Fact-ional Christianese Marriage Menders

Pastors, Christian counselors, Christian friends and family members are steeped in a system that has for centuries valued the institution of marriage over the lives of the people inside it. Unfortunately, this means when someone reaches the point where they must leave an abusive marriage they invariably face a barrage of well-meaning advice from these individuals who only want to help but have no idea how very much they are hurting.

When you are the one in that place, it can be almost impossible to separate the truth from the fiction. Knowing that your own flesh could lead you astray, you don’t know if you can trust yourself to judge correctly. What if all these voices are right and you are wrong after all?

I have started compiling this document using some of the things people have sent me that they are being told or that I remember being told. I am keeping it in my articles in the left sidebar and will add to this as new things are sent to me. All items added to the list will be de-personalized – no names or personal information will be included.

PEOPLE SAY: God is a God of redemption. (Implying God wants to redeem this marriage from ruin.)

TRUTH: – yes, God is a redeemer! God redeemed me out of my abusive marriage and has given me a life of peace. He has become my husband (Isaiah 54) and provider until such time as He may choose to provide me with another human one. He is an awesome Redeemer!

PEOPLE SAY: God wants this marriage to work.

TRUTH: – but He won’t force anyone to change against their will because He made man with a free will to choose to disobey. And when Israel insisted on disobedience, God divorced her.

PEOPLE SAY: Miracles are possible.

TRUTH: – for those who believe and obey. But if one party doesn’t want to obey, no miracle will follow. And this isn’t a “miracle” case anyway. This is a case of disobedience or obedience. God is not going to reach down with a magic wand and fix it. He wants repentance and radical obedience – the hard stuff, not fairy fixes.

Pastors and churches love to believe in miracle fixes for marital discord. That’s pure bunk and emotionally manipulative sermon illustrations. When a spouse is walking in sin they don’t need a miracle. They need to repent and work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.

PEOPLE SAY: Your husband has realized his sin and is working on it.

TRUTH: – big secret here for the fully initiated: disobedient spouses always “realize their sin and work on it” when their spouse finally has had enough and leaves. Occasionally this is actually a genuine wake-up call and the repentance and change are true. Usually they are not. They are a manipulative gesture only. And pastors, churches, family and friends always fall for the manipulative gesture – always.

In fact, if this has been a seriously long-term issue, with many artificial repentances and returns to previous behavior, and the wife has reached the point of seeking a divorce, as I did, my answer to this was — if he is truly repentant he will correct his behavior and demonstrate his repentance in spite of our divorce because it is right, and reconciliation can take place later. There was nothing in the world to stop us from remarrying. But that would surely be a test of his sincerity. Sure enough, he stopped fighting me for custody and started pushing for our divorce to be finalized 8 or 9 months into the process because he had found someone he wanted to date (his fight was what was slowing the process down). He remarried 10 months after our divorce was finalized. He had no serious interest in, or intention of, reconciliation.

Some ways you can see through a repentance if it is fake:

Has he repented publically, telling everyone openly exactly what he has done to you and the children privately? Has he openly told people exactly how he has mistreated you? Most of the time they don’t do this; they will manage to save face and avoid actually telling the depth of what they have done because it would ruin their squeaky-clean image. Or they will only tell one or two individuals whom they know will never let it get out, but who will reveal there has been a “big confession” to go with that repentance to prove it is genuine – more image projection. This is a big sign it is not real.

Is he willing to accept all consequences for his behavior, including a lengthy separation, personal counseling for his behavior, not marriage counseling (because the problem isn’t the marriage, it is within him), even including a divorce if that is what happens, accepting that it is the consequence of his behavior? Is he willing to publically acknowledge this to family, friends and church?

Is he willing to submit to on-going accountability on a long-term basis for his private behavior, and allow you to report to his accountability partners about whether he is continuing in obedience?

Does his repentance have “cracks” in it? In other words, an insincere repentance is short-lived and generally has the purpose of manipulating the other spouse back into the relationship and manipulating the viewing audience onto his “side” of the issue. So the repentance may be one face in public and disappear in private with just you. Or it may be “sincere” until it doesn’t get what it wants and then slivers of the old person are visible when no one else can see.

PEOPLE SAY: God is about forgiveness and restoration.

