50 years… almost…and a dream..

Some time ago, I said to Tim, “I hope we die together, holding hands in our sleep, when we’re in our early 80’s.” 

“Speak for yourself,” he said, “I want to live into my 90’s”. 

I laughed. “Well, I hope your last years aren’t too lonely!” And then I instructed him, as I do from time to time, that if I should die before him, he should get married again soon so he’s not too lonely. 

I am about to start my 50th year. It’s reasonable to believe that this means over half of my life is gone. (Is it okay to say, “I hope so!”? I have no ambitions of living to 100. None. Yes, yes, I know. God ordains my days and I get no say. I’m good with that. I’m just saying I don’t get it about people who want to make it to 100. It baffles me.

We were never ones to celebrate birthdays much, at home. I had one party at age 10, with three friends over, and Mrs. Frank Roth, my one friend’s mother, had sewn me an apron in white with lime green frills around it, and flowers painted on the white centre panel. I think I still have it tucked away in a box of treasures somewhere. It was pretty special. Not because I cooked a lot — I was more likely found in the barn than in the house — but it was from my friend, and her mom had taken time to make it.

With the start of my 50th year being just a jog away (I turn 49 on Friday November 23), I started thinking about what I want that year to be…

And the only thing I long for is a breakthrough year for survivors of sexual abuse in our conservative Mennonite/Anabaptist communities. We are planning an event, and  limiting it to various conservative Mennonites and Anabaptists because we are a unique culture. We have suffered in unique ways, and process abuse with mindsets shaped in very specific ways within the culture, not easily understood by those who were not raised like us. (This includes everyone from conservative Mennonites, Amish, Old Order, Hutterite, Markham, Old Colony, Mid-West, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-West, Eastern, NorthEastern, SouthEastern, Pilgrim, Nationwide, Fellowship, River Brethren, German Baptist and everyone in between and beyond. And if you don’t have a clue what any of those mean or are… I’m guessing you are not from a conservative Anabaptist community.) And it is for both male and female survivors of abuse, but excludes those who went on to victimize and abuse others as adults. 

We’ve had conferences and seminars, and they’ve been good. More recently we’ve done training days, offering sessions for those wishing to support victims. These have been very well received, and I’ve enjoyed doing them. (Tentatively we plan to do a two-day even here in Ontario, April 2019, followed up with a Friday evening to Saturday conference.)

But this year I want to do something special for the survivors who are often neglected among us. Rather than a teaching conference, I’ve long dreamed of bringing survivors together to acknowledge and grieve/mourn the suffering, and also celebrating purpose and hope and experiencing God with us… the God who enters in and suffers with us and among us… who weeps with us and gives us permission to enter raw places in our hearts, without pretence. (Jesus wept. King David sat in sackcloth and ashes. Job… the prophets… These heroes of faith grieved. It’s time to shatter the politeness that denies suffering, and let God visit our sorrow. Only then will healing come. No amount of teaching, training and ‘fixing’ will change the course of history until God has dwelt among us in our suffering, and that suffering is acknowledged.)

We will have compassionate leaders speak life and hope over the audience. No preaching…. let along long preaching or ‘advice’. No telling them how to get over it or do better. Just life. Spoken in the present. Purpose, declared. In the present. Love offered, without judgement. In the present. Just as we are. Because it is that ‘present hope’ that transforms us, not the pressure of trying to attain.

We will have some survivors share poetry, art, and will all worship God in the midst of suffering. There is something powerful that happens in worship, and there is something powerful that happens when pain is acknowledged and we discover we are not alone. People care. We are in this together…. Bring together the acknowledgement of suffering with the presence and worship of God… Ah… yes please!

