Doubt

“Occupy your mind with My love, leaving no room for worry and doubt.”

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Doubt is like a bad penny.  It always keeps turning up.  It seems that no matter how many times we see the hand of God working in our lives, there is always room for doubt.  Even when we have a close relationship with Him, there are times when we still have doubts.  The disciples, who spent so much time with Jesus, still had doubts.  When Jesus told them, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” they thought He was referring to food.

Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he said, “You have so little faith!  Why are you worried about having no food?  Won’t you ever understand?  Don’t you remember the five thousand I fed with five loaves, and the baskets of food that were left over?  Don’t you remember the four thousand I fed with seven loaves, with baskets of food left over?  How could you even think I was talking about food? So again I say, `Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6-13) He was reminding them that each time they needed food, He was able to provide.  Then it dawned on them that He wasn’t speaking about yeast or bread but the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

The disciples had seen Him perform miracles before and they had forgotten how He had fed thousands of people with what seemed like very little food.  He had made a little go a long way.  Like the disciples, we too doubt the power of God and He has to remind us.

The disciples doubted the resurrection.  The Bible says, it was early on Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead, and the first person who saw him was Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons.  She went and found the disciples, who were grieving and weeping.  But when she told them that Jesus was alive and she had seen him, they didn’t believe her.  Jesus also appeared to two other people.

At first they didn’t recognize Him because He had changed His appearance but once they realized that it was Him, they rushed back to tell the others but they didn’t believe them.   When Jesus appeared to the eleven, He rebuked them for their unbelief” (Mark 16:9-14).  In the Gospel of Matthew, it says, that when they saw Him, they worshipped Him: but some doubted (Matthew 28:17).

Mary had taken good news to the disciples but they allowed doubts to spoil what should have been a joyful moment.  Sometimes we allow doubts to get the better of us and we miss out.  Doubts could prevent us from seeing God’s blessings.  The religious leaders in Jesus’ time had the Light but their doubts kept them in darkness.  Doubts can hinder us from doing the Lord’s work.  Doubts can rob us of great opportunities.

Jesus does not want us to worry or have doubts.  He wants us to focus instead of Him and what He can do for us.  The next time you start to doubt Him, remember these words, “Only believe, only believe; All things are possible, only believe”.

Never doubt, only trust and believe.  Remember all the times Jesus came through for you.   Fill your mind with His love and promises.  Don’t clutter your mind with doubts.  As Paul advised us, “Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8).  Searching the scriptures will also help.  Diffuse the doubts with God’s Word.  Whenever you have a task to do and you start to have doubts about it, say to yourself “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Farida’s Story

In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles – Psalm 34:6, NKJV

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I was 13 when my parents married me off to a 36 year old rich Arab man.  He was the second man who wanted me to be his wife.  The other man was a neighbor and he knew me since I was a baby.  He was in his 60s.  He offered 40 cows but the Arab offered money.  My parents accepted the money.

I had no choice.  I left my village and went with him.  Before we got married, I had to spend 15 days with his family.  I hated it there.  They didn’t like me because I was African and dark-skinned.  It didn’t matter that I was a Muslim like them and that I spoke Arabic.  They would have preferred if he had married an Arab woman.  I think they had a problem with my age.  I overheard his mother ask him why did he agreed to marry someone so young?  His response was that I was very pretty and he wanted me.  I think it was because he was controlling and believed that a younger wife would be more obedient.

My life before marriage was a nightmare.  At night he would ravage me and the following morning at 7am, his mother woke me up to pray and do housework.  I felt like a slave.  I felt so alone and helpless.  Things continued and got progressively worse after we got married.  We moved into his home.  I continued to do the housework, cook and pamper him.  I was forced to have sex every night even when he knew that I was very upset or tired, he didn’t care.  He went ahead and had his pleasure and fell asleep afterwards while I lay there beside him in the bed, in the dark, crying.

My marriage wasn’t anything like my parents’.  I never saw my father mistreat my mother and she seemed to enjoy taking care of him.  It wasn’t like that for me.  I didn’t want to be married.  I wanted to be in school, getting an education.  I was hoping to be a doctor but that dream was squashed by a marriage forced on me by my parents.  My mother even said to me, “This marriage proposal is a gift from Allah, his way of keeping you out of trouble. If you say no, you will be showing your lack of faith in him, and you will be punished.  This man’s rich and he will provide well for you.  All you have to do is be a good wife to him.”

