New International Version (NIV)
21 Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
There are many things we can dream up, plan for and create. Many good things, in fact. But the move of the Holy Spirit is not something we can understand, much less control, or even truly define. There is a sacredness in what God does in the hearts of people, that moves my spirit in awe and wonder.
We witnessed that again this past weekend, at the Shattering the Silence conference, for men and women, addressing sexual abuse within Mennonite and plain cultures.
Our goal was to create a conference with sensitivity to the more conservative culture, by toning down our typical energetic worship, in both volume and intensity. We also had more gentlemen involved, and taking more active leadership, with me taking a step back. A little step, since I inevitably need to be involved, but a step none-the-less, which I didn’t mind at all. These were good things, but we could not have anticipated or created the sweet response from the majority of the audience. Only God can touch hearts at that level.
Friday evening went well, with much higher attendance than we had anticipated for a first time event, specifically targeting the culture. Going into it, we had no way of knowing whether they would see that our intent was to create an environment that would be more comfortable for the culture, or if they would misunderstand us as saying the problem of sexual abuse is a Mennonite specific problem. The response was encouraging.
Pastor Dale Ingraham welcomed the audience and introduced the weekend, and then invited Tim and me to come up, so he and Tim could lay hands on me, and pray over me before sharing. This is something we do at every mixed gender conference, at my request. I would not, apart from Tim releasing me to do so, enter into speaking to men. It is a personal conviction I have, that I want to function with his blessing and release, as my leader. In the past, when he has said, ‘No’, or ‘Not now’, I respected that and waited for that release before moving ahead, and I’ve never regretted it. (Though I have been terribly impatient at times during the ‘waiting’ period!) I know that there is safety and protection in God’s design, and I feel that protection in ministry.
To break the ice I read a few jokes that highlight the difference between men and women. I then did a short talk about the strength of the Mennonite culture–the strong sense of community–and how the enemy is using this strength to his advantage, because of silence. There is something incredibly beautiful about the closeness of the culture, and the ability to band together in the face of hardship, as well as the social interactions and support of the Mennonite community.
It is also a place where much sexual interaction takes place between children, or youth, or youth and children, leading to all kinds of struggles in life. And, from the many cases I’ve been involved in, it often begins with a victimized child introducing other children, and it mushrooms from there into a much bigger problem, and sexual addictions.
I shared how, if we break the silence and begin to take the power away from the enemy, by teaching our sons and daughters of their sexual identity, their worth, their right to protect themselves, and make Jesus number one, then the Mennonite culture would be, without a doubt, the safest environment for our children. I honour the simplicity of the Mennonite lifestyle, though I do not idolize it or make it ‘a god’, and that simplicity, when Jesus is lifted high, and God is worshipped, is truly sweet.
I then shared glimpses of my story, and how I went back and found Jesus in the pain and hell of my story. He never abandons us, but suffers with us, and meets us in the trauma, through the people who love us, through nature and in little ways that we sometimes can only see in hindsight. I shared how He is always there, but we need to invite Him into our healing journey and, when we do, He takes us to a place of hope, restoration, and forgiving those who wounded us.
After my talk, Dale Ingraham and his wife Faith spoke to the audience, in turn, making confessions on behalf of fathers and mothers who have not protected their children, or, worse, who have abused their children. Faith speaks on behalf of mothers beautifully, even though she was violated by her own father, a pastor, and was not protected by her mother in childhood, or in adulthood. Dale, who has walked gently with Faith in her healing journey, did an excellent job on behalf of fathers.
I spoke on behalf of women who have abuse women or men, acknowledging the pain and destruction we have brought into their lives, and asked them to forgive us. As someone whose childhood was scarred with abuse, by both males and females, and who witnessed a group of older teens abusing a group of children when I was only three, it is not hard for me to imagine the damage. To stand in the gap, and make that confession is gut-wrenching for me, and when I ask the audience to forgive us, I can only pray that God does His work, and brings healing to the brokenness of their experience.
Tim made a confession on behalf of men who have abused women or other males. His life was amazingly protected from sexual abuse, with no memory or reason to believe he ever suffered such abuse, but he has seen in me the ‘hell’ this trauma causes. He has held me countless times as I wept, watches as my body curled into the fetal position, in those early years of working through the trauma. When he speaks, he speaks as one who has seen the devastating aftermath, and patiently, lovingly walked me through it.
