An Abuse Survivor's Message to the Church
By David Linwah
David Linwah is a survivor of horrific child sexual abuse. David Linwah is also a survivor of being failed by the Church over and over again. Through all the hurt and failings, David somehow still finds beauty and hope in Jesus. A Jesus who gave up everything in order to demonstrate His immeasurable love for David. A Jesus who values David more than life itself. A Jesus who is all too often not recognized by the very people and institutions that profess to know and follow Him. Amazingly, David still has hope that the church will one day actually reflect Jesus. The One who never fails pursuing the hurting and valuing the marginalized. The One who loves unconditionally. Perhaps, David’s words will shine Jesus into the very soul of the church and help it once again to be known for its immeasurable love. Let’s hope and pray that the church is listening. I am so grateful for David Linwah. —Boz
In our modern age the Church has made a reputation for being an unsafe place. Not only do unbelievers feel unsafe when misjudged or scrutinized by the Church, but many believers in Christ have left the Church because of the issue of safety. As a survivor of sexual child abuse myself and a believer, I have found it very disheartening and alarming to witness the naivete of the church in response to a victim of abuse. I personally believe that the majority of the Church in our nation does not understand how to respond to abuse because there is a lack of knowledge pertaining to the subject of abuse. Being made aware that there are still victims of abuse who may belong in your own ministry is crucial in the equipping of the Church to become the safest place that God intended the church to be.
I am personally sharing with you from a place of having experienced the mistreatment of being a victim while growing up in a Christian family with parents who had served the Lord both as missionaries and as pastors. When I was only a child, I was abducted on the mission field by my perpetrators. Tragically, my abduction was not a one-time event but a recurring imprisonment of sexual manipulation and abuse. In the midst of my on-going abuse, my parents as well as the church community where oblivious to the reality of the systematic ritual abuse that I was trapped in. Nobody found me.
My perpetrators were not naive in the process of my abductions. They were very intentional about appearing harmless to the church community, gaining trust and making sure that there was a very good reason why they needed to spend some special time with me. In those “special times” I would be introduced to evil that was beyond my comprehension and capability of understanding. The agonizing truth is how absent minded my parents and the church community were while I was being sexually victimized. In God’s great mercy I was saved and preserved to share my story with others today. However, the lack of understanding and knowledge that the church has in regards to responding to a victim is still extremely evident to me.
There are many ministries that have ended up becoming a part of the systematic abuse of a victim because of the absence of interest or urgency to the subject and reality of abuse within their own communities. For any victim, this reality for him or her with current or past ministry involvement and relationship is what has separated them from fully walking into their God intended purposes.
A primary reason why victims are afraid of the Church is because of the level of immaturity and ignorance they have experienced in how they are treated or handled by the community and leadership of a church. There can tend to be irrational treatment in response to a victim’s inability to serve or need for pastoral care as well as professional help. This irrational treatment or behavior within the Church has made itself obvious from what the nation has most recently witnessed in regards to the Duggar case. When addressing the issue of sexual abuse by no means should we throw stones of condemnation, but by no means should we tolerate or allow unjust behavior to be normalized or justified either. When we believe that it is righteous to use scripture in defense to justify sinful behavior, we become a stumbling block to believers and unbelievers. As believers we should never assume that we know how to love and serve survivors until we have personally exposed our own heart to those who are suffering as victims.
There is now an entire generation that has left the Church and might not ever return because of the negative impact that the Church has had in the lack of understanding and compassion for the broken and the wounded.
One of the greatest impacts the Church can have in response to a victim is being conscious of the fact that although you may not see blood, bruises, cuts, sores or an open wound on a victim, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. They may be hidden from your physical eyesight but with the eyes of Christ you have an invitation to look deeper behind the veil of the shallow surface to see the naked agony of a victim who may be barely holding onto life. Victims and survivors of abuse have learned to cope with their pain in such a way that it may be completely unrecognizable or even unnoticeable from face value.
Many victims and survivors have learned to master the art of performance and look almost perfect on the outside. In many abusive circumstances there is an expectation to perform under pressure in order to survive the condition that they were manipulated and forced into. In those unruly circumstances, the victim’s value and worth is based in association and attachment to the level of appreciation they receive from their perpetrator, which causes a mental distortion of what it means to be useful or valued by society, including the Church.
