By Nancy J. Stephani
Nancy Stephani hails from Findlay, Ohio and is an anchor for our Women in Church Leadership project. If you would like information about becoming a WICL anchor e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Early in my career as a social worker, I co-facilitated a group for sexually abused adolescents. Sarah gave me permission to tell her story provided I changed her name. After one teen ager confided that she found strength in God and hoped for a better life in heaven, Sarah turned pale, sank back into the couch and said that heaven was the last place she wanted to go . She hated God and was deliberately trying to do everything she could to go to hell. She was certain her stepfather would go to heaven and she did not want to be any place near him.
Tears poured down her cheeks as she told her story. Her stepfather was a non-denominational preacher giving tent revivals throughout the South and Midwest. The family survived on meager collections and when there was not enough, the preacher sent his wife into town against her will to sell herself as a prostitute. He beat her afterwards, to cleanse her almighty soul.
Sarahs stepfather molested her frequently and quite horribly from the time she was three until age 13. He beat her with belts, tied her up with cords and told her that women were created to serve men. He also taught her younger brother to beat her and to give her orders.
Sarah grew up watching people treat this man with respect and honor. After he preached, they came forward to turn their lives over to God, a God she came to believe was just like her stepfather. And so, Sarah concluded I want to go to hell and never see that man again. The devil cant be as bad as he is.
The co-facilitator and I tried to convince Sarah that this was no work of God. Slowly we suggested that God could also be a loving and protecting mother who would hold her out of harms way and never want anything bad to happen to her again.
I will never forget the holiness of the moment when Sarah began to believe in a God who loved her. You mean I dont have to go to hell, she asked in a small voice? Its okay to be good? Can God really be a She? From that day forward, Sarahs life began to change. She wore different clothes, her grades improved, she quit smoking and she now followed all the rules the probation officer had tried to convince her to obey.
Eighteen months later Sarah made the honor role at school. Her mother subsequently remarried and the family moved out of town. Sarah wrote for awhile and when last we heard she was starting her senior year in high school. I don't know what eventually became of her, but I do think and pray for her often. And I give thanks to the God who is big enough to love us in infinite incarnations.