Can my pain be redeemed?

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?

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6 thoughts on “Can my pain be redeemed?

  1. I’ve drawn my examples from the magazine Christianity Today (except my own story, of course). Stafford told his story in the May 2010 issue.

    Note about the MK boarding school. It had been the policy of this particular denomination for children of missionaries to be sent to boarding schools for nine months of the year, beginning when they turned 6. Thankfully, that policy has changed in the last few decades; most children stay with their parents on the “field”, the remaining boarding schools are now highly supervised and certified by the Association of Christian Schools International, and most of the students are teenagers, not young children. The denomination has worked very hard to help those children, now grown, who endured abuse at the hands of their “houseparents”.

    I included this story to show how God has redeemed Wess Stafford’s painful past to give him a sense of calling to protect children across the globe. It is not meant as an indictment against missions, missionaries or Christianity.

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    1. I’m glad this encouraged you. I’m always glad to hear stories like this, too, and I enjoy passing along that hope to other people. There’s so many people out there that are suffering tremendously, and they (we) need to hear about God’s hope!

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  2. Shortly after I wrote this post, I found two more stories of people allowing God to “use” their pain:
    Shane Stanford, who has written the book _A Positive Life: Living with HIV as a Pastor, Husband and Father_ (Zondervan, 2010). Check out his site for his story of being diagnosed as HIV-positive at age 16, and how his faith helped him. I’ve put his site on my blogroll.

    Theresa Flores, a sex trafficking survivor and Christian speaker, wrote the autobiographical book _The Slave Across the Street_. I learned today (through her agent’s website) that it *may* be made into a TV feature. I don’t have the whole scoop on this, but it would be fantastic for Theresa’s story and her message/fight to end trafficking to reach a wider audience.

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  3. Please feel free to delete this comment as it will mess up the flow of what you’re trying to do but I left Compassion in December (our family moved to Malawi, Africa to serve as missionaries at the African Bible College) but I know Wess a little and know his story (in fact, my son was actually used to portray Wess as a child in the candle scene for his big talk at the Willow Creek Leadership conference last August).

    Anyway, the point I want to correct is that Wess did not found Compassion. Compassion was founded in 1952 when Wess was about 2 years old. He has been a part of Compassion for over 30 years and president for almost 17 but he is not the founder.

    You can see a brief bit of history by following this link: http://www.compassion.com/about/aboutus.htm

    May God bless you in your ministry to others in pain!
    Dan

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    1. Thanks for the correction, Dan. I must’ve misread the article in CT, and I appreciate knowing when I get a fact wrong. I’ll be sure to check out the link.
      I’m excited that you and your family have moved to Africa as missionaries; I’m sure that was a huge decision, and I know God will use you in a wonderful way! Thanks for stopping by the blog. Laura

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