“Why don’t you just lie there and stop crying!”
Those were the words of my perpetrator, one of three men who lured my friend and me on false pretenses. Behaving like animals, they used our bodies shamelessly. I was sixteen years old, a child with dreams and a lack of perspective on how vicious human beings could be. All night long I cried out for God’s help, but help never came. When they let us go in the morning, I stumbled home in shock, brokenhearted and ashamed, bruised and bloody. My mother cried and cradled me in her arms, but from my father came only eerie silence.
My cousin and father couldn’t find the men – only an abandoned house. It was like a bad dream – but one that had really happened. On our way home, my cousin asked me if I would like to go to the police and report the crime. But in Kenya at that time, most rape cases were not reported, and many women had been abused one way or another. When my sister suggested I was lying, I was wounded so deeply that I could not bear the possibility of being publicly accused of lying in court. For me and my friend, there was no justice and no closure.
Before my living nightmare, I grew up in an upstanding Christian home, but I was an overweight, reserved child who preferred American rock music and reading an encyclopedia or atlas to more common Kenyan teen music and activities. Teased and bullied at school, I was already insecure. After my rape, the doctor’s embarrassing exam, and my parents’ heartbreak over my experience, I felt responsible for what had happened to me and my friend. I hated myself, but most of all I hated men. Even worse, the God I had known seemed to have left me at the time of my greatest need.
How could I move forward with life? I went off the rails, consumed by shame, fear, bitterness, and lack of trust in God and everyone else. I decided to do whatever I wanted: using men and letting them use me, but always keeping the ones who really cared at a distance. I could not face the possibility that someone I cared about would find out I was damaged goods.
Years passed and I lived in the United States and worked at the Washington National Cathedral. Participating in the activities of my unbelieving friends began to lose its luster and pleasure. Every day at work, I was struck by the beauty of light shining through the rose window. I felt the Lord beckoning me to come back to him, as if he were whispering in the beauty of that quiet cathedral. My heart began to change, and I craved closeness to God and his people. When my boss asked me to go to church with him, I agreed. I also learned that my grandmother was praying for me daily. Later I realized God had sustained me for years through her prayers.
After a few months visiting church, I started asking the Lord to give me Christian friends and sensed him moving me to Atlanta. While working at a gas station there, I encountered a drug dealer who used the gas station for his transactions. Because I stood in his way, he intended to kill me but God miraculously spared my life. After this close call, God had my full attention! After I moved to Houston, I began attending a Bible study, feeling like I was drinking the water of God’s goodness again after a long drought. His forgiveness of my wandering years gave me courage to forgive. When I announced my faith publicly through baptism, I knew it was a new day. God restored my fervor for his purposes and his people.
I began to see myself like Naomi in the Bible, a woman who changed her name to “Mara,” meaning “bitter,” after she experienced the tragic loss of her husband and two sons. Like Naomi I had struggled for many years with the loss of hope and identity. I had defined myself by the nightmare of my youth: Unwanted, Unloved and Damaged.
But the Lord never gave me those names. In Ephesians he calls me “Beloved,” “Chosen,” and “Blameless in his sight.” Amazingly, I could even release the perpetrators who had so nonchalantly abused me years ago. If the Lord could change my life, I believe he could change theirs too. It would be false to say that experience was no longer a painful memory, but it had lost its power and bitterness. I’ll never understand why that night happened in my life, but now I can be sure that even on that fateful night, I was not alone. In this life, we are suspended between a fallen world and our home in heaven. Knowing this truth helps me understand who I am no matter what happens. Like Naomi, I can once again claim my real name: Precious and Redeemed by Christ.