A Powerful Force

Black woman praying in church

He watched her as she knelt in the pew.  Fortunately the church was empty.  If anyone else had been there, they would have disapproved of the way she was dressed.

Personally, he was happy to see her there.  After losing her fiance and son in a horrific boat accident, she had stopped coming to church.  For a long time, she was angry with God and the world.  He visited her but she wanted nothing to do with him or the church.  She reverted back to her old ways, going to bars, getting drunk.

On one occasion, he had to go to a bar and escort her out.  He took her home and made sure that she was all right before he left.  He was certain that his superiors would not have approved but as far as he was concerned, he was doing God’s work.

Despite her resistance and resentment, he didn’t give up on her but continued to visit her.  In the evenings, before retiring to his rooms, he went into the chapel and prayed for her.

He waited until she was finished praying before he went over to her.  She looked up as he approached.  Self-consciously, she pulled the sleeves up on her shoulders, her expression almost apologetic.  “Good evening, Father Martens,” she greeted him as she got off her knees and sat down.

“Good evening,” he replied.  “I’m very happy to see you.”  He tried not to stare but couldn’t help but notice that she was wearing false eyelashes.

“I know it has been a while since I came here.  You know why I haven’t been coming.  After losing and, I wanted nothing more to do with God or His church.  I was angry with Him for taking and away from me.  I thought He did it to punish me for my sins.”

“God doesn’t take away our loved ones to punish us.  He takes them when it’s their time to go.  We are all here for a time.  It just so happened that their time was before yours.  I know you miss them but they are in Heaven with God.  They don’t want you to be sad or angry anymore.”

She brushed away a tear.  “If it weren’t for you, Father Martens, I would still be bitter and angry.  Thank you for visiting and helping me.  I will be eternally grateful to you.”

He smiled.  “I was happy to do it,” he said.  “Does this mean that I will be seeing you on Sunday?”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

He wanted to tell her that she had to dress modestly whenever she came into the church, especially on Sunday but he trusted that the Lord would impress this upon her heart.  “Good.”

She stood up.  “I’d better be going now.  I’m working nights now.”

He looked surprised.  “Really?  Where?”

“At the Cyclone Bar.”

He didn’t like the idea of her working at a bar.  It seemed indecent, somehow.  “Our parish needs a receptionist.  How would you like to do that instead of working at Cyclone?”

“Are you sure you want me to work at your parish?”

“Yes.  You will work at reasonable hours during the day.”

“How soon would you like me to start?”

“As soon as you can.”

“I can start in three weeks.  I have to give my manager two weeks’ notice.”

“We’ll manage until then.”

She smiled.  “Thank you, Father Martens and God bless you.”

“Thank you.  I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.”

She nodded and taking up her handbag, she turned and walked out of the church.

He stood there for several minutes.  Yes, he looked forward to seeing her on Sunday.

Sunday came and she showed up, dressed modestly in a white skirt suit and yellow blouse.  No false eyelashes and the braids were gone.  Her natural hair was chin length.  He greeted her along with the rest of the congregation as they came through the doors, his gaze resting on her a bit longer than was necessary.   Fortunately, no one seemed to notice.

After Mass he wanted to talk to her but it wasn’t possible. He was flanked by church members as they left the church.  So, all he was able to say to her was, “Thank you for coming.”

A couple days later, he stood watching the wide open field and the hills beyond.  It looked like it was going to rain.  Perhaps he should head back now.

“Father Martens.”

Priest3

He turned and was pleasantly surprised to see her but very perturbed as well.  He had been thinking about her all week and looking forward to Sunday when he would see her again.  He tried to appear calm now but his heart was racing.  “What brings you here today?” he asked.

“I called the office and the lady told me that you had gone for a walk.  I remembered that you once told me that this is where you usually come for your walk so I knew that I would find you here.  We didn’t get a chance to talk on Sunday.  I just wanted to tell you that I was blessed by the service and that I will be coming again on Sunday.”

“I’m pleased to hear that.”  He couldn’t seem to take his eyes off her.  They were fixed on her face which looked beautiful in the dull light.  Just then a raindrop fell on his head, startling him.  He glanced up at the darkening sky.  “It looks like a storm is brewing.  I don’t think we’ll be able to make back to the parish in time.  There’s an abandoned shack over there where we can find shelter until the storm passes.  Follow me.”  He led the way across the field.

They reached the shack just in time.  As soon as they went inside lightning flashed across the sky, followed by a loud clap of thunder and then came the rain.  Fortunately, the windows and the door were still intact.  He closed the door and turned to face her.  Over their heads the rain beat relentlessly against the rooftop.  Hopefully the storm wouldn’t last long.

“It’s really coming down out there,” she said, glancing up at him.

“Yes, it is,” he agreed quietly.  Being here alone with her was a really bad idea.  He wished he hadn’t brought her here.  It might have been a better idea to bring her here and then run back to the parish.  “Hopefully it will pass soon.”

“It’s my fault you’re stuck here.”

“It’s not your fault.  I knew it was going to rain.  I should have stayed at the parish and come for my walk another time.”

“I shouldn’t have come, Father Martens.  It was selfish of me.”

“What do you mean that it was selfish of you.”

“I wanted to see you but I couldn’t wait until Sunday.”

“Why is that being selfish?”

“It’s selfish because I wasn’t considering that you are a priest and that there can’t be anything between us.  All I could think about was how much I wanted to be with you.”

He swallowed hard.  “We shouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“You’re right.  I’m sorry.  I should go.”

“But the storm isn’t over.”

“It’s all right.  I’ll be fine.  It won’t be the first I’ve been caught in one of these.”  She started toward the door when he caught her by the shoulders.

“Please, don’t go.”

She stared up at him.  They were standing very close.  He was still holding her arm.  Her flesh felt soft against his fingers.  His eyes were restless on her face.  His chest rose and fell swiftly as all sorts of emotions ran rampantly through him.  He knew that he was treading on very thin ice but he couldn’t seem to resist what was about to happen.  Instead of releasing her, he drew her towards him.  His smoldering gaze dropped to her parted lips before his lowered his head and devoured them.  He moaned and trembled when he felt her eager response.  For several minutes they stood there, kissing wildly as the storm raged on outside.

This wild exchange of kisses lasted for several minutes and then he pulled away, breathing heavily, his face flushed.  “We can’t do this,” he muttered thickly.  “I’m sorry.”  He stumbled away from her and dropped to his knees.  With his back turned to her, he bowed his head and clasped his hands.  He remained like that for a long time.  When he turned around, she was gone.  He staggered to the door and leaned heavily against the frame for a few moments before he sprinted through the torrential rain back to the rectory.

The following Sunday, he looked for her but she didn’t show up.  Several Sundays passed and still no sign of her.  She didn’t show up for the job as the parish secretary either so he had to hire someone else in a hurry.  He tried to put her out of his mind and busy himself with his duties and community service but it was no use.  He had fallen helplessly in love with her and was desperate to see her again.  Finally, one night, he went to the Cyclone Bar.

As he walked in and made his way over to the bar, he attracted quite a lot of attention.  The bartender looked a bit taken aback to see him.  “Hello, Father,” he said.  “We don’t usually get priests in here.  What can I do for you?”

“Hello.  I’m here to see one of your waitresses who also happens to be one of my parishioners.”

“Oh, you mean Zahra.”  He glanced at his watch.  “It’s almost quitting time for her.  She’s over there.”  He pointed behind him.

Father Martens turned and when he saw her, his heart skipped a beat.  He turned back to the bartender.  “Do you mind if I wait here?” he asked.

“Not at all, Father.  Have a seat.  Can I get you anything?”

“No, thanks.”  It felt strange being inside a bar but he thought of Jesus who went to the homes of tax collectors and had dinner with sinners.  He looked around.  Jesus died for these people too.

“Father Martens?”

He swung around, his face flooding with color as he looked into her face.  “Hello, Zahra.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I came to see you.  The bartender told me that your shift will be ending soon.  I’ll wait until you’re done.  It’s rather urgent that I speak to you.”

