Archives for October 19, 2017

Tell Your Story

When my parents asked me to divulge how I was sexually assaulted as a fifteen year old, I felt very embarrassed. It was hard enough to say the word “rape” to them, how much more uncomfortable it was to reveal the details of each incident with the men who violated me. However, my parents insisted on excavating every memory so that I didn’t have to wrestle with the repulsive images alone.

Trusting their judgment, I expressed to them everything I could remember. Till this day I cringe at the various ways in which I was defiled. I know it pained my parents more than it probably pained me physically to hear about every act perpetrated against me. Yet looking back, it was a necessary part of my healing to be able to expose these deeds. They were no longer my sole burden to carry.

                Me as a fifteen year old

It was a blessing to have parents who were spiritually equipped to deal with the realities of what happened to me. I understand that not everyone can trust another person with this level of vulnerability. However, there are family and friends out there who will genuinely listen, counsel, and support victims of tragedy.

Furthermore, there are instances when seeking protection is an urgent need. If a victim is subjected to repeated abuse he or she is living in proximity to his or her perpetrator, then I suggest going to a church organization, a shelter, contacting Bantay Bata, the Department of Social Welfare and Development or the local police so the victim can be physically removed from the situation.

While I recommend that children go to parents as a first resort, there are cases when parents are not in the condition to offer protection. I counseled a woman who told her mother about her father’s sexual abuse only to be met with hostility. The mother could not accept the truth and this caused her to resent her own daughter. In turn, the daughter felt abandoned by the very person she thought she could trust.

If a victim senses that his or her parents don’t have the emotional, physical, or spiritual capacity to help him or her get out of their predicament then it may be wise to also tell someone who actually can. However, I would still advice children who live at home to consider turning to their parents or relatives first. In many instances, parents and relatives can and will come to the rescue. At the very least, they can refer a victim to an institution, organization, or person who can offer practical assistance.

Many churches also have counseling services that victims can avail of. Our church, Christ’s Commission Fellowship (CCF), has many counselors who make themselves available for free on Sundays to anyone who needs counseling. They willingly meet with counselees over coffee and cookies and help them get plugged into small groups where they will continue to receive spiritual and emotional support.

In CCF, we call this a D-group system, where people meet together on a weekly basis to encourage one another, keep each other accountable, and study God’s Word together. These groups become like families to people who are hurting and looking for meaningful relationships with others, or those who simply want to grow in their faith. Furthermore, they provide a safe context for people to open up and receive sound advice from others who sincerely care about them.

On the one hand, we can share our story in order to seek counsel and advice, but there is a more profound reason to share our stories. We have the unique opportunity to give God the glory and reconcile the broken to Himself.

When the disciples asked Jesus as they passed by a blind man from birth, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”, Jesus insightfully replied, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:2-3) In other words, God intended for this blind man’s life story to point people to Him, just as He purposes for our life stories to draw people to Himself.

When my book got published I didn’t anticipate the impact it would have on people who came across it. I’ve received countless messages from readers through Facebook, Instagram, my website, email, and even handwritten notes, from all over the world, that spoke of how this book blessed their lives. The receptiveness of people has been overwhelming and encouraging. As a result, my healing continues to this day as I see the good that God promised to me in Romans 8:28, extending far beyond my own life as He allows me the privilege of ministering to others.

Truthfully, when I was younger, I had fears about being open, namely being judged and swimming in a fishbowl while people scrutinized and curiously observed me. (This may not be the case for every person who experiences rape or abuse, but this was my personal struggle.) I did not want to convey need or to invite pity. I also wanted to spare people from having to grieve or fret over me, especially in the first few years after the rape. Many times I tried to be strong in order to protect the people I loved from feeling my pain. However, I learned that it was okay to be vulnerable. Vulnerability ushered in the blessings of prayers and words of comfort from family, friends, and church communities, something that my family and I desperately needed to get through that trying season.

Honesty is not weakness. Jesus wept when Lazarus died. He made his feelings manifest. King David wrote the Psalms with candidness. He purposefully broadcasted his feelings to the Lord. “But I am afflicted and in pain; may your salvation, O God, set me securely on high.” (Psalm 69:29)

I had to learn to acknowledge my pain, to embrace it, and grow through it. It wasn’t a sin to struggle with confusion, loss, or to ache deep inside and be vocal about it. The question was, how would I respond? My initial methods for coping with the memories and feelings were to write, paint, and listen to music. Eventually, I learned to be purposeful about sharing my testimony to others, and to ask myself, “How can this story bless others?”

