A long time ago I worked in a ministry called Teen Challenge. In Teen Challenge people were court ordered to a yearlong program if the Judge believed that they were an addict because of being repeat offenders. The first and third Teen Challenges that I worked for were on the West coast and out there back in those years they had a problem with heroin. Heroin addicts had very little hope of recovery. The best programs in the United States purported a 2% recovery rate. The saying was, “Once a heroin addict always a heroin addict” and for the most part that was true. But Teen Challenge rose up on the national scene when their stats of recovery were found to be in the high 70s. Articles and books and television interviews were all declaring it to be the “Jesus Factor”. Teen Challenge brought their clients to Christ in the first weeks and for the most part discipled them well through that year. Being a part of Teen Challenge was deeply rewarding work, but let me tell you it was defiantly work. And heart breaking. And inspirational.
Identity Is at the Root
What I learned early on was that every single woman coming into our program believed that she was worthless. Almost every female heroin addict was prostituting for money. As we went through the first months of hearing their personal stories I was amazed at how many were raped before they were 13 years old by men that they knew. Many had had abortions and were still grieving the loss of the baby as they were engulfed in self loathing and shame. The experiences that each one endured had an effect of creating in them a very terrible self-identity. If they believed that they were worthless anything was ok to do to them or be done by them. Identity was at the root of so much pain and what seemed to keep them in darkness.
You are a Child of God
Every morning except Sundays we had an hour-long chapel service. Some worship, some preaching, some prayers and then off to the days duties. I volunteered every chance I got to take other staff members preaching times because it was my secret goal to pound into these men and women that they were somebody to Jesus. One of the most impactful and memorable part of my Teen Challenge days was watching God put these broken people back together, give them a new identity in Christ and redeem the gifts and talents that He had put in them to impact their world for His Kingdom.
There was young woman in the program named Geneva. When I first met her she talked like she had ice in her mouth. I asked what was wrong with her speech and she told me that she had ‘legions in her mouth’. That sounded terrible and a bit frightening but I didn’t ask any more about it. A few days later I noticed that the problem had subsided so I asked her about it again. “They only come when I think about my past” she said and went back to mopping the entrance floor. This made me curious so when we met for a counseling session I asked her to tell me her story.
When Geneva was 6 years old her father and her grandfather who lived with them began to sexually assault her. She had told her mother a number of times but her mom acted like she didn’t believe her even though Geneva knew that she knew. The abuse never stopped. When she was 11 years old she came in one afternoon to the kitchen and her parents and grandfather were waiting for her. They put her on the kitchen table and took out a straightened out wire coat hanger and a long knife. At the time she had no idea what they were doing or why. She remembers passing out at least twice from the pain. The second time she woke up inside of the kitchen closet. She was bleeding profusely and no one would answer her cries. Her parents left her in that closet for at least three days. She couldn’t recall exactly how long but they got her out when a neighbor stopped by complaining about the smell. At that point in the story she began to speak oddly again and was having difficulty swallowing. In 1985 I didn’t understand PTS nor it’s symptoms but Geneva was in full swing. She stopped talking and looked at me as she struggled with what was going on inside of her mouth.
I was dead silent. She had no tears. She was just looking at me as if curious how I was reacting. As the shock ebbed tears began. I couldn’t help but remember being 11 years old. How fun and safe and adventurous and magical it was. How very young it was. And being treated like Geneva had… I couldn’t absorb it.
“They had given me an abortion” she said. “I didn’t even know what getting pregnant was, or how it happened. I didn’t even know I had a period!” then she laughed.
I bowed my head and started to weep. I thought that I was being very unprofessional as a counselor but I had no choice. How could this have happened to a real person? I cried so hard that she patted me a few times and asked what was wrong. For Pete’s sake, she asked me what was wrong! After some time I got up and blew my nose and tried to get some composure. I went back by her and she asked me, “were you crying for me?”
“I am so sorry that that happened to you Geneva.” I was looking her in the eyes as I started to cry again. She seemed completely shocked. “No one has ever cried for me before.” Then her eyes teared up and she ran off, up to her room. My manager and friend stepped out of the office, where she could hear everything and said to leave her be. She told me the legions come into her mouth whenever they have tried to talk about it and this was the first that she got it all out. They had been trying for almost a year to get her to tell the entire story but she couldn’t. She told me that it’s important to get that stuff out. I was still just standing there in shock that people endured terrible things like this. All I could do was whisper “Jesus” in my mind, hoping that He would help her, help me, help this rotten world.
I Am Worth Tears Because Tears Were Shed For Me
The next morning Geneva came down to breakfast and had no legions. Her mouth was perfectly fine. She seemed cheery and light. It wasn’t until she was getting ready to graduate the program a few months later that she explained what had happened. She told me that when I cried so hard for her all of the things that we had been preaching about; who she was in and to God; became real. She said it was like a light switch coming on and right then and there she believed she was worth tears because tears were being shed for her and bam she believed that she was worth the blood of Jesus in the same way because the blood was shed for her. It all found a path in through that reality and she began to see and believe all of the things that went along with being in Christ. Her identity began to change and she became a child of God no longer a child of mad men. She became valuable not dispensable. Her life became meaningful because she was now somebody. Geneva’s identity had changed. She was seeing herself as she truly was and began to make choices motivated from this new perspective. Geneva moved into her own apartment, got a great job at a bank, found a kind Christian man and was married. She was never able to have children but began to take in street kids as her new ministry.
Only Jesus can redeem a life. Only He can take what is so broken and restore it to be usable again. He is our hope and our deliverer. May we see ourselves as he sees us and may we be people who will let Jesus love His people through us.