let’s talk about sexual abuse

*Disclaimer: This post is directed mainly at South Asian Christians, though certainly not limited to them. This is not a light-hearted, optimistic or cheery post. It is a heavy and painful subject matter, and I had to stop several times while writing this to compose myself. I will reference some things that may be uncomfortable or bring back horrible memories. My aim is not for you to live or relive what may have happened, but to shine light on something that is destroying the South Asian church.*

I remember the first time I heard it. A friend in college told me how she had been sexually abused by an older family friend, an “uncle” as we would call in the Indian community. And it tore me up to know that she was the victim of such a heinous crime when she was young, but then came the real shock: she told me almost every South Asian girl she knew had a similar story. A cousin. An “uncle.” A neighbor. A clergyman/pastor.

Now over the years, I have lost count of the amount of women (and even men) I’ve talked to who have had a story about someone, a trusted person, fondling them, or sometimes worse. Every one has told me they’re not the only one. And most of them never tell their parents or people of authority because they’re afraid.

Last night, I wept for yet another friend who confided about a “visiting pastor” staying with her family that took advantage of his position and molested her when she was much younger. This same pastor then went on to preach revivals the next few nights, and no one was any wiser to his actions. Other friends had experienced the same with other older men and pastors, she said, including the pastor of the church they used to attend. Someone who continues to lead his congregation.

It is a prevalent pandemic, and everyone seems to know things like this happen. But no one talks about it. If you’re reading this, I guarantee you know victims of abuse. You might be one yourself, and my heart breaks for you.

It’s enough to make my blood boil in righteous rage that these wolves in sheep’s clothing prey on innocent lambs, those in our community who are the most vulnerable. And it breaks my heart for the brokenness and depravity of people. Sin is no respecter of persons or titles, be it family member or man of the cloth.

First, let me offer a word to those who have fallen prey to sexual abuse: it is not your fault, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, be it parent, minister, or yourself. That is a lie from hell. Grown men and women cannot blame children for their wandering hands or deviant sexual desires. Second, God does not love you any less because of what has happened to you. You’re not damaged goods. It is a tragically horrific thing that happens, one that no one should ever have to go through, but there is healing and restoration found in Christ, counseling, and biblical community. At the cross, our disgrace and shame are transformed by what Jesus has done. Jesus is in the business of redeeming broken people and offers freedom in light of  the day when he returns to finish making all things new.

For too long, far far too long, this issue has been kept under wraps within the South Asian community. There are whispers here and there, but no one wants to talk about it outright. Instead, it is brushed under the rug with the hope that no one finds out. In the attempt to keep it “in house” and not cause a public scandal or shame, churches and families try to deal with it on their own. The problem is that we are not equipped or able to deal with abuse, especially sexual abuse (let’s call it for what it is and not try to sugarcoat the term). When abuse is hidden and not reported, you get incidents like what happened at Penn State or what has been uncovered at Sovereign Grace Ministries. They knew about the sexual abuse and tried to deal with the issue and the perpetrators on their own, but for years, it continued, and stories like these are being brought to light all over the country. The thing is, most churches do not have the resources to handle those guilty of sexual abuse, and almost never know how to help the victim of abuse cope with what has happened. By not bringing the issue to light and justice, the cycle is just repeating over and over and over in countless families, churches, and communities. In trying to protect the “dignity” or family of the perpetrators, we are sacrificing the innocence of the most vulnerable members of our community: the kids. Children are enduring physical and emotional abuse so that grown men do not have to deal with the consequences of their evil acts. And victims are left alone to suffer with what has happened and to wrestle with how to get past the hurt and shame and move forward. Sexual assault claws through its victims and can affect every aspect of your life: faith, emotions, relationships, identity, sexuality, and self-image.

So now let me implore us to not keep silent about this any longer because chances are that if someone has abused you at least once, they’ve done it before, or they will do it again to someone else. As a victim, someone who has experienced abuse myself, I know how hard it is to talk about it. I know it can feel like you’re betraying a family friend or respected person. Let me implore you to not hide it or keep quiet about it. Those who are guilty should be brought to justice by the justice system of the land. Let the state do what the state does; God has them there for a reason.

“For rulers [government] are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” – Romans 13:3-4

This is not something we can continue to keep silent about by saying we’ll solve it on our own. We can’t. And every time we don’t report sexual abuse, we are putting other boys, girls, women in danger of being victims of the same thing. We are doing a disservice to the Christian faith by not bringing this sin to the light and protecting those left in the wake of abuse. The church must be a safe place for the innocent and weak and wounded, not a safe haven for wolves in sheep’s clothing. There is grace and redemption and healing in Christ available for both the one who has abused, and the victim, but we can’t get there by covering up cases of sexual assault. We can’t get there by leaving opportunities for abuse to continue.

This is not a smear campaign. This is not a witch hunt. This is about defending our boys and girls, our women and our families from those who would take advantage of their power. Those who take advantage of the fact that this is a taboo subject. This is about dealing with a rampant sin issue in our community.

Parents, ministers, and peers, we should report cases of abuse to the appropriate authorities. We must embrace and show compassion and love to the victims as Christ has embraced and shown love and compassion to us. And we must begin this change of culture by talking openly and honestly about sexual abuse.

**UPDATE** There is a blog that has been created to help girls share their stories. It is http://shhh7214.com/

If you have a story to share and would like to do so on the site, you can go to http://www.wordpress.com and log in.