How could she expect a teenage girl to be a wife?  She didn’t even get married until she had finished school.  And she married for love.  Why couldn’t I marry for love too and when I was ready?  It seemed so unfair.  I came to the conclusion that my parents didn’t love me.  If they did, they wouldn’t have married me off to a man almost three times my age.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I imagined that my husband being so much older than me would take care of me.  He would be like a father to me.

arab-arab-culture-arab-man-arabart-757307I soon learned that a husband is never a father.  He expected me to be a wife, despite my age.  I was more like a slave.  He took great pleasure in telling me that he used to have hired help but dismissed them after he married me.  He expected me to keep a house which was very big with a lot of rooms.  I was exhausted by the time I finished cleaning it.  Then, I had to do the cooking, laundry and ironing.  I was exhausted by the end of the day but I still had to satisfy him in the bedroom.

I hated my marriage, I hated him and I hated my life.  I wished that I could run away but I knew that it would be pointless.  He told me once that if I did, he would find me because he had people watching the house when he wasn’t there.  And that life would be a thousand times worse for me.  I believed him.

Night after night, I prayed to God to help me.   I knew that what my husband was doing to me was against our religion. Islam prohibits all forms of oppression and injustice yet he felt that it was his right to beat me if I were disobedient to him such as refusing to have sex with him when he wanted it.  The Qur’an clearly teaches the sexual relationship between a husband and wife should be mutually satisfying but it was never like that for us.  As his wife, he demanded sex from me and whenever I refused him I was beaten and then raped.  He told me that God got angry with disobedient wives but I remember a friend once told me that when obeying a husband involves behavior that is hurtful or destructive to oneself or others, a Muslim wife must remember that her primary obedience is to God.

I wanted God to help me.  I wanted out of this nightmare.  I couldn’t continue living like this.  I felt like I was caught in a trap and nothing or no one could get me out of it except God.  For 25 years I was trapped in an abusive marriage and then my husband died.  He left nothing in my name and his family denied me everything, including the dowry I was entitled to.  He and I didn’t have any children together and that was why they were able to rob me of my inheritance.  I had wasted 25 years of my life.

I’m 38 now and a part of the ActionAid supported women’s group working to advocate against FGM and child marriage.  I don’t want anyone to go through what I did.  A girl should have the right to decide when and whom she wants to marry.  Education should come first.  Marriage should be a healthy, happy and safe choice for us.  Islam teaches that each person has been given freedom of choice and is accountable for his/her own life.  Today, I am pushing for girls to be independent and to choose their own future.

I don’t know if I would ever get married again.  I had such a horrible experience.  I’m just thankful to God that I’m no longer living in an abusive marriage and that I can focus on empowering girls to understand and live out their rights, including saying no to child marriage.

This story is fiction but child marriage is a disturbing reality.  I was inspired to write this story after reading Aleyna’s* story in an email sent to me by Equality Now.  She was 13 year old Lebanese girl and forced to marry a 36 year old man who abused her for 40 years before he died, leaving her nothing.  Equality Now’s partner in Lebanon, LECORVAW (The Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Women) is working with women like Aleyna who need legal support to access the justice they deserve.  Aleya says that, “I have a lawyer who works for LECORVAW, she is defending me in court and that is very important. LECORVAW is giving me psychological and legal support. I feel so much better thanks to them as before I was struggling to cope.”

Child marriage is an evil practice which has to be eradicated from society.  Girls should be allowed to finish their education and to decide when they want to get married.  Marriage is for adult men and women NOT adult men and children/girls.  We need laws to protect girls from child marriage.  Let’s raise awareness and support the organizations which are working to end child marriage.

 

Sources:  Religion Unplugged; Faith Trust Institution; ActionAid

 

Christmas in Tampa

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Sami finished his conference call and when it was finished, he stood up and stretched.  Sometimes, those calls could be so tedious.  He was hungry.  Perhaps he should have Thai food delivered.  He picked up his phone and called his secretary.  “Hannah, could you call Mengrai Thai, order my usual and have it delivered at reception here instead of at security?  And please tell Shanika that I need to see her.  Thanks.”

He stood at the window looking out when minutes later, there was a knock on the door.  “Come in.”

The door opened and Shanika walked in.  He turned to face her, hands in pockets, leaning against the wall as he watched her close the door before she joined him at the window.  “Have you had lunch as yet?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “No.”

“Have lunch with me.”

“Okay.”

“I hope you like Thai.”

“I do.”

“So, do you have any plans for the weekend?”

“Well, aside from going to church tomorrow as usual, I don’t have any other plans.”