“All right.  I will be finished in about ten minutes.”  She turned and walked away.

Twenty minutes later, they were leaving the bar and walking down the sidewalk.  “You haven’t been to church for several weeks now,” he said quietly.  His hands were shoved deep in the pockets of his cassock but they ached to hold her.

“I couldn’t come,” she replied.  “I thought it would be best if I stayed away.”

“I miss you, Zahra.”

“After what happened between us the last time we saw each other I didn’t think you’d ever want to see me again.”

He stopped and turned to face her.  “I tried to forget you and what happened but I couldn’t.  I can’t stop thinking about you and missing you.  That’s why I had to come to see you tonight.”

She sighed.  “So, where do we go from here?” she asked.  “You’re a priest.”

He ran his fingers through his hair.  “I won’t be for much longer.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think we should continue this conversation in a more private place.  We’re drawing attention.”

“All right.  We’re five minutes away from my apartment.  We can talk there.”

Five minutes later, she was letting them into her apartment.  “Do you live here alone?” he asked.

“Yes.  I moved in here a couple of months after I lost my fiance and our son.” She turned on one of the lamps.

“Do you still miss them?”  What he really wanted to know was if she still missed her fiance.

“I miss our son.  Would you like something to drink?”

“No, thank you.”

“You said that you won’t be a priest for much longer.  What did you mean?”

They were facing each other now.  His eyes were restless on her upturned face.  How he longed to reach out and touch her cheek.  “I’m thinking of leaving the priesthood because of you.”

Her eyes widened in shock.  “Me?  But in the shack you said…”

“I know.  It felt wrong.  I was a priest and I had no right to be feeling the way I did.”

“When I saw how broken up you were about what happened between us and you kneeling there, I realized that the best thing for me to do was to leave.”

“Perhaps it was the best thing at the time but when you stopped coming to church, I was distressed.  It’s true what they say you know about absence making the heart grow fonder.  Your absences from church made me realize that I loved you.”

Zahra swallowed hard, her heart racing.  “You love me?”

“Yes,” he admitted, moving closer.  “I think I have always known it but was afraid to admit it to myself.”

“I didn’t want to fall in love with you because you were a priest but I couldn’t help myself.”

He reached out and cupped her face between his hands.  “Love is a very powerful force,” he murmured huskily.  “It’s best not to fight it.” His eyes darkened as he gazed down into her upturned face.  Then, he lowered his head.  She closed her eyes when she felt his lips on hers.  They kissed passionately for several minutes and then, he released her.

“You have to go,” she said.

He nodded.  “Yes.  If I don’t leave right now…”

She smiled.  “I understand.”  She followed him to the door.  “When will I see you again?”

“Come to church on Sunday.  It will be my last service.”

“I’ll be there.”  She reached up and kissed him on the cheek.  When she drew back, she asked, “So, what do I call you when you’re no longer a priest?”

He smiled.  “Call me, Guus.”

“Good night, Guus.”

“Good night, Zahra.”

Guus Martens left the priesthood and returned to Amsterdam where Zahra and he got married.  Although he missed saying Mass, preaching and administering sacraments, he knew he had made the right decision.  He couldn’t continue to deny his love for Zahra nor hide his frustration over the sex scandals plaguing the Catholic Church and its social positions on issues such as divorce, remarriage and mandatory celibacy.  He got a job teaching in a parochial school while Zahra worked at a cafe where one of the regular customers was a member of  Amsterdam Black Women Meetup, a group she was more than happy to join.

She thanked God for blessing her with another good man and she had come to peace with the death of her son.  God took him for a reason but she knew that she would see him again and that gave her comfort.  She remembered her fiance with fondness.  She had loved him very much but she knew that if he had survived the accident, she wouldn’t have married him.  It wouldn’t have been fair to him if she had because she had fallen in love with the priest who had helped her through her grief.  God had blessed her with Guus and now they were happily married and expecting their first child.  Her favorite scripture verse became, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.  

Love is a very powerful force and even priests are not immune to it.  

Sources:  Bible Gateway; Amsterdam Black Women MeetupDutch ReviewNorthwest50Plus

Unequally Yoked

Falling in love with William wasn’t something I expected to happen. Why not? Well, he’s younger than me, he’s not African American and he’s a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. They don’t believe in wearing jewelry and I love jewelry. I love wearing big gold and silver earrings, rings and bangles. They frown on makeup too. I don’t wear any but it’s not because of religious reasons. I’m allergic to it. So, all I wear is a tinted lip balm. Fortunately for me I have naturally long eyelashes so I don’t need Mascara to darken, thicken, lengthen, and/or define them.

Anyway, makeup aside, I was happily single, dating on and off when it suited me. Most of the men I dated were Christians but on a few occasions I dated non-Christians or men of other faiths. Well, that got my Christian friends talking. I was scolded. My friends Shirley shook her head and wagged her finger in my face. “Girl, don’t you know you’re not supposed to be dating any man outside of the church? Do you want to be unequally yoked?”

“And why would you want to date men outside the church when you have so many fine looking brothers in the church?” Rochelle piped in. “Did you see that visitor we had last week Sunday? I first thing I did when I was introduced to him was to check to see if he was wearing a wedding ring.”

Whenever they carried on like that, I would just look at them and smile. They meant well and I loved them dearly but friend or not, they had no business telling me who I should or shouldn’t date. After all, didn’t Moses marry an Ethiopian woman and Joseph the daughter of an Egyptian priest? I didn’t marry any of those men–I just dated them.

Anyway, we were out at a bowling alley one evening and having a blast when I noticed that this really good looking Asian guy kept staring at me. He was with a group of friends. He was well dressed in a crisp white shirt and black jeans. He had a really nice physique. As I waited my turn to bowl, I allowed my eyes to drink in every detail of him. Finally, I walked up to him and holding out my hand, I said, “Hi, my name’s Monique.”

He looked a bit startled. I guess he wasn’t used to being approached. “William,” he replied after a few seconds and shook my hand. His fingers were long and I could see that they were well manicured. This guy took self grooming very seriously. I like that in a man.

“Is this your first time here?” It wasn’t my first time. I had been there numerous times.

“Yes, it is. What about you?”

“No, I come here often with my friends.”

He glanced over my shoulder. “I think your friends are trying to get your attention,” he said, releasing my hand.

I turned to see Shirley and Rochelle waving wildly. I turned back to William, an apologetic expression on my face. “Excuse me.” I turned and walked over to my friends. I could feel him watching me. I knew I looked great in the red shirt and the jeans which hugged me in all of the right places. Being a Christian didn’t mean that I had to dress like a nun. I bowled and got a strike. My third in the game. Pleased, I returned to William who was up. I watched as he too made a strike. “How many have you had so far?” I asked.

“Four.”

“Good for you.”

“After we have finished our games, would you like to grab something to eat?”

“Here or somewhere else?”

“Here is fine.”

“Sure. If your friends won’t mind.”

“They won’t. What about yours?”

“They won’t mind either.” Of course they would but that was their problem. “I’ll go and finish my game and meet you right here.”

He smiled. “Okay.”

I rejoined my friends who were watching me very closely. After we finished our second game which I won, I told them that I had a date. I indicated with whom the date was and I could just hear the lectures. “Sorry, Ladies but I don’t have time right now to listen to why I shouldn’t grab a bite to eat with a guy I just met.”

Rochelle shook her head. “You really need to be careful when it comes to men,” she said. “The guy is a perfect stranger and you’re going out with him?”

“We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to have something to eat right here. And when we’re done, I’m going home–alone.”

“Well, I should hope so,” Shirley said. “You’re a Christian, remember? You shouldn’t be taking men back to your place and you should never go to theirs.”

I wonder what they would say if they knew that years ago I had slept with one of the brothers in the church. We hadn’t planned to, of course, but it happened. The following week at church we avoided each other like the plague. I just go out with men and have a good time but at the end of the evening, we part company. I try to be celibate but it isn’t always easy. I’m not a robot. I have needs.

