The words of Jesus are grievous, a catastrophic commentary on the all-too-real dynamics of living in a bent and broken world.
"If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matthew 18:6 NIV 2011).
People … adults … can cause children to stumble in a number of extremely hurtful ways, and Jesus gives a chilling warning about repercussions. Comparatively speaking, being plunged into the ocean with a weighty millstone is a genuine act of mercy.
But among the most heartrending cases of stumbling is childhood sexual abuse, a devilish deviation of trust and authority that wounds body, soul, and spirit and can leave scars that last for a lifetime.
A ministry called GRACE – Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment – is helping those who were wounded by sexual abuse as "little ones" and is working to prevent further victimization. GRACE conducts independent inquiries of sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse in mission agencies and other Christian settings, and it supports enactment of restorative measures to bring hope and healing to victims. Christian organizations should be "safe" places, but GRACE has uncovered abuse among Christian groups from South Carolina to Southeast Asia.
Widespread abuse has been documented among different denominations and missions organizations. Years of abuse occurred at Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) boarding schools in Africa, Ecuador, Indonesia, Philippines, and Malaysia. At Fanda Boarding School in Senegal, West Africa children of missionaries from New Tribes Mission suffered sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse by 12 adults. Missionary kids were also abused at a Presbyterian boarding school and a Methodist-Presbyterian hostel in the Congo. Investigations into accusations of rape and sexual abuse at Christian universities in the US are ongoing.
The truth is inescapable … childhood sexual abuse is pervasive. It is our responsibility to protect and be a voice for those who are most vulnerable. You may question, what can I do? How can I be more mindful about protecting the "little ones" among us?
What are the "Dos and Don'ts" of awareness?
Do … be aware that child sexual abuse is illegal, a crime that must be reported.
Do … be aware that children are usually abused by people they know.
Do … be aware that children seldom lie about sexual abuse.
Do … be aware that physical abuse is often violent, but child sexual abuse is usually not violent.
Do … be aware that children may deny or change their stories because of fear.
Do … be aware that sexual abuse is progressive and will get worse if not stopped.
Don't … be in denial, no matter how difficult it is to believe.
Don't … minimize the abuse by turning a blind eye.
Don't … let the offender go without confrontation.
Don't … keep abuse a "family" or "ministry" secret.
Remember the words of Jesus …
"See that you do not despise one of these little ones." (Matthew 18:10 NIV 2011)
And when you suspect abuse has occurred …
How do I surface the secret?
• Pray for supernatural wisdom from God.
• Provide a safe atmosphere, away from people and places that could be upsetting or intimidating.
• Ask, "Have you been experiencing something uncomfortable or confusing? Has anyone ever touched you in way that made you uncomfortable?"
• Listen carefully, repeat what is said, and ask, "Did I get it right?"
• Be cautious about asking "leading questions," such as, "Did they do_____________ to you?"
• Let authorities with an expertise in childhood sexual abuse ask most of the questions in order to determine the truth.
• Communicate that you believe the child.
• Acknowledge that the offender is wrong.
• Give assurance that the child is not to blame.
• Confirm that "telling" is the right thing to do.
• Don't reach out with physical affection unless you ask permission: "Would you like for me to hold your hand? Can I give you a hug?" Even if the answer is yes, if you sense hesitation, slowly withdraw.
• Provide a peaceful, secure atmosphere by displaying genuine love and compassion.
"The purposes of a [child's] heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out." (Proverbs 20:5 NIV 2011)
And when you want to bring hope through biblical truth …
How do I share the heart of God?
Tell the child …
• "Nothing can ever cause you to lose God's love."
"I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness" (Jeremiah 31:3 NIV 2011).
• "You can tell God what you really feel, and God will understand."
"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7 NIV 2011).
• "When you come to God for help, He will heal your hurts."
"Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me" (Psalm 30:2 NIV 2011).
• "With Jesus as your Savior, you can be a brand new person."
"If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV 2011).
• "God still has a wonderful plan for your life."
"'I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV 2011).
God has entrusted you and I to help keep "little ones" from stumbling in a very dark and treacherous world. Together let's help them stand, undergirded by the timeless truths of God's Word and unfailing compassions of God's heart.