“Are you a Seventh-day Adventist?”

“Yes.  I’m a Seventh-day Adventist.  What gave me away?  Is it because I said I was going to church tomorrow which is a Saturday?”

“That plus the fact that you’re not wearing any makeup or jewelry.”

She smiled.  “So, you are a bit familiar with our ways.”

“I have friends who are Adventists.  Very nice people.  Are you a Vegetarian too?”
She shook her head.  “No.  Not all of us are.”
“One of my aunts is a Vegetarian but she isn’t an Adventist.”
“Do you go to church?”

“Only at Easter and Christmas, I’m afraid.  When I was a child, I went to church every Sunday because my parents insisted.”

“Which church did you go to?”

“I went to Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan.”

“You lived in New York?”

“Yes.  In Soho.  Before that I lived in Washington, DC with my parents after we left Algiers.  I went to St. Anselm’s Abbey School an all-boys preparatory school for grades six through twelve.  After I graduated from there, I left Washington and headed for Massachusetts to study at MIT.  After I graduated, I moved to New York where I lived for ten years.”

“And now you’re here in Tampa.”

“Yes.  I didn’t want to go through any more New York winters.”

“Have you been back to Algeria since you left?”

“No.  I don’t plan on ever going back.”

“Why did you leave?”

“Religious persecution.”

“I read just last month that your country’s blasphemy laws are making it difficult for Christians to share their faith because they are afraid that their conversation may be considered blasphemous and used against them.”

“Yes.  While we were there, they closed our church.  My relatives who are still there have to meet in homes to worship.”

“It’s really sad what they are going through.  Maybe we should say a special prayer for them on Saturday.  You are still coming to my church on Saturday right?”

“Yes.  And to the Christmas concert afterwards.”

“Good.”

Just then Hannah called his extension to let him know that his take-out order had arrived.  He excused himself and went to get it.  When he returned, he removed the containers from the bag and put everything out on the table beside the windows.  Shanika said a prayer before they tucked into the mouthwatering food.

“It’s good to know that you celebrate Christmas,” Sami commented.

“Yes, we celebrate it even though we know that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th.”

“Since you will be celebrating Christmas with your family, I was wondering if you would celebrate New Year’s with me?  I was thinking that we could have dinner first and then go to Busch Gardens and watch the fireworks.”

“I would like that very much.”

“Great.  This will be the first time I have gone anywhere on New Year’s Eve.  Usually I would stay home and watch the ball drop at Times Square and ring in the New Year alone.”

“Usually, I would be at my parents’ house.  What about Christmas?  Are you spending it with your family?”

“Not this year.  I wanted to have a warm Christmas.”

“So, this is your first Christmas in Tampa?”

“Yes.”

“Why don’t you spend it with my family and me?  My parents would love to have you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.  They are dying to meet you.”

His eyebrows arched.  “They are?” he exclaimed.  “How come?”

“I’ve told them so much about you that they feel like they know you.”

He laughed.  “Wow.  Well, I hope they wouldn’t be disappointed when they actually meet me.”

“Not if you work that charm of yours.”

“My charm?”

“Yes.  Your charm and your smile and not to mention your eyes…”

“You’re making me blush.”

Shanika laughed.  “You are blushing.”

“Would your parents have a problem with you dating your boss?”

“No.”

“What about the fact that I’m a Catholic?”

“They may have some reservations about it although they acknowledge that there are sincere Christians in other denominations, including Roman Catholicism.”

“I know that my parents wouldn’t approve of my dating a non Catholic but it doesn’t matter.”

“Let’s talk about something else,” Shanika suggested.  “What languages do they speak in Algeria?”

Arabic and Berber are the native languages.  Algerians can read and write in French and English is taught in schools.” 

“You speak English with a French accent.”

“French is my first language and English my second.”

“Do you speak Arabic?”

“A little.  And I don’t speak Berber at all.”

Interesting.  I learned French in high-school and university and I really liked it.  I would like to be fluent in it.”

“I can teach you.”

“That would be nice.  So, what do you in your spare time?”

“Working out, reading, cycling, hiking and photography.”

“Wow.  I enjoy long walks, reading, cooking and baking, blogging and playing tennis.”

“I play tennis sometimes.  Maybe we can have a friendly match one of these days.”

She smiled.  “You’re on,” she said.  She rose to her feet.  “Thanks for lunch.  It was really tasty.”

He stood up.  “You’re welcome.

They cleared the table and then stood facing each other.  “I’d better be getting back to work.”