TRUTH: – and He is also equally about justice, and standing up for the abused, and setting at liberty those who are bound, and hating treachery (Mal 2 – husbands who do violence to their marriage covenant), and believers judging the verbal abuser in the church and putting him out of fellowship (I Cor. 5:11), and I could go on and on. It is wrong to pick out two attributes of God to manipulate you – that is a sure indicator of condemnation and judgment that are not from God!

PEOPLE SAY: The marriage is sacred.

TRUTH: – now where exactly is that in the Bible? I don’t remember reading that translation. The verse they think they are quoting is Heb. 13:4 –

Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.

That verse means something entirely different than “marriage is sacred.” Marriage is honorable and fornication and adultery are not – plain and simple. The verse is a comparison – not a statement of the sacredness of marriage.

Life is sacred. God is sacred. His Word is sacred. My body is the temple of the Lord, as is yours. Surely the temple of the Lord is a sacred place.

And when an abuser constantly abuses that body with his words, he is literally killing you, the temple of God. Now that is a violation of what God holds sacred. Death and life are in the power of the tongue and science is proving that is true. I’ve had breast cancer. Do you need to wait until you come face to face with a literal, physical death? Because it will happen – the Word says so. It is only a matter of time.

PEOPLE SAY: You are one flesh. God says not to separate what He has joined together.

TRUTH: – this is one of my favorites! Yes! God said that! I wish the church would stand up and fight over this one! Because it is not the party who gets a legal document for protection who has done the separating – it is the party who has been doing violence to the marriage covenant day in and day out for years who has been tearing apart that one flesh relationship and has already thoroughly separated it. But the church wants to point the finger and lay the blame on the wrong shoulders! Mal. 2:13-17 describes this very well.

PEOPLE SAY: It takes two to make a marriage and it take two to break a marriage.

TRUTH: That’s a really cute saying but it’s a bunch of horse do-do. It takes two to make a marriage work but one person can destroy it single-handedly.

Saying it takes two people to break a marriage is as logical as saying it requires the collusion of both people for one spouse to murder the other. Proverbs says a foolish woman can tear down her house with her own hands. Surely a foolish man can do the same.

PEOPLE SAY: God hates divorce.

TRUTH: – this is from Mal. 2 and it is a mis-translation. The original language says God hates putting away and it is referring to men who abandoned their legal wives without giving them a certificate of divorce, leaving them without any provision or protection in a society where women were chattel and the property of men. These women were then not free to remarry so they were literally abandoned to be prey to the first man who came along to rape and pillage them. The statement that God hates divorce is one of the most common wrong teachings on marriage in the modern Christian church. God didn’t say that!

A possible alternate translation could be that these men did legally divorce their wives, though the word used is one which does not always mean a legal divorce, but that these divorces were without cause – treacherous divorces as the context plainly states.

In either case, God condemns the actions of these men for their treachery and for putting away. God’s focus is on their treachery and the violence they have done to their covenant relationship – not on the divorce itself, since the text does not say God hates divorce. God hates putting away – which transcends divorce, reaching back to the action of separating what God has joined; an action which far predates a legal document. Putting away reaches back to the violation of that one-flesh covenant that is inherent in abuse.

PEOPLE SAY: Think about the damage you’re doing to the kids.

TRUTH: – that’s a hard one because it strikes at the heart of any mother. Teens seem to be particularly hard, but then, I still have yet to deal with what will happen as my daughter gets old enough to truly process her parents’ divorce. But here’s what I see so far in my situation.

I have a 21-year-old son (as of 2008) who grew up as the butt of his father’s physical abuse. He was the primary target, while his younger brother was mostly protected (this is not unusual in an abuse situation – to have a primary target of violence and have one or more others protected). By the time he was 12 and had gained the ability to think abstractly, he figured out he actually hadn’t done anything to deserve to be treated this way and he started to talk and act back to his father in exactly the same way his father treated him.

This, of course, only made it worse for him because his father received this as gross disrespect (which it was). A teenager who swears and hits back is not only offensive to the father, but makes really good fodder to tell other people about when you leave out the part about how many times you have hit the kid and sworn at him first.

This son, naturally, hated church and God because, as he said in his own words, who needs another Father like that?

