A Conference for Sex Abuse Victims With The Anabaptist, the Baptist, and Me

God willing and the crick don’t rise, on May 19 – 20 we plan to do a conference at Erb Mennonite church, Lititz PA, for survivors of sexual abuse, as well as those who offer support. This includes pastors, teachers, friends, family, mentors and anyone who wishes to offer understanding.

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Some years ago, when going through a particularly dark time in dealing with the abuses in my past – the sexual, physical and spiritual abuse – I cried out to God, as I have often done over the years. I don’t expect God to write on the wall, take away my grief or pain, or even say a whole lot in those moments. It’s mostly just a trusted place where I release my heart and know I will not be brushed aside, judged or disregarded; He always listens and always loves me just the same. But somewhere in that time He whispered something to me. And I just knew it was Him, and I just knew it would happen. Deeper healing would come from the place of my suffering, but the ‘how’ of it was not revealed. I shared it with Tim, a bit hesitantly. I didn’t know what it meant, but believed someone from ‘within’ would play a role in that healing and acknowledge that the problem is real. I didn’t hold my breath, but I held on to hope, knowing such a thing would have significant impact on many.

Being told it doesn’t happen or isn’t so bad, thus downplaying the impact of sexual violence, adds to trauma while also escalating the problem. And maybe it is the latter that makes it the denial so hard; we who were once victims know it continues and there’s no way to stop it from happening to other children. That thought torments us. So for someone within my culture to boldly acknowledge the problem, without excusing the offender, minimizing the trauma, or blaming victims, would have been enough. But what happened was so much better.

The note came at a difficult time. The challenge of helping victims is wearing, because exposing it disrupts people and systems, and anger is directed at those trying to help. And exposing the darkness is particularly exhausting when I’d rather be friends with everyone and believe there isn’t any evil in religious cultures. The fatigue of that resistance had set in when the note came from a conservative Anabaptist lay pastor; a simple apology for the attacks on our ministry, and on me as a person, simply for following God’s call, a thank you for daring to follow that call, and then speaking into that calling and affirming it.  I was overwhelmed.

Weeks earlier someone shared an incident where they heard a leader in our local community speak evil of me and our ministry. Because they are a couple I held in high regard, I contacted them and asked to meet and try to come to an understanding. They declined and till all was said and done, I felt inadequate and genuinely believed maybe God was telling me to walk away from my calling, that I was unqualified.  On the heels of this, I was astounded to receive the random note of encouragement, apology and blessing from the conservative Anabaptist leader. He even included the very verses God used many years ago to define my calling; verses which are documented and engraved in every phase of this ministry, and which always seem to resurface from random places when something is at stake.

That conservative Anabaptist leader was Kenny Kuhns.

Some time later, when I heard Kenny speak, I wept. Hearing a leader from ‘among my people’ speak such life and hope into the harsh reality of my past, and the past of every survivor of sexual violence in a religious setting, deeply moved me and gave me hope. For a second time, God used Kenny to bring deeper healing into my own experience. I’ve been in ministry a long time, and sometimes people ask if the past ever causes struggle. The answer? Of course it does. From time to time, something triggers the trauma. While this ever less frequent, the truth is that humans have moments when we are confronted with the past, and we must grieve, or run. I used to run. Where there is grief and pain, there is a need for healing, and that is something we need never be ashamed to admit, no matter how long we are in ministry, or how ‘healed’ we become. I believe with all my heart that Jesus is enough for me, and the power of the past is broken. I am not a victim. And I believe just as confidently that He sends representatives to unveil His love in new ways to bring deeper healing when needed.

After seeing Kenny’s heart, we invited him and Irma to join us at our upcoming conference at Erb Mennonite church in Lititz, to speak to the victims as a ‘voice from within’ who understands both the magnitude of sexual abuse in our culture and the cost to those who were victimized. Having worked with survivors for many years, he sees the damage done, but also sees the potential, the place for hope, and the power of Christ to restore and renew. His compassion for survivors serves as a life-line for those often misunderstood and unheard in churches, as he acknowledges the deep suffering. But he doesn’t leave us in our suffering; he honours the hard spiritual battles we fight and acknowledges speaks the life and hope of Jesus into that darkness.

We’ve also invited Pastor Dale and Faith Ingraham from New York to join us again. We’ve had the privilege of working with them numerous times in the past five years, and are always blessed and encouraged. Faith’s story of overcoming abuse at the hands of her father, also a Baptist pastor, while painful, is also a story of resilience, courage and faith. Their heart for the wounded is as genuine as any I’ve encountered, and the gentle message of hope God has given them, brings healing and life.

We are honoured to partner with Kenny and Irma Kuhns for the first time, and especially thankful for the long-term support and friendship of Dale and Faith Ingraham. We look forward to what God will do. It’s going to be good!

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red brochure inside

All are welcome to attend. We acknowledge sexual abuse, however, what we focus on and talk about is God’s love, His grace and His redemption; that is something we all need. Registration is by donation until May 5. After May 5 it is $65. Refreshments and a noon meal will be provided on Saturday May 20, but attendees must preregister for this. This is to make meal planning possible, and avoid last minute stress for the organizing team. Register online: http://www.generationsunleashed.com/events or by snail mail to: Generations Unleashed 15 Coral Gables Crescent, Elmira Ontario N3B 3P4.

For further information, call Dave Miller at: 519-669-3126.

Love,
~ T ~

Ps. Because of the unusual nature of this conference, in that we have invited a conservative Anabaptist leader to come speak, we are aware this may stir up questions, concerns and even fears for some who have suffered abuse at the hands of leaders within the culture, whether spiritually, sexually or otherwise. We acknowledge this risk and are open to questions, concerns and addressing those fears. Please feel free to contact any of our speaking team at:
Trudy: trudy@generationsunleashed.com
Kenny: kenkuhns@nls.net
Dale & Faith Ingraham: dfingraham@speakingtruthinlove.org

Manipulations, Rare Confessions, Horrific Stories and Freedom to Worship

[Trigger Warning]

There isn’t much that worship can’t soothe in my spirit, in the day to day. The key and the challenge is to be diligent in setting aside time for intentional worship in the chaos of this thing we call life, which can quickly feel more like a slow and painful death if we’re not careful. Especially for people in ministry, whether pastors or other ministries. There is something spiritually and emotionally draining about ministry, apart from taking time to refuel and ‘drinking deep’ from the well of God’s love, whether through worship music, meditation and prayer, or reading truth.