“You have a little sauce at the corner of your mouth here.”  He reached up and rubbed his thumb against the corner of her mouth.

“Oh,” she said, feeling a bit self-conscious.

He smiled.  “It’s gone.”  Then, his expression became serious.  His eyes darkened as they studied her upturned face.  “Tu es si belle,” he murmured.

She blinked.  Her heart was racing.  “Pardon?” she asked, sounding a bit breathless.

“I said that you are lovely.”

“Th–thank you.”  Her breath caught in her throat when he lowered his head and kissed her.  She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back.  They kissed for several minutes and then his phone rang.

Reluctantly, he broke off the kiss and released her.  He went and answered it.  Putting his hand over the mouthpiece, he said, “I’m sorry but I need to take this call.  Stick around after work.  I’ll give you a ride home.”

“All right,” she said.  “I’ll see you later.”  She turned and walked on rather wobbly legs out of his office.  Yes, Christmas in Tampa this year was going to be a very special one.  She smiled at the thought as she closed the door behind her.

 

Sources:  Gatestone InstituteSeventh-day Adventist Church; Success; Live Bold & Bloom; Times Higher Education; Investopedia; Wikipedia;

 

 

Faith in Action

If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead – James 2:15-17

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Five weeks ago, I was in a bad way.  I got laid off and had trouble finding another job.  I was getting worried that I would not be able to pay my rent anymore and get evicted.  I was all alone here in Canada.  My family were all back in Jamaica.  Life was extremely hard there so asking them for money was out of the question.  My Employment Insurance (EI) was running out.  I wasn’t a member of any church so I couldn’t ask a pastor or a minister or a priest to help me.

Time was running out.  I didn’t have any food in the apartment and I was hungry.  I didn’t have any more money.  My EI payments had ended.  I still couldn’t find a job and it didn’t help when I got a bad cold and was laid up in bed for several days.  I looked terrible because I had lost a considerable amount of weight because all I had at my disposal was a half-empty carton of Orange Juice.

Finally, I swallowed my pride and went to my neighbor whom I knew was a Christian.  I always saw her reading a Daily Word or she was always talking to somebody about God.  So, if anyone could help me, it would be her.

I left my apartment and went across the hall.  After taking a deep breath, I knocked on the door.  Hopefully, she was at home.  She was.  She opened the door and looked at me.  “I would invite you in but I have company.”

“It’s all right,” I said.  “I hate to do this but I don’t have any choice.  Could you lend me some money?”

“What do you need it for?”

“I don’t have any food in my apartment.”

“How much do you need?”

“Twenty would be enough.”

“I’m afraid I only have a $100.”

“Oh.  Okay.” Crushed, I said, “Thanks anyway.  Sorry to have troubled you.  Have a good evening.”  I was about to turn away when she caught me by the arm.

“Go and pray to God to help you.  He will.”

I didn’t answer.  I turned and crossed the carpet and let myself into my apartment.  I leaned against the door, feeling very discouraged.  I couldn’t believe that my Christian neighbor didn’t help me.  Couldn’t she have asked her guests for change for the $100 or didn’t she have any food she could have given me?  No, she sent me away empty-handed and with words that couldn’t satisfy my hunger.

I remembered that I had a large bag of potato chips.  I went and took it down from the cupboard and put some in plastic lid.  I sat at the window and munched on them.  I did this again the following day and the next until the bag was finished.  Despair settled in again and then there was a knock on my door.  I opened it and recognized the woman whom I sometimes saw the Christian woman talking to.  She had a shopping cart full of groceries.  “May I come in?” she asked, smiling.

I nodded and held the door open for her to come in.

“I’m afraid I bought too many groceries.  My son moved out last week so I’m all alone.   I bought two of everything.  Do you mind helping me go through these bags?”

“Sure.”  My heart was racing.  This couldn’t be happening.  It felt so surreal.  Was this God helping me?  We went through the bags and when we were done, her groceries were in the bags and in the cart while mine were on the countertop in my kitchen waiting to be packed away.  I thanked her profusely as I held the door open for her.  “Are you a Christian?” I asked her.

She shook her head.  “No, but when I was trying to figure out what to do with the extra groceries, you came to my mind.  I just couldn’t shake the feeling that you needed them.”

I watched her hurry down the hallway to the elevator.  She lived two floors below me.  When I closed my door and went into the kitchen, I put away the groceries, thanking God for His help.  It had to be Him.  Who else could it be?  And what irony.  The person who should have helped me but didn’t was a Christian and the person who wasn’t a Christian did.  That evening I cooked myself a decent meal and enjoyed it in front of the TV.