The receptiveness of people to our life stories is often dependent on our motivations for why we share what we do. Whether it is before a large gathering of persons or a handful, if our purpose is to bring attention to ourselves, to slander those who have hurt us, to recruit allies to defend our perspective, or to use others for personal gain, then we will be disappointed by the responses of people.

Just a few years after I was raped, I opened up to a guy I had a crush on, hoping that my honesty would inspire him to cherish me and protect me. It was an attempt to heal myself, perhaps to replace what was taken away, or to feel valued. Yet, the plan backfired because the guy began to withdraw from me. In fact, he insinuated that I should avoid telling people what happened to me. He wasn’t a follower of Christ and he didn’t know how to process the narrative. From then on I realized that my reasons for sharing my story had to be for God’s purposes and not my own.

I didn’t own my story. It wasn’t something to be put on public display self-servingly. God allowed the tragic occurrence to point people to Him. Answering the question of intent clarified my place and purpose in the story – to be a messenger. Therefore, my three-fold message became simple and clear.

First, God is good, loving, and sovereign. Unfortunate and tragic circumstances don’t alter His character. Second, everyone is sinful and falls short of His glory. Therefore forgiveness is possible because all of us have received His forgiveness. Finally, our stories are meant to bring honor to the Lord, to bless and impact others positively, for the cause of the Gospel.

Once I recognized that I was elected to proclaim God’s goodness and faithfulness I shared my story whenever He prodded me to. I carefully evaluated when the circumstances were appropriate to bring my past to light, and conferred with my husband to get his approval before doing so. As my spiritual authority, I trusted that God would speak through him.

Whether in the thousands, a few persons, or even one-on-one, I’ve used this story to connect with others with the intent of introducing them to Christ or passing on to them a biblical perspective on tragedy. Emotionally painful as it is for me to relive the experience by telling it over and over again, I focus on how it will benefit someone else who is hurting, someone who needs encouragement.  It is 2 Corinthians 1:3-6 that comes to mind: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for our comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort…”

Ironically I hoped that this book would spare me from having to give my testimony in public, but where God has opened more doors to declare the gospel, I’ve submitted to His leading. Like I said, this story belongs to Him.

In the first part of 2017 I was at a gathering for families in Nairobi, Kenya, where I spoke about the rape as a culmination to my father’s message on leaving a legacy. He spoke on why it’s important to teach our children who God is. Edric and I were with my parents on this trip, and he was all for me giving my testimony to illustrate my dad’s points on anchoring children with truth.

So many Kenyan women suffer from sexual abuse and many families are broken because of sexual sin. Therefore, the choices that I made to trust God, forgive, and use my story to bring glory to the Lord resonated with the audience. It was a beautiful opportunity to speak to the hearts of the men and women who were gathered at this event. Many people came up to me afterwards to thank me or to tell me how God spoke to them through my story. What a privilege it was for me!

It doesn’t matter what culture we hail from or what race we are when it comes to suffering. Brokenness is an equalizer. All people have a collective understanding of pain. It has visited and will visit all of us, which is why each of our stories can be a powerful tool for the gospel if we are willing to see what happened to us with spiritual lenses and ask the Lord how we can use it for His purposes.

I can tell you first hand that the benefits of sharing the experience with others made a tremendous difference in my healing journey. God did not design us to shoulder our burdens alone. Instead He put us in community with others so we can emotionally and spiritually walk along side each other. Furthermore, there is something about bringing dark things into the light. When we expose the devices of the devil to destroy God’s people, his plans loose their power.

It was pretty obvious that Satan acted with the intent to destroy the work of God in the budding ministry of our church, of which my father was the founding pastor. He aimed to discourage my parents from following Christ. However, the evil one did not succeed because of the supernatural grace of God that my family and I received through the prayers, support, and presence of people whom He sent our way. Had we chosen the route of secrecy, refusing to talk about what happened, I believe we would have missed out on His grace.

Therefore my encouragement to the hurting who are reading this is not to hide. That’s exactly what the evil one wants you to do, to deal with your loss and your pain alone. He wants you to believe that no one will understand, no one will accept you, listen to you, or benefit from what you have been through or what you are going through. However, you need to believe there is at least one person out there who loves God, who is strongly anchored in Him who can be a comforter to you. Pray that you find that person and seek them out. On the flipside, there is at least one person out there who will be blessed by your courage to speak up, who will resonate with your story and identify with what you went through. One day, as God brings healing to your life, you will “Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion; (and) declare among the people His deeds.” (Psalm 9:11)