Hearing horrific stories of child rape, or watching adults weep or go into shock to the point of physically going pale and clammy, as they recall someone forcing themselves or some harsh object inside of them, tends to wear on the soul. In the past year I’ve heard so many of these tragedies it leaves my head reeling, and my heart aching…. though, in honesty, something of my ability to ‘feel’ was destroyed in childhood, so it is usually more of a ‘factual’ pain, than a feeling one. That is, until it is incorporated into art or music… there, and in God’s presence or Tim’s arms, I am able to feel pain. Rarely any other place. But back on track…

In recounting details with a local police officer regarding the third or fourth case involving forcing objects inside children or youth, the officer looked at me and said, “Yeah… what’s with that about forcing objects inside kids? That’s just crazy!” I couldn’t agree more. It’s insane, actually. And I realized when he asked, that this and molestation is the horror I listen to or deal with, in one form or another, almost daily. And when it gets too much, or hopefully before it does, I escape into a place of worship, filling my heart with a truth greater than the wickedness all around. If I didn’t do that, I would burn out relatively quickly.

And I’m not alone in the intentional battle against burnout. While painful to hear, I’ve listened to pastors confess the struggle that goes with their role. I’ve heard the admission that sometimes it seems atheists are more at peace with life than believers, and live to the fullest with greater kindness than those in the Body of Christ. I’ve listened as they told how difficult it is to be attacked or back-stabbed by their congregants. While that is not something I am familiar with, since I have no congregation, my imagination works well enough to know it would be hard; much harder than ‘distant’ attacks from those who oppose what I do, I imagine.

That is one of the things that has given me the courage to press forward in ministry, knowing the deep appreciation of clients. At least most of them, and most of the time. I’ve been very blessed with good outcomes in working with clients, walking them through to healing and developing longterm relationships. In five years of 1:1 ministry, most clients continue to keep in touch from time to time, letting me know how they are, and sharing struggles and victories from time to time. In fact, only one case has truly gone wrong, either due to sincere misunderstanding or blatant lies–and I am uncertain which–and it is the one case that made me realize how blessed I am that attacks are virtually never part of my life, with clients. (Attacks from strangers, or from ‘friends’ behind my back, and attacks on our ministry  don’t bother me much any more. They’re par for the course.) Nonetheless, initially it is jolting to be thrown into a world of unfamiliar accusations and it can feel like God has let you get hung out to dry… Giving 12 hours in one day, and extra time and expense over a period of time, all pro bono, to the person who ends up stabbing you in the back is disheartening.  And in that moment, questioning why I would continue, the thing that carries me through is the knowledge that God knows the truth… that God sees all our hearts–not only mine, not only theirs, but everyone of us… And, again, my heart is drawn to healing worship and I am refreshed.

****

In contrast with the ‘fatigue’ of fighting against the darkness so often covered up, a man spills his story without being confronted, and tells how as a teen he molested numerous children. We end the conversation and of his own accord, as I prepare to leave, he says he would like to talk to a police officer.

“Are you sure you want to do this? What if he has to charge you?” I ask, feeling a sense of duty to let him know the potential consequences, and to see if that changes his mind. “I thought about that before I said anything,” he continues. I tell him I will talk with an officer, and get a time set up and other details if that is what he wants. “If it takes making an example of me to stop this, then I am willing,” he says. And with that we part ways. A day later I have a time, and all the details of what this will look like. He responds with the admission that it looks pretty scary and overwhelming, and I tell him it is up to him. I don’t have enough information to do anything; it’s entirely up to him. He asks for a night to contemplate it.

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The next morning, first thing, a text comes through saying he wants to proceed. And with that it’s a plan. As I type out the message to the officer, tears flow generously. I realize the man is not one of the ones who is a greatest threat to our community. He came forward of his own free will and asked for the police without so much as a hint of it from me. And through the tears, I worship a God who sees hearts and understands my struggle with knowing that many hide vicious crimes while a rare contrite soul exposes wickedness out of a desire for truth and freedom. And that one chooses to pay the price publicly, if that’s what it takes, to help end the epidemic.

****

Ah worship… it makes ‘right’ a world all wrong. It’s necessary to worship when the heavy stuff of life lands on us like a bucket load of bricks… or worse. It’s easy to worship when things are good. But when we sacrifice and are met with not so much as a passing thank you, but rather an attack, worship is critical. Drinking the toxic sludge of lies, rumours, manipulations and growing bitter quickly sucks the life out of us, so that we have nothing to give. And when the darkness hides in the crevices of Christian cloaks, it is worship that turns my heart back to my Heavenly Papa, and I am again lost in love, clothed in righteousness that is not mine.

So tonight I bask in the wonder of the ove of Jesus, who died to give me life… who died to give life for the one who comes back to say ‘thank you’… and for the one who manipulates and takes for granted sacrifices made on their behalf. He understands each of us with equal affection, and grants extravagant grace for our various struggles and burdens. And suddenly I realize that I have no enemies, only brothers and sister with pain, struggling through their story. And I pray that Jesus will meet each one in the place of their battle, and lift up the weary hearts and breathe life into us, every one, so that His purposes are fulfilled in us.

With confidence I move forward because Jesus didn’t stay trapped in a grave: Christ is Risen from the Dead, and that gives me hope for every one of us. Deep, eternal hope.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

A “Spotlight”, the Police & the Church

~  Strong trees are felled, with patient, persistent chipping. Little by little…  ~

On my way to an appointment today, I mulled over in my head what a local police officer shared with me on Friday; a project he is working on to create awareness of sexual abuse, and also give victims and offenders resources to get the help and support they need. As I processed this, on my drive, I started choking up quite unexpectedly… then the tears fell… then they poured…
With only minutes to go before my meeting, I tried to pull myself together, wondering what was wrong with me to fall apart over that. As I analyzed what was going on in my heart and mind, to unravel me like that, it hit me: I met twice with the local police–once with only one constable, and once with a team including the director of an organization that helps victims–and the action started, people wanting to make a difference. By this past Friday, less than six weeks after that second meeting, the officer shared what action he is working on to make a difference in our community.
 Before parting ways, he told me to go home and watch “Spotlight” with Tim, and to make sure I have a box of Kleenex handy. He  didn’t tell me what it was about, but assured me I would be glad we watched it. So on Friday night that’s what we did. Tim found it on Google Play, rented it for 4.99 (that’s roughly 3.5o for my American friends), curled up on the couch and watched it. I shed a few tears throughout, but less than I had expected. To see a group of people rise up and say ‘enough is enough’ in regards to sexual abuse and religious cover up was touching, but the intensity was almost too much to take in; my mind could hardly absorb the fact that this was a true story, and these non-victims developed such a powerful sense of justice and compassion that they were compelled to act. The main story was far too familiar… (Every Christian should watch this, even those for whom it is against ‘the ordnung’. Repent after, if you must.)

spotlight

My weekend was too busy to absorb or analyze it all, but this morning when I came unraveled, I knew why…

“We are heard. Our suffering has been acknowledged.”

