As I stepped into the dimly lit room, she was there.
Surrounding her were women, comforting, all huddled together and silent.
They had canceled our weekly time of Bible study and prayer because one of the women had been taken to the hospital. The night before her husband had beaten her unconscious with a jambia (a heavy hoe) and then thrown water on her to revive her only to deliver more of the same. We were waiting to hear of the lady's condition, but we had come because we had been told there were two sick babies who needed help. I do miss my nurse sister when my inability faces what her abilities could handle. But God chooses who is where, and in the end, isn't it Him who is needed?
So when I ran from the car to the doorway, as if dodging rain was a possibility, I was shocked to find the room filled with ladies and children... and chickens. Pausing to let my eyes adjust to the darkness, I greeted each one, being tender as I shook hands and hugged. I knew she was likely among us, the one whose husband had brutalized her. But with these women, you can rarely tell who is walking wounded. They are strong and long-suffering, they persevere.
It was cold, rain came hard on the tin roof above. Even the chickens were huddling inside. The ladies were bundled in blankets and scarves. Which one is she Lord? As we gently exchanged quiet greetings, the suffering hung like thick air in the room. Looking at each of their faces, I worked to find the wounded one. But my discernment found nothing. No sign. They each smiled timidly and hugged tightly. When one hurts here, they all do. I wondered why they were all there together... as if they were waiting. Perhaps she had not returned from the hospital yet. So I asked. “Who is the momma that was wounded last night? Are you waiting for her to return from the hospital?” Several answered, all in Swahili, Eve translated for me. “Mom, they knew you and dad would come so they have been waiting.” Oh my soul...
Then the one with the sweetest smile began taking off her blanket-wrap, and removing her sweater. Surely it could not be... Lord, she has the kindest eyes.
Her name is Valentine. She's young. Maybe in her twenties. She's the momma to Daisy, one of the prettiest little darlings in Kenya. Daisy is dearly loved by my Steve, and the feeling is certainly mutual. He gives her cookies every Friday, she lingers near him each week as he speaks with the men about Jesus. Valentine is married to a man who calls himself a pastor. He is NOT. He's been married 3 times before her and buried each of those wives. He's mean and selfish and loves to wound those weaker than him. Valentine has given him one child, a son. Daisy does not belong to him. And so he is mean to little Daisy. As she showed us what he had done to her, she told of the night before. When it had been so cold, the man had gotten up to remove Daisy's blanket and place it on “his” son. Daisy began to cry; too cold. When the little girl's cries disturbed him from returning to his sleep, he began yelling at the mother, blaming her for bringing the girl into his house. When Valentine tried to quiet the cold little Daisy, the man became enraged. The beating began. It lasted for hours. Daisy ran out into the night to hide. Neighbors knew of the man's temper. No one dared help her. When the sun came up, his ire subsided and he left.
In the slum, you survive or not. No 911 Emergency phone call is going to bring blue lights and justice.
And after the damage is done, the women will rally together to help each other. It's the picture of “mourn with those who mourn”. It's not polished or proper or carried in a pretty casserole dish. It's raw, and messy, and oh-so-real. This was the circle of ladies around me. The God of the Angel-Armies was near.
She showed me her arm. Her fore-arm had a big knot (possibly broken), it was warm to the touch and pained her greatly. All her arm and shoulder had been beaten badly. Her neck was scratched and swollen, he had tried to strangle her, her face had scratches as well. She quietly spoke in Swahili telling me something as she pointed to her breasts, I could only imagine what he had done to hurt her. She was pouring out her pain and grief, no translation was needed.
It struck me. Bruises and wounds will not show so easily on her beautiful brown skin. My pale skin would show mark for mark if I had been beaten as she had. But her skin was only the slightest bit altered, and yet the beating she had taken from the heavy jambia had done great damage. The depth of her pain was concealed. But it was there.
She gushed it out. She knew I could not understand what she was saying. But she needed to say it, she needed to begin releasing what had been beaten into her. The women around her reacted with moans and tears. They were loving her well.
When the wave of suffering expressed subsided, I began praying. What else could have been the right response. I needed the One who loved her most to come near, very near. We needed the One who could bring justice to this ruthless, unfair place to hear. She needed the Mighty One to hold her, she needed the Shepherd. I was just a daughter beside her, we needed our Daddy-God. As I prayed I asked, “Oh God, what would you have us do, how would you have us respond, we trust you to do your work in this, but show us what is our part.” The prayer lasted long, the wailing was deep.
In a country where domestic violence is common, and calling the police only makes things worse, there is only One place to run to for justice. Abba.
As the wave of prayer subsided, the whisper in my soul was crystal clear, “Guide her to forgive, teach her more about forgiveness...” WHAT? Silently I screamed, “God, surely you did not just tell me to speak about forgiveness to this wounded momma. Oh God, it's too fresh, look at the marks. This man is cruel beyond words. Oh God, let me minister to her about forgiveness next week... today it is all too fresh.” But His guidance came full force, clear as a mountain stream on a crisp fall day in my beloved Georgia. “donna, obey me now, the wounds she received last night will be small compared to the wounds she will receive internally if she does not hand it all to me and forgive...”
How can I put into words the cliff I felt under my toes at that moment.
To look into the eyes of a woman who had just been tortured by her husband, and say to her... “forgive”... it was beyond what I could imagine.
i, me, skin-covered, clay-vessel, scrappy-little-daughter of God me ---- I wanted to go find Valentine's husband. I wanted to introduce him to my strong, broad shouldered, powerful, Godly husband. And I wanted God to unleash us both on him --- wound for wound, choke for choke, terror for terror. I wanted to beat that man so hard and do such damage to him, that he would be left physically unable to ever wound another. (Oh God, I more than any other need YOU to save me day after day after day.)
