The Least of These

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She was 28 years old. Stabbed multiple times all over. Died alone.

Never once has the pain of ministry hit home as much as it did yesterday.

This weekend we lost a dear sister. Her life was snuffed out by a nameless man in the confines of a room that she worked and slept. Reading her name on the screen of my phone in a news article and knowing who she was took the wind out of me. This woman that was just a fact in a news story was a sister and dear friend.

Precious Woman
She was well known where she worked. All the women we spoke to described her as friendly, outgoing, caring and a smart woman. She helped women plan their finances so they could build homes and even purchased her own car. She was industrious and saw a life outside of the streets. This work was just a necessary means to an end.

She had just asked for us to come visit two weeks ago. Pursued was making plans to get her son gifts for Christmas. Her voice echoes in my mind, “You can come man, just keep on your mask and stand off and pray.” She relayed how the women we serve were asking how we hadn’t been out to pray for them. I remember thinking on it and telling my team but making no real plans to go out. I didn’t want to force anyone to endanger themselves and I knew I couldn’t go out on my own. So I didn’t.

Last night all of that didn’t matter. With a pounding headache and tiny cohort we went. With these few members hugs, and tears flowed freely as we joined in the mourning not as elite bystanders but as fellow human beings united by a common experience. All the fears and logistics that kept us away, melting in the face of real terror, grief, guilt and loss.

Isn’t that what Christ did? He came down in the sickness of our sin and the pain of our sufferings, and joined into our reality and touched us. He mourned with Mary and Martha, he held contagious lepers, ate with tax collectors and looked into the eyes of prostitutes. He turns to us as believers saying, “do the same.” Because whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for Him.

REAL LIFE REAL PAIN

As we sat, stooped and stood the ever present reality of their pain yet again became evident. I was sitting on the curb as a her close friend cried and shared her pain. Her face showing signs of being far away while replaying the events of the night. Up walked a gentleman, standing right at my side. She looked up excused herself and went to work. I thought about her having to let a man lay on her, touch on her, be intimate with her, use her body for his pleasure with no regard for how she was grieving.

This is their life.

I remembered texting to ask one of our ladies if she was working that night. Her matter of fact statement bolted me to the floor. She told me she was terrified but that she must work, she had to feed her kids. Do you hear that? Do you see what is reality for our sisters?

Have you ever driven down a street and tried to quickly turn your eyes away? Have you laughed and planned a strip club night for your bachelor party? Have you clicked on that porn site to experience self pleasure from a video? Have you seen them as other?

Have you considered that as they stand there on the road, or slide across the stage or perform in a video they had to find a babysitter for their child that night, drug themselves, and compartmentalize their pain so their clients could have a good time? I just want you to consider.

The Work of the Cross

I considered. I not only considered I took again another look at the work of the cross. I wanted so badly for our sisters to see that. I wanted all of the sisters to get it. I wanted to be like “LOOK its this. this is what you need. Jesus is what you need. Please get it.

As this sister walked away I turned and inhaled the potent weed, engulfed in the sad music that blared from the speakers across the street at a vendors stall, and in the dim light of the candles that lined the sidewalk I saw her. I walked over thinking she was a lady I knew. She wasn’t.

Her drugs of choice in hand to numb out the pain I watched her inhale and steady herself as I walked towards her, putting on her mask of “I’m fine”. But there is nothing like a person making themselves present. What started as small talk quickly devolved into tears and pain, questions and heartache. The truth of the gospel message and the charge to go out playing out in real life.

We surrounded her and prayed. We listened and we encouraged. We shared God’s love and made plans to get further help. It was hard to leave that night. We saw the time; the many more girls we hadn’t spoken to, but we had to go. Police had just driven by and we needed to be responsible.

I came home and read the Luke version of the prostitute Mary washing Christ’s feet with perfume and tears. This time I thought about Mary and how Christ’s love and His compassion must have impacted her. Men had used, abused and broken her, but Christ’s love did such a work in her life that she could make herself so vulnerable before a Man. Are we making it clear to the lowly and exploited that there is a God you can be broken with?

The least of these.
I don’t have a nice closing to this. I am just processing “out loud” so to speak. This is the reality of the pain of the down trodden, the broken and we simply need to keep doing God’s work and showing His love to the least of these.

Saving Face: The Church’s Response to Sexual Abuse

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She slept the sleep filled with little girl’s dreams, or so she believed. But those dreams were interrupted by his body pressed against her back as he rubbed himself against her. She tried desperately to get lost in dreams but the nightmare of reality clung to her consciousness, rendering her helpless.

So she surrendered, laying still once more as the monster, called protector, scarred her innocence with his pleasure.

