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Published Date: April 30, 2007

Published Date: April 30, 2007

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Editor’s Reflections | Spring 2007 (21.2)

Like many churches, ours on Boston’s North Shore is invested in a mission in a developing country. In our case, we support a school in Haiti. The vision belonged to one of my students in the first class I taught for Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education (its Boston Campus) some fifteen years ago. Joseph is himself a Haitian with a burden for a poor village outside of Port-au-Prince. It had an infant mortality rate of more than 80 percent, since the people had to depend on a river for everything— drinking, washing, etc.

The village was basically a wide place in the road. Joe became the minister of evangelism in our church and one day shared his vision. Providentially, my wife, the Rev. Dr. Aida Besancon Spencer, was a community organizer before she became a New Testament professor and used those skills to pull together an organization for the ministry. Partnering a board Joe selected in Haiti with one we recruited in the U.S., we began to network and ended up sinking a well (which instantly cut down the infant mortality rate drastically), building a road, and establishing a church and a school for the town. The school today has close to one hundred students—most of them orphans. For many, the meal they receive at the school is the only certain food they receive each day.

Three years ago, Joe discovered that one of the more important men in the village was raping one of the little schoolgirls. He was fifty-eight; she was eleven. Joe went to the police and to the court and informed them about what was going on. Then he confronted the man and offered to have the ministry subsidize his family while the man served time in jail for his crime. The village elder chose instead to enlist the police and judge on his side and lay plans to murder both Joe and the child. At one point, he organized a mob to accuse Joe of trying to kidnap him. Joe was saved from harm only by the intervention of a university professor who, driving through town, was stopped by the mob scene and intervened, rescuing Joe by telling everyone that he had done more for this village than anyone else. Joseph put the girl into hiding and, for the next several years, she moved from place to place around the area. The judge demanded she remain nearby to prove she was not lying (though he had the full report of the examination— of her blood and physical damage as evidence). The ploy was to keep her available to be killed.

As the trial date was continually postponed and different family members of the man kept trying to track down the girl, it became evident to everyone that justice would never be served, and we needed immediately to relocate her. We moved her to the north and, this past Christmas, over the border to a new home in the Dominican Republic. Today, three years after the rape, she is a healthy fourteen-year-old in trauma recovery, living in safety with a Christian Haitian family and learning Spanish as she begins a new life. Her own family back in Haiti did not recognize a recent picture of her. “Who is that rich girl?” they asked. “Rich” meant she was no longer skin and bones and had on decent clothing.

The plight of women around the world breaks the heart of every Christian. But, as we discovered, evil is so entrenched that rescuing even one child can become a Herculean effort, involving numerous sympathetic people. No one can rescue every hurting woman or girl in the world. But, we can sometimes rescue one. After forty-one years of active ministry (thirty-four of these in ordained ministry), I have learned one important lesson: All ministry is for the long haul. Nothing happens completely simply. Everything has a follow-through. In a corrupt culture, where violence and exploitation have become such a way of life that they are commonplace, the problems become compounded. Abuse becomes endemic, a kind of traditional institution, a way of life. Breaking that cycle sets one against tradition. Evil does not give way easily. The keys are constant prayer for empowerment, vision of how things should be, unflagging persistence at all levels, and concentrated Christian communal action. Few of us can do all that needs to be done in effecting a rescue, but all of us can do something. None of us will last forever, but all of us can network so that a task will go on, perhaps even after we are stopped. The mandate to go into all the world is a communal one, empowered by the Holy Spirit. The opportunities to fulfill it are everywhere around us.

We don’t even need to go and find a village abroad to discover hurting people who need to be rescued. They may be right in our own neighborhoods. The town in which we live is noted for a Christian police chief and an exemplary constabulary. We have become used to the idea that those in power are our friends and are dedicated to our wellbeing. And, yet, even on the North Shore of Boston, an area that prides itself on being civilized, power is abused.

In an article entitled “Good thing they didn’t move him to homicide,” our local newspaper recently reported the sad story of a patrolman in a nearby affluent town who “was arrested for allegedly firing a gun a few inches from his wife’s head and physically abusing her.” The town’s police chief explained to reporters that the patrolman had been “working” on “a substance abuse” problem. What makes the story truly bizarre, however, is that this particular policeman had served for several years as the town’s “domestic violence officer” and had left that position to head up the local “school district’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, which gives a series of lessons about drug and alcohol abuse.” The newspaper summarized it well: “The town’s former domestic violence officer and current DARE officer is now in custody for domestic violence that seems to have been triggered by some substance abuse.”1

Thinking of the implications of the violation of such positions of authority on the minds of the victimized, the victimizers, the children who looked toward this professional for guidance leaves one confounded. What will the fact that his life was a sham mean to these? Further, when someone is personally abused by the police, a coach, a pastor, a parent, by anyone in a position of power or trust, to whom does that one turn? And into what does that one turn? What message has been taught to that life, and what will be the fruit of that lesson?

Abuse is a many-faceted monster that affects oneself and all those around one. Substance abuse is focused inward, a progressive suicide of one’s wellbeing, that also focuses outward as it feeds parasitically on parents, spouses, children, communities. Domestic violence is a form of escalating homicide that inflicts murder in installments on the ones that God intended a person to hold most dear. One aspect that is so shameful about each of these forms of abuse is that they often thrive by exploiting the sacrificial love of others. Such love has become the chain that holds abusers’ victims to them.

Jesus came preaching release to the captives of sin and degradation, a message already explicit in the Old Testament (see Isa. 61:1, Luke 4:18). Therefore, a leading agent of rescue should be the Christian church. This issue of Priscilla Papers is designed to encourage the church in that mission. And, true to our specific mission at CBE, we are focusing on the aspect of gender abuse and gender justice. Ron Sider, who has served as the conscience of several generations of Christians, begins with a summary of the global victimization of women. Steve Tracy, a seminary professor who has a ministry to victims of abuse, then critiques the response of clergy to domestic violence. Each of these articles is filled with detailed research and helpful resources. Next, a note of caution by Norma McCauley, a mother who believes her daughter was estranged by counselors, warns us to keep our research sound and our facts straight. Pastor Medad Birungi follows with a poignant account of how gender abuse is a disease that does not isolate itself to single victims, but spreads out to infect many people. Leela Manasseh, longtime evangelical leader in combatting abuse, details steps being taken by the churches to eliminate the oppression of women in India that all of us might consider adapting. A provocative poem by a brand new poet, Mallory Millspaugh, and two perceptive book reviews by CBE stalwarts David Scholer and Christiane Carlson-Thies complete the issue. The striking cover, subtly reflecting several types of oppression, was created by Jen Thompson, a graduate of Andover-Newton Theological School, while the poignant illustration on page 31 is by the versatile Sharon Barley, who freelances out of Pennsylvania.

True knowledge provides empowerment. The Holy Spirit calls us to follow the leading of our Lord and enter the search and rescue business. No greater area of need exists than in helping combat abuse in all its forms. We hope this issue adds to that crucial endeavor.



  1. North Shore Sunday, “Shorelines,” 2 8, 10 (21 January 2 007), 2 , col. 6.