Username: shhh7214

Password: psalm7214

You can then proceed to add a new post.

words of life

Today marks 5 years since cancer took my friend Esther. Last week, I learned of another college friend who walked from earth into eternity. The list of people I know who have passed away grows at a rate that I’ll never be comfortable with. And I hate it.

We always want to say things, anything, that might offer comfort in times of loss, but the reality is that it’s often little solace. Pithy statements like, “he’s in a better place!” and “she’s with Jesus” do not take away the sting of death. They are well-meaning and true words, but they do little to change the situation. I am reminded of the limitations of my words every time I try to console a grieving friend. Every time a friend tries to offer me words of encouragement. Our best words cannot undo sin and its end product: death.

There is one place that I’ve found comfort and hope, especially when dealing with death, and that’s in the words of Jesus. You can chalk it up to religious sentimentality or fanciful feelings, but there is a very real peace in the red letters. Almost as if they have power.

After all, when Jesus spoke, people were healed and demons went scrambling. When Jesus spoke, the winds and the sea obeyed him. When Jesus spoke, a dead man walked out of his grave. John 1 tells us that Jesus was the very Word by which all things were created out of nothing back in Genesis. Jesus has power. And the power was displayed when he was resurrected from the dead, the firstfruit, proving our spiritual resurrection and future bodily resurrection.

We also know that the Bible is God’s revelation to us, so that that when it speaks, God speaks. Thus, it makes sense that reading Scripture would bring peace, because it is the power of God working in you, not just your brain processing the words on paper.

The words that I have been resting on today are some of the last words in the Bible. They describe a vision of what is to come, a reality that draws nearer with every passing day.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new.  – Revelation 21:1-5

This is what we look forward to. Not for a future of floating around playing harps, but a future where heaven is on earth, where death and crying and pain will be a thing of the past. It is a place where the dead in Christ will live with God in newly restored, resurrected bodies. Esther. Patrick. Ronnie. Ommar. Christ the Redeemer will return to finish what he began and redeem everything fully. The earth. Our bodies. Our lives. He is working all things toward this redemption.

Jesus said it, and they are true because the One who spoke it is Truth. He is God.

Behold! Jesus is making all things new!

a life worth living

During my sophomore year at UT, a couple friends and I joined a community group at the church we went to. Unsure of what to expect and without a car, we accepted a ride from the leader of the group and met Ronnie Smith who would love us, challenge us, and help us grow in our love for Jesus. 

We bonded because we had both been raised in very similar church backgrounds, and over the course of the next few years, he would consistently meet with me and push me to love God with my head, heart, and hands. He influenced the Bible I bought, the books I read in my spare time and the preachers I listened to. Years before I ever heard the names of Matt Chandler or Mark Driscoll, Ronnie pointed me to Jonathan Edwards and John Piper to discover the beauty of the glory of God and the overwhelming joy and satisfaction that is found when God is glorified in us. When I fought against notion of God’s complete sovereignty, Ronnie would patiently show me passage after passage in the Bible that proved otherwise, and the word “predestined” went from being an uncomfortably ugly word to one of the most beautiful indicators of the grace of God. He encouraged my teaching gifts and when I wasn’t faithful in the little things, he lovingly rebuked me. In typical sarcastic wit, humor, and passionate zeal, he would remind me that Jesus was the center of God’s story, not me. He was a good friend and mentor.

He moved to Libya to teach Chemistry with his wife, Anita, and young son, Hosea. On Thursday, December 5, 2013 while taking an early morning jog, Ronnie was shot and killed in the city of Benghazi.

To read more about Anita’s story, and her response to the shooting, including her response to Ronnie’s death, you can watch here and here, and read her open letter here

Amid the sorrow and grief, a friend called me that afternoon and asked the following question: “Brice, what are we going to do? How are we going to respond to Ronnie pouring out his life in love of God and people?” It’s an excellent question for all of us.

Ronnie left behind a legacy, but it was born out of his recognition that God loves the whole world and uses us to make it better. It was born out of his recognition that his life was not his own. A life changed by the gospel compels you to live for Someone greater than yourself, and that Someone is the blazing center of everything: Jesus. That is a life worth living. Whether we eat or drink or study or work, we do it all for the glory of God. For Ronnie, this meant moving with his family to teach chemistry to the Libyan students at the International School Benghazi, risking safety and abandoning certain comforts. We follow the example of Jesus who left the comfort of heaven and poured out His life for us, even to the point of death. We do not back away from the prospect of death, but press forward with the promise of life eternal. As John Piper said, “Let the replacements flood the world.”

I’d like to leave you with one of the most powerful sermons I’ve ever heard, and it was one given by Ronnie at the Austin Stone Community Church. He compiled a list of Bible verses and passages, and organized them in such a way as to tell the story of the Bible. The entire sermon is composed strictly of Bible verses and is all preached from memory, sharing the story of creation, fall, salvation and restoration that is recorded within the pages of Scripture. This is the true story of Love that captivated Ronnie, and I pray that through it, we see that God has been working all things for His glory and our ultimate good.  This is the history of redemption.

Ronnie did not waste his life. I pray that we do not either.

If you would like to purchase a copy of  The History of Redemption as a beautifully illustrated hardback book, you can purchase it here. Proceeds from the sales will go to the Smith family.

If you would like to support Anita and Hosea with a gift, please click here.