When I separated from his father when he was 13 he wanted me to get a divorce but I didn’t because of pressure from church – fear of man won that time. When I finally decided to get a divorce when this son was 18 his response was something along the lines of “it’s about time.”

Fortunately, he did accept Christ when he was 17, but he is going to have issues for a lifetime as a result of the abuse he experienced. He refuses to have anything to do with his dad. I had to convince him that he really could not exclude his father from his wedding. Now how’s that for damage?

Then there’s the second son. He was the protected one. He always denied the abuse; always. The next day after an incident, he would deny it had happened. In court, he testified to the judge that there had been no abuse in our home. Yes, he lied. When I asked him about it later, he said he does remember it but he believes I should not have gotten a divorce. I should have had more faith and trusted God.

So I worry about this child who is 19 now (2008). Will he be like his father and be willing to overlook this behavior in himself since he is willing to overlook it in his father? There is definitely damage here.

And lastly there’s my daughter. From the time she was an infant, she was “treated” to the sounds of her father and adult-sized brothers in screaming, swearing, fist-swinging brawls. I would leave the house with her when it happened but that doesn’t mean she didn’t still hear it.

At one point, she was standing at her father’s knees (she adores her father; he is the love of her life) while he was watching TV. Someone interrupted him with a question. He jumped to his feet and started screaming full-force, starting with the F-word. The sight of her shocked face will be forever etched in my mind.

Another vision stamped in my head happened after I had decided to get a divorce but before I left. He was bringing her in from outside and told her to go around the car one way but she went the other way (she had just turned 3). He started screaming at her for it. Not a simple redirection as might be appropriate if it even mattered. But full-on screaming at a 3-year-old for just walking one way when it was in his mind to go a different way – when it didn’t even matter.

Recently she was sick and had nightmares with the fever. In her nightmares, which now have her so terrified she will not sleep in her bed anymore, she says someone is screaming at her but she doesn’t know who it is. I wonder. But she adores her dad and asks frequently why I can’t love her daddy (this is the story he has told her, lovely man that he is). She will probably never understand.

But how much more scarred would she be if I stayed with him? By staying with her father I would also have given her the example of what type of man she should marry and how a man should treat her one day. Is that the life I want for her?

There is NO question in my mind. Not a single glimmer of a doubt. Yes, she is going to suffer because her parents are divorced. But compared to the damage of living with an abuser – no way.

And even for the boys who were adults or nearly so by the time I finally got a divorce – by getting a divorce I have taught them something, if they will choose to receive the lesson. God is a God of righteousness and all the other things I have written above. Those are all good reasons for what I have done – that’s what I want my children to learn by the fact I did get a divorce. Had I understood all this sooner I would have made the choice far sooner. But I didn’t and God gives grace for that, I have to believe.

The fact of the matter is this — the children of an abusive marriage are going to be hurt. It is up to us to choose whether we will have them see God’s truth or see us live a lie.

Patty Wetterling: Make Abuse Your Business!

Patty Wetterling was the guest speaker at the second annual Taking Steps Against Domestic Violence walk to support a violence-free community in Alexandria, MN, which concluded at Calvary Lutheran Church.

According to the linked article, Wetterling believes that domestic abuse – whether to children, women or men – should be everyone’s business. People should stand up and say no, she said. They should make it their business.

“Nobody deserves to get beaten,” she stated.

Wetterling shared a story of when she was a teacher and how one of her students talked about her family and how she “hated” them. Wetterling talked with a colleague who said the girl had a tendency to lie and make up stories and that Wetterling probably shouldn’t believe what she was saying.

The next week, the girl came to school with a black eye.

Wetterling said she took the girl and together, they walked over to the other staff person and Wetterling said, “I believe what she is saying.”

Another story she shared was when she took a human relations class and a woman talked about how she had been abused and how, at the time, couldn’t leave the relationship.

As she was telling another classmate the story, Wetterling said, “I couldn’t fathom what she was saying. Why she couldn’t leave.”

The classmate turned to Wetterling and said, “I’ll tell you why I stay.”

Wetterling told the group that once again, she was shocked, and just like with her student, questioned why she couldn’t see what was happening around her.

“How could I not see this?” she said of what was happening with her classmate.

Instead of people not being engaged in other people’s lives, Wetterling believes that people need to connect on a deeper level.

