Posts Tagged ‘abuse’

Taking a child to Church to get some prayer might sound like a nice idea, but in some countries it is not a wonderful and blessed experience.

This is not an easy topic to write about – I already have a lump in my throat as I think about the stories I am going to share – but I believe this issue is one that Churches around the world have a duty to a) wake up to and b) respond to.

Let’s begin in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country which has been described as the “rape capital of the world”*, where there is a widely held belief that misfortune such as sickness, job loss and death can be attributed to evil spirits working through a person who is present in your life. Many inhabitants also subscribe to the belief that anyone who is different, whether that be due to a disability, an above average intellectual ability, or even because of something as simple as bed-wetting, must have some malevolent spirits at work in them. When these accusations are made against children there are often tragic consequences. UNICEF estimates that there are around 30,000 street children in the captial of DRC, 70% of whom are living there as a direct consequence of being accused of being possessed or involved in ‘sorcery’, either having fled from home or been thrown out.

A mother from the Congo with 8 children was struggling to look after her large family so sent her 11 year old son to live with his Aunt and Uncle. The move would most probably have been an emotional upheaval for the boy, but the challenges he was to face intensified dramatically beyond simply settling into a new home. Everyone in the household got sick upon his arrival, so he was accused of being a witch who had brought a curse upon the family. They swiftly took the boy to see a Pentecostal Pastor** who claimed to have discernment skills. After paying a fee to the Church leader it was  announced, “yes, he is definitely a witch”, and the boy was taken into the care of the Church to be cleansed.

The young man and 3 other boys (also in the custody of the Church) were led to a wasteland where a bonfire was lit by the elders and pastor. The skin on the boy’s bottom, legs and groin were burned off as he was turned like a chicken on a spit. Along with a number of other children, he was held in captivity in the Church building for 5 months where he was barely given enough food to survive. God alone knows how his hurting, peeling skin was treated during that time.

This is not an isolated situation, but one of many reports coming out of the country. Susie Howe of The Bethany Children’s Trust, who is also part of the Stop Child Witchcraft Accusations Coalition, says that every case is different dependent upon the country in which the situation occurs. She explained to me that there are a variety of methods applied to ‘treat’ children to rid them of whatever has supposedly caused harm to those in their life: “they are starved, they may be beaten, they may be forced to take poisonous fluids, they may have acid put into their eyes… we’ve known cases where they’ve had red hot pokers put up their rectums… and the saddest thing is that it’s being done by so called pastors in the name of Jesus Christ.”

Taking a child to get some prayer in church might sound like a good idea, but in the case of accusations (a crucial word) of child witchcraft involvement the consequences are almost always negative. Money crosses the palms of those promising discernment or a solution, meaning that some bogus pastors have become self-appointed bishops or spiritual leaders. Susie clarified the situation with these false pastors: “they’ve never been to theological college… they are in it because they can make a breath-taking amount of money from this”.  The sad reality though is that some pastors who are trained in Biblical Studies, Church History and Theology, who are part of respected denominations, genuinely believe that the way in which they handle these cases are advancing the Kingdom of God. She explained, “Some of the pastors do believe that they are doing the right thing by God.” This is not just a case of poorly handled deliverance ministry (that would be a blog topic in itself), it is large numbers of children being wrongly labelled as ‘witches’ and then suffering brutal abuse as a result.

When the mother of the 11 year old boy tried to contact her son she was blocked from gaining access to him by the Church. It was then she realised things were not right so sought the support and assistance of another Pastor, one who had previously been involved in this type of activity himself but consequently realised that it was not Godly behaviour. He was able to help, with the good news being that the pastor who had abused the children by burning and starving them was arrested. However, the bad news is that he left prison after just 3 months because he was able to pay his way out.

While these situations are commonly found in African nations, South America and some Asian countries, it is important to acknowledge that there have been increasing incidents of children being labelled as witches even in the UK, which tragically have ended in death. The famous Victoria Climbie case hit our shores in 2000, highlighting that those brought up in cultures believing this teaching (that children can bring a curse to a family) travels as people leave their home country and set up life somewhere new. In 2010 another British case hit headlines: the story of Kristy Bamu, a young woman killed by her sister and partner, through physical abuse as well as the removal of food and water, all due to them thinking that she was a witch. The death of Kristy served as a wake up call to the Government, and so a plan was launched in 2012 to try to deal with the rise in cases of child witch accusations in this country. Children’s Minister Tim Loughton, speaking to the BBC said, “Abuse linked to faith or belief in spirits, witchcraft or possession is a horrific crime, condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths – but there has been a ‘wall of silence’ around its scale and extent… There can never be a blind eye turned to violence or emotional abuse or even the smallest risk that religious beliefs will lead to young people being harmed.”

In the Bible we see that evil does exist and that sometimes prayer is required to free people from demons, but it crucial to distinguish between a) those who are truly possessed so are in need some spiritual freedom and 2) minors who are accused of something which is a falsehood and are then abused in an attempt to free them. Jesus’ message was one of loving people to freedom not subjecting them to abuse for spiritual benefits. Susie has drawn her own conclusions from the various case studies she has assessed: “These are innocent children who have done absolutely nothing… They become scapegoats for misfortune.”

