle,” one girl said. “So it gives me strength, actually, to keep pushing forward.”
One girl asked how to find a balance between showing enough affection without giving in to temptation. A peer responded by encouraging her to set boundaries early.
Peer conversations about relationships are therapeutic for a lot of the girls.
“Sometimes when you’re in relationships, you don’t realize when it’s time to let go of a person,” one girl advised during the meeting.
Hunter said the girls’ biggest struggle is with self-confidence. If teenagers don’t know or aren’t comfortable with themselves, they’ll find someone who will tell them who they are.
“Self harm (doesn’t) come from just you cutting yourself,” Hunter said. “Self harm can also come (from) what you’re allowing, what you’re saying to your own self.”
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