It took only a few meetings with the police to have them ‘rise up’. (Much like the employees at the Boston Globe, in Spotlight.) In my first meeting I felt truly heard about the need to do something. Anything. I’d rather do it wrong, trying to do it right, than to do nothing at all. So we sat there and brainstormed, the constable and I. And that started the ball rolling. The next meeting they asked for my story, and I sat there with an audience of four, and spilled it out, bit by painful bit, for two hours, asking questions, and answering questions. Speaking from my heart in a way that felt terrifying, yet safe. And then the commander and sergeant of the Major Case Unit each offered a heartfelt thank you, acknowledging the courage it must take to do that…

 Two meetings with the police, resulting in redemptive, informative and healing action. Only two meetings…

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 And that created a sense of thankfulness, but also a struggle. Because there was no resistance, no fighting against, only compassion and support, when in churches, there is still so much resistance….

****

 I sat in a pastor’s office and admitted that I wasn’t sure I could keep doing the whole ‘church thing’. Heck, I wasn’t even sure I could keep believing in God. If He and so many of His people–leaders in particular–apparently cared not one iota for the lost children, whose lives were wrecked by molestation in the church, then it seemed there was no place for me in His Kingdom.

 Pastor Gord Martin listened compassionately, and then encouraged me to connect with others who share a similar vision, if not the same one. If I didn’t find that support, he said, my fears would easily become a reality; I would turn my back on my faith, because the fight against abuse is intense, and having support critical. That was a few years ago.

 I now have a solid group of people praying for our ministry and a handful who offer support in various ways. It’s still mostly hard slogging, with a few leaders who really seem to ‘get it’ about the magnitude of the problem and the need to do more. But there are a few, and that’s worth a lot. It will take time for the silence of the church to lose its power, and for the broader church to take action in a meaningful way.  I pray the day will come, and believe it will.

On that bright note…

 In conversation with Pastor Blake from Westpointe Church Grand Rapids Michigan, he asked what I would share with their church, on Sunday March 20. I was thinking about ‘Radical love and Reckless Grace’, I said. There was a short pause before he said, “I thought you might talk about sexual abuse…” I told him I don’t do that on a Sunday morning unless specifically asked. Without skipping a beat he said he would like if I did. “It needs to be talked about,” he said. I was taken off guard, but encouraged that a pastor would not only welcome opening that can of worms in church, but actually ask for it.

To Pastor Blake, Pastor Gord, and other pastors  and leaders who have heard with compassion, and those who have fought for victims, Thank you.We have a ways to go, as the church, but we’re making progress. That death-grip of silence and shame is being shattered, little by little.

 We will keep chipping…

Love,

~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

Part 2: Criminal or Saint? (Confronting Child Molesters)

What about Reporting to the Law?
As a believer I am asked how I can endorse going to the law with a fellow believer. Doesn’t 1 Corinthians 6 make it clear that ‘brother is not to go to the law against brother’?

To this I ask, Does 1 Timothy 1:9 not make it clear that the law is in place for the lawbreaker/lawless? Also, is child molestation not one of the most lawless acts a human can commit?

And for good measure let’s jump to a well-worn passage, in Romans 13 (KJV…just because), and read it in the context of obeying the law, including when the law requires us to report crimes. While this if often used to draw compliance from church members, it refers specifically to ‘sword bearers’, therefore hopefully isn’t talking about pastors and church leadership. I mostly avoid attending churches where the pastor carries a weapon.

Romans 13:1-5

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

It seems to me that we’ve gone cherry picking if we blithely toss 1 Corinthians 6 out there to guilt fellow Christians in reporting to the law. It is an agenda-driven-doctrine/belief to make such a thing a sin. Especially when some of the very people who fight against such a thing turn around and use it for financial gain and sue a fellow brother in a business deal gone awry. In essence that sends the message that we are willing to sacrifice our daughters and sons, but not our money. But that’s another topic for another day.

All that said, I can count on one hand–without using my fingers twice–the number of times I’ve gone to the law with cases in our ministry, and of two of those times it has been to support someone reporting, not to file an actual report. (Sorry to blow holes in the theory that I have only one goal: to put Mennonites in prison.) The reporting numbers are not low because I am against going to the law, but rather that clients are most often no longer minors, and it is out of my court. When victims are over 16 in Ontario it is utterly useless to file a report to F&CS (Family & Children Services) or the police. If I call F&CS, I am told it needs to be reported to police, and whenever I have called the policed, they have asked if the victim is filing a report. When I’ve answer that they are not, then they’ve told me there is nothing that can be done. And they are right.

Internationally I have made one report, and that was not about molestation but a homicide/suicide threat. While it was investigated, the officer pretty much snarked me off for bothering to call from Canada about it. (Okay then! Just trying to save a life in my spare time.) In several other cases I have made myself available to answer questions for police or social workers, and in two cases I shared details of crimes with a US citizen local to the crimes, and left it to them whether it was ‘reportable’ or not. Sometimes I receive updates and hear the outcomes, other times I hear nothing. When I have done my duty to the best of my ability, before God and man, I leave it in the hands of those responsible, and spend little time worrying about it or checking up.

Child Molesters in Church: Are they Criminals or Saints?
I’m not God, so I shall refrain from passing judgment. Whether a person is ‘right with God’ or not, or ‘saved and born again’ or not is none of my business, in the context of judging. But I know with certainty that God doesn’t look lightly on the violation of children. Consistently through scripture it is clear that sexual sin has consequences unlike other sins. From Old Testament consequences–take the group of men who were slaughtered after Dinah was violated–to Paul’s words in the New Testament (ironically also in 1 Corinthians 6) about it being the one sin against the body, and a sin that ‘joins Christ with a prostitute’ (v.15) when those who profess Christ engage in prostitution. And Matthew 18 offers harsh judgment for those who ‘offend’ children.

The grace of Jesus is big enough for every sin. There isn’t a doubt in my mind about that. But the grace of Jesus doesn’t wipe away all consequences. It never has. It never will. I’ve volunteered at our local Federal women’s prison (Grand Valley Institute) long enough to hear some amazing stories of grace, but the women remained behind bars. A woman who murdered her husband never saw another day of freedom outside those prison walls from the time of her arrest, until the day of her death, but she was free on the inside. (She died during my time volunteering). She is one of countless stories behind those walls, of people for whom Jesus died, and for whom God’s grace was enough, but for whom the consequences remained.

The consequences for those who molest children (thereby ‘murdering’ the soul of the child) should not be overlooked, and the consequences for these crimes not be neglected. (Whatever those consequences ought to be, which also is not my call to make.)

Does Prison Change the Offender?
In December I was invited to our local police station to meet with an officer and discuss the problem of crime in the Mennonite and Amish communities. At one point he leaned back in his chair and commented that he pictures taking them and booking them, “20 at a time” and then going back for the next 20. “What do you think?” he asked.

“Well sir,” I said, “we both know that wouldn’t work, don’t we?”

His shoulders sagged a little, he leaned forward, and said, “Yeah… so what do we do?”