The last time I hit another person in anger was in Third grade, when at the age of 8, I decided my goal for the year would be to beat up every kid in my classroom. I'm not kidding when I say i'm a scrapper at heart. Small for my age with skinny chicken legs, I was a natural target for the bullies at our school. And one day when I saw two girls fight on our school bus, pulling hair out and biting whatever came close to their mouths, I knew, I either had to hit or be hit. I chose the former, an odd sort of self-defense tactic that seemed perfectly logical at the time. After the school bus fight, I declared war on every one. Surely, if the bullies thought I was meaner than them, they'd leave me alone. So by Christmas of my 3rd grade year I had successfully beaten up e-v-e-r-y kid in my classroom. My dear mother wondered why on earth I came home with torn, play-ground-dirty clothes, my kind principle wondered why on earth I was back in his office for yet another paddling, my friends wondered if they could trust me or not, and I wondered about myself too. At eight digits it was clear, I was a “fight” not a “flight” person. The next year, my wise parents moved me to another school. No one fought at my new school. So I hung up my boxing gloves and relaxed.
But last week, with wounded Valentine in front of me, imagining little Daisy crying cold in the night, I wanted to take the gloves back down.
Even as I write these words, my blood boils, and i'm ready again.
So the questions come front and center. Is God who He says He is? Does He really see all that happens on this old earth? Does He mean it when He says, “vengeance is mine”? Can He really work even THIS together for good?
I'll not fake it. Those are hard questions when the wounded are before you -----
(or when you yourself are the wounded).
But... when I asked Abba what He would have us do, what is our part for her today?
He ----- was ------ clear.
“Help her most donna, by helping her forgive.”
I paused long. I prayed for HELP. I had not even brought my Bible with me on that day because I was coming to visit sick babies, not teach.
I asked, “Does anyone have their Bible with them today.” Valentine's aunt handed me her Bible, and I felt such comfort in my hands as I opened it up to Matthew 18.
I lay the Bible on the little wooden table in front of me and began telling the story of the Unmerciful Servant. I said, “Valentine, this is going to be hard, but this is God's goodness for you today. He loves you so much, He does not want you tortured beyond the beating you've already endured.” She smiled so sweetly and said, “Please tell us the story.”
I've learned in Africa, telling the story is much more powerful than reading the story. Imagine, all those years ago at our church, when I was allowed to tell Bible-stories to hundreds of children in fine buildings on clean carpeted floors with tastefully painted walls and perfectly tuned sound systems, only God could have known that He was actually training me there for what He would ask me to do here.
With rain pouring down, we sat in this tiny room, with home-made brick walls, a rusty tin roof, and lumpy dirt floors beneath our feet, and I told the same story again.
It's a story worth telling again and again.
Seventeen pairs of eyes fixed on my mouth, the interpreter echoing each word. Mommas and children, taking in Truth and Abba swirled al'round.
The rains came so hard I had to yell to overcome their drumming on the tin above. A wondering cow tried to join us, she needed a refuge from the storm outside. As my Steve kept her from entering (there really was no room in the inn for her), I thought to myself, the storm outside is surely echoing the storm inside dear Valentine's heart Lord.
Then I transitioned to tell the story of the hunter in Australia who found a clever (all be it ugly) way of killing monkeys who were foraging crops from farmers. The hunter built small metal traps with only one small slit in the side of each trap. He secured the traps to trees or fence posts, anything that was strong enough to hold the trap securely in place. Then he simply placed one banana in each trap. After a peaceful sleep, the hunter would rise the next morning to find a monkey at each trap, holding on to the banana. You see, the monkey wanting the banana, would reach inside the small opening, grab hold of the banana, but then with banana in hand, was not able to slide its hand back out the small slit. If the monkey would simply release the banana, it would be free. But, it's focus on the banana would not allow it to release the fruit, and so by choice, the monkey allowed itself to be held in place, a self-imposed prisoner. Sadly for the monkeys (albeit joyfully for the farmers), the monkeys were systematically shot by the hunter. No chasing or struggle or fight. Each monkey watched other monkeys killed, but still would not release their banana.
They giggled at first at the foolishness of the monkeys. But then, they became somber as the meaning of the two stories intertwined.
If we hold on to the things that have wounded us, if we hold on to what we feel justified to hold against another, if we don't let go ---- we will be trapped. We will be tortured. We will be devoured by the one who is like a roaring lion, looking for who he can destroy.
Precious Valentine covered her face with her hands. Her wounded shoulders shook as she wept. We gathered around her, placed our hands gently on her and my dear Steve prayed long and sweet and strong. He prayed for God's goodness and strength to help her lay down what would trap her. Ladies cried out in their mother-tongues as did I, children slid their tiny hands in too, and the goodness of the Lord overcame the ugly of this world.
“There is nothing, indeed, which God will not do for a man who dares to step out upon what seems to be the mist; though as he puts down his foot he finds a rock beneath him.”
Valentine went home with her aunt that day. Her family will huddle around her closely. I'm told they are good people. Daisy will temporarily live with Valentine's uncle, a kind man who will fiercely protect his little niece. The ladies group has received money to help Valentine pay the 1000KSH (about $12USD) required by law to press charges against and have her husband put in jail for beating her. The courts will then decide what to do with him. When this happens, she will get to have her little son back.
There are so many like Valentine...
all around the world...
those around the Valentines --- do all you can to help them.
And for those who abuse others... know this... God sees... and He will have His day of vengeance.
Until that day comes, may the precious Valentines lay it down and walk away from the trap that would consume them.
… oh how we need our Shepherd...
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” Romans 12:19
©2014 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe
©2014 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe