While traveling in USA recently I met with friends in the Old Order church (Groffdale conference) and shared some of their current concerns and frustrations with me. They also gave me liberty to share with the public these concerns.
Two years ago the leaders told the churches they are giving them two years’ warning that they need to change computer systems to one approved by the leaders. (My friends referred to this as a castrated computer.) The Bishop, who I’m told is family to the man who allegedly stands to gain several million out of this deal, signed for a 501-C3 charity organization so the money will not be taxed. (Edit: I was told brother-in-law by one person, and first cousin by another, but family member in any case.)
Rather than explain or discuss the situation, I am posting the letters my friends shared with me and encouraged/blessed me to share with others. This was investigated by Dave Crill of Archangel Investigators:
What is my interest in this case? While not sexual abuse, and the uncovering and healing of it, to which I have dedicated my life, I have long believed and believe still that there is plenty of other corruption behind the abuse. Jesus says the love of money is at the root of all evil. When I see abuse covered up, when leaders look the other way, almost without fail there is incredible power linked to money involved. Not always, at least not blatantly so, but often. The lack of transparency here is spilling into other areas of the lives of those at the core of the corruption and it all needs to be unravelled so that healing can begin. True healing.
As long as there is corruption protected at a leadership level, there will be abuse of every kind of power. I don’t think we’ve begun to chip at the tip of an iceberg, and before this is over much more corruption will be exposed. I pray for it. So that God can once again be given His rightful place. Only then will Jesus be truly welcomed among us.
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”.
And that partnering together is one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced in my life.
I had not more than taken that glimpse into young love, when a family happened by. Two energetic teenagers soon climbed up the railway track–or whatever you call the structure holding it up–as mom stood by reminding them to be safe.
I smiled. Boys will be boys. And sometimes girls will be ‘boys’ too… ‘tomboys’… I would have been the first in line to try the shenanigans one day. Too old now, but not too old to remember catapulting from on top of the stable in the barn, as a pre-teen and young teen.
Mom said something about wishing she had brought a camera just as I offered to take some pictures and we stood there, with our cell phones, exchanging emails to make sure we could connect and get the pictures to them. I took a few of them as a couple, and heard a little tidbit of their story. They told me the pictures would make it all the way to Australia, where he was from, as he would definitely want to share them with his family.
I continued on then, to my car, where I sat a while just watching the creatures and the people. An elderly couple, whom I had met on my walk, sat under a tree, resting. (People with their backs turned don’t really count, when it comes to rules about taking pictures…) Though older, he reminded me much of Steve Masterson, and I found myself missing Steve and Jackie who, like Howard and Alice, had a powerful impact on my life, and on Tim’s. They were most delightful conversationalists, and I thought how bitter-sweet it is, to meet people only once and never to really know them.
I snapped a shot of the view we shared, then packed up my camera and headed back to Elmira…
Tim–who went to church with our boys–texted and asked if I would pick up a coffee at Tim Hortons. A double-double. As I pulled in, an Old Order gentleman walked out, carrying his tray of coffees. Across the parking lot, two friends waited–one on a buggy, one on a bike. I make exceptions about taking pictures of people where there are horses and/or buggies involved. Or bikes. (Okay… I just made that up, but hey, it works.)
After picking up Tim’s coffee, I did the final jaunt home. Nicole had baked the ‘Potato Flake Sourdough Bread’ that I had put in pans the night before. (An outstanding ‘friendship bread’ type recipe that I was given starter for this week, and we all love. I wish I didn’t… I’d rather stay away from bread.)
My heart was full. I met God in ways and places that are as beautiful as worshipping Him in a traditional church service. I value and believe in the importance of believers gathering together to worship God, as a God-family, but maybe salvation and ‘measuring up’ are not so closely linked to the ‘where and the how’ as we might imagine.
I’m not like the pastor who proudly announced that he never missed church a day in his adult life–not even when his wife had given birth the day before. I’ve missed church when nobody in my life gave birth and nobody was sick… I just played hookie. And not only once. I’ve done it a few times for no reason at all. Quite a few. And I’ve done it because church was too difficult when hard times caused me to struggle and I didn’t feel safe with people….
And that thought takes me back to the beginning of my little escapade…
Just off of our street, shortly after Barnswallow Street turns to Whipperwill, is the most gorgeous apple tree. I had stopped there on my way out, to capture the apple blossoms. As I contemplated how life, with all of its bumps and scrapes, seems at times to contradict the promises of God, I thought of one of those photos, and that is the extent of my ‘morning sermon’ that I would like to leave with you, in the form of this picture.
God does not lie. His promises are forever. And, as some of my dreams are coming true, I remember the many times I doubted and struggled. Times I was sure God used me as a pawn in a giant chess game. But always He has carried me through–sometimes kicking and screaming–but always with purpose and destiny.
Wherever you find yourself in your journey with God, and no matter how difficult it is to keep believing in Him and His purposes, hold on to the truth of His promises.