Action: What can you do? If this information breaks your heart or you want to find out more then please consider responding. There is a coalition of Christian individuals and organisations called Stop Child Witchcraft Accusations. For their vision, resources and more information visit: www.stop-cwa.org  They are doing some training next year for Pastors in the countries where this is commonplace, to help them discuss these issues and discern how best to respond.

May the Church lead the way in ministering love and freedom to people, providing hope for those in despair, healing for those who have been hurt, as well as bringing teaching and formation to those who are misguided. Lord, help us to be a voice for those who are too young or too weak to speak out against the abuse they are experiencing.

©Maria Rodrigues

* McCrummen, Stephanie (9 September 2007). “Prevalence of Rape in E. Congo Described as Worst in World”. Washington Post

**Not all Pentecostals agree to such methods of handling the situation, in fact the majority globally would condemn this abuse of children.

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

Imagine you are getting ready for bed and your husband comes home drunk.  He starts beating you until blood covers the floor.  After the physical abuse he then rapes you.  Traumatised by what has happened you dutifully comply when the man you committed to share your life with announces that tonight you will sleep downstairs on the hard floor – no sleeping on the couch allowed – whilst he enjoys the comfort of the mattress.  As you prepare for a night of discomfort he brings the rubbish bin in from outside. He knows that where the food has lain rotting in the base of the bin there are maggots, so they are left to run on the floor.  Sweet dreams are impossible tonight.

The woman who went through that ordeal told me that she was raped nearly every night by her husband in the height of her 10 years of abuse. Although it is upsetting for her to relive the stories this Christian woman is adamant that now she is free from the clutches of her abuser she will share her story as much as possible in order to help other women.  Her experiences are horrifiying, ranging from having a milk bottle smashed over her head, a pine table thrown at her and a knife put in her stomach.  So why did it take so long for her to get out of the situation?  She was scared.  Her abuser had threatened her, so she put up with the violence out of fear – fear that no one would believe her if she told them and fear of the consequences if he found out that she had spoken about it to someone.  At Church she didn’t tell anyone but a few years ago she started to get some help and began to realise that it is ok to talk about it, that there is no shame.  She has been on a journey of recovery and believes that there can be life after abuse.

Many of the Christian women I have spoken to about this issue have explained that those who punch, hit or beat someone often do it in areas which will not be noticeable, for example a kick in the stomach or the head, rather than on the face.  The abusers are clever.  What is perhaps not always acknowledged is that domestic violence is not just physical or sexual in nature, it can take the form of emotional manipulation too.

Andrea told me of the emotional control her ex partner made her endure when they were going out.  “He would make me walk behind him at all times”, she said, “and he would not allow me to speak to any other man as I would be accused of cheating, yet when I first met him he was so charming”.  She says that over time she became “like a recluse”.  With an unpredicable man breathing down her neck over every decision she made, this lady lived in a culture of fear.  For some women it can start off subtly with the man in their life controlling what they are allowed to wear when they go out.  So subtle is the start of the situation that some women don’t even realise that anything is wrong.

Jemima can now see that she was in an abusive relationship for 4 years but didn’t tell anyone at the start because initially she didn’t realise she was being treated badly.  Her abuser started to show signs of violence when he would punch the wall if she disagreed with him.  She twigged quite quickly that the punches in the wall could end up on her and it wasn’t long before that happened.  He didn’t like her attending church and one time things got bad – her partner punched her repeatedly in the ribs.  She recalls that her young daughter witnessed the beating and was screaming, however ”somehow was able to call the police” meaning that the situation got exposed.

Andrea says there is a fear of being judged if you tell someone.  “You lose your self value and worth, so you don’t think others will want to help you”.  She is one of a number of women who have been brave enough to speak out about what they have been through but there are many who have not yet reached that point.  So what about the person you might sit next to at church, or the woman you scowl at in the prayer meeting because her child misbehaves?  She could be going through trauma everyday but is too afraid to tell those around her in Church of the torment she suffers behind closed doors.

Next time someone in your homegroup appears grumpy or disinterested, remember that they could be the victim of violence at home.  Next time someone gets angry with you in the supermarket, remember that their irrational behaviour could be the result of the abuse they suffer in private.

“I will restore to you for the years the locusts have eaten.” Joel 2:25

Healing is possible.  Recovery is possible.  There is life after abuse – it might take time to recover, but you are not alone!

If you are suffering and have told no one, please get help. Sometimes it is necessary to call the police to protect yourself, but if you just want someone to confide in you can contact the following organisations:

PHONENational Domestic Violence Helpline FREE to talk to someone in confidence on 0808 2000 247.

WEBSITE – There is also a Christian organisation called Restored you may wish to contact: http://www.restoredrelationships.org

p.s. This post deals with domestic abuse when women are the victims, however men also suffer at the hands of abusive women, but that would require a dedicated post of its own.

© Maria Rodrigues-Toth

*Since writing this post an article has been published by the BBC which details a large scale series of arrests of offenders of domestic abuse. Apparently Scotland Yard says 10 per cent of the two million calls to police in London each year are related to domestic violence!