What we see on the outside that looks appealing to our eyes or looks beneficial to the ministry may actually be a misrepresentation of who an abuse victim is on the inside. On the inside, the victim is in tremendous fear of being taken advantage, but there is also a tremendous need and longing to be loved and accepted unconditionally. Albeit many victims are very talented, loving and servant-hearted because of their experience with trauma and abuse. They are often much more sensitive than most people and tend to carry a heart of compassion that is recognizably large. Sacrificial love is not taken lightly nor taken for granted by a victim. We understand that the cost to be loved and accepted in spite of all of our wounding is not an easy or cheap effort. In fact, staying committed to loving a victim of abuse is a road less taken by the majority of society.
We are at a critical time in the history of the Church where we have been given the opportunity to rise up and to truly learn how to love. If the Church can awaken in response by being aware and conscious of the suffering victim in the midst of their own congregation, then there is hope. A hope to live an existence of healthy relational bonding rather than feeling imprisoned by managing every relationship out of fear and mistrust. Once the leadership and community of a church are made aware of the victims among their own congregation, they can learn to love the victim by establishing boundaries.
Victims of abuse need to have healthy relational safety measures as well as protocols in order to be able to grow in trust with the church community. When there are no safety measures provided or established in developing healthy relationships for a victim of abuse with his or her community, it will be impossible for that community to succeed in becoming the safe environment that God intended it to be. When the appropriate safety measures and protocols are taught or set in place with the community, the victim will be able to feel safe as well as protected. In doing so, the community is acknowledging and honoring the worth and value of the victim. The message that the church is sending to the victim and to the community is love. Love that is willing to take action and to make a way for more victims to have a future and a hope to be a part of a family in the Body of Christ. It is a love that preaches the gospel through the community’s efforts to do all that they can to provide a place of refuge for the victim. This kind of love provokes the rest of the church to take a stand for the victim who has been taken advantage of and overlooked for far too long. It creates a counter cultural revolution that changes the mindset of a victim who has purposely chosen to stay away from the Church and to find hope once again in seeing a possibility of being a part of God’s family.
When a victim is able to recognize that safe measures have been established on their behalf, they will need healthy mentors to come by their wounded side and shepherd them. Providing and establishing healthy mentorship is vital to the restorative process for victims. Hiring professional and qualified Christian trauma counselors and psychiatrists to help in aiding the victims with the healing process is also a vital necessity for a church or any ministry.
The Church is responsible to contend for the safety and deliverance of the victim by looking at each individual victim or survivor as a unique child of God with a unique plan for his or her life. What should remain the same is the support of the Church as a family structure that is built on the foundation of justice in faithfully committing to lead the survivor out of bondage and stewarding its God given privilege to love the victim or survivor with the heart of adoption. In the same way we have been adopted by our Heavenly Father, so shall it be unto the Church to step into the spirit of adoption for those who have been neglected and unwanted.
Unfortunately, my journey of finding a church community as a survivor has been predominantly absent of what I have shared. My heart has been manipulated, condemned, forgotten and has felt the treacherous stab of betrayal many times by my own brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet I have never stopped believing in God’s church to arise and shine in the resplendent glory of understanding and knowledge towards victims of abuse. My hope continues to resonate from a place of knowing that in every betrayal or rejection that I have endured, the heart of the Lord also endures with me.
Through tears of perseverance that flow into rivers of mercy, reservoirs of courage are preserved within me and I long for the day to witness the liberation of His sons and daughters who stay imprisoned inside of the church as well as isolated from the church. It is written in God’s word, “in all their affliction He too was afflicted,” and in that truth I am comforted by a God who understands the depth and the pinnacle height of a love that is long-suffering. The Lord never forgets the crushed in spirit and in His relentless affection, He will secure a safe place for every victim beginning with His house. I look forward to a great revival of justice, righteousness, compassion and mercy that will reform and reconstruct the entire House of God for every survivor of abuse beginning with you.
David Linwah Lam is a Christian minister who believes in passionately advocating God’s justice towards the abused and neglected. As a former victim of systematic ritual abuse, his utmost vision is to see reformation in the body of Christ by the knowledge and understanding of God’s heart for the afflicted.
This article was originally published on July 31, 2015 for the Religion News Service (RNS). Used with permission.