Pastor Dale then went back on stage and did the pastor’s confession, which is always powerfully touching. He speaks, as a pastor, on behalf of pastors who have silenced victims, or otherwise disregarded and shut them down, for personal agenda, religious pride and various other reasons. He also speaks on behalf of pastors who have been perpetrators, knowing his wife was abused by her own father, a pastor.
Pastor Dale then closed by inviting the worship team to do a song or two, while giving opportunity for anyone who needed prayer, to come to someone on the ministry team.
Saturday morning we started with the testimonies of two Mennonite women from the states. For privacy and confidentiality reasons, I cannot share their stories, but suffice it to say they did amazing with difficult testimonies. It was incredibly powerful to hear their journeys of trauma, tragedy and ultimately healing. They gave the audience permission to acknowledge their pain, their stories, within the culture.
At break a Conservative Mennonite man, along with his wife and a friend, approached me. With tears in his eyes he said, “I’ve waited for many, many years for someone to rise up and break the silence.” His wife stood beside him nodding, tears in her eyes, obviously choking back emotion. He paused, then continued, “Their story is my story. Everything they said, I went through.”
They thanked me, all of three of them, and walked away. If no one else had appreciated the weekend, that moment, alone, would have been more than enough of a sign from heaven, that we did the right thing. But it was one of many, many such sentiments.
Dr. Timothy Warner spoke on Identity in Christ, and the power we have over the enemy, when we understand the ‘rights’ and blessings that come with sonship, as God’s adopted children, as co-heirs with Jesus. He explains in depth, beautifully, something we hear superficially, but often don’t understand just what it means.
Numerous people said, after hearing Dr. Warner’s message, that they wish they had known this many years ago. It is life changing, and empowering to know who we are in Christ!
After lunch Pastor Dale spoke on ‘When Life Hurts the Most’, acknowledging the suffering of victims, and the enemy’s determination to destroy victims through that suffering. He based his message on the life of Job, and also shared part of his wife’s story, and their journey.
The final talk was “Unleashing the Next Generation: A New Legacy”. I used the story of Achan to show that God hates silence, and burying sin ‘in the camp’, or church, as the case may be. If God despised stolen clothes hidden under the tent of one man, then surely, surely, He will hold the Body of Christ to account if we remain silent and hide stolen innocence–crimes and violence against children–under our proverbial church rug.
I felt led to close with an invitation to men, to rise up, to be like Joshua, and with the same gentleness with which he addresses Achan, to call the church to repentance. Joshua 7:19 says, “Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.” I asked them to respond to God’s call to protect their wives and children, and be the men of God that He calls them to be. The vast majority of men rose to their feet, and in one moment, my heart thrilled at what took place.
The moment was one of simply hearing God and obeying what I sensed He asked me to say. I had no plan, no agenda. For an instant I had no idea what I would do next, but almost immediately I sensed God asking us, as women to rise up to support our leaders, to honour them and show are appreciation, but also to plug into that leadership, and become all that God has called us to be. I presented this, and gave women opportunity to respond, and they did. Most of them.
Last, I invited those willing to join me, to unite as the Body of Christ, with differing cultures and backgrounds, to stand together in the name of Jesus. To fight for our families, our churches, and our communities. More than half of the audience filed to the front, starting with one young conservative Mennonite couple, who came from the back down the centre aisle.
As we sang the closing song, ‘Because He Lives’, surrounded by fellow believers, I noted an Old Order couple still standing at their pew, singing with hands raised in worship. It was truly beautiful! This is what we, the Body of Christ were created for. To band together, from all cultures and backgrounds, and lift up the name of Jesus, in whose name we will conquer the darkness.
Thank you to all who attended, all who prayed, all who helped in any way. We were blessed beyond anything we anticipated or imagined. If ever I was blessed by an encounter with God, and His children, it was in this weekend of worship with ‘my people’, and fellow believers from my cultural roots. It was a healing moment!
I am returning to posting one blog a week, scheduled on Fridays, whenever possible. I may add an occasional extra post, but Fridays will be consistent, apart from technical difficulties, or some other unforeseen interference. As the business of ministry overtakes me, it is increasingly difficult to find the time to write as much as I would like.
It is challenging to prioritize the things I love, and the things God has called me to, and balance those things with family. Ultimately family must come first, though we do sacrifice on that front for the ministry.
I appreciate your prayers, your support, your encouragement, and even the ‘challenges’ when you don’t agree or see eye to eye. All of these are an important part of shaping me, and making me all that God has called me to be. I, in turn, pray for you, my readers, that God will continue to draw you to Himself, to His heart, to know Him, and be fully known and loved by Him.
© Trudy Metzger
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