People need to rally around all the children in their lives, all the women in their lives and all the men in their lives.

“We need to be vigilant against these types of crime,” she said. “People need to believe in the fact that they are human and don’t deserve to be treated like that.”

Video games, television shows, commercials, movies and the like send wrong messages to children.

Wetterling talked about one video game in particular – Grand Theft Auto – where it’s OK to kill people and to treat women with disrespect.

Unfortunately, she said, video games have a big impact on children, which is why they shouldn’t be subjected to such crude behavior.

At the end of her speech, Wetterling talked about what citizens in communities around the world can do to help combat the issue of domestic abuse and general crime, especially to children.

First off, from a very young age, women and men alike should be told, “You deserve better. Nobody has a right to hurt you. It’s not OK and you need to find help if it happens.”

Community members need to make “it” – violence and abuse – their problem.

People need to become engaged and start paying attention to children more.

People need to become part of the solution, not be a part of the problem.

They should stop using offensive language against women and simply stop degrading women.

Citizens should stand up, not stand by and watch.

And lastly, Wetterling said, “If you are a victim of violence, hold onto your dreams. Don’t give up. Keep up your hopes and dreams and together, we can make a difference – if not in our lives, in the lives of others.”

A huge kudos to Patty Wetterling from me for standing up and speaking out!!! This is what we need – people who will make it their business even when they haven’t had to live the nightmare personally first.

Breaking the Silence – Domestic Violence Handbook from a Spiritual Perspective

Breaking the Silence: The Church Responds to Domestic Violence by Anne O. Weatherholt is a handbook about domestic violence from a spiritual perspective. Here clergy, church leaders, parish nurses, volunteers, and others will learn to recognize the signs of domestic abuse and learn ways that church communities can offer help to those who are caught in abusive relationships.

Anne Weatherholt is an Episcopal priest who has served on the boards of Heartly House Shelter in Frederick, Maryland, and Citizens Assisting to Shelter the Abused (CASA) in Hagerstown, Maryland, and has done staff training on the spiritual side of recovery from domestic violence. She serves on the Family Violence Council of Washington County, Maryland. A chaplain for Maryland State Police, she writes a weekly column for Hagerstown Herald Mail. She has published many articles on the topic of domestic abuse.

Diana Stores – One Woman Making A Difference Against Domestic Violence

I saw this article, courtesy of the Star Tribune, today, and thought it was so appropriate during Domestic Violence Awareness month. For anyone who thinks that one person can’t make a difference, here’s proof to the contrary. Particularly to churches who think their hands are tied, the words I’d like to say aren’t fit to print. I’ve copied just the beginning of the article below. Please take the time to read the entire piece.

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By Jean Hopfensperger

Diane Stores endured a violent relationship with her former husband for more than 20 years, unsure where to turn. A conservative Christian woman, she found that her church didn’t know how to help her and the community services for battered women didn’t feel right.

“Several times I’d leave, but I had nowhere to go so I went back home,” said Stores, of Forest Lake, who said she wanted services that offered not just physical safety, but food for her soul.

That yearning prompted Stores to create the Dwelling Place when she recovered from her abuse. The St. Paul domestic violence shelter holds a unique niche in Minnesota. It is the only faith-based shelter in the state, a place where daily devotions and Bible study are the foundation of recovery, said shelter staff and the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.

This month the Dwelling Place marked its 10th anniversary, with a record of housing more than 1,000 battered women from across Minnesota and the nation. It also offers counseling and referrals to another 1,600 women a year.

Conservative Christian women, in particular, face spiritual obstacles as they grapple with leaving their husbands. Because they don’t want “to put asunder” God’s plan for marriage, said Diane Anderson, the executive director of the organization.

“They [the women] believe God hates divorce, and they believe if they do divorce or leave, they will commit a sin,” Anderson said. “They think they need to stay in the marriage, make it work. I’ve even heard women say, ‘Even if I get murdered, I need to stay in the marriage.’ ”

Understanding that logic, staff members counsel the woman that the sacred covenant of marriage of the Bible is not the same violent relationship they were enduring at home.

“They don’t see that God hates abuse,” Anderson said, “or that the marriage covenant is broken by that treatment…”

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Church Responses to Domestic Violence Awareness Month

This October is the22nd Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and candlelight vigils are being held throughout the month to remember victims of domestic abuse.