After that unexpected blessing, I started to go to the church in my neighborhood–not the same one my neighbor went to, though.  The people were warm and welcoming.  I started to go to their prayer meetings.  I asked my prayer partner to pray that I find a job soon or I would be evicted.  A week later, she asked me for my resume.  I gave it to her.  Another week passed by and then I was called in for an interview.  It seems like her sister-in-law was in need of a secretary.  I got the job.  I thanked God and I thanked my prayer partner.

I don’t have any bitterness toward my neighbor.  I am pleasant to her whenever we see each other.  I told her that she was right about God helping me.  And I know that if she ever came to me for help, I would do whatever I can to help her.  Sometimes, I sit in front of the window and have a bowl of potato chips just to remind me of the desperate times and that God will bring us through them–sometimes in ways we don’t expect.

Faith is not just words but actions too.  When a person needs your help, help them.  It’s possible that God sent them to you.   

How to Claim A Promise From God

2 Peter 3:8-13

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This reading brings to mind Abraham.  God had promised him that he would have a son and the numbers of stars would be how large his generation would be.  Abraham could claim this promise.  This promise of a son met Abraham’s nee.  He would have an heir.  It was in submission to God’s will that he had a son from whom God’s people would be created.  It would honour God because from Abraham would come the generation that Jesus would be born of.  Jesus is a descendant of David who was a descendant of Abraham’s.  (Matthew 1:17)

This promise did not contradict God’s word.  He promised Abraham that He would make him a great nation and that He would bless him and make his name great.  Abraham’s spiritual growth as well as Sarah’s increased as a result of God keeping His promise.  God’s blessing here was intentional.  He wanted to create a nation that He would establish a covenant with and be their God.  From this nation will come kings like David, Israel’s greatest king.  God promised that members of David’s family would rule a kingdom that lasts forever. (2 Samuel 7:1-16, Psalm 132:11-12)  Jesus was born from the family of David.  He is the “Son of David” who will rule God’s kingdom forever.  (Luke 1:31-33, Acts 2:22-36 and Romans 1:1-4)

We are all descendants of Abraham. (Galatians 3:29) who believe in Jesus.  God fulfilled His promise to Abraham.  Through Moses, He brought the Israelites out of Egypt and to the land, which He swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as their heritage.  He remembered His covenant with the three patriarchs. (Exodus 6:8).  As Solomon pointed out, God kept all His promises.  He never went back on His word or failed to fulfill any of them. (1 Kings 8:56)

When God makes a promise, it is our responsibility to trust that He will fulfill it when the timing is right.  We have to have faith in His ability to fulfill His promises and keep our focus on Him.  We should never turn away from Him because we are tired of waiting for Him to bless us. Abraham and Sarah were well advanced in age when they had Isaac.  David’s faith in God never wavered—not even when he was suffering or when he lost his sons.  God promised him that he would give him an offspring who would build a temple for Him and whose throne would be established forever.  Shortly after their son died, Bathsheba gave birth to Solomon whom God loved (2 Samuel 12:24).

How do we claim a promise from God?  Simple.  We ask in faith and wait in faith, trusting that He will come through for us because of who He is.  He is faithful and unchanging.  We can stand on His promises because like His Word, they accomplish what He sent them to do.  They don’t return to Him void.  God made a promise to Abraham and Abraham obtained that promise after he had patiently endured (Hebrews 6:13, 15).  Likewise, we patiently wait on the Lord to fulfill His promises to us and in time we will obtain them.  As the psalmist encourages us to, “Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD!” (Psalm 27:14).

Makena’s Story

D0g88WZXgAMP4QjI’m an only child.  I was 12 years old when my mother died.  My father was devastated.  A Catholic priest told him that I would be better off living in an Italian orphanage where I would have a good Christian education.  The father believed him because he was a priest.  He was a missionary sent to Kenya for a year and he visited our home when my mother was sick.  He prayed over her and when she died, he officiated at the funeral service.  He told my father that he didn’t have to worry about me.  He promised that I would be well taken care of by the nuns who ran the orphanage.

So, after we buried my mother and saying a tearful goodbye to my father, I went with Father Bernardo to a strange country whose language I didn’t know.  I was scared but Father Bernardo assured me that everything was going to be all right.  All I had to do was trust him. and if I had any problems or concerns, I could always talk to him about them.  It wasn’t until we got to the orphanage that I found out that he lived in one of the units on the grounds.

