Sexual Abuse & Violence: The Travelling Missionary… Rapist

Life at home had remained sporadically abusive and dysfunctional, with seasons of peace.

During the peaceful times I loved life. We spent a lot of time playing games, especially outdoor activities like shadow tag, prisoner’s base, baseball and soccer. Besides denial, humour was our survival mechanism during hard times, so that carried over to times when life was good. Practical jokes done by older siblings, like hanging a bucket of water over a door for the next unsuspecting victim, and other pranks, impressed and entertained us.  Sometimes life was wonderful. But then it would take a sudden twist.

Three years after we moved to Canada, our family met the ‘white bonnet’ Mennonites, as we referred to them. Our parents were quickly drawn into their culture and beliefs, convinced that if we embraced their lifestyle, things would be good. Dad’s desperate pursuit of God and His acceptance, would finally be fulfilled, and we would be safe.

High hopes in humanity seldom end well. People, regardless of culture, religion, or any other belief system, are simply human beings. They looked so peaceful, presented so well… with such purity, that it was hard to envision anything lurking beneath that exterior.

It could have happened anywhere, but it happened in the Conservative Mennonite churches of Ontario, where we least expected it, when I was a young preteen….

A single man, a ‘missionary’ with many reels of film, maps, atlases, and picture albums, whom we will call Harold, travelled from Mennonite community to Mennonite community, all across Canada. ‘Harold’ visited many churches out West, and also frequented our little community, near Bayfield Ontario.

What was unique about this man, is that he dressed conservative, even though he was not Mennonite. Not quite like our culture, but close enough to be accepted, though more conservative.

Harold told stories, an engaging speaker, and had a way with children. I loved when he visited our community and especially loved when he spent time in our home. As children we crowded around him to get the best view of the photo albums that brought his stories to life.

I couldn’t understand why some of my siblings were not so engaged, why they withdrew–especially my older sisters. They couldn’t tolerate him. I had hopes that maybe he would marry one of my sisters and become my brother-in-law. But I was only a child then, of about age eleven.

At church I eventually overheard rumblings of negative opinion, criticizing Harold, but that was normal for ‘outsiders’. We never had a visitor that someone could not find fault with, whether it was their cowboy boots, the sideburns, long hair or some other detail that wasn’t within our church constitution. There was simply no one else quite as good as we were. We had a cutting edge on practical Christianity.

Gradually he came around less frequently, until he all but vanished and I all but forgot he existed.

Years later I learned that Harold left a trail of victims in his wake, having seduced young men, raped boys, and made attempts on others unsuccessfully.

What remains troubling to me is that the church leaders knew who Harold was, and that he victimized multiple people, and they did nothing. They could not help what he was, and what he did, but to remain silent and not report him is inexcusable. I do not know or understand their reasoning, and it wasn’t that their lives remained untouched. At least one leader’s family was directly impacted,, triggering a chain effect of abuse, as his victims became perpetrators and their victims became perpetrators. Still the church remained silent.

While I got by with no extreme violations, through the chain effect, others close to me were not so fortunate. In recent years some have shared their stories with me.

Why tell this now? Why not leave the past in the past and only look ahead? On a personal life experience level I have left it in the past. But in breaking the silence it needs to be addressed.

If I was convinced it was in the past, I would leave it there. But I am not and there are a few good reasons to speak up. First of all, people need to be aware that this kind of thing happens, and their children need to be protected. Only a few years ago I learned that his man still travels across Canada, from community to community.

Secondly, if you or your child was victimized by Harold, or anyone else, there is help available. If you don’t know where to turn for help, and don’t know how to access resources available, I will gladly assist you. (info ‘at’ faithgirlsunleashed ‘dot’ com)

Thirdly, it is an appeal to the church to begin speaking up and taking a stand. We are called to protect innocent victims under our care as much as possible. They need us. Jesus said that whoever offends one of these little ones, it would be better to have a mill stone hung around their neck and be thrown into the sea. God does not take lightly the abuse of children.

As the body of Christ we cannot always help what enters our churches. But when innocent children are at risk, and crimes are committed, we have a moral and legal obligation to report crime to authorities and let the law deal with them.

We do not need to stand helplessly by. Together we can make a difference. Together we can stop the ‘Harold’s’ of this world and create accountability.

© Trudy Metzger

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Sexual Abuse & Violence: Unexpected Hope in the Old Order Amish

Not long after the seminar on sexual abuse in closed cultures, I received a phone call. An Old Order woman, whom I had met at that end of the seminar, wondered if I had time to talk. She wanted to share her story with me.

I called Lydia yesterday to tell her that I am writing about Sexual Abuse on my blog, and to ask permission to write about her story. Her only request was to not disclose her real name and location, so to protect her identity, I have called her Lydia.

Lydia was not the typical childhood sexual abuse victim that we tend to hear about in Mennonite cultures. To my knowledge, adult sexual abuse is much less common, with this being one of very few cases I am aware of, unlike childhood sexual abuse, which is rampant.

Lydia worked as a school teacher at a parochial school, run by the Old Order church. A man from her church, whom we will call Elam, and the father of some of her students, sexually assaulted Lydia. Not knowing what to do, she internalized it and became depressed. People noticed that something was wrong, so the school board sent one of the church leaders in to check on her and find out what was going on.

Rather than giving Lydia a safe place to share, the church leader paid her a visit at the end of a school day, when she was all alone. With no witnesses, he further victimized Lydia.

In hopes of leaving it all behind, Lydia started teaching at one of their other schools. A new start. A new world. A new life. But, thanks to prayer requests and other gossip lines, some ill-intending man in the new church paid her a visit. Again Lydia was sexually assaulted by one of her own.

This time Lydia decided she had enough, so she approached her leaders to expose the abuse she faced at every turn. But, rather than receiving help or support, the church found her guilty of ‘sowing discord in the brotherhood’, lying and falsely accusing brothers in the church.  Consequently, Lydia was placed on church discipline.

It was over that time that Lydia and I connected most frequently. Her resilience and determination remain an inspiration to me, to this day. While Lydia grieved the treatment she received, she did not surrender or feel sorry for herself.

“Trudy, I could leave the church. But if I do that, who would fight for the others? I believe God wants me to stay and keep fighting for the truth,” Lydia said.

I have never been more proud of a woman in my life. Lydia did her best to hold her head up, attending church Sunday after Sunday, with the ‘mark’ of church discipline on her. When her time came to be restored, there was some debate whether they could accept her into fellowship but she challenged them. What sin had she committed? What in her life was not in line with God’s Word and the church’s rules? They had nothing on her, so they accepted her back into fellowship.

I can’t recall if that was the end of it, or if she went through a second round of discipline, but laying aside those details, she stayed the course, determined to make it safe for victims to ask for help.

This determination led her to persist, gently, with her Bishop and his wife, asking them to hear her heart and help her. At first it was a battle. The treatment she received was not very kind. Still she continued to interact, to ask for meetings, to share her heart.

Eventually she won their trust and received an apology from them for the way they had treated her. Some things she had to choose to ‘forgive and release’, like the church discipline, knowing it would never truly be ‘made right’ by the church.

As Lydia continued to share her story, discreetly and for the purpose of redemption, doors began to open for her to help other victims. That fiasco was a lot of years ago. Lydia and I still stay in touch, from time to time, and she still mentors other victims in the church. God is opening doors, and Lydia remains a voice of hope and healing, breaking the silence of sexual abuse.

If we look for it, there is always a thread of grace in our stories. It is out of Lydia’s tragic story of abuse that she is now able to break that silence. Nothing is lost with God, if we allow Him to redeem our experiences.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

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