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OUR FOUNDER'S STORY
Our story began in May 2005. Xenia and I were living as far apart as two people probably could. I (Simon) was living as a single dad of three teenage children on Queensland's Gold Coast, whilst Xenia was in the last throws of a 15-year Domestic Violence relationship in the East Midlands UK.
We somehow stumbled across each other on a UK Christian chat site. We became on-line friends and would regularly communicate with one another sharing our stories of life's ups and downs. Xenia's marriage had endured its final infidelity by her ex-husband and a divorce was ensuing.
I was managing a local Christian community radio station at the time following my own previous marriage breakdown a number of years earlier.
After approximately a year of our on-line friendship we decided to meet one another here in Australia. Xenia had since moved out of her family home with her four children aged between 8 and 13 years and had a shared custody arrangement with her former husband.
So in August of 2006 Xenia arrived into Brisbane for a three week holiday. It very quickly became apparent that we had very much fallen in love with one another. We had no idea at the time how or if this long-distant relationship could possibly work, but we just knew in our hearts that this was right. We both shared a strong Christian faith and believed that our lives were meant to be together. So... we took a giant leap of faith and got engaged not knowing how this could possibly work with each of us having children of our own in two countries some 12000 miles apart!
That faith journey culminated in us being married later that same year here on the Gold Coast. Again not knowing where our next step would be.
We spent the first six months of our married lives apart, until I was able to travel to the UK under the provision that I would live & work there for around four to five months and then Xenia would then accompany me back to Australia for a few months and then we would continue to do it all over again until such time as her children were old enough to decide where they would like to live permanently.
I arrived in the UK on July 21st 2007 and this is where our lives took a sudden massive turn into the unknown. A little over three weeks later, one of Xenia's children had disclosed to a youth leader at her church, that she had been sexually abused by her father. Subsequent police investigations revealed that in fact all four of her children had suffered a similar fate.
Our world was turned upside down.
Eventually this man was charged with 20 counts of abuse against the children. Following two trials, he was eventually convicted of 14 counts and sentenced to serve a term in prison.
This ordeal took almost 2 1/2 years which eventually ended up with me officially adopting Xenia's four children and us finally being able to return to Australia to begin a new life for my wife and newly adopted four children. We were all reunited with my own 3 Australian children which had its share of challenges. But despite all of that we managed to bring it all together and cobble together a real family unit. One that is nothing short of miraculous in itself.
Whilst we were in the midst of this horrific ordeal in the UK, we found it very difficult to get any kind of support for us as a family. We had no idea what the processes would be with the police, courts, child counselling and well, how to just survive following such a disclosure. We had to deal with so much all at once. My three children in Australia were incredibly understanding but desperately missed their dad. Xenia's four had so much to deal with as their world was suddenly turned inside out having to deal with police investigations, examinations and eventually two court cases. Newspapers got involved and suddenly this was no longer "their secret", and of course this was their father.
We were literally fighting battles on a daily basis in two countries. I was trying to maintain a long distant relationship with my children in Australia, missing birthdays, graduations, Christmas's and so much more. In the UK we were dealing with four Children self-harming, threatening suicide and trauma that we were very il-equipped to deal with. We had very little money and were told by the authorities that we just needed to get on with our lives and just go about our lives normally until the legal proceedings were finalised. Believe me, there was nothing normal about our lives at the time.
We were incredibly blessed to have a couple of families that got alongside us and lifted us up in so many practical ways and our Christian faith was tested to the very limit, all the while, still relatively newly married.
About a year or so into our journey, Xenia had an idea to start a support website to assist other families that may be experiencing similar fates. Her thought was maybe we would start an on-line community to support one another. There must be others out there suffering in silence too! Little did we know just how many there were!
The At The Ark website was created as well as a Facebook page to work alongside it. The response we received was overwhelming! Within a few short weeks of launching it, we had people contacting us from every corner of the globe. Mums, dads, kids, professionals all sharing their stories of struggles through their own traumatic experiences. It was truly extraordinary. We simply had no idea what we had begun.
Long story short. We got through all we had to in the UK and following the second trial in July of 2009 we were able to make plans to return to Australia. I officially adopted Xenia's four children and finally after two years of shear hell we could see light at the end of the tunnel.
We arrived in Australia in the January of 2010 and although the worst was behind us we still had many challenges to face. A blended family was the least of our concerns. A new life, a new country was challenging enough without the added stress of still having to deal with the aftermath of such a traumatic experience.
Once we all settled down into our new lives together back in Australia it quickly became apparent that there was definitely a need to continue what we had started in the UK with At The Ark.
At The Ark officially became a registered charity in August 2010 and since then has grown into what you see right here. We have had the privilege of working with many families and as at the present time we have in excess of 90 families on our books. Xenia has written a three book child protection series called Brave Little Bear. She has also completed her own autobiography called Broken To Be Beautiful. All of these resources can be purchased by e-mailing Xenia direct on firstname.lastname@example.org
We now travel all over the country offering child protection workshops and seminars. Both Xenia and I are often invited to share our story. If you are interested in having us speak at your church or event simply email us at email@example.com or call 1300 504 501