And the beauty of how God has wired us! In trauma we tend to lock up and lose our words. Yet, through art He gives us expression that cannot come out any other way, and though it He invites us to healing. And in that expression, we connect with others and it opens up their spirits to hope and healing. This is true of music, painting, poetry, dance, mime and so many avenues. We are not all the same. A painting may do nothing for one of us, yet move the heart of another to tears. The same with poetry. But when expression pours from the heart of the other, we enter into their story and find permission to enter ours. When I studied this in trauma class, I spent several weeks on a project, and in 12 weeks of that course, the healing that came to locked up places was almost surreal.  Yet, when I return to the project I did — a poem set to dramatic background music — I still weep because it still unlocks a place in my soul, connected to childhood, that only art can touch. And it is beautiful. Because the pain means I survived, I overcame. I am alive! And that connection with fellow survivors is what my heart longs to create, with the help of many.

I shared it with a handful of people, and the response was exceptionally positive. I posted an email address to sign up for updates, and within minutes the emails came in. Updates have been well received, with many taking time to give feedback in response to ideas. Voting on things like location — with Lancaster PA by far in the lead — and whether to have a concert at the end of the day, or with what musician…. Jason Gray took a strong lead here, as many have already found his music to be very healing and uplifting. So we put in a request to have him come, and are waiting to hear back.

Over the years I’ve used his music (as well as Matthew West, 10th Avenue North, and others, but especially Jason Gray’s) to minister to the brokenhearted, to give them a safe space after sexual assault or other abuse, when down and out or struggling with suicidal ideation. In one of my earlier blogs I shared a young woman’s story – with permission – and the night of breakthrough God used Jason Gray’s song Nothing is Wasted to open her heart, and set her on a journey of freedom. Another young woman asked me to take her to the location where she had suffered deep trauma, and we played Remind me Who I Am, as she faced her trauma and wept. Many of my early clients could tell stories of finding permission to grieve and struggle through chaos of their stories, inviting God to speak through the avenue of music, when the spirit cannot hear Him for the pain.

To make it all happen is going to require a ton of organizing and planning. Which I love, fortunately! And I’ve recruited the help of a handful of other individuals, with yet others messaging to offer their assistance! (We are so thankful for each of you!) A few of us are already talking food prep, because… well, it’s our culture and we love good food! (We’ll try to feed you well, though we may not compete with a traditional Mennonite Sunday dinner.) One enthusiastic volunteer spent the night after a conversation dreaming we were making food together, so she’s all in! I will be donating hundreds of hours throughout the year, and many volunteers will also be giving of their time and resources, for which we are thankful. If you want to be updated, please send an email to AslanHasHeard@gmail.com.

I’ve set up a fundraiser on FB – which has generated almost $2000 since Saturday.  (However, the majority of donors have given through our website at Generations Unleashed since this is an American event, and the FB fundraiser only allows Canadians to give). All funds are specifically allocated for this event expenses, with the hopes that it will allow hundreds of victims to attend at minimal cost to them. (We ask for a non-refundable $15 to $20 contribution, as it creates a sense of ownership and commitment.) 

In the next few months we will need to raise around $15,000 for this event, to cover venue rental, the fee for bringing in a musician, and food costs. The minimal registration fee will go towards these costs as well, as we anticipate more than $15,000 in expenses.  If you wish to contribute, please visit our website by clicking HERE

I have one wish for my 50th year… that victims will be heard like never before, their suffering be acknowledged, and that they will become survivors, and then move from being survivors to being warriors for truth and justice, willing to lay down their lives for the next generation. This is my birthday prayer this week,  and my prayer for the event next November.

That is how I want to celebrate 50 years on this planet, (if God grants me one more year), by gathering with hundreds who, like me, thought they are/were the only ones molested and abused. And for every celebration between now and then — birthday, Christmas, anniversary and my 50th next November — the only gift I long for is making this event possible for survivors of sexual violence. 

Love, 

~ T ~ 

© Trudy Metzger 2018

Behind Our Pulpits…

EDIT: (Since posting this and the previous blog, I discovered several websites doing the same thing we started here. As a result, and since there is no good reason for a few of us to do the same thing, I am updating the info for reporting abusers. Please forward all requests to the contact info here: https://www.themaplist.org/#contact and check out the list already started here: https://www.themaplist.org/the-map-list/. This group is posting publicly, which we were not prepared to do.)