Several church groups are actively participating, both in activities during Domestic Violence Awareness month and in domestic violence intervention throughout the year. The linked article gives a brief look at some and I will be looking in more depth at some as well as the month progresses.

Domestic Abuser Database

While there is no way to know to be completely sure if someone you are dating or interested in may have a history as an abuser, there is a website which is compiling a list of known offenders. This list is of individuals who have had a legal restraining order or protective order served against them.

This is not completely fool proof, of course, but it is certainly a lot better than no information at all. I would also encourage anyone who reads this and knows of offenders who should be added to the list to add them! Remember, however, this list is for legally documented offenders only. I know many abusers never are legally found guilty, but without legal documentation, adding someone to such a list becomes legally libelous.

Adventist Church’s Annual Abuse Prevention Day

Today is the Annual Prevention Emphasis Day, and another blogger whose site I enjoy found an article an Adventist News Network that I wanted to share, too, because it serves as an excellent example for other church groups to follow.

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The Adventist Church’s annual Abuse Prevention Emphasis Day, held August 23 this year, is part of a wider effort to curtail abuse within and outside of the church by changing attitudes, says Heather-Dawn Small, Woman’s Ministries director for the world Adventist Church.

Excuses cannot be part of the church’s message against abuse. So says Heather-Dawn Small, the no-nonsense Trinidadian who helps craft the world Seventh-day Adventist Church’s formidable yet sensitive approach to abuse prevention.

Since she began directing Women’s Ministries for the world church in 2001, Small, 50, has fought reluctance by some within the church to admit the reality of abuse. She applauded the church when it voted to add an Abuse Prevention Emphasis Day to its calendar of special Sabbaths, now held the fourth Sabbath of every August. But with local pastors telling her that 70 to 80 percent of their home counseling focuses on domestic abuse, she says the remaining 364 days are just as vital.

Given her ambitious travel schedule, luckily the former director of Children’s and Women’s Ministries for the church in the Caribbean is fond of flying. But helping church members respect each other and become partners in the church’s ministry is what propels her.

In the run-up to the church’s seventh annual Abuse Prevention Emphasis Day, August 23, Small spoke to ANN about the church’s responsibility to convince every member that abuse is unconscionable, regardless of culture or upbringing. And, she explained that while the church is not equipped to comprehensively handle abuse, it can and should serve as a conduit, connecting abused women to local legal and counseling agencies. Excerpts:

Adventist News Network: Since the Adventist Church established Abuse Prevention Emphasis Day, what specifically has been addressed?

Heather-Dawn Small: We’ve focused on child abuse and domestic violence, particularly spousal abuse, which is a big problem in the church. During the first couple of years, most of what we emphasized was creating an awareness of abuse in general. It’s only in recent years that we’ve begun to deal very specifically with topics, such as Abuse of Power, which is this year’s theme.

ANN: Are your efforts well received?

Small: We’ve generally gotten very good feedback. There are those people who still think, ‘Well, do we really need to handle this in the church?’ or ‘Do we have to bring this up on Sabbath?’ But that attitude is getting rarer. It’s more like it was long overdue that the church would actually have an abuse prevention day and that materials would be provided.

ANN: You travel extensively. Where do you find that the church’s anti-abuse message is best latching on and what tactics seem to be most effective?

Small: I just got back from Uganda and Kenya. In Africa, there is definitely a lot of progress being made. Because of the culture in some of these countries, abuse to some extent is almost regarded as a “right” of the husband. I know in the Caribbean, where I come from, that was a longstanding problem. It isn’t now, but it took years and years to reverse that thinking. In countries where that mindset is still pervasive, the church is partnering with governments and other churches to speak out against it and launch programs that will sweep through the community, not just within the church. It’s more effective than for us to try to do it on our own. If there is a community-based program or government initiative against domestic violence already there, why shouldn’t we join them?

ANN: What would you single out as one of the biggest challenges the church faces in working to end abuse?

Small: There’s very little we can do to immediately change the mindset of the man, and sometimes even the woman. As we keep talking about [abuse prevention], attitudes slowly change. You see, it doesn’t happen overnight. Some people may think, ‘OK, fine, we’ve talked about abuse,’ and then forget about it, but it’s only as we reiterate our message and keep it at the forefront that things begin to change.

