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

 

It’s a Two-Way Conversation

When we go to God in prayer is there a moment when we pause to listen to what He has to say?

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Prayer is a two way conversation.  It is a form of communication.  We say what we have to say and then keep silent and allow the Lord to answer.

I had gotten into the bad habit of getting up and going about my business after I finished praying.  One morning, I was impressed to remain kneeling.  When I did and I stayed quiet, Jesus spoke to me.  When I heard His voice, I began to cry.  I had missed hearing Him speak.  I told Him so and He said, “I have always been here.”

When we pray, the Lord is there but we don’t give Him a chance to speak.  It is like when you call a friend.  You say, “Hi Jane, it’s Martha.”  You allow Jane to say, “Oh, hi Martha.  How are you?” And that is all she gets to say.  The rest of the conversation is you talking with no pauses for Jane to get a word in.  And when you’re finished, you say goodbye and hang up.  Jane may have had news that she would have liked to share with you but she never got the chance to do so.

God may have news for us or something He wants to share with us but we don’t give Him a chance to do so.  We’re too busy talking and when we’re done, we thank God for hearing our prayers and answering them and then move off, not giving Him an opportunity to speak to us, we will miss out on that.  We may miss a message He has for us, what His will is for us that day or His plans for us.  God likes to listen to our prayers but He looks forward to when we come to Him and share what is in our hearts but He wants to share what is in His too.  Prayer is not just about us talking but it’s about us listening too.

The next time you pray, don’t get up or walk away as soon as you are finished.  Stay where you are.  Be still and listen.  God wants to talk to you.  Let Him.

Simple Eyes

Your eye is the lamp of your body – Luke 11:34, NIV

African girl with light eyesWe met in Rafiki’s training village in Rwanda.  There are ten villages and each one provides living and educational facilities through Bible Study, Education, Teacher Training, Orphan Care, and Widows.    Rafiki means “friend” in Swahili.  The organization befriends orphans and widows in distress.

The first thing I noticed about Benitha were her beautiful and unusual eyes.  She was a pretty girl but her eyes were her most outstanding feature.  They reminded me of what Jesus said in Luke 11:34-36.  Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness.  See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”

In the King James version, the good eye is described as “single.”  What exactly does that mean?  The Greek word used for “single” is “haplous”  Jesus is the only One who used it.  It means “simple, whole, sound”.  When your eye is “haplous” it means that your vision isn’t complicated or confused.  It means you have sound and perfect vision.  In order for your whole life (body) to be full of light, your vision cannot be clouded by the things of the world, false teaching or thoughts.  Your vision is focused, stayed on Christ and as long as you behold Him and remain in Him, your eyes will be healthy and your body full of light.

As followers of Christ, we must have singleness of mind, heart and purpose.  There can’t be any darkness, duplicity, selfishness in us.  Like a lamp, our light must shine where it can be seen by others so that they are led to Christ.

As a servant of Christ’s, I have to daily make sure that my eye is good and full of light.  I love to share the Gospel and God had called me to be a part of a Christian organization which trains Africans to transform Africa for Christ.  I’m thankful to Him for this calling because I met beautiful with her unusual eyes.  She was fifteen at the time and one of my students.  I had to bear those two things in mind when interacting with her.  She was shy but she soon warmed up to me and her hunger and thirst to know God and to follow Jesus was phenomenal.  After she graduated from our education program, she enrolled in the University of Rwanda.thumbnail (3)

She lived on the university’s campus but we kept in touch via telephone and email.  She was happy and enjoying her courses.  I missed her and hoped that she missed me too.   We saw each other during the spring break, summer and at Christmas.  Other members of the Rakiki and I attended her graduation ceremony.  She graduated with honors.  We were all very proud of her.

Now, she’s back at the village and is one of the teachers.  We are spending a lot of time together and now that she’s a young woman in her twenties, I can court her.  We visit museums, parks, sightseeing, day trips, eat at inexpensive restaurants and go hiking.  We have so much fun together.

We pray and study the Bible together.  I loved being with her.  I felt like a lovesick schoolboy whenever we held hands.  We haven’t kissed as yet.  I’m afraid that I might not be able to help myself.  Besides, it would be more meaningful if our first kiss was after we exchanged our wedding vows.  You guessed it, I’m going to ask her to marry me.  I’m going to pop the question today after our boat ride on Lake Kivu.  I have been practicing how to say, “Will you marry me” in Swahili.  Just two words, Je! Utanioa.  Let’s hope that I don’t get so nervous that I forget or say them incorrectly.

I say a quick prayer, check my breast pocket to make sure the little black box is there and then I head off to meet Benitha whose name means “blessed, full of blessings (divine)”I’m the one who is blessed.  The love and light of Christ shines in and through those simple eyes.

