I was twenty-seven before someone told me I was a victim.
I was twenty-seven before I was able to face the turmoil created by too many unspoken traumas. Twenty-seven before I realized the power I was giving my perpetrators by keeping their crime silent. Twenty-seven before I spoke it. Just spoke it.
The liberation of that moment was life-transforming, and since then, one of the foremost goals of my existence has been to encourage others to speak it—just speak it—before their years of bondage become hobbling, as mine did.
The first assault on my innocence came at the hands of a stranger, when I was just 4 or 5 years old and separated from my parents in a vast French supermarket. I’d like to qualify the episode as “minor,” yet there is no such thing as minor when a childhood is being crippled and stained.
But my parents had moved to France to save the unsaved. It seemed wrong, somehow, to accuse one of those “lost souls” of causing such grievous harm.
The second assault came several years later, this time at the hands of a fellow Missionary Kid. I was maybe 9 or 10 at the time. He was much older. It was a carefully crafted and manipulative incident that felt harmless until after it was over.
Add to that an abusive first “boyfriend,” repeated emotional assaults from several fronts and the dehumanization of women in the sex-saturated French culture, and I think it’s safe to say that my victimhood was neatly tied up before I started college. Tied up in a noose, perhaps, as the memories and the pain, the silence and the guilt were constrictive, invisible coils snuffing hope and wholeness from my life.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I finally allowed myself to wade into the toxic waste of the emotional, relational and spiritual devastation those childhood events had caused—twenty-some years marred by self-accusation, misplaced shame and a mute resignation.
I told myself that even if I did speak, no one would ever understand. No one would know what to do with sullied-me. For a child who already suffered from paralyzing low self-esteem, giving the world one more reason to consider me inferior was an untenable notion.
It’s that fear of unbelief, that fear of condemnation, that keeps most victims silent.
In missionary circles, it is compounded by the pressure to be perfect, or else… MKs who have been hurt often fear that an admission of violation would result in banishment back to a “home” country that is foreign to them. They fear that what was done to them will have a devastating impact on their parents and their ministry. A lot of times, all they really know of supporting churches is that they expect their missionaries to be paragons of virtue, and in the twisted logic of the victim, revealing the truth would shatter that illusion.
So they stay silent. As I stayed silent. How sad that the consequences of another’s sin sometimes burn the victim more severely than the perpetrator. But healing…healing can be ours if we’ll just speak it. Until we do, the abuser’s sin wins.
In the fall of 2010, I heard Dr. Andrew Schmutzer address a local church on the topic of sexual abuse. He took a CD and a knife from his pocket, then carved his initials into the bottom side of the disc. The CD still looked shiny. It appeared perfectly circular and flat—pristine. But imagine trying to play it.
It’s true—MKs are resilient people. We tend to carefully compartmentalize our worlds and sometimes manage to “live around” our trauma.
It’s as if our CDs have multiple tracks, and we make sure the initials carved by the knife of sexual abuse only cover one or two of them.
If we can just figure out a way to live on the other tracks—the unmarred tracks—everything will be okay. No one will know. We won’t have to deal with the residual poison of our assaults and life will proceed as if they never happened.
Because at some point in our existence, something will make that CD player jump to that horrifying track where the shaking, shamed, broken and inconsolable child we used to be still breathes, still begs for help, still agonizes…
And whether we like it or not, whether we think we can control it or not, that mute track in the middle of our lives is hobbling our relationships, our ambitions and our ability to live as a healed and whole person.
If you have been or are being sexually, verbally or physically abused, please—I beg of you—speak it.
Even if what happened to you seems insignificant in comparison with what others have suffered, if someone was sexually inappropriate with you in any way, speak it.
Tell your pastor. Tell your friend. Tell your small group leader. Tell your neighbor. If you need to take someone with you, that’s fine too. If you don’t feel comfortable saying the words out loud, write them on a piece of paper and hand it to the person you trust.
Just please…speak it—and if those who hear you do nothing to help you, find someone else and speak it again.
As soon as it is spoken—as soon as it is spoken—your healing will be able to begin.
I know it. I’ve experienced it. You may need to try and try again until you find the right kind of help, and sometimes it will have to get painful again before it gets any better. But that will be a hopeful kind of pain, not the hopeless turmoil you’ve lived with alone for so long.
And if you think it’s safe to ignore those CD “tracks” of your life—they’re safely on mute and don’t affect you anymore—I urge you to reconsider. The adult victim of sexual abuse is multiple times more prone to depression, adultery, pornography, drug use, alienation from loved ones, the inability to have healthy relationships, spiritual paralysis and becoming an abuser.
You may think that you’re living well despite the time-cauterized wounds of your past, but if you’re honest with yourself, you may find those wounds connected to the challenges and failures of your life in the present.
Speak it to someone who will know what to do with it—the rest of your life depends on it.
Is there hope for even the most grievously wounded among us? Yes. Is there joy, fulfillment and peace? Absolutely. I know it’s hard to see from the vantage point of unhealed grief, but trust this recovering victim:
Life beyond the pain and shame is beautiful and bright.
It may take more than one try to find someone who will listen and help. It may take some therapy for you to feel strong again. It may take more courage than you think you possess. Whatever it requires of you, begin your journey now. The outcome will be so worth it.
Your future is waiting. Dream it. Shape it. Expect it. Live it. It all begins with the strength and resolve to reach out to someone right now and…speak it.
A note for missionary parents:
If you’re parenting MKs, this companion article may be useful in helping to prevent and recognize sexual abuse. Click HERE.
A note for abusers:
If you’re the perpetrator—and this is not easy for a victim like me to say—if you’ve abused or are abusing someone, you are just as entitled to help as the person you’ve victimized. We’re dealing with God here, and His love for the abuser is beyond human understanding.
You will continue to bear full responsibility for what you’ve done and for its consequences, but that doesn’t make you any less worthy of God’s forgiveness. For the sake of your future and to stop the destruction you’re wreaking on the lives you touch, speak it. It won’t undo the damage of the crimes you’ve committed, but it will restore you to fellowship with the only One who can possibly fully forgive and love you.
PLEASE REPOST THIS ARTICLE TO ENSURE THAT AS MANY MKs AS POSSIBLE CAN BE ENCOURAGED TO BRING THEIR OWN PLIGHT TO LIGHT AND FIND HEALING.
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