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!

red brochure front

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

Multi-cultural, Inter-denominational Ministry… The Way it Should Be

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Speaker team for Healing for the Brokenhearted Conference October 23-24, 2015 (Diane & Jim Burkholder; Faith & Dale Ingraham; Trudy & Tim Metzger)

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”.

colour of love

And that partnering together is one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced in my life.

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

“Line ’em up & shoot ’em” said the Baptist Pastor… “Get over it” said the Mennonite Minister

It’s all a bit ironic now, looking back, how the first two pastors responded when I spoke with them about sexual abuse in my early twenties. The most intriguing part of opening up the door to working through abuse was the way these pastors responded, given that they were in a position of spiritual leadership.

My cousin Maria seemed to feel an element of responsibility for my wellbeing, after our conversation, most likely because I was so much younger, and she knew what it was like to be victimized. She called me some time after my visit and wondered if I would meet with her and her pastor some evening. She had already told him her story, so the groundwork was laid. I wouldn’t need to do a lot of explaining, but maybe he could be of some support.

“Sure, I’d do that,” I said. What harm could it do?

And that is how I found myself in a pastor’s office in the Baptist church, a few minutes from Maria’s home. Maria and I sat, side by side, across the desk from the pastor.

The pastor opened the conversation. “Maria tells me your father sexually abused you.”

“Yes. The memories are still very vague, but something happened. I went to her because I remembered rumours in my childhood that I didn’t understand then, but I thought maybe he had abused her too. She confirmed it.”

The pastor leaned back in his chair. “He should be shot.” He said it as nonchalantly, yet matter-of-factly as if he had said my dad needed medication.

Startled, I did what I always do in an awkward, uncomfortable situation that catches me off guard. I snorted. A half laugh, half something-I-can’t identify sound that says, “You didn’t just say that… I must have heard wrong…” I said something like, “pardon me?”

The pastor, unflinching, and still leaning back in his chair said again, “He should be shot. Anyone who does that to a child should be shot. Line ‘em up and shoot ‘em all.”

“No. I disagree,” I said. “What about forgiveness? What about grace? What my dad did is terrible, but God’s grace has to be big enough for that too,” I spoke more in defence of God’s grace than my father. I understood well the desire to see my father pay for his sins. As a young teenager I had prayed for his death many times. I had often asked God to ‘make him repent and then run him off a cliff so he goes to heaven, and we don’t  have to hurt like this anymore.’ Each time, immediately after praying that prayer, I felt a pang of guilt and shame for wishing him dead, but I had never withdrawn the request. And at night, when he would pull up again, I felt the same guilt for being sorry he was still alive. I couldn’t judge the pastor. I understood. Still, when Jesus saved me from my ‘hell’, He had offered complete, unconditional forgiveness. How could I withhold that from someone else?

The pastor insisted that it was the one crime that should always result in death. Every time. When an innocent child suffers sexual abuse at the hands of an adult, it should go without saying.

We chatted a while and parted ways. He was kind enough, and compassionate towards me, but I was not interested in a pastor sentencing my father. No harm was done, and nothing was gained.

The first time I told my one Mennonite pastor and his wife, when I was struggling with some life ‘stuff’, the pastor also spoke quite matter-of-factly, but with a very different message. “You know, Trudy, you can’t use that as an excuse for your struggles. You need to take ownership.”

And that was the end of that discussion. I was simply to choose to ‘Get over it.” There was no effort made to hear my heart, to encourage me to get counselling or go for other help. I was simply to ‘not allow’ it to impact me. It seemed really quite simple, from their point of view.

Their response, in hindsight, reminds me of the Bob Newhart skit ‘Stop it’. (click here to view clip on YouTube.)

As though the impact of a traumatic past would simply have an on off button that you simply press ‘stop’ and the impact is gone and your whole life is right. You simply ‘stop it’.

Both pastors—the first two that I told—responded to extremes and neither had the answer, yet both had an element of truth.

Sinners deserve to die. Death is the consequence for sin, just as the first pastor said it should be. But, because Jesus took that penalty, we go free and we are given life eternal if we repent. And that is all sinners.

The second pastor also had a point. I don’t have to give the past power over my present and I do have to take ownership of my life. Part of taking ownership, however, and it is the part he failed to recognize, is in acknowledging the past and daring to walk through the pain. In seeing how horrible it was, and allowing Jesus to heal that pain.

Freedom does not come through denial and suppression. If the past causes a present struggle, then I need to invite Jesus into that, allow Him to heal that past and set me free from the bondage of unforgiveness. The instant I choose to forgive, I am free from the burden of that perpetrator’s sins against me.

I have since spoken with many pastors who give very different advice to abuse victims. Thank God. The first two spoke out of ignorance and a lack of experience, and I won’t hold it against them. Fortunately I had Howard and Alice, and a few other great people, speaking into my life and the advice these pastors gave didn’t throw me. It could all have turned out very differently, had I been fragile and without support in either situation.

Somewhere between these two responses is a healthy response to abuse. Both of these examples go to show the importance of leaders being educated on the topic of sexual abuse, and sexuality in general, and knowing how to deal with abuse situations in a redemptive, healthy way. In knowing how to hear hearts, while not compromising God’s redemptive truth.

If you are a pastor reading this, or someone who works with victims, and would like resources, email me at info@faithgirlsunleashed.com and I will do my best to assist you.

© Trudy Metzger

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