Sources:  Bumchecks; Definitions; Christian University of Rwanda; Tripadvisor Canada; The Culture Trip; The Crazy Tourist; Tripadvisor; Name Doctor

We Are All Slaves

“We are all slaves,” Todd declared and Marsha stared at him.

black girl in white blouse“What do you mean by that?”  she wondered.

“It’s what my pastor said last week.”

“Where did he get that information from?”

“The Bible, of course.  It’s in chapter six of Romans, verses twenty to twenty-two.  We are either slaves of sin or slaves of God.  We serve one or other other.  We serve sin when we allow it to control our bodies, making us commit immoral acts.”

What sort of immoral acts?”

“Adultery, fornication, incest, homosexuality, lesbianism and fornication.”

“What’s fornication?”

“It’s sex outside of marriage.  It can be between two people who aren’t married to each other or between two unmarried people.”

“Oh.”  She turned away so that he wouldn’t see the expression on her face.

“But, sin isn’t just about sexual immorality.  There’s spiritual immorality as well.”

“What happens to a person who is a slave to sin?”

“Romans 6:16 says that obeying sin leads to death.  Doesn’t your church teach you these things?”

She shook her head.  “No.”

“Why don’t you leave that church and come to mine?”

She turned to face him.  “Leave the Catholic Church?” she exclaimed.  “How could I?  I was born and raised a Catholic.  Why should I leave the church just because Father Montgomery hasn’t taught us what’s in Romans 6?  He might one of these days, you know.”

“I used to be a Catholic but I left because I realized that they were teaching what wasn’t in the Bible and the sex scandals–”

Marsha glared at him.  “I’m sick and tired of people attacking the church.”

“Why are you getting so upset?” Todd asked.  “I’m not attacking the church.  All I’m saying is that it needs to address the and rid itself of the sex scandals.  I’m sure that if you or someone you knew were a victim, you would feel differently.  You would want justice.  The church is supposed to be a place where people should feel safe.”

“I have to go,” she muttered.  “I’ll see you tomorrow at school.”  She turned and walked away before he could say anything.

As he headed home, he felt impressed to pray for her.

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Father Montgomery finished saying his prayer in the chapel, blessed himself and rose to his feet.  Next he went to the confessional to listen to three people make confessions.  By the time he left the parish, it was almost six o’clock.  He let himself into the abandoned mansion.   When he first visited it, he ventured down into the secret room, called a “priest hole” where Catholic clergy hid from their Protestant hunters.  Anti-Catholicism was rampant when Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in 1558.  He tried to imagine what it would have been like to spend any amount of time there.  It made him think of the Jews who were hidden by well meaning citizens so that they could escape the concentration camps and ultimately, death.

It was in the Master’s bedroom where Marsha waited for him.  It was still furnished.  The furniture was old but still in good condition, natural light streamed through the large windows and the bed was still functional.  She was sitting at the edge of the bed, hands on lap when he walked in.  He knew right away that something was wrong.  “What’s the matter?” he asked as he sat down beside her.

“I ran into Todd on my way home from church this morning.”

He frowned.  “Who’s Todd?”

“He’s a boy from school.”

“Tell me what happened when you ran into him this morning.”

“He told me that we are all slaves.  Slaves to sin or slaves to God.  His pastor read this in chapter six of Romans.  I don’t want to be a slave to sin because it leads to death.”

“Marsha, you aren’t a slave of sin.  Such talk is foolishness.”

“But what about us?  Aren’t we sinning against God?”

He put his arm around her shoulders.  “It isn’t sin when two people love each other.  I love you and you love me, don’t you?”

“Yes, but–”

“Then, we aren’t sinning.  We are in a monogamous relationship.  We aren’t unequally yoked.  We share the same faith and believe in the same God.”

“Todd said that the church teaches things that aren’t in the Bible.”

“Do you trust me, Marsha?”

“Yes.”

“I would never mislead you or the rest of the flock.  What I teach is sound doctrine approved by God Himself.  Now, let’s not worry any more about what Todd or anyone else who has misguided views about our Church and its teachings.”  He gently pushed her back on to the bed and began to kiss her passionately.

Even as she surrendered to him, at the back of her mind, a small still voice was telling her that this was wrong but, as usual, she let her heart rule her head.

It was love for Eve which made Adam sin against God.  Don’t let love blind you to God’s truth.  It is by the constant obeying of His Word that we are delivered from sin.  Don’t be a slave to sin which leads to death but a slave to God which leads to eternal life.

Sources:  Atlas Obscura; Flickr

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

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