The small red brick school church-turned-school we attended had anywhere from about fifteen to about thirty students, between grades 1 and 10. Most years all students were in one classroom, but for several years, during highest attendance, classes were split.
I enjoyed school, for the most part, especially Bible, Spelling, English and Science. In Math I enjoyed problem solving more than anything else, while my love for History and Geography were very dependent on the content on a given day.
Being highly social, and having a bubbly personality, I got on well with everyone, and was treated well for the most part. However, I witnessed as siblings and other ‘misfit’ students were bullied and mocked, from time to time, by the more elite church kids.
We had some excellent teachers, who genuinely cared for the students and invested heart, time and energy. These teachers took great care to hear the students. Even when required to stay in as a punishment, these teachers interacted with the students, trying to understand them, versus making a statement in anger.
Teachers who did not take time to ‘enter in’ and care, on occasion, flew into a rage, using physical violence and aggression. In one instance, when I was fourteen, a teacher punched a nine-year old boy, Wendell, in the temple, for whispering in the drinking line.
When the teacher ordered Wendell to his desk without a drink, after punching him, I took a stand and went to my desk as well, followed by two other students. I sat silently and, admittedly, stubbornly, through Science class, refusing to answer any questions or even look at the teacher.
At noon the teacher kept me in, when the other students were dismissed, to lecture me and give me ‘stripes’ with a ruler on the inside of my left hand. I counted, ‘1… 2… 3… 10… 11… 12… 13… 20… 21… 22… 23… 29″
At 29 I cracked, and he stopped, as a tear spilled down my face, and another… and then a puddle of them. That he could break me to tears made me angry. I had wanted so desperately to be strong, to force him to go to a hundred or until my rage took over and I had the adrenaline to beat him up. But I didn’t have it in me. I took the stripes. And I cried.
Such was the price for taking a stand, and I would have done it again the next day, even if it had meant crying again. I could not stand silently by when a Christian teacher struck a child out of rage, and in the temple–a place our parents had taught us never to strike anyone.
Not long after, I again put myself in harm’s way to protect someone, but that time it was a friend, Wendell’s sister, who was in my grade. She had skipped two grades and was several years younger than I. I don’t know if she ever fully understood what happened that day.
One of my male peers lived with the church leader, whose son had abused other kids. God only knows the impact all of that had on him, coming from a native reserve into this religious, yet abusive environment. He was a sweet boy, one of my best friends and someone who always treated me well. Always.
To my shock, and horror, he had attempted to rape a young woman from church at knife point. She was another good friend who was four years my senior.
A day or two later, at the end of the day at school, he told me he was going to rape Wendell’s sister, my classmate. The last thirty minutes at school were spent with some students doing various cleaning tasks and she had been given the task of cleaning bathrooms, and was downstairs, all alone.
He and I were heading down the stairs together when he told me that he had failed with one rape, but he would get my other friend. It was then I realized he was heading downstairs, where the two of them would be alone.
I flew down the stairs, just a step ahead of him, and arrived at the bathroom , panting and breathless, just before him. “Close the door! Lock it! Lock it!” I said, as I pushed and wrestled my male classmate away from the door.
Startled, it took her a moment to comprehend what was happening, and to respond, but after what seemed an eternity of wrestling, though mere seconds had passed, she slammed the door and locked it. I stood guard at the door until she had finished her task, and walked her upstairs.
As far as I know it was our secret, and I’m not sure if I told her what his intentions were. I never told the adults, having no confidence in them, and was not willing to rat on my friend and get him in more trouble.
Somehow it was always easier to take a stand for someone else, in the face of violence or abuse, than to stand up for myself. It took much longer for me to learn that I was worth protecting. That I, too, had value.
In the trauma of abuse, violence and cover up, I was being prepared for war, strengthened for battle. One day the passion would inspire me to take a stand, boldly and publicly, against the spiritual impact of all that took place in that community, and expose the hidden things. Not for destruction but for the freedom.
One day I would have the courage to look the enemy in the eye and declare, “Not on my watch! This is war!” In the same way that I stood in front of the bathroom door, that day, to protect my friend, I would rise up, and others with me, to protect the vulnerable.
We never know, when we walk a painful journey, what redemption lies ahead, what hope we will be able to offer the wounded we stumble across.
Don’t despise suffering and trauma. Rather, ask God what good He might want to bring from it and what lost soul He might want to redeem through your suffering.
In every tragedy Blessings hide, if you will let God redeem that suffering.
© Trudy Metzger
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