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Mourning into Dancing

Rosa Kauffman remembers crying in bed, a pillow over her ears to block out the fighting. She remembers being so starved for love, she would go into the woods and wrap her arms around a tree, imagining what it was like to be hugged. She remembers the years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse she endured in her own home. And she remembers very clearly the little red slippers that perfectly fit her tiny feet. 

Kauffman grew up in an extremely dysfunctional and isolated Old Order Amish family in northern Michigan where she learned that no one could be trusted, either inside or outside of the chaotic home, that God was out to punish, even kill, her, and that the screaming and hitting were her own fault. She never recalls being hugged or held, but was sexually abused at a young age. She had no friends or trusted relatives and no escape. And by the time she was a preteen, she had completely lost the will to live.

“From the age of 10, I wanted to die,” Kauffman says. “My father regularly left overnight to be with other women. My mother would tell us she would never have married or had kids had she known it would be like this, and would lock us out of the house all day, in all kinds of weather, or lock herself in her bedroom and leave us to fend for ourselves. It’s like I grew up without parents.”

The one joy Kauffman remembers was the hand-me-downs her financially burdened family would receive. Those bags contained treasures. In them, she would find things to love, even if only for a little while. 

Once, Kauffman found a pair of beautiful red slippers that fit perfectly. Because she loved to dance, she slid them on her feet and twirled around the room. But because of her strict upbringing, the slippers were forbidden. She watched as they were tossed into a pile and burned. 

“It was like the little bit of color in my life was taken away,” Kauffman says.

Kauffman’s teen years were spent mostly in bed, consumed with thoughts of suicide. At 16, she moved out of her oppressive home, but couldn’t escape her deep depression. By 18, she was self-abusing, anorexic, and had attempted suicide multiple times. After one attempt, her mentoring family sent her to the hospital alone and, when released, she was taken to a homeless shelter. By the time she arrived in Apple Creek at age 26, she’d seen countless counseling and mentoring programs, hospitals, psychologists, and doctors with medications, but nothing helped. 

“The message I felt all those years was that I’m such a big problem and no one could help me,” Kauffman says.

Dave Weaver was also raised Amish, but never joined the church. By the time he was a teenager, he was partying with his friends and, before long, was an alcoholic and drug addict. 

“I started out with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I said I wouldn’t never do A, B and C, but, eventually, I pretty much did it all,” Weaver says. 

Weaver’s life was shaken when one of his best friends was found murdered, his skull split three ways. Shocked and scared, Weaver left Holmes County for Florida to install swimming pools. His boss, Eddie Fox, was compassionate and caring, and spent months telling Weaver he had purpose and value.

“He opened the Bible and removed himself from the picture,” Weaver says. “That eliminated human beings, because human beings have errors.”

What happened next still surprises Weaver. He had what he calls a Damascas Road experience, and a whole new world opened to him.

“Suddenly, I could hear and see things I hadn’t before--birds singing, nature, sunlight,” Weaver says. “I’d been living my life stoned, in complete darkness. I’ve been clean and sober ever since.”

Years later, Weaver was living with his wife, Marcia, and three of their five children in a new house in Apple Creek when they got word about a young girl from Michigan who was beyond hope. He, too, had been “beyond hope,” and knew better than to believe it.

“Something inside me said no, that wasn’t acceptable,” Weaver says, “and so I asked, ‘Is she breathing? Because as long as she’s breathing, there’s hope.’”

Marcia and Dave Weaver both felt Rosa Kauffman needed to move in with them. For the first three days, Kauffman didn’t speak a word. 

“I was very shut down emotionally and struggling in a lot of areas,” Kauffman said. “Because of the abuse I’d been through, I was like a little child.”

The Weavers told Kauffman right up front they were taking her in as family, that they loved her like one of their own. Their daughter, 7-year-old Hannah, told Kauffman she could have her new room and roomed with her brothers. 

“That was huge for me,” Kauffman says. “I’ve been to a lot of places, and I could tell there was something different about them right away.”

But there was a war going on inside of her. Kauffman wanted their love, but pushed them away. Regardless of what she did, however, how many times she ran away, cut herself, or sabotaged the relationship, the Weavers showed unconditional love. 

Because Kauffman had been sexually abused by her father, it was especially hard for her to trust Dave Weaver. But he told her repeatedly he was more bullheaded than she and was not going to give up. 

And while the Weavers spent many long hours, sometimes into the early morning, patiently mentoring Kauffman, it was little Hannah who first pulled her out of her shell. 

“She was like a little sister,” Kauffman says. “She would talk to me, and it didn’t matter if I didn’t respond. She was just a little girl who loved me.”

One day, Hannah placed a drawing on Kauffman’s pillow. On it were three faces: one sad face that said, “Rosa without God;” one straight face, “Rosa with some of God;” and one smiling face, “Rosa with all of God.” It took three years, but Kauffman is now smiling. She began to accept the Weavers’ love, God’s love, and has even started loving herself. 

“I’m still in the process and finding healing,” Kauffman says. “It’s really awesome for me to want to be alive, because all those years, I didn’t want to live.”

Not only does Kauffman want to be alive; she wants to help others come alive, too. During Kauffman’s stay, the Weavers opened their home to hundreds of other girls and women like Kauffman through mentoring sessions, phone calls, and short stays. After Kauffman healed enough to find a job and live on her own, the Weavers bought the house next door and opened Unshackled Ministries, a beautiful, board-operated safe home for hurting women to find freedom, healing and restoration through the mentorship of the Weavers, house parents Barb and Elmer Coblentz, community members, and, yes, even Rosa Kauffman herself, who will serve as administrator, overseeing the cooking and cleaning, and being there for the women to talk to and pray with.

“I feel so privileged to be part of this ministry,” Kauffman says. “Dave has told me over and over, and now I’m starting to believe it - God is going to use my story to reach others.”

Now Kauffman says she’s enjoying life. She’s a creative person who loves writing, drawing, and graphic design. She finds joy in flowers, bright colors, and helping others. And, maybe most of all, especially during Sunday morning worship, Kauffman loves throwing her hands in the air, moving her feet, and dancing. 

For more information on volunteering with or supporting Unshackled Ministries, contact Dave and Marcia Weaver at 330-205-2521 or visit unshackled-ministries.com.

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