The Lazarus Project

Resurrecting hope for Christian victims and survivors of family violence.

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Persevering through spiritual warfare

      I recently returned from a trip to Vancouver, where I attended a conference on domestic violence and the Christian church.  I was to be presenting a workshop on pastoral counseling for abuse cases, and have been looking forward to this event since September. There was considerable spiritual warfare before, after, and during the conference, but it was oh-so-worth it.  It’s amazing how much the enemy of our soul tries to get us to quit.

      As with the conference I attended last year, most of my struggles this year had to do again with my health.  I began having problems with my teeth last fall, and finally took the time to go to the dentist, only to find that I had 3 cracked teeth.  No wonder it hurt whenever I tried to chew anything!  But it was going to cost a small fortune to get them fixed: an inlay and an onlay (I have no idea the differences between the two, although the dental assistant explained it to me twice), and each tooth was going to cost about $1300—after the insurance paid its portion!

       So I tried to save up so I could avoid paying the dentist on credit (one of my goals this year is to get completely out of debt), but finally had to get it taken care of, a few weeks before my trip.  But as the dentist drilled and put temporary crowns on two of the affected teeth, apparently we damaged the nerve somehow.  For over a week after, I was in far worse shape, and the pain made it difficult to concentrate on putting my presentation together (in addition to everything else in my life I was trying to manage). Finally, I called the dentist and they poked and prodded to determine which tooth was involved, although I thought it was both.  I was in so much pain after the exam that I popped a Percocet before I left the dental office.  That same day, I went to an endodontist on an emergency basis, but he could not do the root canal that day (because of the pain medication I had taken).  I showed up to see him the following day, and ended up getting the root canal done the day before my departure.  I left his office praising the Lord for Percocet and hoping that I’d be able to manage to eat some soft foods during the trip. (I brought along some Visalus meal replacement shake mix just in case I couldn’t.)

      I was still making changes to the slides for my presentation the night before my departure.  I hastily packed, hoping I didn’t forget anything, and tried to get some sleep before my trip.  On the way to the airport, my stomach felt queasy.  I’d only had two cups of green tea and had taken my vitamins, but somehow the drive to San Francisco was upsetting my already-temperamental stomach.  My tooth was throbbing from the root canal, and I took a half Percocet.  That lasted all of about 10 minutes before we had to pull over as I vomited on the side of the road.  As my husband dropped me off at SFO, I was barely able to stand and was visibly shaking.  He wisely told me to use my cane, which was difficult to balance between the two suitcases and my purse.  Once inside, I found I was in the wrong terminal and had to walk quite a distance to get to the right spot. Thankfully, I’d had my husband check me in online before we got in the car, but I still had to check my baggage.  I stood in line for 45 minutes just to get to the United Self-Check-in kiosk so I could drop the one bag (which cost $25)!  Then I was told to go stand in another line for 45 minutes to get through security, and just barely got through in time: my plane was boarding already!  I quickly asked the attendant if I could run to the restroom before seating, and was relieved that he responded in the positive.  The flight was uneventful and mercifully short.  After all that time standing and lugging my baggage around, I was grateful to be able to sit and rest. 

      Once we landed, I had to stand in another line at the Vancouver airport to go through Passport security (the Canadian equivalent of Customs).  I wondered how long the driver of my shuttle would wait for me, hoping he wouldn’t take off because I was stuck in a line somewhere.  One astute attendant noticed my cane and got me into a shorter line (God bless her!).  My driver texted me, but I found that I was unable to text back: unlimited calling plans do not apply in Canada.  By this point, I was beginning to get a little hungry, so I bought a muffin and hustled out to meet him.

      The one-hour ride to the conference location was beautiful and my driver was talkative and pleasant.  But I had a surprise coming: the shuttle was supposed to be $68, according to my reservations. It turned out to be $103, so I did not have enough cash to pay the fare, and he didn’t take credit cards.  He graciously took me to a gas station with a little mini-mart, where I was able to get sufficient cash out of the ATM, and a chicken salad sandwich on very soft bread.  (I was hopeful that I might be able to eat that, as I wanted to put something in my stomach before trying to take another Percocet.  My tooth was still aching, and when I had thrown up earlier, the medication came back up along with my vitamins.)  My driver got us to the Columbia Bible College (where the conference was being held), and walked around on the campus till he found where registration was. Then he carried my baggage in for me, and I got registered early, hoping I’d have a few minutes to lay down before the evening’s events began. 