“Don’t worry, ladies,” I said to my friends. “I’ll be good. Now, run along. I’ll see you in church on Sunday.” Then, I turned and walked over to William who was alone. I guess his friends had left. “Do you mind if we ate here?”

“No, I don’t mind at all.”

“Good.” We both order burgers–his was a veggie and mine was a cheesy cheeseburger with fries and milkshakes. We sat at a table and as we ate, we talked about all sorts of things. “Do you have a girlfriend?” I asked. He wouldn’t be the first guy to step out on his woman.

“No. What about you? Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No. I’m single. How old are you?”

“Twenty-nine.”

“I’m thirty-six.” I figured that he was younger than me. “Have you ever dated an older woman?”

He shook his head. “No. Have you ever dated a younger man?”

“No, but there’s a first time for everything.” Did I just say that? Was I seriously thinking about dating him? I must be out of my mind. He was younger than me, for Pete’s sake and he wasn’t a brother. Yet, I couldn’t deny that I was extremely attracted to him. I kept having all sorts of thoughts that a Christian woman shouldn’t be having. And it didn’t help that the first button of his shirt was undone. I tried to keep my eyes on his face. He had the most amazing brown eyes. I could drown in them. I realized that I was staring and I turned my attention to my fries.

“So, what else do you like to do besides bowling with your friends on a Friday night?”

“I like to read, go for long walks, shopping and travel. What about you?”

“I enjoy a good game of tennis, cycling, swimming and long walks.”

“What do you do for entertainment?”

“I’m not really into any type of entertainment except maybe a gospel concert or maybe an opera or a ballet or a classical music performance.”

“Really? So, you won’t go to a nightclub or a bar, then?”

He shook his head. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Those are not the sort of places that a Christian should go to.”

“So, you’re a Christian?”

“Yes.”

“So am I.” I could see the surprise on his face. “I guess it’s hard to believe that because of the jewelry.”

“Well, the women at my church don’t wear jewelry or makeup.”

“Let me guess. You’re a Seventh-day Adventist.”

“Yes. Are you familiar with our beliefs?”

“Yes. You are what I would call legalistic because of all your dos and Sony’s.  You don’t believe in having fun, do you?

“I believe in having fun, yes, as long as it is done responsibly and it doesn’t conflict with my beliefs.”

“What about being with me, a non-Adventist? Wouldn’t the members of your church have a problem with that?”

He smiled.  “Some of them might but I’m not answerable to them but to the Lord who welcomed all who came to Him.”

“I think all churches have the same problem.  They say they are the body of Christ but they have a problem with us associating with people of other faiths.  Adventists don’t seem to like being around non-Christians and non-Adventists.  My grandmother was an Adventist and when I visited her church, I felt uncomfortable.  Some of the members couldn’t hide their disapproval of me because I wore jewelry.  After my grandmother’s funeral, I never went back to that church.”

“I’m sorry you had a bad experience.  Does this mean that you wouldn’t go out with me because I’m an Adventist?”

“Are you asking me out, William?”

“Yes, I am.”

“All right, I’ll go out with you.”

“Have your ever been  to a circus?”

“No.”

He smiled.  “Good.  I’ll take you to one on Sunday and then we will go for dinner afterwards.”

“Sounds good to me.” I glanced at my watch.  It was getting late and I had had a long day.  “Well, it’s time for me to head home.”  

He looked disappointed.  “Do you have ride?”

I nodded as I stood up.  “Yes, I drove here.”

He stood up.  “I’ll walk you to your car.”

We walked to my car and before we parted company, I gave him my address and number.  “See you on Sunday,” I said as I got behind the wheel.”

“See you on Sunday.”  He waved as I drove off.

Sunday came and we went to the circus where we had a blast.  Afterwards, we went to a Thai restaurant.  Over mouth watering food, we made plans to see each other again.  Then, we started dating.  It wasn’t long before I realized that I was falling for him.  That scared me.  I have been in love before but this was different.  I was actually thinking of marriage.  Marriage!  Me.  The woman who liked being single.  I wasn’t sure how he felt about me.  I knew he wanted me–the kiss we shared the other night made that crystal clear to me.  If I didn’t break off the kiss, grab my jacket and hightailed it out of his apartment, who knows how things would have progressed.

We are walking in the park now, holding hands.  We draw a few stares but I’m used to it.  We come to a quiet, secluded spot where we stop.  We face each other.  He has a very serious expression on his face.  I swallowed hard, my heart racing.  Is he about to break up with me?  The thought terrifies me.  I’m so crazy about this guy.

“Monique, we have been seeing each other for a while now.  You must know by now how I feel about you.”

“How do you feel about me?”  I wanted him to come right out and tell me.

“I love you.”

Relief washed over me and I smiled.  “I love you too.”

“I know that we come from two different denominations but I can’t give up on you, on us because of that.  I want to marry you, Monique.”

“Marry me?  Are you sure?” I wanted to be sure that was what he really wanted.

“Yes.”  He released my hand and getting down on one knee, he reached into the breast-pocket of his jacket and took out a little red box.  He opened it and removed a beautiful diamond ring.  “Monique Charles, will you marry me?”

Tears sprang to my eyes and for a moment I was too choked up to say anything.  “Yes!” I managed to gasp and he sprang to his feet and pulled me into his arms.  He hugged me tightly about my waist before he leaned down and kissed me.  When we finally broke apart, we went to our favorite place to celebrate–the bowling alley where we met.

Two years have passed.  William and I have moved into a nice, residential area just outside of the city because we have a son and another one is on the way.  I’m no longer a Pentecostal Christian.  My friends, Rochelle and Shirley were upset at first but they decided that it was my life to do what I wished with it and besides, they could see how happy I am.  While we were dating, I began attending William’s church and after a lot of prayer and fasting, I got baptized and became a member.  This means that I’m no longer wearing jewelry and believe it or not, I don’t miss it.  I love my new life with William and I’m thankful to God for bringing us together.  We are equally yoked in every way now.

Source: Pinchasers

Amos’ Story

People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes – Sheila McKechnie 

My name is Amos.  I became homeless because an untreated bipolar disorder.  I lost my job and ended up on the streets.  I was afraid to go to a shelter because I heard so many stories of how dangerous shelters are.  They’re full of drugs and drug dealers, people steal your shoes and there are bedbugs and body lice.  I preferred to take my chances outside of the shelter.  So, I slept on the streets, abandoned buildings and parks.  I didn’t sleep in parks often because at night they weren’t safe and my sleep was often interrupted by the police asking me to move along.

My life changed when I was arrested for stealing food.  I had begged all day but nobody gave me anything.  Usually, I would get at least five dollars in change and I would buy a hot chocolate and a chicken sandwich from Tim Horton’s.  But that day, I was out of luck.  Maybe it was because it was cold and people were anxious to get home.  I don’t know.  All I know is that I was starving and I had to have something to eat.  I ducked into a supermarket and grabbed a loaf of bread from off one of the shelves but I got caught as I tried to make my escape.  I was arrested.

Fortunately for me, the prosecutor and the defense attorney and the judge said that I wasn’t a criminal but I needed help.  They told me to go to a homeless shelter and to get treatment for my bipolar disorder.  I had to go on medication and see a psychiatrist.  I can see now that getting arrested was the best thing that happened to me.  I got treatment and got better.  Thanks to my psychiatrist, I was placed in transitional housing and received job search assistance.  It was at one of their health and wellness activities that I met Vivica, a Christian woman.

She shared with me that she was a battered woman who was forced to choose between staying in an abusive relationship and homelessness.  She wound up on the street and stayed there for a few nights until she went into a church to pray.  One night, she fell asleep in one of the pews and the custodian found her.  He referred her here, a safe place where she received the emotional support she needed.

Just recently, she found out that her abusive boyfriend was arrested for aggravated assault.  He would serve 14 years in prison.  I could see the sadness on her face.  “I hope that he will find God in prison,” she said.  “I will pray for him.”

“Do you still love him?” I asked.

She thought about it for a moment.  “To be honest, I don’t think I ever loved him.  I cared for him and stayed with him because I thought that I could help him but I was wrong.”