ANN: How far-reaching is the church’s message against abuse? Are there limits to what the church can accomplish?

Small: Our goal is to create environments where women feel safe opening up. I think that’s one of the roles that a Women’s Ministries department fills — it’s a place where women can feel safe approaching a leader or another woman and saying, ‘Listen, I have a problem.’ This has happened to me countless times as I’ve traveled and I always try to connect these women with a social worker through the local Women’s Ministries director. As a church, we are not equipped to properly handle addressing the abuse itself, even though we are creating an awareness of the problem. That’s why we have to partner with legal and counseling agencies that are already in the community.

ANN: The church doesn’t cite abuse as a valid reason for divorce. How do you advise women who are in dangerous and unworkable situations?

Small: Being a pastor’s wife for many years, and now directing Women’s Ministries, the immediate concern is for the wellbeing of the woman and her children. In many cases, the woman has to escape. Of course the challenge is that if there are no shelters, where does she escape to? Church members are sometimes afraid to open up their own homes in case the husband comes and harms them as well. Sometimes the church will help the woman relocate. I know the question of divorce can get quite complicated, and while I don’t see it being an immediate option, I’m not going to rule it out because there are women who have resorted to divorce when their husbands refuse to get help. But our immediate concern is that the women get out of the environment if it is harmful or hurtful.

ANN: You’ve said that it’s difficult to change ingrained attitudes toward abuse. At what age can children begin to learn appropriate behavior patterns so that new generations can hopefully reverse old thinking?

Small: In South America, the church has a program targeting elementary children. They create characters and stories with pictures that teach kids about child abuse and domestic violence. There are materials available, people go into the schools dressed up as these characters — they sing, they act, they dance and the kids learn how to respect others and how to respect themselves. Their theme right now is Abuse of the Elderly. I visited Brazil earlier this year and was amazed by how well thought-out the program is. And when we start with the children, we’re looking at the next generation coming up. When we put into their minds the importance of respect for others and themselves, I think that message is going to stay with them, and it’s impacting their parents as well.

ANN: Have you noticed any factors that seem to influence attitudes toward abuse?

Small: Social standing and education levels, unfortunately, mean nothing, whether we’re talking about the abuser or the abused. This is such a big challenge. We’d like to be able to say education level changes things, that people begin to see that this is wrong, but we don’t see that happening.

ANN: For Abuse Prevention Emphasis Day resource materials, you’ve said that you’re now honing in on specific abuse topics rather than the more umbrella-like treatment of previous years. What themes have yet to be addressed?

Small: While we’ve talked about child abuse, we’ve not specifically targeted child sexual abuse, but I think that — as you can see from the news — this is a huge problem. Similarly, when we’ve talked about spousal abuse, we’ve not talked about the abuser. I think that’s something we’re going to have to deal with. Do we just condemn these people, or do we still consider them children of God? After the abuse itself has been addressed, after the law and social workers have gotten involved, do we seek to rehabilitate the abuser? We also need to find what it is that causes young women to stay with a man who is abusive, even before they’re in a marriage. We’re discovering that quite a lot of domestic violence begins long before the vows are said. We need to ask how we can help young women make the right choices and see themselves as being worthy of something better.

ANN World News Bulletin is a review of news and information issued by the Communication department from the Seventh-day Adventist Church World Headquarters and released as part of the service of Adventist News Network. It is made available primarily to religious news editors. Our news includes dispatches from the church’s international offices and the world headquarters.

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Ground 7 News Podcast:
Ground 7 News is a review of news and information issued by the Communication Department from the Seventh-day Adventist Church World Headquarters and released as part of the service of Adventist News Network. Reproduction of the ANN podcast is encouraged. When rebroadcasting this material, in full or in part, the words “Source: Adventist News Network” must be mentioned before and after the podcast.

ANN Staff:
Rajmund Dabrowski, director; Ansel Oliver, assistant director; Elizabeth Lechleitner, editorial coordinator; Megan Brauner, editorial assistant. Portuguese translation by Azenilto Brito, Spanish translation by Marcos Paseggi, Italian translation by Vincenzo Annunziata and Lina Ferrara and French translations by Stephanie Elofer.