Our goal is not to bring destruction, but healing, hope and accountability. This accountability includes accountability to the laws of the land, and also includes a willingness (even preference for) working with Restorative Justice initiatives where victims voices are heard and included, and where offenders are offered support to help them overcome their addictions and remain accountable to a team of people upon release from prison.

We are not targeting ‘our people’ to destroy anyone (not even the culture), to shame anyone (not even the leaders or the culture), but to give victims who are terrified to speak out a safe place to be heard. The power under which many victims function is suffocating. And in a purity culture of silence, the shame and consequences for speaking out make it all but impossible for victims to break free and find a voice. Advised to take medications (by leaders, family and friends) while held in that silence, is deadly. The spirit dies. The soul dies. The mind goes insane. Or numb. Everything goes numb.

Medications have a place, but they are not the answer, and the number of victims barely surviving, popping pills but speaking to no one, is tragic. It is also unnecessary to suffer in silence. If you are a victim, I encourage you to find the courage to speak out. We will support you as much as possible in helping you find the supports you need. Those who want people ‘on the inside’ (leaders and lay people in the conservative Anabaptist church) we can connect you to these leaders. We trust them, and we are confident you can too. Those who wish for support only outside of the culture, we will honour that.

But you need to know, there are conservative leaders (none on our team, as that would prove intimidating for many victims) whom we know are 100% supportive of you and who will fight for you. They are amazing, godly men and women who are real ‘Jesus people’. Yes, in their straight-cut, plain suits, and black hats, and their wives in cape dresses, white coverings and black bonnets… they are there rooting for you and fighting for you. They pray and they care. They don’t ever need to know what you are going through (nor will we disclose your info to them) but you need to know that they are among you. That is true in Ontario, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and beyond. We are not asking you to trust them, or have any interaction and (it bears repeating) we won’t leak any info to them. But you deserve to know there are those who sit in your pews who bless the work we are doing, as Generations Unleashed. (Those who oppose and hate people who work with sexual violence in the church are often (eventually) exposed for sexual sin and/or hiding it for family or friends.)

God is moving on the inside… He has heard the prayers and cries of many, many wounded and their families, and is keeping His promise in Habakkuk, that he will do a thing that we would not have believed if someone had told us. Early in ministry, a conservative Mennonite woman sent me those verses and said God showed her that in relation to our ministry to victims. I still have her note. And I still believe that God is doing just that.

To this end, I pray…

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger 2018

Dear Victim, You Have Permission to Speak: #NoMoreSilence

Victims of sexual abuse often struggle with a sense of obligation to silence. There are many reasons for this, ranging from an imposed silence, to personal guilt, to religious duty. Many victims spend more time worrying that they will ‘destroy their abuser’ than most abusers seem to worry about the damage done by their horrendous acts.

I hear comments like, “I can’t tell what my (uncle/brother/sister/cousin…) did to me. It would be too hard for everyone… And I would feel so bad for destroying my family.” Or, “My family would disown me if…” or some other fear of rejection. But one of the most common reasons for silence is a sense of religious obligation, as though the victim is being ungodly, unkind, or destructive by exposing the offender, or sharing their story or testimony.

The latter is often justified by twisting the word of God into some distorted misrepresentation of truth that messes with the mind. Frequently Ephesians 5:12 is used to impose such silence, declaring that ‘The Word of God even says it is shameful to speak about those things” while completely disregarding the real message, that speaking out breaks the darkness and brings light.

God gives us permission to speak. He does not impose a code of silence on people and doesn’t expect only the good stories to be told. The Bible is our guide and example, and it is full of murder and mayhem, sexual abuse and violence… and the consequences for such things.

If you are a victim of abuse who has been muzzled, you are free to speak, with God’s blessing. You owe nothing to silence, and certainly don’t owe silence to the abuser. Truth can be spoken without evil intent, and if the offender is truly repentant, his or her reputation will not be their first priority.

Speaking out and breaking the power of silence plays a role in freedom and breaking both personal and generational strongholds. Choose freedom. Choose light. Choose to expose.

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Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger

All Mennonites are Not Sexual Predators…

…any more than all Christians are hypocrites,  all Germans are Nazi’s, all blacks are gangsters and all priests are paedophiles.  Those statements are stereotypical and false.

