Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

1. Elizabeth’s Story:

Elizabeth was a vicar’s wife, but after repeatedly being beaten by her husband and then discovering that he had had an affair, the relationship ended in divorce.

When she got married she thought everything would go smoothly. Elizabeth says, “I promised God forever that I was going to look after my lovely husband, be a vicar’s wife and care for the parish”. However, this dream of the perfect Christian life soon began to fade. Looking back Elizabeth notices that her husband began to need the approval of younger woman. One day he just disappeared. She didn’t know the whereabouts of her spouse for 3 months, and then it turned out that he had found another woman. Upon his return Elizabeth and her two children were left homeless.

Fortunately she had parents who were able to take her in, but had she not had somewhere to move to immediately the already challenging and emotional situation would have been far worse. She claims that the Bishop didn’t know how to handle the situation; after all it was awkward having the model family fall apart in this way. Prior to her husband’s vanishing act things had been unsettled: “My husband had been extremely violent; sometimes I would be quite badly bruised, so I had to be covered up”. It was her faith in God which helped her in scary moments: “I remember when he used to beat me I used to see how many times I could say the Lord’s Prayer until he finished… God gives you such strength and support in difficult times”.

She feels there is a great pressure on clergy marriages: “You are being looked at because you are in the public eye, so when things don’t work out it is hard for people to know how to respond”. She thinks sometimes Church congregations don’t know what to say when the leader’s marriage ends because they think “the vicar never does anything wrong”! Elizabeth’s is not an isolated incident.

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2. Alex’s Story:

Things had become difficult in the parish in which Alex and her dog-collared husband lived, so he began to take his frustration with the ministry out on her. She claims to have been a victim of not only physical violence but also emotional and psychological abuse. One day, she says, “he assaulted me very badly and was arrested and was eventually sent to prison”. She admits that she got married young so was perhaps a bit naive, but told me that she “assumed that everything would be absolutely fine and we’d just live happily ever after”.

Divorce can be an isolating experience, but when you are seen as the pillars of the church the situation can be particularly awkward, especially if the congregation start to take sides. Alex says, “most people would avoid talking about it”. She says she did know a few other people who had broken marriages, but remembered seeing a support organisation for clergy wives advertised in the Church Times, however the name escaped her. A quick internet search enabled Alex track down Broken Rites: “It was the single most helpful thing when my marriage broke up. It was nice to know that there were other people who had been through similar experiences. You don’t have to explain from scratch what it is like – losing your place in the church and potentially in the community – there is a common understanding even though members of Broken Rites marriages break up for different reasons.”

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3. Sue’s Story:

Not every clergy marriage which ends in divorce is due to an affair or abuse. Sue and her husband just found that things were not working: “My marriage broke up in 1997. I had 2 children. I got very little spiritual support to help maintain my faith”. Sue was put in touch with another clergy wife who had been through a similar situation via the organisation Broken Rites. She says, “You think you’re the only person whose marriage has broken down being married to a clergyman… there are others who have been through it and managed to rebuild their lives”. Just knowing that there were others in a similar situation provided her with great encouragement.

Support:

When a woman gets married she hopes it will last forever, especially if her husband is a clergyman.  Sadly many marriages fall apart in the vicarage, so how can you handle a break up which takes place in a public arena? This weekend was the 30th Anniversary of Broken Rites, a group established in 1983 (officially formed in 1985) to support vicar’s wives who require practical, emotional and spiritual support during the transition from vicar’s wife to an ordinary parishonner. Obviously since it was set up there has been a shift in situation in that women can now be ordained in the Anglican Church, so if you or someone you know is married to a clergyperson (male/female) and the relationship is heading down the route of divorce, for whatever reason, then do head to www.brokenrites.org for information on the support you can receive, without judgement. The organisation seeks to serve those from any Christian denomination.

“Everybody’s story is different and unique but there are common threads. Obviously a clergy marriage has added stresses… sometimes that tips the balance and I think the clergy struggle for where to go if there is a problem in the marriage because that is seen as failure.” – A woman divorced from a clergyman who has been supported by Broken Rites.

(c) Maria Rodrigues-Toth

A group of teenage boys were shocked when they viewed the before and after shot of the girl at the top of this post – they couldn’t believe the impact that some make-up and hair straighteners could have on someone!

It is encouraging that young girls are increasingly becoming aware that the images they see on billboards, in newspapers or on magazine covers are vastly different from how the subjects look when they get out of bed in the morning, but I am concerned that the focus of our attention has been exclusively on girls to the neglect of how our airbrushing culture is impacting young men.  Youth-workers, teachers, parents and campaigners on self esteem issues are to be applauded for the roles they have all played in getting the message of body image out into the public arena but I believe another step needs to be taken.