“I’m sorry that you wound up with a guy like that.”

“Sometimes we meet up with people who hurt and spitefully use us but they need our prayers.  Something happened to them and that’s why they’re that way.  Maybe he was abused too.”

“I wish I could be as forgiving as you.  I’m still sore with my boss for firing me because of my illness.  I guess I should have been taking my medication and gone for treatment but the medication I was taking was making me sick.  I tried to explain that to him but he wouldn’t listen.  He said that he had to let me go because my mood swings were affecting my co-workers.”

2aada538b73f386fc0c3a5cc2396f9be2“I’m sorry you lost your job.  Didn’t you go and get help?  Maybe see a psychiatrist who would prescribe different medication that might be better for you?

I shook my head.  “No, I thought I could manage it but I was wrong.  I didn’t go for treatment.  I took the medication which was making me sick because I wanted to find another job.  Once I got a job, I was going to see a psychiatrist and get new medication but I couldn’t get a job.  As soon as I told them that I was let go from my last job because I had bipolar disorder, the interview was over.  My rent increased and I couldn’t pay it so I had to leave.  I don’t have family here.  They are all back in East Jerusalem.  I’m the only one who moved to Canada because I wanted a better life for myself.  I was tired of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

“So, you’re Palestinian?”

“Well, my father is Israeli and my mother is Palestinian.  So, I’m both.”

“That explains why your name is Amos.  It’s the name of a Jewish prophet in the Bible.”

“I was brought up in the Jewish faith.  Before my parents married, my mother converted to Judaism.”

“So, you’ve read the Bible.”

“The Hebrew Bible called the Tanakh.    It contains only the Old Testament.”

“The Bible I read and study contains both the Old and the New Testaments.”

“I know that Christianity is one of the three major monotheistic religions.”

“Did you know that the first Christians were Jews?”

“I don’t know much about the faith except that they believe in the Trinity and that Jesus is the Messiah.”

“We also believe that salvation is by faith and not by works.”

“I’m curious to learn more about your faith and what you believe.”

She smiled.  “I’ll be more than happy to talk to you about these things.”

“How later after dinner?”

“Okay.  We’ll find a quiet place where we can talk.”

“Vivica, would you go out with me even though I’m not a Christian and am mentally ill?”

She sat down beside me and put her hand on mine.  It felt nice and warm.  “Amos, of course, I would go out with you.  There are so many examples of interfaith couples and your mental illness isn’t something you should apologize for or feel ashamed of.  It doesn’t define you.  You and I have known each other for a while now and I have never treated you differently from anyone else because of your illness.”

“That’s true and I’m really grateful for that.”

“I really like you, Amos and to be honest, if you didn’t ask me to go out with you, I would have asked you.  It’s the twenty-first century.  Women are not waiting to be asked anymore.”

I laughed.  “Good for them.”

“Do you think your parents would object to you dating a Christian woman?”

“They might but I can always remind them that when they were from two different faiths when they met and fell in love but then again , they might be happy for me.”

“Happy for you? Why?”

“Happy because something good came out of all of the bad stuff I have been going through lately,” I replied as I reached for her other hand.  “I got to meet you.”

She was so moved by what I said that she couldn’t say anything.  She just smiled and reaching out, she touched my face.

Out of bad situations, God could bring good into our lives.

Sources:  National Public Radio; Daniel Pitino Shelter; Salvation Army; Solutions Center; Treatment Advocacy Center; York RegionDare2Share; Psycom

Sherry’s Story

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I want to tell somebody but who will believe me?  Who will believe that the man who uses me for a punching bag is one of New York’s finest?  I’m just a former exotic dancer who had the misfortune of getting hooked up with the wrong man.  I guess I was flattered by the attentions of a veteran cop whose face has been plastered in the newspapers numerous times for his exemplary work, cleaning up crime and cracking down on drug dealers.  He has had the most arrest records and commendations than anyone else on the force.  He is a hero in the communities, feared by the criminal element and admired by his colleagues.

Yeah, who would believe that this man of the law was beating me up?  When we first met, I thought he was a real decent guy.  He used to come and watch me dance.  One night after I finished my number and was at the back of the club about to smoke a cigarette, he joined me.  He lit my cigarette and asked me my name.  I told him.  He didn’t introduce himself.  He didn’t need to.  I knew who he was.  To tell you the truth, I was surprised that he was talking to me.  There were other dancers that I thought were more up his alley.

“What are you doing here at a strip club?” I asked him.

He lit his cigarette, took a few drags before he answered.  “I’m off-duty,” he said.  “So, what’s fine looking woman like you doing in a joint like this?”

I shrugged.  “To make money.  Besides, I like to dance.”

“Do you have a man?”

I shook my head.

“How much money do you make?”

“There’s a man who comes in every night and he pays me $2000 to dance for him and then we would spend the  rest of the time talking.”

“Is that the man I saw dressed in the expensive suit and wearing a hat?  He reminded me of JR Ewing.”

“Yes, that’s him.”

“He’s married, isn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“I bet his wife doesn’t know what he’s been up to.”

I finished my cigarette.  “I’d better be getting back.”  I turned to leave when he caught hold of my arm.

“How about you dancing for me this time?”

“Sure.  Whatever you want.”

“And afterwards, we go back to my place.”

“Sure.”  We went back into the club.  I danced for him and then we drove to his place.

He lived in a nice neighborhood.  After his wife died and their kids moved out, he Tiriansold the house and moved into a penthouse apartment facing the Hudson River.  I stood at the window looking out.  He fixed the drinks and brought mine over to me.  In person, he was a very attractive man.  He looked younger than 55.  His hair was dark with touches of grey at the sides.  His brown eyes met mine.  For a long time, neither of us say anything.  In the background, soft jazz played.  And then, he suggested,  “Let’s go over to the sofa where it’s more comfortable.”

I followed him over to the sofa and we sat down.  We talked for a while and then he took my glass and set it on the coffee table next to his.  While he placed on hand on my thigh, he leaned over and began to kiss me.  I didn’t resist.  I was attracted to him.  The kisses became wild and passionate and we ended up having sex on the sofa.  After I got dressed, I was going to phone for a taxi but he insisted in giving me a lift home.

He dropped me home and there weren’t any plans to see each other again.  I was disappointed but then I asked myself, What did you expect?  He’s a cop and you’re a stripper.

I didn’t see him for a while and then one night, he showed up at the club.  He saw me with the rich married man.  I was sitting on his lap, talking to him.  After he left, my cop friend came over to me and told me to meet him outside for a smoke.  I got dressed and went outside.  He was waiting for me.  I walked up to him and was about to say something when he grabbed me roughly by the shoulders.  “You’re quitting your job right now.”

“But I need the money,” I protested.

He struck me hard across the face.  “You heard me.  You’re quitting.  Now, let’s go.”  He gripped my wrist tightly and dragged me behind him to the parking lot where his car was parked.  He opened the door and shoved me in.  I cringed when he slammed the door.  I sat in the passenger seat, holding my face, shocked as we drove off.

We went to my place and as I stood there, still in shock, he said, “Sherry, honey, I’m sorry I hit you.  It’s just that the thought of you dancing for other men drives me crazy.  I’m sorry.  I promise I won’t hit you again.  Forgive me?”

I nodded.  “Yes, I forgive you.”  He looked and sounded so sincere.  I wanted to believe that he would never hit me again.

He pulled me roughly against him and began to kiss me.  I kissed him back.  We ended up in bed.  He spent the night and left early the next morning.  I went to the club and told the manager that I quit.  He was understandably livid, especially since he knew that one of his best customers was the rich man who always asked for me.  I had no idea what I was going to do now that I was working at the club.

My cop had it all figured out.  Several weeks later, he asked me to marry him.  It didn’t seem to bother him what other people would think of him marrying a former stripper.  We got married and I moved in with him.  I wanted to find another job but he refused to let me.  So, I became a housewife.  I felt like a prisoner in our home.  I couldn’t go anywhere without him.  If I needed to go to the supermarket, he took me on Saturdays.  If I needed to go to the salon, he took me.  I don’t know how he managed to get away from work just so he could take me where I needed to go.  I guess when you’ve been with the force as long as he has, you can pretty much do whatever you liked.