But it is difficult to write about the crimes and cover ups in a particular people group, and be a voice for the victims, without making the whole lot of them look party to the crime, without naming names, one way or the other. If the telling of every story is required to justify those who are not party to the crimes and cover ups, it is just another way of downplaying the pain of victims, and taking away their voice. And that, in my opinion, is just as corrupt.

I wrote this blog in response to very particular ‘challenges’ I received, privately, from several ministers in conservative Mennonite settings concerned over how I make the Mennonite church look by sharing the stories of Mennonites. Both were respectful, for the most part. And my response was intended to validate their views, that all Mennonites are not Sexual Predators, and the stories I post misrepresent the culture.

My most recent blog post “Mennonite Woman Responds to Recent Column: My abusers are my church leaders” , which received almost 4000 views in just over 24 hours,  was met with a sprinkling of similar criticism while many messages of support, appreciation, compassion, concern and identification poured in. And I say ‘sprinkling’ because, less than a handful of messages expressed frustration at the misrepresentation of the culture also arrived. Even ‘sprinkling’ is exaggerated.

So this blog, which was originally inspired by several church leaders–appropriately follows the most recent blog exposing abuse in the culture. (Though I challenge readers to take note that, beyond mentioning the victim to whom I am giving a voice, the culture is not mentioned. It was, and still is, intended as a challenge to ‘the church’, not ‘a culture’.)

Reflecting over the past several years of writing, in telling my story, I am keenly and painfully aware of this in my writing, that sharing the stories of Mennonite victims, and giving them a voice, casts a shadow over the entire culture. (And have been aware as I wrote. It is not a new thought.)

I have tried to balance the harsh realities with the good in the culture, and the beauty of certain aspects of it–particularly the sense of community. I have also shared of how my healing began at Countryside Mennonite Fellowship, when Howard and Alice reached out and helped me, and Glen Jantzi, one of the ministers, reached out to my one brother. This care, on behalf of my brother and myself, had a powerful impact on my healing journey.

Furthermore, while I was always ‘different’, and never fit into the cultural mould, I felt loved and accepted by many friends at Countryside, right up until the time we left, and even after.

It was at Countryside where I first felt I had something of value to offer, and that I could make a difference in the Kingdom of God. This was thanks to the bishop’s wife, Florence Martin, who saw something in me, after she and I had a shared incident, in which she encouraged me to reach out to a young girl. She gave me a card with a thank you note. Placed inside was the calendar page from a little inspirational calendar from that day, it read: “November 9  Who knows but that may want to use you this day… ” and I don’t recall the rest. (Though I do have the note stored with memorabilia, because it had such influence in my life.)

Lena Martin, the deacon’s wife sat with me in a  coffee shop and answered hard identity questions, when I first started working through abuse. I can’t think of anything more she could have done. Years later, while watching a video of Lisa Bevere with a handful of other women, she said, “Trudy, I could see you do this one day.”  To which I responded with a laugh, “In a light blue suit?” because that is what Lisa had on at the time.

Countryside was, for me, a very safe place to begin healing. We loved the people, we appreciated and cared for the leaders–all of them. Not once did I feel unkindness, even when Joe and Esther had to ask me to tone it down on the make-up, and Glen and Elly asked me to scale back my heals, and Leighton sat me down, in a most fatherly way, and asked me not to skip service and go cruising with a bunch of rambunctious youth instead of attending special meetings.  In fact, Leighton, the bishop, spoke with such understanding and gentleness, even when chiding me, that my heart-felt completely safe.

Yes, some tragic events took place, rocking the church we knew. And we all grieved. Many of us, if not all of us, went through inner chaos and confusion. Why did God let the accident happen, and allow three children to be orphaned? Why did it seem no one knew how to handle the tragedy and grief left in its wake? There were no answers. Only pain, turmoil and disappointment.

Still our love for Countryside, and all the people we knew there, never faded. It lives on to this day, and always will. Because it was the place God took me, in a culture that had deeply wounded me–though a very different ‘brand’ of Mennonites within that culture–and began to reveal himself to me. I sat in that church, in God’s presence and shed many a healing tear, as I discovered a God of grace. And it was only the beginning of that discovery of God’s love and grace.