We spent over an hour talking, brainstorming and exploring thoughts and ideas. We agreed to meet again after Christmas, and explore further possibilities. That meeting took place January 11, 2016. Several Staff Sergeants were present–including from the Major Case Unit–as well as the director of an assault treatment centre. In the end we all concluded, without exception, that there must be a way to help without pushing the crimes further underground in the church, thus creating an environment that will breed the problems, and create more victims in the next generation. At the same time they confirmed what we all know, that any cases that come forward must be dealt with according to the law.

What is the Solution to the Problem of Molestation in Closed Communities?
In the meeting on January 11, I presented some thoughts and ideas I’ve been brainstorming about for about 2 years, of ways that could help deal with past and present crimes, while focusing on protecting the next generation. These were the ideas I had run by the other officer in December, and in our brainstorming together, the ideas had morphed into an outline of a plan that would potentially make a dramatic impact for future generations.

It is unclear if such a plan is possible–now or in the future–but at least we’ve started the conversation. In the near future I plan to meet with several other senior team members from the assault treatment centre, to see how we can collaborate in the ‘here and now’.

The prospect of pursuing options that could potentially impact the generations to come is far more important to me than any longing for personal justice, for which I have no desire any more. I support the law, and work with the law, and believe firmly that there ought to be consequences for these crimes. But the hard reality is that seeking justice for past and present crimes is a reactive approach–which is currently necessary–when we so desperately need a proactive approach. And, in particular, we need a new approach in closed communities that have their own ‘internal laws’ and ‘justice systems’, so that the use of ‘the law’ doesn’t inadvertently push the crimes further underground.

This is true of Amish and Mennonites, and it is also true of Muslims and other ‘closed communities’. No, they should not get to make up their laws and have a double standard. What is offered to them should be offered across the board, but whatever the ‘justice system’ of the land is, it needs to become a partnership between the law and closed communities to work against crime, while not allowing closed communities to circumvent the law, or define it. Such a thing would create chaos. One extreme would let them all off the hook with a quick ‘I’m sorry’, and victims would be entirely overlooked and neglected, while the other extreme would stone them to death…. possibly both victim and perpetrator.

There is a better way. There has to be. And I am out to find it, and then do whatever it takes to fight for it. I will fight for the freedom of the children of tomorrow, and for ‘my people’… whether they like it or not.

On that note and to that end, God willing and if University of Waterloo accepts me–which I am fully counting on, I will start the Master Peace & Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College this fall. If I’m super lucky, I will be accepted without a qualifying term. We will wait and see.

Either way, I press forward and if I trip and fall a few times, I do. I will get right back up and press on. This issue needs a few warriors, and I am committed, by the grace of God, to be one who blazes trails.

And if I’m little old Granny Gertrude walking with a cane, and with gnarled little fingers for counting on, before I get there, then so be it. One thing my tombstone won’t say is that I didn’t try…

 

Love,+
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

Criminal or Saint? (Confronting Child Molesters, Part 1

Over the years of our ministry with sexual abuse victims, there are a host of questions that have been asked by numerous people trying to understand the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of the way in which we handle meetings where a victim addresses his/her abuser. And the questions that have come to us are good ones; the answers to which are worthy of mention.

The Parachute Approach
The first question I will address is in regards to ‘springing surprises’ on the alleged offender when we go to confront. To some, it seems harsh to ‘parachute in’ out of the blue, so to speak, into the life of the alleged offender–typically accompanied by the victim–to address past molestation. To others it seems dangerous. Others are just curious as to our thought process or motivations.

The main reason we simply ‘show up’ and start talking, in most cases, is because of lies and deception we come up against. I don’t feel at all compelled to give the devil time to organize himself with that darkness. By going in, we get spontaneous responses, and when I compare with times we’ve given ‘a heads up’, the meetings are far more effective. Besides the lies and deception, there is this desperate need for abusers to try to overpower the mind of their victims, rather than take ownership. Giving them time to prepare attacks is entirely counterproductive.

The Opportunity
First things first, I typically ask the person being confronted if they know what I do, and if not, I explain. I follow this up with asking if they know why we are there, given the work I do. Sometimes they know, sometimes they don’t. And, sometimes when they know why, they make excuses before we ever get into the confrontation.

(Details shared by permission) In an effort to declare innocence, one man immediately said he knew why we had come, then followed this up with, “…but it wasn’t sexual.”

Hmmm… Such a quick defense, before any allegations were ever made.

“Yes, it was sexual,”  I said.

“No, it wasn’t,” he repeated. We continued with this little ‘yes/no’ routine about three times, at which point I tired of it and an idea popped in my head… There were several gentlemen present, including my husband, a ‘witness’ from the offender’s church, and the husband of the victim.

“Well” I said, “then I suppose you wouldn’t mind if these men did to your wife what you did to that young girl?”

“Okay… okay… it was sexual…” he said.

With that settled,  we moved forward. Almost immediately he broke down weeping and before long started asking for forgiveness, asking the husband of the victim to relay his apology to his wife. That would have been a convincing repentance, had it not been undone a few weeks or months later, when the church leaders asked the victim to not shop in the town where the offender shops, because it makes it too hard for the offender when he has to see her.

I. See.  …!

That’s one outcome.

More often the alleged offenders have no idea why we are there, and claim to have no memories, which (for the most part) I believe. They have forced those memories so deep, and blocked any sense of ownership, that they really don’t ‘remember’. In these situations I start with telling some of the scenes in graphic and horrific details, with the victim’s permission, and in the victim’s presence. When the ‘telling’ gets too painful, memories suddenly start coming back.

In one of the very earliest confrontations, some years ago, as the memories started returning, the individual started with, “but it was mutual”. To this I pointed out the age gap–also something I’ve had to do more than once–and made it clear that ownership doesn’t fall on the victim. At once the ‘repentance’ started, and asking for forgiveness, followed immediately by challenging the victim with what would have happened to her soul, if she had died knowing this sin and not having followed Matthew 18…

That was interrupted quite abruptly by yours truly, putting an end to such nonsense and re-victimization.

Responses are as different as the individuals being confronted, and there are no cookie cutter confrontations or responses. But always it is intended as an opportunity for the offender to come clean, and admit to the crimes committed, and take ownership.

Reclaiming Victim’s Voice
One of the things we hope to accomplish in that painful moment when a victim stands before their abuser, is for the victim to reclaim his/her voice. When a child is molested, the offender overpowers the victim physically, sexually and mentally. (And that doesn’t even touch the spiritual impact that takes place when the offender professes faith in Christ… that’s another power altogether, though intertwined with the former.) Furthermore, victims are often told to not speak of it, and some are even threatened should they choose to defy the abuser. In that overpowering, the victim’s voice is either ignored or never heard, and that disrespect and violation follows them through life. Until…

When the victim stands before the offender and says what is on his/her heart, it breaks something of that power. Granted, there is often a high price to pay if that offender is a family member and the family gets protective, or if the church rises up in defense of the offender, and attacks the victim and us. A price I warn the victim of before going in, but a price I am very willing to walk them through. In every case I’ve worked with so far, the victims have not regretted going that route.

