Sexual Abuse & Violence: Does God Dress Amish…

…wear a bonnet, and ride a horse and buggy?

Scandalous! To even suggest such a thing! Or is it? Any more so, than, say, a dove… a bird… an animal …a creature that, though beautiful, is still just that–a creature? Or how about God wearing a burning bush?

We have lost sight of the ways God reveals Himself to people in the ordinary. When we get that, and understand that God wants to live through us, He will have much greater impact in our world, because we will give Him freedom to do so.

In today’s blog I share more about Lydia, my Old Order Amish truth-warrior friend, whose story I shared yesterday, and the ways she reflects God in her culture.

Yesterday, at 8:30 in the morning,  I called Lydia to read my blog post to her, since she has no internet. I wanted to make sure it was accurate, given that I was writing from memory, things told to me approximately ten years ago. I paused now and then, as I read, to ask , “How am I doing so far? Is it accurate?” Each time she said yes.

At the end Lydia said, “This is especially touching because I got a phone call again last night.”

“Another victim?” I asked

“Well, yes, but it was the mother calling. The child is only a bit past ten,” she explained.

“And the perpetrator an adult male?” I asked.

“Yes, a married man.”

Something about the ‘current news’, the raw pain of a little child, somewhere, out there, in Amish country, made me desperately sad. I want to end the abuse. To simply make it cease to exist, by some impossible miracle. But it continues. And I think about the child, wondering, who will protect the little heart that breaks in all of this. Who will comfort her? Hold her? Reassure her?

And the answer is, most likely no one. No one really knows how, at least in this case, based on what Lydia told me. The mother is just more determined than ever to cover her child more modestly. That’s how she plans to deal with it. Cover more. Hide the pain under another layer of shame,another layer of cloth. Put the onus on the little girl. But not intentionally.

Lydia, who still embraces the Old Order Amish ways, tells me, “That’s just not the answer! It will just make the little girl feel more guilty and responsible. And then, if anything does happen, then for sure it will be her fault.”

What a burden to place on a little child. That an adult, old enough to be her father, or almost, is not held to serious accountability, while a little child is forced to protect herself this way.

Lydia said she gave the woman something to think about. Lots to think about. “And now I’m going to give her a few days. She needs it. To ponder everything I’ve said. And then we’ll talk.”

Once again, a sweet warrior spirit—the gentle God-kind-of-warrior—who fights for the innocent, Lydia is gently marching into this dark territory.

What is unique about Lydia, and parts of her story that I did not tell, is that she is not afraid to work with the ‘outside’ culture to bring about truth. Police have been involved and Children’s Aid Society (CAS), but with an agreement that she is the mediator, the one who works in the culture. (It is not a broadly known arrangement.) CAS staff have come to know her personally, and have a tremendous amount of trust and respect for her, knowing she will ensure the safety of victims.

It is almost as if God created a warrior-angel, and placed her in a bonnet and Amish dress, to show the children that they are not forgotten. Never abandoned. He is there, caring for them, revealing Himself through Lydia.

When these children grow up and look back and ask, “Where was Jesus when all this bad stuff was happening to me?”… I hope they answer with, “He was there, in Lydia’s love.”

God shows up in people’s lives, wearing ordinary clothes–or not so ordinary–in the places we dare to represent Him through our lives. We are made in God’s image. Made to reflect Him. To show His love. “Male and female created He them, in the image of God…”  Lydia is one of the most beautiful reflections of God I have seen in my life. She makes me laugh. She makes me cry. But most often, and most importantly, she makes me want to do the right thing, even if it means doing it alone. She makes me want to ‘be Jesus’ to the people around me.

I challenge you… go to the mirror, look at the outfit you’re wearing, and ask God to show up in someone’s world today, looking just like you, dressed just like that.

© Trudy Metzger 2012

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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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