When we got to the orphanage, I was put to work as a domestic hand as well as carer for the younger children in the orphanage even though I didn’t understand a word of Italian.  I was also chosen to clean Father Bernardo’s unit.  He offered to teach me Italian after I finished my cleaning but things changed.  After I finished cleaning his unit,  had to sit on his lap, and while he taught me Italian, he played with my breasts.

I knew what was happening was wrong and I felt guilty because of my religious Priestupbringing.  Father Bernardo knew it was wrong too but he didn’t stop.  Instead, he made me go to confession and pray to God for forgiveness for my sins because I was making him do what he did.  And he threatened me that if I ever resisted his abuse, he would refuse to give me communion the next time I went to Mass.

As I got older, the abuse got worse.  He started to have sex with me.  While I was cleaning, he would get undressed and climb into the bed and wait for me to join him.  I couldn’t refuse because I knew that he would make good on his threat not to give me Communion.  So, I would let him do what he wanted to me, praying that one day it would end.  It was no use telling anyone about it.  Once when I told one of the nuns that I was bleeding down there, she thought I meant that I had my period and she gave me pads.  And Father Bernardo told me that no one would believe me if I told them about us.  They would accuse me of lying and beat me.

I got pregnant three times and all three times I was forced to have an abortion because he refused to use condoms or contraceptives.  I hated him because he was forcing me to commit murder.  As far as I was concerned abortion was murder.  Each time I had one, I cried bitterly in my room and begged God to forgive me.

I wanted to write my father and tell him what was happening to me but Father Bernardo wouldn’t let me to write or call without his permission.  He made sure that somehow he got a hold of my mail and if there was something in it that he didn’t approve of it was confiscated and discarded.  And I wasn’t permitted to leave the grounds of the orphanage or talk to any of the local boys or the even the gardener.  He got jealous and spiteful when I did.  I not only feared him but I began to hate him.  I wanted to run away from him and this horrible place.

One night I opened my Bible to the Psalms and found Psalm 37.  I read it.  These words jumped out at me, “Be still in the presence of the LORD and wait patiently for Him to act.”  I decided to do just that.  I had prayed to Him to rescue me from this private Hell and I know He heard my prayer.  Now, I will wait for Him to do something.

I didn’t have long to wait.  While Father Bernardo was in Rome, I left the orphanage and went to live in a house where I worked as a servant.  I was 18.  The couple with whom I lived were paid an allowance for having me and they had me accompany them on trips as nanny to their children.  Fortunately for me they spoke English, although by then, I knew some Italian.  I was happy living with them.  They treated me very well and I was very fond of their children.

Several times, Father Bernardo stopped by to persuade me to return to the orphanage but I refused.  He was taken aback and after his threats failed, he begged me to go back with him and promised that he would use condoms so that I wouldn’t have to have any more abortions but I told him to leave me alone.  He eventually went away and I never saw him again but he made the mistake of writing me a long letter in which he went off on a tirade.

In it he wrote that no man would want to marry me when he found out that I had been an older man’s lover and had three abortions.  He said that he wasn’t an evil man and that it was my fault that he did the things he did.  He said I bewitched him.  He ended the letter, promising that if I resumed our relationship, he would consider leaving the priesthood and marrying me.  I felt sick to my stomach.

I wanted to tear the letter to pieces and flush them down the toilet but I was impressed to show the letter to the couple whom I was working for.  Shocked and appalled, the man made several copies of the letter.   He mailed one copy to the orphanage, to the church where Father Bernardo did Mass, the Vatican and to the local bishop.  No response was forthcoming but the last I heard of Father Bernardo, he was no longer at the orphanage or at the church.  My employer said that they probably just reassigned him to another church instead of removing him from the priesthood.

I don’t hate him anymore but I trust in the Word of God which says, “For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”

user_male_portraitI’m 28 years old now and happily married with two children–a boy and a girl.  My husband, Stefano was the younger brother of the woman whom I was working for.  We met when he drove from Florence to visit the family.  He was very charming and it didn’t take long for him to win my heart.  I wrote to my father about him and he was able to come to the wedding.

It was wonderful seeing my father again.  He looked much older than I remember.  My mother’s death really hit him hard but he has managed to pick up the pieces.  He stayed for a couple of weeks in Florence before flying back to Nairobi.  Next year summer, Stefano, the kids and I will visit him.