I didn’t get to know many of the other churches much in the Midwest setting. Only a few, and only a little.  Tim’s aunt and uncle served as leaders at Woodlawn, Abner and Almeda Martin and, to this day, are among the Mennonites I respect most for their genuine faith.

None of these realities have escaped me, or lost appreciation in my heart during this past two-year stretch of addressing sexual abuse in Mennonite and plain cultures.  And  those who have taken time to read the blogs I wrote before focusing on exposing the corruption, will know that I have said many, if not all of these things in the past. Hopefully you have not lost sight of them. I could not, however, go back to constantly reaffirming these things, while speaking the truth about the corruption.

And then there is the small matter of knowing people I respect would not necessarily wish to have me applaud them here. It creates a tie to me, and establishes in the mind of the reader, a relationship with them, and they may not wish to be identified in any way back to me. (There are those whom I admire and respect from my time in the Mennonite church, who would as soon not be associated with me, and I try to honour that, though I may have crossed that line in this post.)

I am not sorry for exposing the things I exposed. I’m mostly not sorry for how I said them, most of the time. (There’s a time or two, when a deep breath and a long pause would have served me well, when leaders refused to face truth. I regret not taking a deep breath and a long pause first, but also trust God to redeem my humanity. Therefore I will not live in regret.)

I am sorry that some wonderful people in the culture, who sincerely love God and fight for truth, were hurt in the process and feel their name and identity have been tarnished with my telling the truth of victims, and being their voice.

It is the thing with ‘carrying a name’, that becomes the price tag for that name. We hold it dear, even idolize it, until the image crumbles because too much corruption lies buried by those whose hearts are evil. And then we struggle to deal with the consequence of that name. That is true whether the name is Menno Simons, or Jesus Christ. Whichever name we carry close in our hearts, that is the name that will cause us the greater anguish, when not held up to the extent that we revere it. 

Even Jesus generalized and spoke out against the Scribes and Pharisees for their corruption as leaders. He didn’t go about saying things like, “a few of you… or ‘some of you’ or some other softening of the blow. No, He said it boldly, “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees!”  And then each one had to decide in his own heart if he was guilty.

Amazingly, some of them were His inner circle. How could Jesus do this so boldly, and not risk losing the hearts of these men? Or were they so lost in Him, that the truth of the evil attached to their ‘other identity’ no longer frightened them? Even when it came so close to home that it could have been interpreted as an attack on their own identity? Had the name and title lost its meaning, with no idolatry left in their hearts, so that they no longer worshipped that identity? 

Is this the biggest problem many in the culture have with me?  That the painful truth of buried sexual abuse and sin, connected with my cultural background, is too personal because too much faith has been placed in a name–the name of a man, Menno, who would be mortified at that idolatry–and that identity has been a source of great pride, but is now a source of shame? (And this could also be said of Baptist, Pentecostal, Christian Fellowship, Non-denominational, Inter-denominations, and every other religious identity where corruption lies hidden, and the name is protected.)

Is it possible that God wants to unravel that cultural pride, and bring us all back to one identity–Jesus Christ?

If we were to embrace His identity as the only one that matters, and openly acknowledged the wickedness within, would that not open the door for healing, restoration and allow the Body of Christ to thrive? I would no longer be a threat with my truth-telling, but an opportunity to rise up. And only if I defamed the name of Christ would there be any need for personal offences, hurt feelings and emails challenging my message.

The truth is that the name of Jesus is the answer to this problem. Many a Christian has left me wanting for another name to identify myself by, because of the damage they have done to the name of Christ, and still, I carry the name of Jesus Christ with honour, boldness, and without apology. Because His is one name that, no matter how close I carry it to my heart or how wrongly people use it, does not bring shame to me. Christians shame Him. Religion does also. But not Jesus. He restores my honour, just by embracing His name, regardless of how He is misrepresented.

That is a name worth holding on to. 

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© Trudy Metzger

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