As part of that ‘reclaiming the victim’s voice’, we give little voice to the offender, in that initial confrontation. And, going by the previous examples, it is not hard to see that if given liberty to speak without challenge, offenders still try to overpower the victims in that moment of confrontation, given half an opportunity. It is imperative that the victim is not subjected to such a thing.

Why We don’t Give Offenders Opportunity to Say, “Forgive me”
In evangelical settings this boundary is particularly offensive, when we don’t give that opportunity. In the case above, where the guilty party was given opportunity to offer an apology, and immediately launched into an attack, the ‘unsorry’ spirit landed before us with a bold ‘thud’. It was still about taking power. And that is only one of the reasons we stopped with giving that opportunity in an initial meeting. It certainly isn’t because we think the offender shouldn’t be sorry!

There is an intriguing reality in how offenders block memories. Whether it is the same way in which victims block, I am uncertain, but I have come to the conclusion that it is (at least sometimes if not often) real. They genuinely cannot access the memories because they have spent such a long time burying and blocking… lying to themselves or downplaying the severity. Whatever the reason or method, it is what I see playing out. I have not studied the psychology behind it, but it’s consistency tells me a lot about the human mind, and human nature.

With these blocked memories (or blatant denial, as the case may be), to move to a quick, “If I did those things, I’m sorry…” or “I’m sorry for anything I might have done…” is to rush a necessary step in this process: facing reality. A rushed ‘I’m sorry’ with no memories of wrong doing can leave the victim feeling further victimized, and allows the offender to quickly soothe the conscience, and keep things blocked. Then, if those memories come back, it is easy to say, “I’ve taken care of it”, and never acknowledge those wrongs. By not allowing that rushed apology, and by letting the offender mull it over and struggle against his/her conscience, those memories are far more likely to return, at which time taking ownership validates the victim’s suffering, and makes it far more meaningful.

 

(To be continued… )

 

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

 

Childhood Sexual Abuse; Prevalence & Impact in Christian Communities

What is Childhood Sexual Abuse?

“Sexual Abuse is when a younger or less powerful person is used by an older or more powerful child, youth or adult for sexual gratification. Sexual abuse can be contact or non-contact” (Canadian Red Cross, 2016). The document goes on to define both contact and non-contact forms of sexual abuse, listing various acts in each category, including oral, anal and breast area touch, and visually exposing victims to pornographic material or nakedness.  Health Canada takes it further, stating, “Sexual abuse is inherently emotionally abusive and is often accompanied by other forms of mistreatment. It is a betrayal of trust and an abuse of power over the child” (Health Canada Archives, 1997).

It is accurate to say that Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) is any act used for sexual gratification in any way by an older, larger or more powerful child or adult, and/or any act that disrupts or interferes with the sexual innocence of a child, whether through touch, visual exposure or in words.

While curiosity about sexuality, body parts and their function, is a normal part of child development, the way in which older children, teens and adults handle this curiosity has tremendous impact on each child’s sexual development. As with any learning, when a child receives age appropriate facts and positive information about his or her body, the child develops a healthy view of his or her sexuality, thereby building self-confidence and healthy self-esteem. In contrast, when the information is negative or abusive—whether taught in words or learned through abuse—the child suffers negative consequences.

Prevalence of the Childhood Sexual Abuse

Due to remaining largely unreported, it is difficult to determine just how extensive CSA is. Among many other issues contributing to the silence, victims often have a relationship with their offender, and fear imposing consequences on them. “An estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members […] About 30% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are family members.” (United States Department of Justice, n.d.).

In recent years CSA has become a more open conversation, thereby giving victims permission to find their voice, reclaim their power, and speak out to break the shame of silence. However, even in this changing culture, shame and the fear of not being heard remain a powerful force, preventing many victims from disclosing or reporting.

Within the context of religious culture, silence remains strong, making it virtually impossible to determine the extent of the problem, particularly in closed-culture communities, such as the Mennonites, Hutterites, Amish and other similar groups. However, glimpses inside the culture reveal a hidden problem. In a case involving a Conservative Mennonite group, in Bancroft Ontario, a school teacher molested a high percentage of her students, including having intercourse with at least one, and forcing others to watch sexual encounters. (T. Metzger, personal communication [interview], January 13, 2016). In another similar small private Christian school, in Southwestern Ontario, of twenty plus students, over a period of approximately seven years, at least fifteen disclosed being molested either at school or in the homes, by older siblings, other students or an adult. (T. Metzger, personal communication [self disclosure], January 10, 2016). So, while accurate statistics are difficult to determine in Christian settings, the cases that do come to light, indicate near epidemic levels in some communities.

Understanding the Impact of CSA (Long-term/Short-term)

CSA is unlike any other abuse, in that it has the potential to produce physical pleasure while inflicting emotional trauma. When an adult hits a child, the child’s emotional trauma matches the physical response; the body confirms a wrong was committed. However, sexual touch potentially awakens pleasurable sexual response, and the body, in essence, forms an alliance with the offender against the victim, leaving the victim helpless and even desiring more of the same.

Further complicating the victimization, is the sense of being ‘special’ and ‘chosen’ by the offender, or receiving treats such as candy or money; a bond that is compounded by the feeling of ‘this is our secret’. While the child’s emotions are confused, and shame casts a long shadow over the joy of the rewards, ultimately the rewards win out for some victims.  The result is mental and sexual confusion, self-loathing—because the victim’s body is against him/her, and they cannot resist the rewards—unhealthy obsession with sex, or an extreme repulsion of it, among many other negative impacts on the victim. The hypersexual victim acts out inappropriately, starting at a young age with re-enacting the abuse with other children, with dolls, or grabbing adults in sexual ways. When other children see or experience these behaviours, they tend to reject the offending child, further isolating the victim who already feels alone and different. In contrast, the child who responds with discomfort to all touch and becomes fearful of interacting with others, whether children or adults, is likely to behave in odd ways and also becomes isolated. Both become targets of bullying or being misunderstood, and apart from compassionate intervention, are likely to struggle for life.

In later life the consequences continue, as many victims suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to varying degrees. This plays into anything from the ability to hold a job due to relational issues or feelings of inadequacy, depression or mental distraction, and failed relationships, to name only a few consequences. In marriage, flashbacks and repulsion to sex interfere with sexual intimacy, making it difficult to form healthy marital bonds, and causing frustration for both partners. In parenting, the victim who has pushed down pain and buried confusion, also has deeply buried anger and functions with a short fuse, or emotional distance. The emotionally distant parent fails to bond well with his or her offspring, and draws comfort from the fact that he or she is not abusive, but in the process there is risk of extreme neglect; a reality that comes back to haunt in later years. Fits of unexplained rage leave the angry parent feeling frustrated, inadequate and hopeless; thus the cycle of abuse continues in the form of emotional abuse or physical violence in the next generation. And the parent who vacillates between anger and emotional distance, feels constantly torn, trying to perform well, while feeling ever on an emotional yoyo with the consequence and outcome of either response.

