Since mid-July, or somewhere thereabouts, the planning started. We had almost 2 years of no conferences in Ontario, and only a few in other places, and felt uncertain about tackling it again, so close to home. The work, the planning and the backlash had become a challenge two years ago that had left me weary, and wondering what God really wanted from Generations Unleashed, in that department.
I did more one-off speaking engagements during that 2 year stretch and discovered–not to my surprise, how much easier they are. While the topic of sexual abuse and violence is never a light or casual topic, there is a ‘weightiness’ to a full weekend of ministry, that is not as present in a stand alone engagement. The temptation has been strong to shift to ‘the easy way’… Admittedly, my humanity comes into play in cringing at the challenges, in particular criticism of our ministry or personal attacks, and reaches for that ‘easier’ way.
And, yet, each time we did a conference during that time, regardless of the challenges, we saw God move so powerfully, so unmistakably, that it seemed right to continue to do them. Even so, the timing was a matter of question until mid-summer when the stirring bubbled over, and I approached Pastor Brent at Maple View Mennonite church. And the rest is history. But not without a story…
In Pennsylvania, back in July, I stayed a week after the conference to spend time with individuals looking for support in their healing journey, or just to connect with people. It wasn’t part of the plan, but when I ran it by Tim, he felt it would be a good thing for me to stay… and that’s how it came about that I stayed. Right there, at the conference, we made the decision that if there were requests, I would do it. Little did I know that God was orchestrating something much bigger, something so powerful it would supersede any dreams that had long stirred in my heart. A dream to work, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder as ‘one in Christ’ with my Mennonite friends.
It began there, in PA, when a Mennonite pastor did the ‘Pastor’s Confession’ that Friday evening, acknowledging the pain caused by leaders ignoring, neglecting or intentionally covering up for perpetrators. He share the heart of God with tenderness and compassion for victims. He offered unapologetic ‘Amens’ from time to time, throughout the evening, and offered strong support for the wounded. But, however touching for myself and others, that was only the beginning…
Later that week I sat in the home of an Old Order Mennonite couple, visiting. Their joy bubbled over. The name of Jesus was held high. Their culture was respected, and appreciated. And in the middle of all of that, they spoke with bold truth about their own stories, which included molestation and sexual immorality. The shared openly what Jesus has done for them, while acknowledging the damage and deep wounds.
I listened with fascination and that’s when I asked, not expecting it to ever happen, let alone them saying yes, “Would you consider sharing your story at a conference? People need to hear this!” I felt it powerfully. They have a story, a voice within the culture. I am marked because I left. I’m on the outside. I had asked others, over the years, and always it was a ‘no’, even if initially they thought maybe they would, or said they could. Sooner or later the weight of that exposure took over, and they changed their minds. I expected a similar outcome. Oh me of little faith…
No more had I posed the question, and both husband and wife agreed, enthusiastically, they would like to do it. Taken off guard, and having fully expected them needing a few weeks to contemplate, I didn’t know quite how to respond. I don’t even remember what I said next, but I do remember what they said. “God has already told us we will be sharing our testimony.”
I was appropriately ‘wowed’ and asked if they’d come to Ontario and share at our October 23-24 conference. Having misunderstood, and thinking it was in September, they declined with regret. They would be gone over that time.
A few weeks after I returned to Ontario, they called for some other purpose, and in conversation our conference came up. “Were you serious about us coming?” she asked. I told her I was, but reminded her they would be away over that time. And that is when she explained they had the wrong month, but if we could work out all the details, they would be delighted to join us.
We spent many hours in the following weeks, talking on the phone, going over their story, and piecing together what would eventually be a 2-session interview, for our Saturday morning sessions at the conference.
The weekend arrived, last Friday October 23, bringing with it a sense of deep anticipation for me. Somehow I knew that to hear their story would bring healing to many, and especially those still in our Mennonite culture who really need to hear it from within, and those who were in and left and need to hear it acknowledged.
Saturday morning exceeded my expectations, as I watched God move and speak through Jim and Diane’s story. Diane is a particularly gifted speaker, with the ability to put things into words in a way that connects quickly. Jim shared throughout, bringing deep meaning through scripture, and calling for an end to silence and acknowledging the deep damage done by molestation and by silence. This resulted in many tears from some present, as the Holy Spirit began healing at a new level, some wounded hearts.
Saturday afternoon Pastor Dale Ingraham, who had come from New York with his wife Faith, shared on ‘Blameless in His Sight’, freeing victims from the guilt and shame they carry, that is not theirs at all. He drew from Matthew 18, the chapter in which Jesus honours children and gives strong warning for those who offend a little one. Every victim of abuse needs to hear him preach that message, and it sure wouldn’t hurt for every offender to hear it as well, and grasp the magnitude of it all, and repent.
I had shared on Friday evening, about being ‘Shaped by Experience, Defined by Love’, drawing from the story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15, whom Jesus appears to call a dog, but in reality He confronts her negative beliefs, and then proceeds to pronounce His blessing on her, giving her highest honour for her faith. On Saturday we opened a short Q&A in our last session, before moving into a short talk on being Remembered By God, drawing from the story of Hagar, and the angel visiting her in the desert.
The weekend of connecting with friends and fellow believers was encouraging and filled with hope. And throughout the entire event, the one thing that blessed my heart, over and over, was our unity in spite of differences. An Old Oder Mennonite couple, a Baptist pastor couple, and whatever Tim and I are in our non-denominational ‘present’ with United church and Mennonite background, all backed up with a beautifully mixed audience in attendance. Together we worshiped God and lifted Jesus high. And the awareness was strong in me, “this is church… this is the Body of Christ in unity, the way it should be”.
And that partnering together is one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced in my life.
~ T ~