- Not long after the seminar on sexual abuse in closed cultures, I received a phone call. An Old Order woman, whom I had met at that end of the seminar, wondered if I had time to talk. She wanted to share her story with me.
I called Lydia yesterday to tell her that I am writing about Sexual Abuse on my blog, and to ask permission to write about her story. Her only request was to not disclose her real name and location, so to protect her identity, I have called her Lydia.
Lydia was not the typical childhood sexual abuse victim that we tend to hear about in Mennonite cultures. To my knowledge, adult sexual abuse is much less common, with this being one of very few cases I am aware of, unlike childhood sexual abuse, which is rampant.
Lydia worked as a school teacher at a parochial school, run by the Old Order church. A man from her church, whom we will call Elam, and the father of some of her students, sexually assaulted Lydia. Not knowing what to do, she internalized it and became depressed. People noticed that something was wrong, so the school board sent one of the church leaders in to check on her and find out what was going on.
Rather than giving Lydia a safe place to share, the church leader paid her a visit at the end of a school day, when she was all alone. With no witnesses, he further victimized Lydia.
In hopes of leaving it all behind, Lydia started teaching at one of their other schools. A new start. A new world. A new life. But, thanks to prayer requests and other gossip lines, some ill-intending man in the new church paid her a visit. Again Lydia was sexually assaulted by one of her own.
This time Lydia decided she had enough, so she approached her leaders to expose the abuse she faced at every turn. But, rather than receiving help or support, the church found her guilty of ‘sowing discord in the brotherhood’, lying and falsely accusing brothers in the church. Consequently, Lydia was placed on church discipline.
It was over that time that Lydia and I connected most frequently. Her resilience and determination remain an inspiration to me, to this day. While Lydia grieved the treatment she received, she did not surrender or feel sorry for herself.
“Trudy, I could leave the church. But if I do that, who would fight for the others? I believe God wants me to stay and keep fighting for the truth,” Lydia said.
I have never been more proud of a woman in my life. Lydia did her best to hold her head up, attending church Sunday after Sunday, with the ‘mark’ of church discipline on her. When her time came to be restored, there was some debate whether they could accept her into fellowship but she challenged them. What sin had she committed? What in her life was not in line with God’s Word and the church’s rules? They had nothing on her, so they accepted her back into fellowship.
I can’t recall if that was the end of it, or if she went through a second round of discipline, but laying aside those details, she stayed the course, determined to make it safe for victims to ask for help.
This determination led her to persist, gently, with her Bishop and his wife, asking them to hear her heart and help her. At first it was a battle. The treatment she received was not very kind. Still she continued to interact, to ask for meetings, to share her heart.
Eventually she won their trust and received an apology from them for the way they had treated her. Some things she had to choose to ‘forgive and release’, like the church discipline, knowing it would never truly be ‘made right’ by the church.
As Lydia continued to share her story, discreetly and for the purpose of redemption, doors began to open for her to help other victims. That fiasco was a lot of years ago. Lydia and I still stay in touch, from time to time, and she still mentors other victims in the church. God is opening doors, and Lydia remains a voice of hope and healing, breaking the silence of sexual abuse.
If we look for it, there is always a thread of grace in our stories. It is out of Lydia’s tragic story of abuse that she is now able to break that silence. Nothing is lost with God, if we allow Him to redeem our experiences.
© Trudy Metzger 2012
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