In the middle of the hottest part of summer, my husband and I packed up our kids and piled into a bus to drive over the mountain pass for a team retreat. My four-year-old happily sat up front on the engine cover chatting with the guard about his assault rifle, bouncing up and down to the beat of local music. The rest of our family watched a little less enthusiastically as we bumped over the rutted roads, looking out over the mine fields, breathing in dust until it caked our teeth and changed our skin tone.
Arriving at the guest house, we took a bucket bath and then learned the schedule for the weekend. The adults had meetings in one house, and the kids were scheduled to be at another house under the supervision of the older teenagers. Immediately unease began to grow inside me—memories of other meetings. After the kids left, I could not concentrate; my mind was on the house two blocks away. Nothing I could see was wrong, the kids seemed happy. “They are safe,” I was assured. “The teens are really good with kids.”
Memories of Darkness
Back in our town, it was the same story. “Just let the kids play by themselves in the basement while we have a meeting. We just do not have enough adults to work with the kids.” That time another mother and I refused. An adult would be with the kids, we insisted, even if it was going to be my friend or me for the next several years. We would not leave them alone. I am not an overprotective mother, yet when it came to leaving my children supervised only by other kids, or in a location out of sight, I reacted with instant fear.
I knew why. I just didn’t want to talk about it.
My parents joined a mission when I was in first grade. We packed up our stuff in a big truck and headed out for training. Because our new school was in a rough neighborhood, the school was locked for our safety. Anyone wanting to enter would ring a bell and wait for a teacher to come to the gate and let them in. Our parents were glad that we would be safe. In reality, we were locked in. The metal gates would close behind us every morning, and no one knew what was going on inside, in the shadows. In those shadows, they took a few of us aside at times to another room. In there it was dark. In there, in the dark, they sexually abused us.
Foundation of Lies
After the abuse, they put me in a walk-in closet in a classroom until I stopped crying. I sat in the dark closet, huddled under the shelves with paper and chalk, crying. All that they had said to me came back into my mind, laughing at me, taunting me: “Never tell, never say anything. People will know that you are dirty. No one will want to love you again. Don’t think your parents can help you. They do not care. Don’t think God can help you. Where is He? He is not here. He is not stopping us. This was all He made you for and He does not want you at all. No one loves you at all, not if they knew this. No one will ever love you. If they say they do, they are lying. You don’t deserve love.”
All these lies became the basis of how I saw myself and how I would live my life.
No one really knew to watch for abuse then. My parents say that my personality changed completely in the few months we were in that school. I think they were puzzled and unsure whether it was just the stress of a new place or something else. But then came the day when my dad arrived to pick us up and we ran in fear from him, hiding under a bench, shaking. That was it for them; they pulled us out. Later, my parents said they had no idea what was wrong, but they knew clearly that something was. My report card for that year has a note in dark ink in my mom’s handwriting saying “She has changed from an outgoing, cheerful girl to one full of fear and sadness”. My mom grieved for the happy, talkative, little girl she lost there. She was left wondering what had happened to me. But I did not talk.
Do You see me?
We headed out for our first assignment. I enjoyed the place, made new friends, and learned a new language. We were again near a center with several other global workers. While we were there, my parents regularly met with the other adults for Sunday services and nights of prayer. We children would go along to these meetings, mostly looking forward to the snacks served afterwards. We usually sat with our parents for the first bit of singing and praising, and then we were excused to play outside. Since we were either on the base or in a walled yard, none of the adults thought they needed to supervise us.
We were all children of global workers. These meetings were a chance for the adults to get together and draw strength from each other. It was an opportunity to pray and praise God without interruption. Out in the twilight, I would watch them all crowded into the living room of the house with their heads bowed. I remember thinking that God was with them, in the light of the house. But why was God not also out in the yard?
While they were praying, an older boy was gathering us kids out in the trees and teaching us to play strip poker. He also taught us to play spin the bottle, and those he chose would be taken off behind the banana trees to be fondled and abused. I remember being able to see the light through the windows while we were being terrorized by this boy. I saw heads bowed in prayer. But where we were was darkness, the darkness of fear.
We knew the same thing would happen every week, yet we said nothing. We had been warned that if we did speak up, no one would love us anymore because people would know that we were dirty. So we kept our silence. When our parents called, we headed inside to eat cookies and juice before going home.
Do You want me?
When the first incidents of sexual abuse occurred, I felt rejected by my parents, since in my child’s mind, they were the ones who made me go to that school; this time, I felt rejected by God. I knew He was in the light of that meeting, but why didn’t He look out into the darkness? I began to believe this was what I deserved. He did not think I was worth more than this. He had abandoned me.
