But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
It all began with a knock at the kitchen door at the Truro rectory. Standing there were two women. I recognized one of them as “Karen,” a long-time, active member of the congregation, but I didn’t know the other woman standing with her. I did notice, however, that she looked as if she had been crying.
“Angela, it’s for you!” I called, and invited them in. After a few more brief words, I retreated upstairs to my study, while Angela listened to their story.
They were next-door neighbors in a nearby apartment complex. “Maria” was a recent immigrant, she and her husband both refugees from Eastern Europe. He was an angry and abusive man, and Karen had heard their arguments through the walls of the apartments. Sometimes she heard the sounds of violence. She had knocked on their door a couple of times to ask if all was well, and they had reassured her that it was. Karen had thought about speaking to the police, but she knew that Maria would have been alarmed at that, so she kept quiet and kept praying. But this night was different. The sounds of violence were more intense and the screams more piercing, and then their door slammed and there was silence and muffled sobs. Karen went to their door and this time Maria couldn’t hide the nightmare. Her husband had stormed out, carrying a gun, and she was terrified. Unsure about the best way forward, Karen had brought Maria to us. We would know what to do!
Angela listened and prayed and then invited them both to spend the night in our guest room. We would deal with next steps in the morning. The next day dawned, and at the breakfast table Angela asked how they had slept. Maria answered that once she had seen the man dressed in white standing in the corner with such a reassuring smile, she had felt such peace that she had slept soundly for the first time in weeks. Angela realized that Maria had been blessed with a heavenly vision and explained to her the source of her peace. As they talked, Angela asked Maria if she might pray that this gift of peace through Christ could become an ongoing part of her life. Maria nodded, so they prayed. Later that morning, we contacted the police and Maria was taken to a safe house. Her husband was arrested on various charges.
It was a sobering encounter and, sadly, not the last.
Sometimes signs of domestic abuse surface before a couple are even married. I recall one couple who passed my various pre-marital screening tests quite easily, but I had a nagging feeling that there were some serious compatibility issues. There was nothing that I could identify, but I planned to stay in close contact with them. The wedding went off well, but I decided to call after they returned from their honeymoon. The wife answered, and when I identified myself, she began to sob. Her husband was away from the house, and she told me that the honeymoon had been a nightmare. He had refused to let her use the hotel swimming pool or lie out in the sun … he justified it by saying that it was for her good, and he didn’t want other men looking at her. Whenever they left the room, he was constantly watching her. He objected if she talked with any other people and seemed to want to control every aspect of her life. There was no physical abuse but lots of threats.
I asked, “When did this behavior begin?” She told me that it had started after they had become engaged. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked, and she said, “Because I had already bought the wedding dress and I thought that things would be better once we were married!” I encouraged her to get professional help, which she did. Sadly, the marriage ended but the nightmare came to an end.
We had a large church staff, including a highly qualified professional counselor. I never asked him about the details of his work with his various clients, but occasionally I would ask what were the overall themes that he was witnessing. I wanted to be sure that our pastoral ministry was on target. Early on he told me that a recurring theme was that of spousal abuse. I was shocked, because we were a fairly well educated congregation that had been blessed by many years of solid biblical teaching. Without divulging any details, he told me that many of the situations involved people in senior government or military leadership operating under a great deal of stress and, often after a few drinks, this led to abusive behavior at home. While it did not always lead to physical violence, the mental, emotional and spiritual damage were equally serious. There was no “quick fix,” but I did keep this issue in mind as we planned various pastoral initiatives and built up our smallgroup ministry through “home churches.”
I also became aware of Time to Fly Foundation (timetofly.org), a ministry resource headquartered 10 miles away in Reston, Virginia. This faith-based, life-changing, holistic ministry takes seriously the growing problem of violence at home – violence directed primarily towards women, but not exclusively.
I have also witnessed the terrible tragedy of child abuse up close. During my CPE training, I served as a chaplain at Washington National Children's Hospital and saw many children who had been severely abused. And now we are beginning to see more situations of abuse against the elderly.
It is hard to think of anything that is more contrary to the message and ministry of Jesus Christ than domestic abuse. I urge you to take this problem seriously. It is not limited to any particular socio-economic or educational level. As stress and the pressures of isolation grow, abuse is becoming increasingly prevalent. If we are to be faithful to the Gospel, we cannot ignore it.
Your brother in Christ,