We stopped going to the policeman’s ball because he felt that I was too friendly with the younger officers.  Two years ago, after we got home from the ball, he beat me because he said I was flirting with the desk sergeant, a young Nigerian man.  It wasn’t true of course, but my husband was blinded by rage and jealousy.  I was black and blue and had a black eye.  Once when I was in really bad shape, he took me to the Emergency but never left me alone with the nurse who tended to me.  And he answered all of the questions and as soon as the examination was over, we were out of there.

We went home and I was laid up in bed for a few days in bed.  He took care of me.  He apologized for what he had done and brought me flowers.  He told me that he loved me so much it drove him crazy to think that I would leave him for another man.  And as usual, he promised that he would stop hitting me and get help.  I stopped believing him.  I stopped hoping.

We hardly had company over and when we did, I had to wear long sleeves to cover the bruises on my arms.  There were times when I could hardly move because I ached all over.  During the day, it was a struggle to do the chores and I was always so exhausted.  At night, I lay there in bed, long after we had sex, staring up at the ceiling, wishing I could just go to sleep and never wake up.

We didn’t have any children because he didn’t want to have any.  He already had two from his previous marriage.  “Besides, I want you all to myself,” he said and then, he would take me into the bedroom and have rough sex with me.  Sometimes, he liked to pretend that I was under arrest so that he could hand-cuff me to the bedpost while we were having sex.  There were other kinky things that he liked to do to me  and wanted me to do to him.  I went along with it because I loved him and he was my husband.  He told me that he never  wanted to do these things with his first wife but he wanted to do them with me because I was beautiful and exciting.  I brought out the animal in him, he said.  And he was like a wild animal in bed.   Sometimes it was thrilling and other times it was terrifying.

Then he started to blame me for the abuse.  “I never hit my first wife.  In fact, I never hit a woman in my life until I met you.  You make me do it.  There’s something about you that drives me so wild with jealousy that I lose control and I hit you.  Do you think I like hitting a woman?  It’s your fault that I do it.  I love you so much it makes me go crazy just thinking of you with another man.  I swear if you ever leave me, I’ll find you and kill you.”

I began to hate him and wish that something bad would happen to him but I always felt guilty afterwards.  I couldn’t go on the computer because he was afraid that I would go into those chat-rooms and pick up men.  I had the Bible which my grandmother had given to me a long time ago when I was finished with the household chores, I sat down and read it.  It gave me comfort.  I quit smoking.  I began to pray every night when he was sleeping.  I asked God to help me.  I claimed His promise, “For I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

My help came through a neighbor who was out of sugar and she came by to borrow some from me.  After we exchanged pleasantries, she followed me into the kitchen.  As I reached up in the cupboard for the bag of sugar, the sleeves of my shirt moved back and the bruises on my arm were exposed.  As I closed the door and turned to face her, I saw her staring at me.  Her expression was grave.  “How did you get those bruises on your arm?” she asked.

“I bumped into stuff,” I lied.

“I’ve seen bruises like those before and I know that they are not from bumping into walls or doors or from falls.  He’s beating you, isn’t he?”

“Please, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Sherry, you need help.  It will not get better.  It will only get worse.  Do you have family or friends you can go to?”

“I have family and friends but I’m too ashamed.  And who will believe me?  He’s a cop.”

“I’ve known women whose abusive husbands are cops, doctors, professors and even judges.  And I’m sure someone in your family will believe you, especially when they see the bruises.  If you prefer, I can take you to a shelter where they will take care of you.  All you have to do is pack what you need and I will drive you there myself.”

“All right,” I said.  Maybe this was God answering my prayer.  I got what I needed and I walked out of the apartment.  I didn’t leave a note or anything.  When my husband came home that evening, he would find me gone.  My neighbor and I went to different shelters but I was turned away because they were full.  As I tried to figure out what to do next, I remembered Lucy.  Lucy still worked as a waitress at the strip club where I used to work.  She and I were good friends.  I let her stay at my place when she walked out on her cheating boyfriend.  She always told me that if I ever needed anything, not to hesitate to call on her.

I couldn’t remember her phone number off hand so I called the club and asked Bill, the bartender for it.  He seemed happy to hear from me.  It was he who got me the job at the club.  I called Lucy and she told me to go right on over.  My neighbor dropped me.  She hugged me and said, “Take care of yourself.  When you’re ready, get help.”

I thanked her and watched her drive away before I went into the apartment building.  Lucy was standing at door when I showed up and she hugged me tightly.  “It’s so good to see you,” she said.  “Ever since you got married, you’ve been a stranger.  Come in and tell me everything.”

We went over to the sofa and sat down.  I told her everything and showed her the purple marks on my arms.  “I had to leave him,” I said.

“Yes, you did.  The brute.  He thinks because he’s a cop, he’s above the law.  The first thing you do is to report him.  He belongs behind bars.”

“Who will believe me?  I’m accusing my husband who is an exemplary cop of abuse.  No, going to the police is a bad idea.”

“All right.  We won’t go to the police.  You don’t have to make any decisions right now.  You’re welcome to stay here for a long as you need to.  Whatever you decide to do, you have my support.  Are you hungry?  I’ll fix you something before I head off to the club.  When I’m gone, please make yourself at home.  Call me if you need anything.”  She got up from the sofa and went into the kitchen to fix me some supper.  I wasn’t hungry but I forced myself to eat.

“I should be home around 2.  I have a spare room.  You can put your things in there.  See you later.”  She hugged me and then she was gone.

It was a nice, modest apartment and quiet.  It was in the heart of Soho.  After I finished eating, I washed the plate and went into the living-room to watch some television.  I rested my head against the back of the sofa.  I must have dozed off because when I opened my eyes the room was dark.  I got up and turned on the floor lamp beside the window.  I stood looking out at the street below when I heard the key turn in the lock.  I glanced at the clock above the fireplace.  It was ten-thirty.  Lucy said that she would be home by 2.  Perhaps, she decided to check on me or she wasn’t feeling well.

I called out to her but there wasn’t any answer.  Puzzled, I started for the foyer when I froze in horror.  My husband stood there.  Fear and panic gripped me.  “What are you doing here?”

He came into the living-room.  “To take you home, my Love.”

“How–how did you know I was here?”

“A little birdie told me.”

“You’re lying.  Lucy wouldn’t have told you that I was here.”  And I knew it couldn’t have been my neighbor who brought me here either.

“Who said anything about Lucy?”

Then it hit me.  It was Bill who told him where I was.  He was the only one beside Lucy who knew I was here and I had begged him not to tell anyone that I had called.  He had promised to keep his mouth shut but somehow, my husband had gotten him to talk.  “Where–where did you get the key?  Did you steal it from Lucy’s bag?”

He laughed.  “Of course not.  I showed the landlord my badge and told her that I had a warrant to search this apartment.   If she had bothered to check she would have seen that the paper I showed her was the lease for my apartment.  Now, get your things, we’re going home.”

I backed away from him, shaking my head.  “I’m not going anywhere with you.  I want a divorce.”

His expression darkened and he grabbed me by the shoulders, shaking me.  “You’re crazy if you think I’m going to let you divorce me so that you can run to another man,” he muttered through clenched teeth.  “I would kill you first.”

Although this wasn’t the first time he threatened to kill me if I left him, I was really frightened because of the look in his eyes.  I felt as if I were staring into the eyes of the devil himself.  I wanted to run for my life.  I shoved hard against his chest and managed to get free.  I headed for the door but he grabbed me back the hair and dragged me back into the living room.  He shoved me face down on the floor and raped me.

When he was finished, he stood up.  I lay there for a while, trembling and crying.  Then, I slowly got to my knees.  My back was turned to him.  He yanked me to my feet.  “Clean yourself up and get your things because you’re coming with me.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you.  You raped me.”

“How can you call it rape when I took what is lawfully and rightfully mine?” He demanded.

I was shaking so much that I could hardly stand.  “You’ve beat me and raped me for the last time.  I’m going to file for a divorce and get a restraining order put on you.”

“Over my dead body.  You’re my wife, Sherry and the only thing that’s going to separate us is death.”

Then, I saw him pull out his gun and point it at me.  I screamed and then everything went black.

When I came to I was lying in a hospital bed.  I learned that the bullet caught me in the shoulder because I had moved.  If I hadn’t it would have gone straight into my heart.  My husband shot me and then he shot himself.  The police were called to the apartment when a neighbor reported hearing two gun shots.  The landlord told the police that my husband had shown up and told her that he had a search warrant for Lucy’s apartment.  The landlord believed him because she knew who he was.

I told the police about the years of abuse I had suffered at the hands of a man whom they had respected.  When they asked me why I hadn’t reported him, I told them that I didn’t think that they would have believed me.  After I was discharged from the hospital, I stayed with Lucy and went for counseling and psychotherapy which really helped me.  A couple months later, I decided that I had had enough of New York.  I sold my condo, packed up and left for Lisbon, Portugal.  Years ago at the strip club where I worked, I met a visitor from Lisbon.  He was a very nice man who gave me $1,000 each time I danced for him during the three weeks he was there.  I always promised myself that if I were to go and settle anywhere in Europe it would be Lisbon.

Lucy and I are in touch.  She is dating a guy she met on the tube.  I told her to bring him to Lisbon the next time she visited.  I’m not dating at the moment.  After being in an abusive marriage, I’m not ready for another relationship.  The men in Lisbon are very attractive but I want to remain single for a while.  I’m working at a boutique and love it.  I have become a member of an English speaking church where the members are like family.

I love living in Lisbon.  Sometimes, I wish that I had come here when I first thought about it and then I wouldn’t have met my husband or been a victim of domestic violence.  Then, I tell myself to forget about the what ifs and be thankful that I’m still alive.  My life could have easily ended that night in Lucy’s apartment if it had not been for the grace of God.   I was a victim of domestic violence and now I’m a survivor.  I have survived to tell my story.  Other women have not been so lucky.  I think about them often and that’s why I want to join in the fight against domestic violence.

There are times when I meet couples who are still madly in love with each other after thirty or more years of marriage and I’m filled with a heavy sadness.  That could have been my husband and me.  I sometimes ask myself why couldn’t he have loved me the way the Bible says a man should love his wife?  And I wanted to love him the way the Bible says I should but how could I respect a man who beat and violated me?  How could I submit to his violent and controlling ways?  He claimed he loved me but his love was was cruel, selfish, demanding, easily provoked and abusive.   I believe that if he really loved me he would have gotten the help he needed and our marriage would have survived.

Today, I’m speaking fluent Portuguese and am a volunteer at a Domestic abuse treatment center here in Lisbon.   God spared my life and I want to use it to help women who are going through the same thing I did.  It is my earnest prayer that one day very, very soon, domestic violence will be eradicated.  Marriage between a man and woman who love each other the way the Bible teaches could be a very beautiful thing.  Love shouldn’t hurt.  It shouldn’t kill either.

March 7, 2019 was a national day of mourning for victims of domestic violence in Lisbon.  Portugal’s Cabinet went out into the street to observe a minute of silence as part of a day of national mourning it decreed for victims of domestic violence.  According to police, 12 women have died this year in domestic violence incidents — the highest number over the same period in 10 years.  On the eve of International Women’s Day, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in a tweet that domestic violence is “a collective challenge” for society as a whole – National Post

Sherry’s story, though it is fiction, it is the reality for many women.  Some have survived domestic violence and others have not.  There are resources for women who are in abusive relationships and for the abusers as well.  Here is a list:

Victims of abuse often feel guilty as if they have done something to provoke their abuser or that they somehow deserve the abuse they receive. Abusers are often skillful at making their victims feel responsible. But no one deserves to be abused by another, and abusers are responsible for their own choices and actions – Bible Info

Join the fight against domestic violence.  If you are a victim, please seek help as soon as possible.  Your life depends on it.  Be a survivor not another statistic.  If you suspect that someone you know is in an abusive marriage or relationship, please reach out to that person.  October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Take action today for the many women who feel trapped in the vicious cycle of abuse and feel that there is no way out for them.  Domestic violence affects all of us.

Sources:  Huff Post; Bible Gateway; Bible GatewayTVO

From Self-harm to Self-love

39a1ef3b-4d0c-44bb-ad22-cd952e418c41Neeha always wore long sleeves even when it was hot and humid outside because she didn’t want anyone, especially her friends to see the ugly cuts on her arms.  She wanted to stop cutting herself but she couldn’t seem to.  It started when she became pregnant and told her mother who said, “Unless you get married or give up your baby for adoption, I won’t have anything more to do with you.  What you have done is a disgrace to the family–getting pregnant before you’re even married.”

Neeha was devastated.  She needed her mother but was rejected–shunned.  Marriage was out of the question.  Her baby’s father was already married and he didn’t even want to acknowledge the child.  He had even suggested that Neeha have an abortion which he was willing to pay for but she refused.  The thought of killing an unborn child horrified her.  So, she decided to go through with pregnancy.  When she started to show she would wear loose clothing.

When things got really bad and she felt there was nowhere or no one to turn to, she began to harm herself.  She used a pair of scissors to do it.  Soon, the beautiful, clear skin on her arms was covered in red, ugly welts.  What she was doing to herself horrified and repulsed her but she couldn’t seem to help it.  It was better than turning to drugs or alcohol or even committing suicide.

At the office, she would go into the bathroom and cut herself and when she came out no one suspected anything.  She kept to herself because she feared the backlash from her mother and the rest of the family.  This kind of behavior wasn’t something one would imagine would happen in an Asian family.  It wasn’t something that they would want to acknowledge or talk about or want their white friends and neighbors to know about.

One afternoon, she was flipping through the channels when she came across a program.  It was a sermon.  She decided to watch it.  It was about a demon possessed man who was living among the tombs.  He was naked and in chains which he broke.  What got her interest is that the man cut himself with stones.  When she heard how Jesus freed the man from the demons and clothed the man, she began to cry.  The man was in his right mind and no longer hurting himself.  She heard the preacher say, “Jesus can help you just like He helped this man.  Whatever you’re going through, come to Jesus, fall at His feet and He will free you.  He will heal you.  You don’t have to go through what you’re going through alone anymore.  Jesus can help you.  All you have to do is to cry out to Him and He will hear you.”

At the end of the service, there was a free offer of a book, entitled, Hurts So Good: Exposing the Lies of Self-Injury.  She quickly scribbled down the information and sent for a copy.  Afterwards, she cried out to Jesus whom she had heard so much about.  Now, she needed Him.  She wanted to believe that He could help her.  Tears poured down her face as she asked Him to free her from this cycle of intentional self-injury like He freed the demoniac.

When she was finished, the tears subsided and she felt a peace she had never experienced in her life before settle over her.  She knew then that Jesus had answered her prayer.   With the nine action steps outlined in the book, she was on the path to hope and healing in Christ.  She replaced the knife or scissor blade with the Bible and its promises.  She gave birth to a healthy baby girl and called her, Prutha which means “daughter of love”.

Neeha found a church nearby and began to attend their worship services every week while her best friend, Farha took care of Prutha.  There at the church, Neeha met Safal, a widower with a five year old son.  They struck a friendship which soon blossomed into a romance.  Two years later, they got married.  Neeha’s mother attended the wedding.  She apologized to her daughter for the way she treated her.  Neeha readily accepted her apology.  She was just happy to be back on speaking terms with her mother.  Prutha never knew about her biological father.  As far as Neeha was concerned, Safal was her father.  He was happy to adopt her as his own.  He doted on her and she adored him.

Neeha is currently expecting another child and she is ecstatic.  Prutha is now six and is excited about having a baby brother or sister and Taj, Safal, son, whom she adopted, was looking forward to the new addition to the family as well.  Neeha is thankful that she watched that Christian program.  It changed her life in so many ways.  She is a volunteer for an organization called, Samaritans, a unique charity dedicated to reducing feelings of isolation and disconnection that can lead to suicide.   Some of the people she has helped were victims of self-harm and a few of them have requested prayers.

Self-harm is a very serious issue.  If you find it difficult to speak to a family member or a friend or even a co-worker, here are organizations you can reach out to for help:

  • Samaritans – The Samaritans provide a free anonymous helpline. Someone will listen and help you, 24 hours of the day on 116 123. (UK)
  • Harmless – A user-led organisation for people who self-harm, and their friends and families.

You can also ask your GP to give you advice and direct you to the best place to get help, whether it is counselling or some form of treatment.

Self-harm is something that can happen among Christians as well.  Read this story of a Christian student who struggled with self-injury.  Please reach out for help.  Don’t let fear or shame prevent you.  Take the first step toward healing.  Take the path from self-harm to self-love.

Source:  Desiblitz; Samaritans; Blue Letter Bible

Janco’s Story (Part Two)

kult_model_Geoffrey_Camus_209688Five years have passed since I took Nata to the shelter for street children.  A lot has happened within that time.  I’m still handing out tracts but now I’m a Youth leader in my church.  My Mother is back home and she hasn’t touch a drink since she checked into the Drug and Alcohol Rehab Centre.  She is working part-time at a bookstore.

My brother Jacquan is out of prison, a completely changed person.  After my first visit to him, he read the tract I left and was curious to learn more about God and this Jesus who would die for him.  I took other tracts on my next visit and then I learned that the Prison Ministries department had a programme with the prison where my brother was.  Volunteers visited the prisoners, mentor them and study the Bible with them.

Jacquan accepted Christ as his Savior and when he left the prison he was baptized in our church.  Mama and I were there.  He got a job working in the warehouse of a distribution company while studying to become a pastor, believe it or not.  It goes to show you that with God nothing is impossible.  In his free time, he shares his story and the Gospel with kids living on the streets, prostitutes and drug dealers.  Some of them listen and invite him to go again while others curse and threaten him.  He also visits the prison where he had spent ten years of his life to mentor, pray and study the Bible with the inmates.  I never thought I would ever be proud of my big brother but I am.  He was dealing drugs and now he sharing the Gospel.  He was a prisoner and now he’s going to be a preacher.  All he needed was a second chance and God gave it to him.  Now he could spend the rest of his life doing good.

Nata stayed at the shelter until she graduated from high school.  I was there for the ceremony.  She didn’t return home but went to live with a cousin and her family.  While she was at the shelter, I visited her as promised and was relieved to see that she was happy there.  She is going to Wits University now and studying Computer Science.  Good for her because this has been a male dominated field of study all over the world and Africa needs more women computer scientists.

I am no longer working at the grocery store.  I got a job as a Social Media Coordinator at a Christian organization and love every minute of it.  And my work as Youth Leader keeps me busy.  I look forward to teaching Sabbath School, worship, fellowship, our weekly meetings, outreach and recreational outings.  I am in charge of a terrific group of young people.  I learn as much from them as they learn from me.  Tomorrow, is Youth Ministry Day and I have invited Nata to come.  The youth are in charge of entire day’s programme.  I am nervous and excited.  The only thing I am responsible for is introducing the speaker who is none other than my brother, Jacquan.  My best buddy, Gidea offered to do the special music.  He has an incredible voice.  After the service there will be a fellowship meal which I’m sure everyone is looking forward to.

Right now, I’m meeting with the group participating in the service in my flat.  We are going over the details and making sure that everything is in order.  Lesedi has bravely volunteered to teach Sabbath School.  I have no doubt that she will do an outstanding job.  She has the making of a leader.  I am considering making her my Sabbath School Superintendent.  One of these days, I will discuss it with her.

After the meeting is over, I pray and then they leave.  The flat seems very quiet now that they are gone.  I head back into the living-room and turn on the television.  I was about to watch 3ABN when my doorbell rings.  Did one of the youth forget something?  I hurry to the door and look through the keyhole.  It’s Nata.  I quickly open the door.

She stares up at me.  She’s wearing a black top and denim skirt and a red scarf on her head.  “Hi,” she said.  nata

“Hi,” I reply, wondering what brings her to my neck of the woods.  I lean against the door.  I can’t get over how pretty she is.  “I wasn’t expecting to see you until tomorrow.  Have you come to tell me in person that you can’t come?”

She shook her head.  “No, I will be there.  I just came by to thank you in person for being so kind to me and to ask you if you would study the Bible with me.  We don’t have to do it now or here.”

My face brightened.  “Sure, I would be more than happy to study the Bible with you.  We can do so on Sunday in the park just around the corner from here.  Tomorrow when I see you we can decide when and where we will meet.”

She nodded.  “All right.  Thanks, Janco.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Have you been in touch with your parents at all since you left home?”

She shook her head.  “No.”

“Nata, at some point you need to face them and deal with the issues you have with them.”

She lowered her eyes.  “I’m not ready to do that yet.”

“Okay,” I said.  I didn’t want to push her.  “It’s best to do it when you’re ready.  It’s getting dark, you’d better head home now.  Do you have far to go?”

“No.  My cousin is a twenty minute bus ride from here.”

“Would you like me to walk you to the bus stop and wait with you until the bus comes?”

She raised her eyes to look at me.  “You don’t have to,” she said quietly.

“Wait here,” I said as I leaned away from the door.  I went inside, turned off the television, grabbed my keys and went back.  I closed and locked the door.  “Let’s go.”

We walked to the bus stop and waited for the bus.  There were a couple of other people waiting there.  “Do you still live alone?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“So, you’re not married then?  I don’t see a wedding ring on your finger but I know that most Seventh-day Adventists don’t wear jewelry.”

“No, I’m not married.”

“What about a girlfriend?”

“No, I don’t have a girlfriend.” I was about to ask her if she had a boyfriend but just then the bus arrived.  Lousy timing.  “See you tomorrow, Nata.”

“Good night, Janco.”  She smiled up at me before she turned and joined the small line to board the bus.

I saw her sat beside the window and look out.  She waved as the bus pulled away.  I watched it until it disappeared before I returned to my place.  I was looking forward to seeing her tomorrow.

Saturday came and I was up and about early, anxious to get the day started.  I had a light breakfast, showered and put on a new suit.  Yesterday I had gotten a haircut.  I looked sharp.  I smiled at my reflection before I grabbed my Bible, wallet and keys and left the apartment.  It was a beautiful, sunny day.  I put the top down on my car and enjoyed the half-hour ride to church.  Already, the parking lot was filling up.

As I made my way from the parking lot to the front entrance of the church, I was greeted by church members and visitors.  I spent some time chatting with people before I went down into the basement and into one of the rooms to meet with the youth and have prayer with them.  At the back of my mind I was hoping that Nata would come.

Everything went exceptionally well.  I was so proud of my youth group and the special music by Gidea was a sermon in itself.  And speaking of sermons, Jacquan’s message, Set Free, brought tears to my eyes and I saw other people dabbing their eyes.  At the end of the service, many people came up to me and told me how much they enjoyed the program.  I was very pleased and I shared the positive feedback with everyone who participated.  I hugged Jacquan and told him that I was very proud of him.  When we parted, we were both in tears.  My mother came and whisked him away.  As I was about to leave the reception area and head down to the fellowship hall to have something to eat, I saw Nata.  My heart leapt in my chest.  I was so happy to see her.  I went over to her.

“You came,” I said.  She was wearing a yellow jacket over a floral dress with splashes of yellow in it.  For the first time since I knew her, she wasn’t wearing the red shawl on her head.

“I told you I would,” she said.  “And I’m happy I did.  I was truly blessed.”

“I’m thrilled to hear that.  Are you going to stay and have something to eat and meet some of the youth?”

She nodded.  “Sure.  You look very handsome in your suit.”