How Does CSA Impact Individuals in Religious Cultures?

In religious communities, nothing really changes in so far as the basic responses and consequences of CSA. However, what does change is the added dynamic of religious teaching and beliefs, often for the negative, though sometimes for positive, not the least of which is faulty teachings on forgiveness. News stories where victims of crime, for example the murder of a family member, speak out and offer forgiveness, draw deep emotion from masses. Many are moved to tears at such undeserved grace, while others groan. Forgiveness, in its purest form, is a beautiful gift that sets the victim free; it releases the victim from the power the offender has over him or her. Tragically, in religious settings forgiveness is often partnered with forgetting, and presented in such a way that it ends up freeing the offender, requiring victims to ‘overlook’ the crime, push down negative feelings and interact with the offender within social context, thereby further victimizing them. This becomes a double-edged sword, particularly in sex-related crimes, first by desensitizing the community to the crime, thus creating an environment for sexual crimes to flourish, and secondly forcing the victim into silence and shame. If or when the victim acknowledges the crime and its impact, he or she is quickly rebuked, and told that to speak of it shows a lack of forgiveness. Biblical references are pulled out of context to support this kind of response, citing that God also forgives and forgets. In reality, the Bible says that God ‘remembers our sins against us no more’, which is a far cry from forgetting. Nonetheless, the approach effectively shuts down many victims, especially those in environments that discourage questioning what is taught.

Furthermore, religious people who commit sex crimes represent God by their claims to faith in Him, particularly when in a position of religious leadership or trust, such as pastor, parent, or Sunday School teacher, causing even deeper confusion. The victim cannot separate the offender and his or her faith, from the God whom he or she professes to serve, making God accessory to the crime. It is not unheard of for CSA victims, whose fathers or pastors have molested them, to close their eyes in prayer and see only their offender’s face, because that offender represents God. Consequently, victims who view God as someone who partners with child molesters, live in debilitating terror of this Cosmic Being to whom they must surrender, and who, in turn, commands them to obey the parents and leaders who would do such things.

High standards of ‘holiness’ and the need to portray a ‘perfect’ religious image, combined with a tenacious sense of loyalty within some Christian communities—particularly in more closed-culture groups—further suppress many victims. To speak out means facing rejection within church circles, family relationship, and the broader Christian community. The fear of isolation, and the inevitable emotional consequences of that isolation, holds victims hostage to pain, forcing them to suffer in silence. Those who have spoken out and faced that consequence, sometimes say in hindsight that the latter is worse than the former, and they regret speaking out.

In stark contrast, victims of CSA in a religious setting for whom the abuser and God remain completely separated, find solace in having Someone bigger than life to turn to; Someone who will, in His time, redeem the impact of the pain, horror and mental suffering. These victims find hope in a higher justice, and in believing that Someone has a redemption plan. Because of promises in the Bible, this victim believes that, while the crimes committed can never be good, indeed good things will one day come from the dark experiences of childhood. Reaching for the hand of God in comfort at night, trusting that His angels stand guard in the dark, and hearing gentle whispers of belonging and purpose, fill this child with resilient courage, even in the midst of fear and anxiety.

And the victim who comes forward in a Christian setting where support is offered, thrives like no other. Surrounded by people of faith, who also believe that God will heal and restore, and who encourage the victim to speak openly and honestly, while holding the offender accountable for the crimes, gives the victim a sense of community, safety and security. While the crime is always a tragic one, these victims stand a chance at full healing.

How Do We Positively Impact & Minimize Risk of Victimization?

This paper addresses many general issues and some unique to Christian settings, but it stands to reason that all cultures have unique dynamics. The secret in any culture, then, is to become familiar with its strengths and weaknesses, and work with respect to both. By building relationships within the community, establishing trust and partnering together, we open doors. By focusing on the strengths of a community, while avoiding the pitfalls, and being respectful of and sensitive to cultural norms, we maximize impact. Finally, by inviting the culture into the solution, we eliminate the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality, and empower the community to contribute to their own, and change from within. Relationship-based solutions create sustainable impact and lasting change.

References

Canadian Red Cross. (2016). Definitions of Child Abuse & Neglect. Retrieved January 10, 2016 from http://www.redcross.ca/how-we-help/violence–bullying-and-abuse-prevention/educators/child-abuse-and-neglect-prevention/definitions-of-child-abuse-and-neglect

Health Canada Archives. (1997). Child Sexual Abuse. Retrieved January 10, 2016 from http://publications.gc.ca/collections/Collection/H72-22-2-1997E.pdf

United States Department of Justice. (n.d.). National Sex Offender Public Website, Facts & Statistics. Retrieved January 10, 2016 from
https://www.nsopw.gov/en-CA/Education/FactsStatistics

A New Year, Dreams Come True & Ministry Changes

A great man once taught me to face my fears and ‘do it afraid’, and to never stop believing in impossible dreams, if those dreams can bring about good. 

***

Today It is January 2, 2016.

On December 30 2014, I posted a status on Facebook, playfully asking for an interpretation to a dream I had the previous night. The dream involved my former car (beloved old Rustbucket) disappearing, and me being all distressed at that loss, but when I went back out to prove it had disappeared, a brand new gold Mazda convertible awaited me.

I posted the status in jest, asking for an interpretation and expecting nonsensical responses. Instead, I received a rush of private messages and comments on that status, telling me that it had meaning, and many said 2015 would be a year of change–good change–for our ministry.  (To read the status and public comments, click link here or on the photo.)

 

facebook status dream
Dreams come true, when God is in them…  I never though this dream held any significance when I playfully posted this status December 30, 2014. This New Years Day, January 1, 2016, as I reflected on the past year, I remembered the dream and realized just how accurate many comments were. To those who have spoken life over our ministry, prayed for us, and blessed the work God is doing in fighting for the hearts of little children and the wounded grown ups; Thank you!

 

I’ll be honest, I struggled to take any of it seriously, at first, but after numerous people said the same thing, I started to listen. Some joked about the dream–which I could obviously appreciate, since that was my motive–and while many said it related to our ministry, Generations Unleashed, a few even threw in the notion that maybe a new car awaited me in 2015. That part I didn’t take seriously at all, but the thought was nice.

As I reflected today on 2015, I did so with mixed emotions. True to the prophetic words spoken, our ministry changed dramatically! We did only 2 conferences all year, with more stand-alone speaking engagements, as well as partnering in ministry with others. A highlight was partnering with comedian/musician, Kelita Haverland.