The lies I had come to believe affected my relationship with God. I believed in Him. I wanted to know God, but I really doubted that He would ever want me. I believed that I would only be a second-class child, as if there were some people that He really loved and then there were others who were just included in the invitation—like the relatives you have to invite to your wedding, but really wish they would get the measles instead.
When someone told me they loved me, my internal response was, “What do you want?” Love was simply a demand on me, something people said when I had an obligation to them or they wanted something from me. People said it when they hurt me, when they wanted me to behave, when they wanted me to hug or kiss them hello or goodbye. And God said it because He had a list of things He wanted from me too.
Longing for Light
As I grew up, I ignored the abuse that happened to me. I did not talk about it or deal with it. However, while attending Bible school, I read these verses:
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you; and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
After reading it, I started to cry. I told God that I wanted to be washed from all the filthiness, to be given a new heart—one able to feel again, and to be caused to walk in His ways. I knew I had tried to walk in His ways, but I needed Him to cause me to do that. I could not do it alone.
Can I trust God?
Slowly, painfully, I began to deal with the issues of sexual abuse: the hurt, the anger, the lies, the questions. I struggled with the difficulty of trusting God. Why did He let this happen to me? Devastated by the abuse, I had learned never to trust. I began desperately seeking answers to my pain.
One night, a turning point occurred in my life. As I sought God, He spoke to me and said, “All this time, you have been seeking Me for your sake, to solve your problems. I want you for My sake, because I am worthy.” It was true. I had been coming to Him with my “ifs”: if You help me, if You have an answer to my questions, if You take away my pain, if You have a way through this all. That night I gave myself to God without reservations, without conditions, without any guarantee that He would “fix” me. That was the beginning of healing. I did not need to demand of God before trusting Him. God was worthy of my trust, even if He never answered my questions. Even if I could not see my way through the pain.
Resting from my pain, I grew stronger in my faith. Then the pain and the questions hit again with full force while listening to an elder give his testimony at church camp. He shared how blessed he had been by witnessing to a prisoner convicted of statutory rape. Twenty years ago, he was just where that man was. But now by God’s grace, he is a new man in Christ. I walked out furious! What right did that man have to stand there completely forgiven and free?! He gets to live a happy life while I bear the scars of sexual abuse forever? It was not right! I followed him around camp that week, trying to find some fault, something to attack. Instead, I saw a man that God was using. I was angry, so angry that I went out late one nightto the docks to fume to God about it.
“God, it’s just not right! I hurt, and will hurt every day of my life, and this guy gets no punishment. He just gets saved, forgiven, and leads a happy life! It is not fair. There should be punishment for this. He should at least have to pay!”
It was one of those nights when God spoke clearly to me. “How much? Would it be enough to be stripped, humiliated, beaten, and killed?”
Anger made me blind, or stupid, and I bit. “Yes, that would be good. That would be a good punishment for those people!”
“Then the punishment has been paid at the cross.”
I was angry. I wanted them to pay, not Christ. It was not fair!
Quietly, He went on, “Then why will you accept that for your sins, and not for theirs? Little one, is it fair for Me to pay for the hurts you have done to others and not to pay for the ones they have done? Have you never hurt anyone?”
There was silence for several minutes. All that was in me cried out for revenge, for payment. I had always brushed aside people who said to simply forgive. On those docks, I learned that my desire for revenge was met completely. It was met by the same Person who paid in full for all the hurts that I have inflicted on others.
I was not prepared for the overwhelming realization of how great my own forgiveness was. When I was willing to accept the payment for others’ sins as complete, that was the day that I learned how complete my own forgiveness was too. That is the depth of Jesus’ forgiveness. I sat and simply cried for hours.
Where were You, God? Why did You abandon me?
I still struggled. The “why” questions kept coming into my mind as I was talking with God. I wanted to know, “Where were You, God, and why did You abandon me?” I was hurting. No matter how much I grew, how much I decided to accept God’s love, or how much I followed Him, the pain of sexual abuse still had a grip on me. No longer was I angry at Him, just hurting.
As I drove home from work one day, I simply looked up and asked, “God, where were You when all this happened?” He said, “Little one, I was there with you. I was holding you, covering your eyes with My hands, My tears dripping on your face. I was there, hurting with you.” It was enough to know I was never abandoned; God’s love is not capable of abandonment. I was always loved. Even though I felt abandoned, I wasn’t. I had believed a lie.