I smiled.  “Thank you.  And you look very pretty.  Let’s head on down now.”

We went downstairs to the fellowship hall which was buzzing with lively conversation.  It settled down when the pastor announced that he was going to say a prayer.  He offered thanks and a blessing of the meal and then people were helping themselves to the different delicious looking and smelling dishes.  Nata was in front of me in the line.  After we finished helping ourselves to the food, we found a couple of seats and sat down.  For several minutes we were alone.

“In case you’re wondering, I don’t have a boyfriend,” she said suddenly, startling me.

I felt my face get hot.  “That’s good to know,” I managed to say after a while.

She smiled.  “So, there’s no reason why you and I can’t go out with each other.”

“No, there isn’t.  Are you free this evening?”

“Yes.”

“We can go bowling and then have pizza afterwards.”

“That sounds great.”

Just then several youth joined us.  I introduced Nata to them.  We had a great time, socializing.  By the time we were ready to go our separate ways, Nata had been invited to our next outdoor activity and to attend church the following week.  I dropped her home and I told her that I would be back at six-thirty to take her bowling.

Our first date was a blast and it led to other dates.  We have been dating for almost a year and today we are riding in a cable car to the top of Table Mountain where I will propose to Nata.  I’m nervous and excited but I have no doubt that this is God’s will for my life.  The Lord has opened His hand and poured out so many blessings on my life.  I am so thankful to Him for His love and goodness not only to me but to my family and Nata.  True to my promise, I studied the Bible with her.  Two months ago, she answered the altar call and accepted Christ.  Now she is a baptized member of my church.  Yes, God is good.  He has turned so many lives around.

Sources:  Crossroad Prison MinistriesUPMI; SDA Church; The Conversation

Sophia’s Secret

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Jamie Grill/Tetra Images/Getty Images

My name is Sophia.  I have been living with a secret since I was eight.  It’s a shameful thing and every-time I think about it, I feel sick and I wish I could curl up and just die.  No one at school knows but I keep wondering if they could tell just by looking at me.  Do I look different?  They don’t treat me like I am but I feel different.  I feel that there is something wrong with me because of what’s happening to me.  Maybe if I were ugly or fat, he wouldn’t trouble me.  Every-time we are together, he tells me how pretty I am.  I don’t want to be pretty.  I don’t want him to notice me.  I wish I were invisible.

I wish I could tell somebody but who would believe me?  He keeps telling me that this is our little secret and not to tell anyone.  He warned me that no one would believe me anyway.  So, I keep quiet.  I lie there, staring up at the ceiling and let him do things to me.  I hate it but what can I do?  He’s my uncle.  He was my favorite uncle until he started violating me.  It happens whenever we are alone in my grandparents’ house.

During the day, I try to keep busy so as not to think about it and at night, I cry myself to sleep.  Whenever I visit my friends’ homes, I envy them.  They seem so happy.  They are not orphans like my little brother, Tony and me.  Our parents died in a car crash ten years ago.  We are living with our paternal grandparents.  I love my grandfather because he reminds me of my Dad whom I loved very, very much.  My grandmother and I aren’t very close.  She complains that I’m too much like my mother whom she never accepted.  She had wanted my Dad to marry an Italian woman.  My mother was Puerto Rican.  My grandmother is more partial to Tony because he looks more Italian and a lot like my father.

I wonder what she would say if she knew what her favorite son was doing to me.  One evening, I found out.  My grandfather and Tony had gone to a Baseball game and my grandmother had gone to visit a friend.  It was after seven when she got home.  She was at the end of the corridor when she saw Uncle Matteo coming out of my bedroom.  He froze when he saw her.  Then, he recovered, smiled and said, “Hi, Mama.  Sophia was just showing me the school project she’s working on for school.  She needed my input.”

My grandmother believed him.  She smiled as he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  “Have you eaten?” she asked.  “I can fix you a nice bowl of Tuscan Soup.”

He shook his head.  “No, Mama.  I have to go.  I have Maybe next time?”

She looked disappointed.  “Where are you off to in such a hurry?” she demanded.

“I have a date.”

“Who is she?  Do I know her?”

He shook his head.  “No, Mama.  One of these days, I will bring her here and she can have you delicious Tuscan Soup.”

“All right.  Run along.  Whoever she is, she must be special for you to pass up my soup.”

He kissed her on the cheek again.  “Ciao, Mama.”  He turned and hurried down the hall.  “Ciao, Sophia.”

I didn’t answer.  I stood there, happy to see him go.  I wrapped my arms around me, feeling dirty.  I felt so ashamed.  I wanted to run away and go where he couldn’t hurt me anymore.  I thought of my mother’s sister, Aunt Teresa.  I’m sure she would let me live with her.  Taking a deep breath, I turned to face my grandmother.  “Nonna,  I want to go and live with my Aunt Teresa.”

She stared at me.  “Why?” she asked.  “Aren’t your grandfather and I taking good care of you?

“I’m not happy here.”

“What do you mean?” she demanded crossly.  “We feed you, put a roof over your head and we let you do what you like as long you follow the house rules.  Do you think your Aunt Teresa can do a better job raising you?”

“Nonna, I’m not leaving because Nonno and you.”

“Well, it’s up to you.  I wouldn’t stop you.”  She turned and walked away.  I could tell that she was upset and I was sorry but I had to leave.   And I did that weekend.  My grandfather dropped me off at Aunt Teresa’s house.  He was sorry that I left because he would miss having me around but I think he understood.  He knew that my relationship with my grandmother was strained.  He promised that he would visit me with Tony every other Sunday.

My Aunt Teresa was more than happy to have me.  Her daughter, my cousin Natalia had moved out and into her own place so I got her room which was much nicer than the one I had at my grandparents’ house.  I settled in very quickly.  I helped with chores as I did at my grandparents’ house and I did some of the cooking too.  I wasn’t as good as my grandmother but I was improving.

One night, I had a nightmare.   I dreamed that I was back in my grandparents’ house and Uncle Matteo was in my bed.  His mouth and hands were all over me.  I woke up, sweating and shaking like a leaf.  The next morning when my Aunt Teresa and I were alone, sorting the laundry, I told her about the abuse.  She was visibly upset.  She hugged me tightly and I began to cry.  It felt so good telling someone.  I felt as if a heavy burden had been lifted off me.  When she drew back to look at me, she said, “The Bible clearly says,  that no one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations.  What your uncle did to you is criminal and he should be reported.”  And she reported him.

My Aunt Teresa had a friend who was a social worker come and see me.  She told me that I wasn’t to blame for what happened to me and that I did the right thing telling someone.  That made me feel better.  I started to live again and I began to read the Bible my Aunt Teresa gave me.  I started to go to church with her and I loved it.  I met wonderful people and made new friends.

My grandmother was angry with me and doesn’t want me over at the house anymore.  It’s on account of me that her son is in jail.  My grandfather was broken up about it and he apologized to me for not being there to protect me.  He swore that if he had known, he would have reported the abuse himself.  He and my grandmother are no longer together.  Tony has moved in with Aunt Teresa and me and my grandfather is living with Uncle Alberto and his family.

It wasn’t my intention to cause any trouble for my grandparents but I had to tell someone my secret.  And now I’m a part of a Youth Program called Give Voice.  It encourages teenagers and youth to break the silence about their own abuse or to report to someone they trust when they suspect that someone they know is being abused.  It’s a support group where we feel safe talking about our experiences and there’s also a mixture of fun and other activities.

I created a pamphlet for Give Voice which we hand out at schools, colleges, universities, libraries, shopping malls, on the streets, subways, bus stations, doctor’s and dentist’s offices, hairdressing salons, barber shops and other public places.  We want to get the word out that there is help out there.  Don’t suffer in silence.  Tell someone you trust.  Put your abuser where he or she belongs:  behind bars.

When it comes to any type of abuse, silence is not golden.  Tell, cry, yell, do whatever you have to but don’t keep silent.  Abuse should never be kept a secret.

Sources:  Government of Canada; Bible Info; Bible Gateway