I still haven’t told my father about my abuse.  Stefano told me to wait until I feel like I’m ready to do it but I’m not sure I ever will.  Especially not after he said to me as we danced at my wedding, “I’m thankful that Father Bernardo convinced me to let you come to Italy or you wouldn’t have met your young man.”  I don’t want my father to blame himself for what Father Bernardo did to me.

I’m still haunted by the memories and after leaving the orphanage, I have never set foot in a Catholic church.  I have an aversion for priests.   I left the Catholic faith and am now a member of Stefano’s church which is non-denominational.  Stefano had left his faith years ago because of the sex scandals.

There are times when I feel ashamed of what happened and wished that I had done something–anything to prevent it but Stefano told me to stop blaming myself.  Who would have believed me anyway?  It was my word against a priest’s.  With God’s help, I am working through the lingering guilt and the self-recrimination one day at a time.  I still think about the abortions I had and will always regret having them.

This story is fiction but is inspired by true stories of women who were abused by priests as young girls.  One woman was abused for 13 years beginning when she was 15 years old.  There are so many stories of victims suffering at the hands of those who are in positions of trust and millions of people want to know, “what new steps will the bishops take to clean up — or clean out — the church after years of sex abuse scandals?”  The pastoral practice of transferring priest from parish to parish (priest shuffling) has to stop.

Priests suspected of abuse should be removed from their duties/their parishes until there is an investigation into the allegations and once it is proven that they are guilty, they need to be arrested and serve time for their crimes against the innocent.  The Church as a whole has to be held accountable and put policies in place to protect the victims.  Victims should not be treated as if they have done something wrong or be accused of lying.

Anne Barrett Doyle of the research group, Bishop Accountability said that what Pope Francis should do to protect children, is to order the Vatican to release the names of all priests who have been convicted under canon law of abusing minors.  Pennsylvania Attorney-General Josh Shapiro urged local church officials to “cease their denials and deflections” and accept the grand jury recommendations, which include allowing victims to sue the church for abuse that otherwise would fall outside the statute of limitations.  According to Pope Francis, church leaders need to be more concerned about the safety of the children than their own reputations.

No more talk.  No more cover-up.  It’s time for the church to take action and root out priestly sex abuse.

Sources:  The Irish TimesRoyal CommissionKnowing Jesus; USA Today; The Globe and MailWikipedia

In Sanaya’s Memory

Web1It was love at first sight for me when I saw her walking towards me.  It was a blind date.  I don’t usually go on blind dates, mind you, but for some inexplicable reason, I went on this one and man, was I glad I did.

She had to be the most beautiful girl on the entire planet.  Those eyes did things to my heart and those Angelina Jolie lips–my, my, my.  Up to that point, I’ve only dated African American women but this girl was Pakistani.  I could tell from the way she was looking at me that she liked what she saw.

Needless to say, we really hit it off and that first date turned into other dates and before I knew it, I was telling Raj, the friend who set us up, that I wanted to marry this girl.  Raj was blown away and quite pleased with himself.  “I told you that you were going to love her.  If I weren’t already married, and happily married, I would have dated her myself.  I’m thrilled for you, Man.  So, have you popped the question as yet?”

“No, but I’m going to tonight when we’re having dinner at my place.”  And I did.  She was so moved by tears that for several minutes she couldn’t say anything.  After I slipped the ring on her finger, we stood and hugged.  She ended up spending the night.

We got married in an elegant but intimate ceremony.  Raj, of course, was my best man.  My family were all there but none of hers was–only friends and co-workers.  I knew that they didn’t approve of me because I wasn’t Pakistani.  I later found out that they wanted her to marry a friend of the family who was rich but old enough to be her father and she refused.  She moved out of her parents’ house and moved in with a friend.  b2052d4a374f85a4821cc75859f32472--full-lips-beautiful-eyes

When her family found out about me, they were livid.  They tried to get her to end our relationship but she refused.  She told them that she loved me and planned to spend the rest of her life with me.  Her father was especially opposed to this and told her that she was a disgrace to her family. Even there in America, she had respect their family’s caste, religion and customs.  He warned her that if she didn’t stop dating me and agree to the marriage they had arranged for her, she would be very sorry.

I didn’t know that she was afraid that something dad would happen to her.  If I had, I would have packed up everything and taken her far away.  It never once occurred to me that my father-in-law, whom I never met, would take my wife’s life.  Even now, I still can’t believe that a father would kill his own daughter because she chose to marry a man she loved instead of the man they wanted her to marry.