Not all the young men growing up in today’s world are ignorant of the transformation tools available to women, but I think we owe it to them to ensure that these husbands and fathers of the future are made aware that the models they see (or avert their eyes from) on the side of buses are largely computer generated.  Why?  a) so that when a wife begins to sag, increase in wrinkles and lose her natural hair colour the husband is still content in his marriage because he loves his wife for who she is inside, b) so that when a man is looking for a wife he doesn’t have the unrealistic physical expectations of an airbrushed woman and c) finally, because a woman wants to be loved for who she is when she gets out of bed in the morning, not just for who she can become after a highly skilled make-up artist has done their work or the computer has airbrushed out any perceived ‘imperfections’.

The Dove Campaign* went a long way to explain the message of how a woman can be turned into a supermodel with a few studio lights, some foundation, blusher and eye shadow, thrown in with a bit of airbrushing, but once again the target audience was predominantly women.  Whilst the slogans such as, ‘talk to your daughter before the beauty industy does’ are important, where are the campaigns which say ‘a woman is for life not just for the Christmas party’ or ‘a woman is beautiful even when she wears no make up’ which are targeted at boys?

If we care about the next generation of men let’s inform them that while a girl may look beautiful on the outside, if you marry her she won’t always look glamourous.  While physical attraction is important, what will last for a lifetime is a woman’s character.

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised..” -Proverbs 31:30

p.s. A mother contacted me after reading this to share that she has now shown the image at the top of this post to her sons who are 12 yrs and 15 yrs old.  They have chatted about the two photographs, serving as a reminder that education begins in the home. Thank you for reading.

©Maria Rodrigues-Toth

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If you watched television footage around the time of Gadaafi’s death you would no doubt have noticed an incredibly brave woman in the thick of the Libyan civil war. While many journalists maintained a safe distance from the fighting we saw reporter Alex Crawford in a bullet proof vest and helmet keeping us up to date with the story as it unfolded. Afterwards we learned that her children sat at home watching on TV, texting her throughout the story and making fun of how grubby she looked due to lack of showering! Alex went on to win awards for being a voice back to Britain. However few realise that this multi-award winning foreign correspondent, who this year was awarded an OBE by the Queen, only landed her dream job in recent years. After applying for numerous posts around the world and not securing any of them apparently a close friend suggested she get the hint and abandon all pursuit of her dream job.

As many young people this summer receive their A, A-S level or GCSE results, not forgetting degree grading, it can be encouraging to hear stories of how people made it in spite of their failures. Winston Churchill failed at school yet went on to become Prime Minister and I have a friend who didn’t get high enough grades to study Medicine so took a year out to retake but has gone on to work as a surgeon. Peter messed up when he denied any affiliation with Christ three times, but in spite of this still went on to lead the Church of his time. The question is not whether we fail but how we respond to it.  Will we let it make us or break us?

Don’t give up because you could be one step away from your breakthrough!

©Maria Rodrigues-Toth

Rebecca’s* parents tried to drown her in the bath when she refused to marry the man they had lined up for her.  She was grabbed by the hair and had her head dunked below water, leaving her gasping for breath. A violent wrestle saw her set free but she knew she had to escape her childhood home, so Rebecca ran away. She could have ended up in the hands of traffickers, pimps, paedophiles or drug dealers but angels must have been guiding her because she ran into the hands of local police officers who offered her protection from the family members who were trying to track her down.  When I heard what had happened I was surprised to learn that this had taken place in the UK.

The conflict all began when Rebecca had refused to marry a man she didn’t really know and certainly didn’t love. She explained that forced marriages are happening regularly in this country but that many of us British citizens are oblivious to it. Recently news of a young girl being forced into marriage hit headlines, highlighting that many minors are being paired up with men much older than them whilst they are still of school age.  It is estimated that around 8,000 women a year are forced into a marriage against their will in Great Britain, but if they rebel the consequences can be disasterous.

Rebecca recounted how at a young age she was taken on holiday and introduced to a man old enough to be her grandfather, who barely spoke English.  He was considered to be a potential suitor but much to Rebecca’s relief the match did not go ahead. It was when her parents made a second attempt at finding her a husband that she found herself threatened with death for refusing to consent.  The man in question was the same age as Rebecca and living in the same country, but she didn’t want to marry him. The words ‘honour’ and ‘shame’ littered our conversation as she tried to explain how a child’s failure to comply with their parents wishes results in the family being shunned by other members of their Community.