      As I registered, though, I was told that my room was on the second floor of the dorms, and there were no elevators.  I was grateful that the gal who was handling registration said she’d try to see if I could be switched with someone so I could have a first-floor dorm—but I’d have to wait a while till one of the conference planners came back.  I sat and read for about another 45 minutes till they were able to find a room for me to switch to, and then dragged my luggage behind me till I got to the dorm.  I had just eaten my sandwich, unpacked, hung up my clothes, and was getting ready to lay down when my assigned roommate, Linda, came in.  We chatted for a bit and she told me that she had just begun a ministry for families struggling with abuse, and her Board had just gotten their nonprofit status.  They were still in their first year, and were trying to figure it all out. When I told her that I was doing the same thing in the states, she was elated—particularly when I told her I’ve been doing it for 12 years.  She gasped and said that she had prayed that God would give her a roommate or that she would meet someone at the conference that had a lot of experience in this are, so she could learn from them.  The last-minute room switch to accommodate my difficulty walking was the answer to her prayers!  This was the first of many God-appointments at this conference.

      That evening, we had a prayer meeting to pray not only about the conference, but also that God would bring abusers to repentance, healing to victims, and awareness to the church.  We were seated at tables so we could pray together in groups, and one young woman kept staring at me.  Finally, at the end of the prayer meeting, so told me that she’d been reading my poems (the Poetry of Abuse Collection was included in the conference binder for each of the participants), and that she appreciated them very much.  Afterward, Linda and I hobbled back to my room for some much-needed rest.  The following morning was a Pastor’s Prayer Breakfast on the subject of domestic violence, and about 40 local pastors attended!  I was grateful to have been invited, and was excited to see the work the Lord is doing there in Abbottsford, British Columbia, to raise awareness of this issue within the Christian community.  Would to God that the same would happen here in San Jose!!

      The conference had 4 plenary speakers and multiple workshops, and all were spectacular.  Lorna, another woman attending the conference, approached me at breakfast, telling me she’d been dying to meet me.  (Lorna was a good friend of the conference administrator’s wife, who had told her I’d be there.  She also had read my poetry and planned to share one of her poems that evening.) Lorna practically skipped away as she said excitedly, “I’ve met the poet!”  Friday night featured a concert by Cathy Hardy, the woman doing the music for the conference, and I had been asked to share one of my poems from the Healing section of the Poetry of Abuse Collection.  I debated which one to share, and was still considering my choices up to 2 minutes before being called to the stage. 

      Should I share “Tears in a Bottle,” which many people have told me they can relate to? Or should I choose “For My Guardian Angel,” which chronicled the numerous times God spared me from death or disaster? Or should I choose “A Warrior of Peace,” which tells of my journey from victim to survivor to advocate and minister? I finally decided on “Thief,” the poem I wrote to my rapist, as it was a distinctly Christian poem that could only be shared in an environment such as this.  As I alighted the dimly-lit stage, I watched carefully so as not to trip on stairs or wires, and stood before the microphone, baring my soul.  It felt a little like someone walking in on me while I was changing clothes: I felt naked and vulnerable, speaking about such intimate betrayal.  When I finished with the poem, the auditorium was completely silent.  I sat quietly, wondering if I had made the right choice.  The program included a few more songs, followed by 3 Christian women who shared their stories of surviving domestic violence, who were each applauded.  Then Lorna got up and shared her powerful poem about the woman who had been bent-over for 18 years before being healed by the touch of Jesus.  The crowd responded enthusiastically, and Cathy Hardy sang a song based upon Lorna’s poem, entitled, “Rise up, Woman, Rise.”  The thunderous cheers and clapping that all the other women received began to cause me to further doubt whether choosing “Thief” was a mistake.  I told myself to let it go; that it wasn’t about me.  It was already over; I couldn’t change it now.  As I was walking out, I passed a man in the audience who thanked me for sharing that poem. Okay, I told myself, at least it touched one person.

      Then a woman rushed out to meet me (as I was walking very slowly with my cane, it wasn’t hard to catch me!), and told me, “Your poem was so moving.  I’m still feeling it all the way down to my toes.” She went on to tell me that she was a survivor of child sexual abuse, and that she thought that she had forgiven her rapist.  “But after hearing your poem,” she said, “maybe I still have more work to do on this.”  I told her how God had given me the inspiration for that poem: He showed me a mental picture of myself at the foot of the cross, with Jesus’ blood dripping all over me.  Then I noticed that right next to me was a man, and the blood of Christ was dripping all over him, too.  And I knew in an instant that this man was my rapist.  My sharing this poem wrote based on that vision, though it was very uncomfortable to me, brought healing to her.  Thank the Lord!  As I walked back to my room, the conference administrator told me how powerful that poem was. I confessed that I had doubted my choice, because the audience was silent afterward. “People were just taking it in,” he assured me. “There were lots of tears.  They had to catch their breath after hearing it.  It was totally appropriate to have silence then. Applause would have broken the moment.”  This soothed me, and I went “home” to my dorm room, ready for rest.  Linda, my roommate, also shared how much that poem had affected her.  She still had a headache from the night before, and my back and hip were acting up after walking up and down the stairs to the auditorium, so we didn’t talk for very long before falling into a deep sleep.