It happened a couple of months after she gave birth to our beautiful daughter, Alaya.  She was on her way home from the supermarket when she was struck by a car driven by her father.  She was rushed to the hospital.  Her condition was very critical.  She suffered multiple vertebrae fractures, an ankle fracture, a severe closed head injury and multiple soft tissue injuries from head to toe.  To say that I was devastated would be a gross understatement.  I was beside myself.  I cried and prayed for her to pull through but she slipped into a coma and never woke up.  My family and friends rallied around me, supporting me.  I had lost the love of my life and the mother of our child.  How on earth was I going to get through that?

Her father was charged with murder.  He’s still serving time.  I don’t hate him anymore.  I have channeled the negative feelings into something positive.  I have created a foundation in my wife’s honor.  It’s called Sanaya after her.  The organization is geared towards preventing honor killings in America.  This is America.  It’s supposed to be the land of the free.  What about the message at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty which says, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Yet, honor killings are no longer happening in other parts of the world.  They are happening right here in our own backyard.  And it has to stop.  It is an issue that cannot be ignored.  Right now, I am working to expose the issue and help train front line responders, victim service providers, and counselors.  I have to do this for Sanaya, our daughter Ayala and other women.  There is no honor in killing and women are not objects or possessions.  They, like Sanaya, should have the right to marry the men of their choice and not be murdered for it.  It is my hope and prayer that honor killing will be a thing of the past.  Until that time, I will continue to honor Sanaya’s memory by fighting to “end the practice of Honor Killings and shift the mindset of Pakistani society to one of gender equality.” 

This story is fiction but it was written for National Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women which is today, November 25, 2019.  This story was inspired by the true tragic killing of Noor, a young Iraqi woman who was run over by her father in Arizona.  She was killed to preserve the family honor.  In her father’s eyes, she was engaging in behavior that could taint her family’s status.

Noor told a friend that her father disapproved of everything she did — from the way she dressed to her choice of friends. According to Noor’s friend, Pesta, “She had a foot in two worlds. She had one foot in suburban America and one foot in Middle Eastern tradition.  In public she tried to put on a brave face…and tried to live her life and enjoy the freedoms that American offered her. In private, she fought with her father all the time.”

Honor killing has been around for such a long time and was thought to happen only in certain countries but it is happening in North America.  According to Aruna Papp, an internationally recognized educator and a survivor, after being raised in an honour-based family structure in India, honor killings are happening here in Canada.  “It’s an epidemic. We have had 19 honour killings in Canada in the last decade. In all developed countries, the highest rate of suicide is among South Asians—why do they come to developed countries and kill themselves? Because we are trained from birth to be self sacrificing…it’s so much easier to kill yourself then to humiliate the family.” 

The issue of honour killing was thrust into the Canadian spotlight back in 2009, after four female members of the Shafia family were found dead in a canal in Ontario.

Honor killing and violence against women are real issues and we must continue to raise awareness and take action.  Girls and women deserve to live quality lives, free of violence, oppression and free.  It is believed that at least 5,000 honour killings are reported around the world each year, but most likely the actual number is far higher since many go unreported.

If you are interested in learning more about honor killing and/or how you can help in the fight to end it, here is a list of organizations you can check out:

 

Violence against women is not just a problem in countries like Afghanistan and Somalia. It’s happening in the U.S. too

Ayaan Hirsi Ali stated that most Americans refuse to accept that honor violence happens there and this is the biggest obstacle to providing effective assistance.  Her foundation receives requests for help from women and girls in crisis.  She mentioned in her editorial, “There is the young woman, an American citizen, who was taken to her family’s native country in the Middle East to marry a complete stranger against her will because her parents feared she was becoming too “Americanized.” There is the college student who fears for her life should her father discover that she is dating someone outside her family’s faith. There is the teenage girl who discovers she is pregnant and is threatened with murder by her family for bringing shame upon them.” 

Refusing to believe that this type of violence is in our country wouldn’t make it go away.  It exists and women and girls need our help.  We must do something.  No more burying our heads in the sand.  We MUST take action.

Honor killings are not honorable by God. They are driven by ignorance and ego and nothing more. The Creator favors the man who loves over the man who hates. If you think God will punish you or your child for allowing them to marry outside of your tribe or faith, then you do not know God. Love is his religion and the light of love sees no walls. Anybody who unconditionally loves another human being for the goodness of their heart and nothing more is already on the right side of God.
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

Sources:  Amnesty International; CBS; The Guardian; Global News; Humanity Healing