David Cameron made a bold move recently when he spoke out about this issue saying, “Forced marriage is abhorrent and is little more than slavery. To force anyone into marriage against their will is simply wrong and that is why we have taken decisive action to make it illegal”. It is a pivotal moment in history when our Prime Minister announces his desire to criminalise the practice of forced marriage in England & Wales, following Scotland’s lead.  2012 will be an historic year if the plans go ahead.  The goal is to protect ‘victims’ of the practice and could see some parents imprisoned for making their children enter wedlock with consent.

Freedom to choose who you want to marry is a beautiful gift, but sadly one that many people don’t have. It is universally accepted, regardless of race, culture and religion, that it is wrong is to force any human being to do something against their will, so may we care enough to be moved to spread the word about the proposed new legislation (to ensure that it becomes a reality) and pray:

Lord, we pray for an end to the violation of the human rights of all people. We pray for all those involved in the process of making forced marriage illegal – grant them wisdom as they implement new laws to protect the vulnerable.  May all men and women have the freedom to choose who they marry. Amen.

Today Rebecca is a radiant, smiley woman, so until she opens her mouth to share her story you have no idea of the trauma she has been through.  Her difficult background is now bearing fruit as she uses her new found Christian faith to support other girls who have disobeyed a family call to marry someone, sharing with them the power and healing in forgiveness. Whilst most of the focus on forced marriages is on the plight of the women who are subjected to it, Rebcecca is keen for us to acknowledge that many of the men involved are also in a vulnerable situation.

If you or someone you know needs help please visit this Government page: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/when-things-go-wrong/forced-marriage/information-for-victims

*name changed

©Maria Rodrigues-Toth

Imagine reaching 5 years old and being taken to a secret destination by your mother, whilst other children in your town or village are tucked up in bed.  When you arrive at the assigned location you are made to lie down.  A stranger or other family member holds you in place as a searing pain hits you down below.  The woman who brought you into the world has either cut your private parts or sewn them together.  She holds no surgical qualifications but performs the act anyway, perhaps using a sharp piece of glass or a knife.

Female Genital Mutilation is happening in 2012 but is closer than you might think – in fact, it could be happening in your own street!

Sammy* is one of the estimated 100,000  ‘survivors’ thought to be living in the UK (far more per square mile than in the US where it is estimated that 230,000 have been through FGM).  With water in her eyes she explained to me that the procedure she went through could have been fatal: her childhood friend died as a result of haemorraging.  Hearing how Sammy herself was held down by her mother, as her aunt sliced her with a razor blade in Somalia was shocking to listen to.  The procedure took place in some bushes and she reported that she felt like she ‘was going to die’, such was the pain.  The graphic details she gave of having to push material onto the wound to halt the bleeding when she was pre-school age, not to mention the consequential inability to stand up after the practice had been carried out, was almost too much to absorb.  In Somalia the average age for FGM is just 5 years old but in some places it is even younger.  I couldn’t help gulping as she told about me what she has endured.

Not long into our conversation I got the sense that the UK is probably not immune from such a practices and, sadly, my hunch was right.  It seems that as we go about our daily routines of school runs, commutes to the office and shopping trips, we are passing girls who live in fear of FGM happening to them, as well as those who have already been ‘under the knife’.  A researcher told me that it is estimated around ‘2,000 girls’ went through FGM in this country last year alone.  Apparently the trend used to be that parents would fly their daughters to African countries to get them ‘done’, but as the Government caught wind of it and tried to prevent such trips being made a new strategy was adopted.  Over the past years it seems there has been a rise in the number of families clubbing together to pay to fly someone over to perform ‘cutting parties’ at which the girls are lined up to be on the receiving end of FGM.  This is something which could be happening in the house next door to you!

The expert I spoke to told me that the practionners are not all flown in: some families attempt to carry out FGM themselves but she added (as if it were common knowledge) that, ‘it can also be done in Harley Street for a fee’.  It is worth clarifying that FGM is illegal in the UK, but as no prosecutions have been made here, London is now seen across Europe as the place to send your daughter to be cut rather than Africa because there is no fear of getting caught.

Whilst some girls will be dealing with the common challenge of monthly period pain this summer holiday, other young teens will be using the time away from school to experience and then recover from something which can only be labelled as a traumatic violation of human rights.  Sometimes a hole no bigger than a grain of rice is left, and the woman is expected to both urinate and menstruate through it!

What are we Christians doing about it?  Are we even aware that there are girls in our local schools, perhaps attending the same sporting activities as our own children, who live in fear of an overseas circumcisor turning up?  As believers our call is not just to gather together to pray but to impact our Communities practically, to be a voice for those who are unable to speak out.  If there are women on the streets where we live who are in fear of being taken to a ‘cutting party’, what is our response?  May we a) be moved to intercede for them & b) spread the word.  Let’s be the change together!

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ ..- Matthew 25:35-40

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*Name changed.

Since writing this post I have been informed that BBC2 Newsnight will be broadcasting a programme on this issue 23rd July 2012

© Maria Rodrigues-Toth

I wasn’t sure what to expect when a reminder popped up on my computer screen saying that it was just 15 minutes until I was due to interview Zee*, a former sex worker.  She was probably anxious as well, wondering how she would be received, having experienced extensive verbal abuse from local residents during her 10 years working on the streets, not to mention one incident of almost being killed.

A smiley, small-framed, youthful looking woman met me in reception.  She seemed a little nervous, but was very accommodating and polite.  After a short time we found ourselves discussing the gritty reality of what happens when you have an addiction to heroin, the drug which took this former school governor onto the streets to sell her body, resulting in her regularly being arrested and having to live in bin sheds.

When I asked, she couldn’t work out how many men she had ‘serviced’ during her stint as a prostitute but estimated that it would have been ‘hundreds, probably thousands’, grimacing to herself in disgust as she tried to count.  She has been through a lot in her decade as a prostitute and considers herself to have got off lightly with ‘only 20 rapes’ and some ‘broken ribs’, suggesting that she could have had it far worse.  Many of the girls who worked the same streets used to call her ‘mum’ because she was older than them.  Hearing about 16 year old girls, who are of an age to be sitting GCSE exams, hanging around our cities ready to jump in a car with a man was sobering.

When Zee still lived in a home (rather than in garages or behind dustbins) her only daughter was taken from her because she had allowed groups of drug takers into the house.  She quickly qualified the statement by reassuring me that the ‘druggies’ were never in the same room as the young girl.  It was a situation far removed from the life Zee used to have when she had a daily commute into the city wearing a suit.  Casual drug taking had spiralled out of control and heroin was ruling her every decision.

Deep remorse was conveyed through her eyes as she told me how she had let her daughter down.  Recently Zee celebrated a year of being clean but, even so, she still sees no signs of her daughter being willing to reconcile with her.  Their only form of communication is an occasional letter.  She seems to accept that the pain and hurt takes time to heal, constantly repeating the phrase, ‘God’s will, not my will’ during our chat.

As our conversation unfolded she littered the interview with references to prayer and theological concepts like free will, so I asked where that understanding had come from.  When Zee was working nights a group of women from local Churches had been out on the streets offering support to people like her.  Rather than holding placards of condemnation or lining the women up for stoning, these believers had offered free drinks, snacks and toiletries.  What was their motivation?  To show these ladies that they are loved and that someone cares about them.  It was a night when free goodie bags were being handed out that Zee told me she had chased after the women to get one, and it was then she got told that God loves her.  That encounter was one of a series of encounters which helped her get her life back on track.

Not all sex workers are in the industry because of drug addiction.  Tessa* was groomed from an early age by her father to make money for him, and was sent out as a teenager to hang around on street corners to attract attention.  Others have been tricked into thinking that they are being given a good job only to find themselves caught up in a network of traffickers.  Zee was her own boss, reporting that it was ‘easy enough’ to get started once you knew where the red light districts areas were.  She shared how she began by having some boundaries in place, such as only allowing herself to be with a man in a car, but desperation for drug money quickly caused her to let her guard down.  Going into clients homes was dangerous and risky, so if a ‘customer’ refused to pay she explained that she would put up a fight for a short while before running for her life – forsaking her £20.  I learnt that if you are in this industry getting beaten up is to be expected as part of the course.

Did she find the experience degrading?  Zee’s honesty with me was humbling.  She quietly explained, almost whispering, that her self esteem was rock bottom and that she dislikes her body.  Only now the emotional and psychological wounds are starting to surface in her life because previously she had been numb to what was going on because of the drugs.  She admits that she is on a journey, attending Church regularly, and praying that ‘God’s will, not my will’ prevails, but that the process of recovery will take time.

As Christians we are called to stand against injustice, to protect the vulnerable, to be a voice for the voiceless, to house the orphan and bring hope to those in despair, but to do so with love.  Jesus demonstrated this when the woman who was caught in adultery was jeered at and threatened with being stoned to death for her act.  His response was profound and controversial: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  (John 8:7).

Prayer: Lord, may we see others through Your eyes, may our words and actions be driven by love and a desire to see all people living life to the full.  Amen.

Inspiring quote: “Prostitution does injury to the dignity of the person who engages in it, reducing the person to an instrument of sexual pleasure”. (2355 Catechism)

*Names changed.

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©Maria Rodrigues-Toth