The young boy stood in a chair, holding a candle in his hand. He stood before his schoolmates at the boarding school for missionary children in West Africa, listening to the houseparent verbally abuse him.
The man and the other “parents” at the school had abused the children in every possible way. They told the children that if they told, they would destroy their parents’ ministry: turning the children’s love for God, their parents and the Africans into a threat that guaranteed their silence. In the isolated boarding school, separated from their parents for nine months of the year, there was no one to defend them.
But young Wesley had told. His mother had a breakdown and had to be sent to the U.S. for treatment. Now Wesley held a candle.
It burned at both ends.
The man told the other children, “This boy here is Satan’s tool. He told, and the Devil used him to destroy his parents’ ministry. There will be Africans in hell because of Wesley.”
Within the boy anger rose: he had been wronged, the man was lying, the abuse must be stopped. He determined to bear the pain. He would not let go of the candle. He would take his stand against injustice. The candle burned . . .
Finally, another child knocked the candle from Wesley’s hand. Eventually, the boarding school was closed; years later, the abusers were held accountable. Scars remained. Some of the children are no longer believers. Yet young Wesley refused to lose his faith and has let God redeem his pain.
But standing there alone on my chair, I had received my calling. In an instant, I had gone from victim to victor. From that day forward, I would protect children. I would forever speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Wess Stafford has made good on his vow. He founded Compassion International, a child development organization that sponsors children across the globe; it pairs children in impoverished and vulnerable circumstances with donors who help pay for medical care, food, shelter and schooling. (Note: I found out after I wrote this that Stafford didn’t actually found Compassion, but he has worked there for 30 years. See Dan’s comment below.)
Stafford has fought against abuse, poverty and injustice; fought for the “least of these” who have no voice and no power against those who exploit them; fought against the lies told to them, the ones that say they are worthless, that no one cares about them, that their situation is hopeless. This ministry, fueled by his passion to end the pain that he endured, has made a profound difference in the lives of children.
Your ministry will be where your misery has been. —T.D. Jakes
I read this quote recently and was struck by how true it is. I’ve heard story after story of ordinary people who have used their painful past to reach out and help those who are suffering that same type of pain. Just a few examples:
- In 2009, Crystal Renaud, a former porn addict, launched a ministry designed to help women struggling with this issue. The organization gives addicts a place of accountability, confession and healing, as well as providing materials to churches so they, too, can help those around them.
- On Eagles Wings is an organization dedicated to helping sex trafficking victims. They opened Hope House, which gives long-term residential care for girls who have left the commercial sex industry. Trained volunteers at Hope House draw on their own traumatic experiences, ones that include child and teenage prostitution, gang-related violence, and slavery. One volunteer, Dee Schronce, told Christianity Today that she is “glad everything [she] went through wasn’t in vain.”
- In the 1980s, Russ Stendal was kidnapped by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels and held captive for five months. His life was in constant jeopardy. Yet after his release and a brief return to America, he returned to Colombia. Now he takes the Bible to the violent jungle regions where terrorists, soldiers, and paramilitaries have been fighting for five decades. It was his experience during captivity that prompted Stendal to bring the love of Christ into the heart of the conflict.
For years, I’ve sensed that my ministry will be grounded in my own painful past, one that includes an eating disorder, depression and insecurity. It was simply a matter of how.
- How can I help my fellow strugglers when I sometimes—or often—wrestle with issues that reappear the moment I believe they are defeated? Won’t I lose my credibility?
- How open should I be? Will I be rejected? (That’s happened before.)
- How do I use my talents and work around my limitations to help other people?
I’ve found a partial answer in my writing. My novel revolves around a young woman wrestling with bipolar disorder; some of her struggles are my own, others are far more severe than anything I have dealt with.
I started posting the chapters on a writing review site and was stunned by the response: not only did I receive valuable feedback regarding my actual writing, but I received feedback from those who were bipolar, had a loved one with a mental illness or are mental health professionals. “You nailed it,” I was told. “You described what it’s like to be mentally ill, to be stigmatized and gossiped about and rejected. You understand.” Sometimes all people need is to know that they are understood; it gives them hope that they are not alone.
At one point in the novel, the young woman’s father wonders, “Could Lucy’s pain ever be redeemed?”
The answer is yes. I believe that pain is redeemable through God’s power. Wesley Stafford, Crystal Renaud, Russ Stendal and the staff at Hope House would agree. The key is allowing God to use my suffering to point to himself, the source of true hope.
Don’t waste your pain. Be a candle that lights the darkness and shows the path to hope.
Q2U: How have you allowed God to use your problems to help others? If you don’t have a particularly religious “bent”, do you still see any way you can use your pain to help other people?