But the most dramatic change was the amount of ‘out of country travel’. I love to drive, but even more than driving, I love to fly! I would fly at least once a month, if I could. And by ‘could’ I mean that right now it isn’t reasonable for me to be away from home that much, so I do not pursue that much ministry out of country.  As it stands, I spent about five weeks out of country in 2015, mostly working with victims of sexual assault and hearing stories of pain and trauma, while walking with those victims or parents of victims, to offer support in crisis.

The last quarter took a turn, and doors opened to have international clients move to Ontario to spend weeks at a time, investing in coaching and mentoring sessions. This has proven to be a wonderful option for those victims out of country who have no place to go locally–at least not places they feel comfortable going–and want to spend time developing confidence and pursuing freedom. There are a few pitfalls, bumps and scrapes, however, as there are with any growth. And for us that was predominantly in trying to determine internationally whether a client fits into a coaching/mentoring client relationship, or whether the extent of trauma or need would be more appropriate for psychotherapy with a licensed counselor or other professional, or a mental health institution. Locally I have the option of meeting a client several times, and if the need crosses that line, I can simply refer the client elsewhere, or we choose to work in partnership with licensed professionals, which is not an easy option at a great distance. We are growing and learning, and trust God to continue leading us in this.

As for the car, we did end up with a new-to-us car for our ministry, and it was indeed a blessing from someone, earlier this year. It wasn’t gold; it was silver. And it wasn’t a Mazda convertible, but it was a Honda Accord, 2-door with a sun roof. Close enough. The gentleman who sold it, donated a portion back, and the remainder was gifted to the ministry days after our old Mazda ‘died’, and only days before I was scheduled to drive to USA to spend time with a young woman in a very difficult situation. The car has since traveled thousands of miles to reach wounded hearts, to encourage the struggling, and to be the hands and feet of Jesus in broken lives. We are thankful for the gift, and pray that God’s blessing over the individual who provided it.

In other firsts and changes, 2o15 offered deep trials and confronted fears I would never have thought I could cope well facing. Rejection. Lies. False accusations. Broken trust. Threats of various sorts. Losses. And in each of these I found my God more faithful than ever I have known Him to be, personally. He has kept my heart tender towards those who have wronged me, and given me love in places where I once grew hardened for fear of being wounded. Today He has taught me to embrace wounding, even while He continues to teach me healthy boundaries and extending grace with those boundaries. And by His grace He continues to give me compassion for all, as I learn to walk more and more in the love of Jesus, while acknowledging that which is wicked in the temple courts, and praying He will overturn tables once more.

Looking ahead in 2016, changes will continue. God has opened doors to influence and corroborate with individuals with authority and in positions of influence, who have a vision for changing how sex crimes are handled in religious communities. While the process will take time, our hope is to influence dramatic changes at a level that can and will have life-changing impact in the near future, and for generations to come.

On top of this, I’ve been dreaming for some time about returning to school and, God-willing, 2016 will be the year for this. I had several meetings in recent weeks, trying to determine what is the best starting point. As a result, if I am accepted, I will begin September 2016. Because I will attend as a mature student, hoping to enter a Master’s program, I will start with a 3-month qualifying term during which time I will need to maintain a minimum 75% average in all courses. If I am successful, this will be followed by 16 months of full time Masters program. The reality is I need ‘the official paper’ and credentials behind my name for the next phase of ministry, and to continue to move forward and grow in our community and beyond, and influence changes at the next level. One on one work is good, and it is effective for that one, but the truth is that more can be accomplished with a broader vision. And the need is massive.

I will continue, for the time being, to meet with clients one-on-one, whether local or international, and do what I have done for the past five years. It has been and continues to be something I love, and something that has taught me more in life than any other career or experience.

 

As these things unfold and develop, and as meetings start early in the year to explore next steps, I see 2016 as a year of preparation and strategic planning. This preparation, I pray, will bring to life a dream that has developed in my heart over a period of years. Granted, there is always that tiny fear that ‘it’s impossible’, and I push constantly through such fears.

A great man once taught me to ‘do it afraid’ and to never stop believing in impossible dreams. Particularly if those dreams can bring about good. And my God has taught me that ‘doing good’ is part of being a Christ follower, and to ignore good that He has called me to do is in fact sin.

So I will choose to believe in the dreams He has birthed in my heart, and trust that if it will bring good, then He will go before me, prepare the way, and bless me. Even if all hell rises against me, no evil thing can stand in the way, no religious thing can stop His plan, and no fear or threat will hold me back from following the purpose God set before me, before I was even conceived.

Before my conception, ere ever my frame formed in my mother’s womb, or even the world obeyed your command, You whispered my name. And in that whispering, my purpose donned wings. A destiny spoken in the shadows became the light that would guide me on the way. For it is Your Kingdom, Your purpose and Your plans that fill my days with adventure; the invitation to step into something greater than myself, to live beyond the walls of selfish expectation, and partner with the Divine, to change the world. (Based on Jeremiah 1:5) (Excerpt from When Abba Whispers Her Name, (working title), Trudy Metzger)

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

Rape ‘Victim’ Recants Allegations…

Recently a local rape case was reported to police. While the individual was never my client, I did hear the story directly from that individual, and heard updates from both the victim and those closely involved, over a period of weeks. And given the number of people who have talked with me about it since, the story has spread far and wide.

Early on in sharing with me, she told me people were telling her it was only a dream, or maybe a demonic attack, but in any case what she claimed had happened, was not reality, and she was urged to not speak of it. Still, she stood by her story. And never in her sharing of it–which she did more than once with me and several others–did the details collide. There was no reason to believe she was fabricating a story.

When she developed tender breasts and fever, she was taken to hospital, where (according to her) she was told she had Mastitis. In the home where she stayed, the woman sent me a text one day saying  something was very wrong; the girl had bled all over the bed.

Earlier in sharing her account with me, the girl had mentioned several times she was pregnant and had miscarried. This ‘evidence’ seemed to corroborate her story. Still she was not believed by key people in her life. And still she stood by her story. (I personally asked her in my last conversation with her–in front of one of her key church leaders and two witnesses–if she had told us the truth. And even then she said, “yes.”)

However, by the time the trials began, and after the victim had been removed from the ‘safe home’ she had asked to be placed in, things changed. She recanted her testimony and the case was dismissed on November 9, 2015.

And many thanked God for this ‘answer to prayer’…

…because sometimes–in approximately 5% of cases–victims are believed to lie and make up false charges out of some perverse need for attention…

****

Today I read an article that was devastating, disturbing and familiar…  It is long, and it is powerful; worth the time investment to read. (And not hard to read, as the story is very engaging, in a tragic way.) This is one of the few times An Unbelievable Story of Rape is told, where the “victim” recants the story, admitting it was nothing more than a lie, and the ensuing events that eventually confirm what is, in fact, the truth.

I tend to work from the perspective of believing a victim, and if they are lying, hopefully they will get the help they need and admit to those lies. It is never mine to judge, and I am not in a position to investigate, so I try to help the best I can, while praying for truth and healing, in either case.