      The following day, Nancy, the lady who was managing the book table noticed my difficulty with the stairs, and found out how to use the chair lift to assist me.  She commented that she had seen a marked difference in my face from the time I left the auditorium and hobbled down 3 flights of stairs to the restroom, before returning.  I was ever so grateful, as the previous two days’ stair-climbing was wreaking havoc on my back and hip.  I was thankful I had brought the Percocet along, and at this point, needed it as much for my hip and back as I did for my tooth.  It had begun raining, and the weather always seems to dreadfully affect both my back and hip.

      That afternoon, I left the plenary session early to prepare for my workshop, on Pastoral Counseling for Families Struggling with Abuse.”  Given that it was taking me so long to hobble anywhere on my cane, I didn’t want to run the risk of not being adequately prepared when the participants came in.  I was concerned whether I’d brought enough packets for everyone, and placed them in between the seats so they could share if necessary.  I was beginning to lose my voice as the people shuffled in, but God gave me a second wind, I guess.  There was lots of audience participation, and many important points came up during the workshop.  The theme verse was Prov. 12:18: “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”  In the presentation, I shared from my actual cases of responses that pastors and other church leaders had made following disclosures of abuse, and I had the audience vote on whether they felt these responses were reckless words (a response that came from the flesh) or the tongue of the wise (a response led by the spirit of God).  Because there was so much interaction, I ran out of time, but the workshop facilitator contracted with the group that those who wished to stay could do so for another 5 minutes or so, but that those who had to leave were free to go.  Only one person left—and that’s because she was supposed to be at a book table upstairs.  Many of the participants said afterward how much they’d enjoyed the workshop, and one of them tagged along with me as we then went to dinner.  Nancy commented as she ran the stair lift for me that so many people had passed by saying “that was such a great workshop!” Then she asked for one of the packets—but they were all gone.  One woman later told me (the one who had to leave because she was running the book table) that she’d grabbed a second packet to give to her pastor.  Another said my workshop was the highlight of the whole conference for her.  Thank the Lord that He was able to use me despite my pain!

     The following day, as the conference closed, we all participated in a memorial for Dr. Catherine Clark Kroeger, the founder of PASCH (Peace and Safety in the Christian Home).  Several of her Board members and one of her former students eulogized her, and we all mourned her passing, and praised God for the legacy she had left behind, of calling pastors and church leaders to address the issues of family violence in the Christian community.  In the closing ceremony, we lit candles for others whose lives have been affected by abuse, and sang songs of praise.  It was an exhilarating experience to have 400 believers across all denominations, both men and women, standing for righteousness and speaking out about this issue. 

      After lunch, as I was leaving, one of the female pastors from my workshop ran up to get a picture taken with me before I departed.  My driver patiently waited as we snapped two photos, then he grabbed me luggage and we made the long trip to the Vancouver airport.  After clearing Customs and dropping off my baggage, I had some spare time to shop for souvenirs from Canada.  My flight ended torturously when the pilot did a gradual descent, with such pain in my sinuses that it felt like 6 dental drills were boring holes into my skull without the benefit of anesthesia.  I tried trigger point therapy to no avail, and prayed for 20 minutes that the pilot would get us into a better level to alleviate the pressure.  As I got off the plane, I informed the flight attendant and asked her to speak to the pilot so that this would not be repeated.  She dismissed the concern, and I walked away, with my head still smarting.  Then came the debacle of my husband not being able to find me at the airport. Once again I was in the wrong terminal, and it took another hour before he finally found me; in the meantime, we were trying to talk to one another, but the batteries to both our cell phones were nearly depleted.  By the time I got home it was midnight, and I still had a splitting headache from the airplane.

      When I awoke the next day, my head still ached and I could barely open my eye on the left side.  When I walked into my living room, the light coming in the windows caused even more pain, so I walked around with sunglasses on inside the house all day.  .  I couldn’t even handle the light from a television or the computer, so I unpacked, soaked in the tub, and rested.  The following day, I read the e-mails that had stacked up in my in-box while I was gone, and found that headlines screamed that Turkey’s number of domestic violence homicides had spiked in the last year.  I got an e-mail informing me of a memorial service for three people who had been killed in domestic violence homicides at my college campus just the previous week.  I sat in the Spartan Memorial on May 17th, lamenting the lives of two promising students I never knew who were two weeks away from graduating, their lives cut short by the brutal jealousy of another who turned the gun on himself in the parking lot of he campus where I had gotten my education.  The peaceful show of solidarity I’d experienced at the conference was shattered as the harsh reality of what we’re working to end came back full force with this news. 