She sat in the sanctuary as the congregation applauded and lauded praise on him. As the service ended he walked to her, smiling with congeniality to the congregants he greeted. Frozen stiff with a plastered smile of religious right behavior and overwhelming panic, she was swallowed into him, arms around her with a “church greeting”- the ‘ of his sin laying on her body.

She affixes a smile on her face because she is expected to forgive. The church leadership spoke with him and… he sorry.

The story varies but the experience is real, countless victims laying waste at the mercy of others who overlook their travesty, misunderstanding of the nature of God’s justice alongside repentance and forgiveness.

Rachel Denhollandar made a statement that hit believers to the core. A survivor from the sexual assault travesty caused by US Gymnast team coach and osteopathic physician Lawrence Nassar, she expressed that the church was the worse place for a victim of sexual assault.

As a Christian this statement disturbed me. Is this true I wondered, and if so, how could this happen? All organizations want to pull ranks and cover their own, but I was perplexed that we weren’t different.

Biases and Blind Spots

In the article, Jem Zamzow postulates that there are internal biases operating when the church takes full responsibility in handling allegations of sexual assault amongst their own. Research showed that even when trying to be as accurate as possible, if we’re already on a particular “side” of an issue, our ability to view the situation objectively is hindered.

This bias can also increase the likelihood that we put away the bad behavior. It can permeate the entire evaluation of the situation and the decisions made. “People who have an interest in seeing data in a particular direction have a hard time being objective about a range of judgments and in a variety of contexts.” The greater danger, she posits, is the risk of justification because the accused is doing the “noble task” of working for the “Kingdom of God.”

The Problem of Forgiveness and Repentance

Forgiveness is good, right and true. The gift offered in salvation and eternal life is based in part on the forgiveness offered to us when we place our faith in Jesus. By grace we received forgiveness for our sins and are adopted as co-heirs with Christ. This same measure of grace is required of us, as we are charged with the mandate that we forgive as Christ forgave us.

Repentance is an awareness of the extent of your wrong, and the dishonouring of a holy God. This acknowledgment of wrong, and realization of the the need for God’s grace, should result in subsequent surrender and turning away from the wrong.

I believe victims are freed when they are able to forgive those who have wronged them. Holding on to vengeance, hurt and shame leads to self-destruction. I also believe that the accused needs to come to a place of repentance and seek forgiveness from God and the ones they hurt. The problem with treating this as the be all and end all, however, is that the church runs the risk of abuse of power and the perpetuation of victimization.

What Does Scripture Say

Sean Taylor, a pastoral intern said this: “The scriptures are filled with passages which call us to protect and rescue the vulnerable in society; those who are weak and voiceless (see Proverbs chapter 31 verse 8). Abuse cases for example, stand out as a great example of people who are weakened and silenced as they are being broken by abusive power. God’s heart for them requires us to pursue such individuals with protection from various forms of domestic abuse and violence. This would involve utilizing the God-given resources of State to care and protect.” (see Romans chapter 13 verse 4)

The biblical stories of Dinah and Tamar are definitely not scattered across the pages of the photo-bible children get at birthdays and baptisms. It’s not the story gravitated toward for Easter or Christmas services. However, the injustice of being victimized for sexual pleasure resulted in civil war. There was an evident response to their injustice. (See Genesis.34 and 2 Samuel 13)

Sean Taylor points out that forgiveness, repentance AND justice are not mutually exclusive. “Victims should forgive the perpetrator and the perpetrator needs to repent. The perpetrator also should submit to the earthly legal justice system or penal code. Where there is no penal code or earthly justice system in place the needs of the oppressed needs to be taken care of by the church.”

He further cautions that these four things should not be “pitted against” each other. They are not mutually exclusive. He explains that we are to pursue all of these simultaneously, trusting that these directions given by the Lord do harmonize and serve to strengthen and protect people. 

Public Relations

Why do we not report? Is it because we are scared of how it will make us – the body of Christ – look? Are we protecting God? Timothy Keller in his book says, “Israel was charged to create a culture of social justice for the poor and vulnerable because it was the way the nation could reveal God’s glory and character to the world.” In discussing Deuteronomy chapter 4 verses 6-8 he highlights that it was Israel’s example that would be what the nations looked at as an example of justice and peace and that this resulted in them being attracted to Israel’s God.

It’s not because we act perfect or look good, that people are drawn to God. Our “perfectness” is not God’s P. R. It’s our response to justice, our love for one another, and our adherence to truth that will point the world to Him. Covering up and hiding does nothing for God, the broken victims or the fallen perpetrators.

republished from Press Service International, received the Basil Sellars Award
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Annie Theby