Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

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.

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“When are you two going to get married?” can fast turn into “so when are you starting a family?”, but for many people their dream of becoming a parent never becomes a reality. Although technically you won’t be tested for infertility until after a whole year of trying for a child, questions can arise even after 6 months.

Mags* is in her late twenties.  She got married young.  Her and her husband decided to wait a few years before starting a family, but they were met with a brick wall when the time came.  A number of years has now elapsed.  She is confused but clinging to God.  On the one hand she blames herself for waiting and not being open from the start, on the other hand she can’t close the chapter marked ‘baby’ because she doesn’t know whether one might unexpectedly come along down the line.  She is walking into a future marked ‘unknown’, secretly hopeful but not wanting to get her hopes up too much so as not to put her life on hold whilst waiting.  She admits that sometimes she cries herself to sleep over the situation.

It is not just married couples who go through the challenge of wondering if they will ever become parents, single men and women are faced with the same query.  Katie* always dreamed of being a mother, but she has now gone past the age of 40 with no sign of Mr Right on the horizon.  She is bubbly, dynamic, faith-filled and beautiful, yet she has come to accept that if she ever has children it will have to be through adoption.  Katie says there is nothing wrong with adopting but that she has had to go through a painful grieving process in order to reach a place where she accepts that her bloodline will probably stop with her.

Young girls grow up often assuming that it is their right to be able to have children if they want to, so chatter takes place about the number of boys and girls they would like to have.  Some women pick out potential names for their desired dream team only to discover that Prince Charming hasn’t come along in time or that the life she hoped to have with him isn’t unfolding like the fairytale she imagined.  There are people who tell me that their first child came along ‘too quickly’ or their baby was ‘unplanned’.  When I hear these claims I am reminded of those at the opposite end of the spectrum who are hitting disappointment month after month when signs of the woman’s monthly period arrives in place of a positive pregnancy test.

Increasingly couples labelled as infertile (unless a miracle occurs) are coming into my path.  What many of them have in common is a sense of guilt for being upset about it.  We know that God can come through with a miracle even after a long wait – Abraham and Sarah are classic examples of that with her becoming pregnant when she describes her womb as being ‘good as dead’ – but when the life you thought you were going to have doesn’t come to fruition it can be challenging.  Perhaps we need to create a culture within our Churches where we tell people that it is ok to grieve, whether that be for the loss of a loved one or the loss of fertility, rather than thinking that because we are believers we need to have it together all the time.

Everyone goes through struggles during the course of their life, many of which are unknown to the people around them, but the question we can put to ourselves during those dark moments is whether we will allow the tough experiences to crush us or make us.  Will we let God use the hard stuff to mould us into someone more compassionate with an increased capacity to receive His love or not?

A thought:  If we have God then we have everything we need.

A prayer: Lord, we ask you to be the strength we need in our times of weakness. Be with all those who are hurting or suffering in secret this day. Give us your heart of compassion and use us as a channel of your healing love. Amen

Resources:

1. HTB Church (sorry if you are not in London) run a course called ‘Waiting for Children’. The course title is one of hope and expectancy rather than closing a door because of a label you have been given. If you or anyone you know is in that place of waiting or struggling with fertility issues perhaps take a look:

http://www.htb.org.uk/whats-on/courses/waiting-children

2. There is also a book written by two Christian women who had different outcomes to their fertility journey. It is called ‘Just the two of us?’ by Eleanor Margesson and Sue McGowan:

                                                          Just the two of us?

Also a book by Rosemary Morgan called ‘Living With Infertility – a Christian Perspective’:

rosemary

© Maria Rodrigues-Toth

*Real names have not been used

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

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