Opposing the lie of abandonment changed me. I had based my whole life on the lie that I was never cared about and had been left in trouble. Yes, it sure did feel that way. He did not answer my tears that day sitting in a heap under the shelves of paper and chalk afraid of when the door would open, but also afraid that it wouldn’t. Why didn’t God answer me?
That night I looked up to meet the One who loved me, no longer needing to know the answer. Just knowing God had not turned His back on me was enough. To see a God who loves me with amazing, unchanging, and joyous love…it changed me. I began to enjoy the delight of being loved, and of being delighted in. I wished someone had told me before that God really did love me, or I wish I could have believed it. I think God told me, though, even when I would not listen.
What value do I have?
Despite all the healing, I still struggled with pain. One of the hardest things to deal with in sexual abuse is the look I saw in my abusers’ eyes. They looked at me with hate, as if I were an object. I was not a person to them, just a thing to satisfy their desires on. And yet, there was something in my abused, child’s heart that would look up at my abuser and wonder if I had any value to them. Do I mean anything to you? Their eyes looked back at me with disgust. They had taken what they wanted; I was like a piece of used garbage to them. I became accustomed to being used, despised, having no value, no reason to be loved. I took their value of me as my own and believed it to be true.
I never looked up at God after that, so sure of what I would see in His eyes.
I began to look for value wherever I could get it. I had learned from my abusers that I had only one value—being used for sex. So I let anyone use me, just to be wanted for once, just for once. The few minutes someone would look at me as something they wanted were worth whatever I had to give them. However, the positive attention quickly passed, only to be replaced with disgust again. Allowing myself to be used sexually never filled my longing to be valued, to be worth something.
I began to reject any love. I even rejected God’s love. Something in me desperately wanted God to hurt me too, proving that He did not really want me either. If I believed I was a worthless object, then I would not have as much pain. If what happened to me was what I deserved anyway, then my pain was diminished. You do not feel pain for using and throwing away a cardboard pizza box. It served its purpose. That is all.
But God refused. He kept on loving me. That was difficult. It slowly snuck in past all my defenses and fed my longing to be valued, to be loved. It made a hole in the armor surrounding my heart and made me want love.
I did not understand God’s gentle, persistent love. I did not trust it. A child abused hangs her head, never wanting to meet another’s eyes. I carried this over into my relationship with God. I still found it hard to look up at God, afraid of what I would see in His eyes. I still expected to see anger or disgust. God brought people into my life to walk with me through this. They loved me without demands, without judgment. It was their love which gave me enough hope to look up at God and see love in His eyes looking down at me.
In God’s Eyes
God places value on me. I am learning, but it is a process. I am learning that there is a difference between external value and internal value. I could always be reading my value in the eyes of others and taking what they give me; or I could read it in God’s heart, taking what He gives. I had to learn that my value does not come from what I do or even what God does, but from who God is.
There are still bits and pieces of garbage left in my mind, attitudes I have and act on based on old lies. But I am learning to look up to God without so much fear, without asking “Do You still love me?” I am learning to relax a bit in being loved and valued. It takes time and healing. Lies need to be faced before I can replace them with truth, and that is painful. The difference is that now I know that the replacements are worth it, worth the pain I need to face, worth the effort involved. And I know I can look up at any time and see God’s eyes looking at me. When you look up and see love and value after living without them for so very long, it is very difficult not to give your heart completely.
Brought into the Light
When I was only six, right before the abuse began, I was sound asleep in my bed in the basement bedroom. When I woke up, I was standing in light—not on something, but simply in light, facing an even greater light. I knew, even then as a six-year-old, that I was facing God. God is light, and I knew it the minute I saw Him. He said only one thing to me which I remember as clearly today as when it was said: “Little one, you will go through a dark and terrible time, but I will be with you; I will bring you out into the light, and I will use you.” Then I was asleep again.
Even through the darkest times, I held onto that promise. As I struggled through recovery, wondering if I was too scarred to be of much use, I hung on to those words. God would see me through into the light and He would use me. I was not human garbage, but someone He had chosen for Himself. A strange thing to say to a small child, but it was what kept me.
Last spring as I struggled through the pain of abuse once again, I spent a night awake with God, just sitting watching the rain splatter the sidewalks under the streetlights. I was reading a book I had found on the shelf of the family we were visiting. I read this one verse and stopped dead. “He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness” (Micah 7:9b). I had never seen that before in the Bible, but immediately I remembered that promise made to a little six-year-old asleep one night. Watching the rain fall, I sat quietly with God while my tears fell as fast as the rain. He had done it. He had walked with me. And He brought me out of the darkness into the light.