      No wonder I’d experienced such warfare before, during, and after the conference.  Satan’s grip is tightening on women around the world who are suffering because of family violence—especially within the church.  Scripture tells us that he knows he has little time left on earth, and that he is pouring out his fury while he still can.  Those of us who work daily to try to end his reign of terror, in what is supposed to be a loving and committed relationship, are on the front lines doing battle with the enemy of righteousness.  He would rather that we keep this dirty little secret, and not shine the light on the darkness of abuse.  Therefore, those of us who educate, advocate, and work to terminate family violence often become targets in this spiritual war he is waging.  He does not want to see his kingdom destroyed, nor does he want the stronghold of abuse to crumble.  But I, for one, as well as the other 400 attendees at the conference, will do all I can to speak up about it, to write about it, to share with its victims the hope for a more peaceful, nonviolent existence.  Satan’s tactics might make me hobble with a cane, or only be able to eat soft foods, or make me walk around inside with sunglasses on, but I will not give up just because he’s battling me.  Like our beloved Catherine Clark Kroeger, I will keep resisting the devil until he flees, and I will keep walking out the good works to which God has called me, until my dying breath. 

--Christine Hagion Rzepka

Posted on 05/23
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The Bank of Heaven

    I recently had an opportunity to minister with a young pastor with dark chocolate skin who had been deeply wounded by his ministry mentor. This bright young man said he knew that he was called by God to work with this mentor, for whom he was serving as an intern. I asked if he was willing to forgive this ministry mentor, as I sensed some hesitation to do so.

    “I am willing, but I am not sure that I am can,” he responded. Then he added, “he’s never asked for my forgiveness.”

    “And maybe he never will. But forgiveness isn’t about him. It’s about you, and your relationship to God. Remember the scripture that says if you’re at the altar preparing to give your gift and remember that a brother has something against you, to go and reconcile yourself to your brother before offering your gift?” He nodded in agreement.

    “Forgiveness is a transaction between you and God, “I said. “Think of it this way. Let’s say you have to pay a bill in cash, so you go to the bank and withdraw the cash from your account to settle that debt, right?” His head bobbed up and down like a red and white spherical buoy on a lake.

    “Forgiving this man is no different, “I continued. “It is a transaction, just like the previous one.  Perhaps on your own you can’t forgive this offense, so you go to the Bank of Heaven, and fill out a withdrawal slip. You withdraw from your account the grace that God has deposited into it, and you use that grace to forgive this person.

    “On that paper, you list everything this man has ever done to hurt you, and you give it to God, the Heavenly bank teller.  And just like in an earthly bank, you give the teller a simple piece of paper, and she gives you back money.  But in this case, you give this paper to God, and He gives you back freedom.”

    Then I felt led of the spirit to have him perform a prophetic act. He and I pantomimed his writing out all the offenses that had broken his tender heart, just like a bank customer writing out a withdrawal slip at a teller window. I stood in for God, and he “slid” the paper to me, as if there were a curved shiny metal reservoir underneath a clear bullet-proof glass barrier between the two of us. I took it and “stamped” it, checking to see that there was enough grace in his account to cover it. He handed me one after another, and he identified each of them: one was racial epithets spoken against him, another was word curses that caused him to believe that he was stupid or that he’d never be good enough. Miraculously, there was more than enough grace to cover all these debts. 

    His eyes brimmed with tears. He had never realized that forgiveness was so simple. Simple, yes, but not easy-- if we were to attempt to do it in our own strength. But when we extend forgiveness using God’s grace to enable us to do that which we cannot do on our own, we are successful.

     Of course, the grace that was deposited into this young man's account was not free. It came at a great cost.  When Jesus Christ was sacrificed for the sin of all mankind, the price to pay the debt of human depravity was His betrayal, His blood, His sweat, and the agony of his torturous murder.  But His death alone is only part of the story--that is what satisfied the creditors of hell. The greater triumph was when He arose from the grave, three days after his suffering.  It was then that He opened up a multiplicity of accounts, with our names written upon them, and made substantial deposits of grace in each. It is because of His abundant generosity that whenever we feel the need to make a withdrawal from the Bank of Heaven, the balance is sufficient to meet our every need.

--Christine Hagion Rzepka

Posted on 04/19
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