Where there is the rare case of deception, my heart goes out to the accused. This article is loaded with learning, just in the telling of the story, and would be good for every law enforcement officer, pastor, teacher, parent–and anyone working with youth or potentially victimized or troubled individuals. It was hard for me to read, causing moments of unusual anxiety as I followed this victim’s (changing) story and the police department’s handling of it.

If you know anyone who has made rape/abuse claims or allegations, or fall in the people group most likely to come across victims or those claiming victimization, I urge you to read An Unbelievable Story of Rape.

I will share a quote from the article that jumped off the page at me. In my position of working with victims and alleged victims, I have no choice but to believe, unless there are glaring discrepancies: A lot of times people say, ‘Believe your victim, believe your victim,’” Galbraith said. “But I don’t think that that’s the right standpoint. I think it’s listen to your victim. And then corroborate or refute based on how things go.”

There are many unknowns in working with victims of sexual violence, but the one thing I am certain of, is that sometimes the most diligent and well-meaning people have it wrong. (And to get a concept of just what I mean by that, I again highly recommend the link included here.)

Story of RApe

And now, since I am not accustomed to an article or a story impacting me this intensely, I need to go de-stress.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

 

 

Shocking Note From Conservative Minister…

Even as I write this, I recognize that I have not fully absorbed the words in the note that arrived earlier this week. I shared it with a small handful of people, not offering the name of the author, and most responded with tears and emotion, amazed and encouraged. Of those with whom I shared the message, most–if not all, besides my husband– were also conservative Mennonites. And because it was so encouraging to them, I decided to share it in a blog….

I am accustomed to receiving letters, emails, text messages and Facebook messages from strangers. It’s pretty much a daily occurrence, so when I saw that note, I was mostly nonchalant about it. That is, until I started reading. And my eyes have this way of taking in an entire page all at once, but registering only a portion, so words popped out grabbing my attention. “…don’t know me… conservative… minister… negative connotation…” This can be a distressing thing, at times, when the wrong words grab me, and my heart rate increased ever so slightly as I read it.

The shock at what I read, compelled me to read it at least three times before it all registered. (All identifying information has been edited out:

Trudy, We have never met but I feel a fire inside to drop you a line this morning. I am a conservative Anabaptist …minister…. Recently …in the course of different conversations your name come up at least a half dozen times often with negative connotations but not always. For your name to come up that often you must be having a big impact … I want to do 2 things.
1. I want ask for forgiveness where “my” people have spoken evil of you for just following the call on your life.
2. I want to thank you for following that call and not giving up. We need you. Your call? Isaiah 61:1

By the third reading I felt like a dam was pushing against the inner walls of my heart, threatening to burst, but it would not give way. I wanted to weep, but only a lonely tear or two formed. A thousand thoughts flew through my mind and memory, of all this one message addresses in my heart, and the ‘history’ of my life among ‘his’ people… who are and always will also be ‘my’ people.

In an instant I realized how very healed my heart is in so many ways and places, and yet how there are small ‘brutally raw’ spots, waiting to heal. The words God had spoken, and words I shared with Tim and a few friends a few years ago, when my heart was particularly raw, returned, “Healing will come… and it will come from the very source of your pain.” At the time I tried to imagine just how my healing could or would ever come from ‘my people’, where so much pain had entered my life and broken trust with God. But I chose to believe it.

And little by little it came… A note from a friend still in the setting… and another… and another… An encouragement from one Conservative Mennonite pastor after my book came out in March… and then another… and another… and another, until there were six.

And then the unthinkable happened. Never in a million years would I have anticipated it or even dared to desire such a thing… but it came. I attended a funeral in my former church setting, and a leader I knew in ‘those years’ shook my hand. But he didn’t let go. He held my hand and his voice choked up as he thanked me for honouring them in my book. “We didn’t deserve it,” he said. I smiled and patted his hand–still holding mine–“I think you did,” I said. Tears formed then, as he continued, apologizing for not understanding me, for not being there and for failing me. “I wish we had done more to help you,” he said.  I thanked him, and immediately felt it; another moment of healing.

These moments have been representative of my Heavenly Father; Abba… Papa God, who cares personally and intimately about every wound in my heart. Even the ones I forgot I had, or never acknowledged. I expected nothing more in the way of healing. My heart was full.

And I think that is why the note this week was so overwhelming. It wasn’t just about the past. It was about the ongoing lies, evil-speaking and attacks on our ministry. (Which, thank God, I have learned to let run off as the oil of the Holy Spirit covers me and doesn’t allow it to penetrate.) But more than that, it was a blessing on our ministry.

Ultimately my affirmation comes first from my Heavenly Father, very directly, as He ministers to my heart. Secondly it comes from my husband who stands with me. Thirdly it comes from hearing and reading about others who are rising up to bring the healing of Jesus to the broken and wounded in the church. I seek nothing beyond that, in the way of endorsement or affirmation.

So when a moment like this drops out of the clear blue sky, my heart and spirit are almost overcome. I thank God for this minister’s encouragement, for his ministry to the wounded, and for a reminder that there are others ‘within’ in spiritual warfare for the children and offering the hope of Jesus to the wounded.

It is my prayer that this minister’s note will be encouraging for those of you who are also conservative Mennonite and feel alone and abandoned. If you are wondering if any of ‘our people’ and leaders in particular, will acknowledge what was done against you, and the need for your heart to find healing, now you know.

I recently received a message from an abuse victim, asking if every conservative Mennonite victim of sexual abuse gets the urge to strangle anyone they see wearing a plain suit coat. And in another email this note arrived not so long ago, from a victim of extreme sexual violence, in a religious home with this question:
“why is it that the people who ‘look the most christian’ are the ones that are the least understanding and the most hurtful? Even the ones who don’t place much stock in a host of church rules etc. The people who have shown me a clear picture of who God really is are people who my friends and family would call wordly. (…) It’s been drilled into us since we were kids that if they don’t wear a Menno dress they probably aren’t Christian and yet look at what all goes on in the life of people who wear the ‘right’ clothes. When it comes to some of these people it feels like the only thing you accomplish is beating your head on a brick wall.”

 

My prayer is that the gentleman/minister who wrote the note of encouragement and apology, who also wears a plain suit coat and is conservative Anabaptist, will be representative of the Father’s heart to you as he was to me, and a reminder that good and evil dwell in every culture. And I pray that healing will come to each of you also–even from the very ‘source’ of your pain–as it has for me, as Jesus is represented will by those who love Him above all else, including image and religion.

Those of us who love Him, will love you also, and we will tear down the dividing walls between brothers and sisters in Christ, with no regard for self preservation. We will put ourselves on the line for your well-being, because that is the way of Jesus.

Last but not least, I want to bless this minister of the healing Gospel of Jesus. I pray that God will enlarge his sphere of influence, so that many of ‘his people’ will know the healing touch of Jesus Christ, through him, his wife, his family and his church.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger