Forgiveness is the only cure for a sexual abuse victim.
If you were sexually abused as a child, you might think you will never get past it. But, once you are able to forgive your abuser, you will find freedom from it.
Josh McDowell endured this nightmarish situation for years until, as a young adult, he was finally able to break the chains of anger and unforgiveness. McDowell, a Christian apologist and author, has addressed 25 million people, giving 26,000 talks in 125 countries. In his book and movie, Undaunted, McDowell tells his story of childhood abuse.
“It took me a long time to be willing to tell my story,” McDowell said. “There is a shame that never goes away, and honestly, I just didn’t think it was anyone else’s business. Even though I dealt with it years ago, I thought people would look at me differently if they knew, and I didn’t want that.”
Growing up, McDowell’s family lived on a farm in Michigan. The family was unstable – his father was an alcoholic and was abusive toward his wife and children. His mother was so obese that she couldn’t take care of the house alone so she hired a local man to help with the cooking and cleaning.
Wayne, the man hired to help, was McDowell’s abuser. He began the abuse when McDowell was 6.
“Wayne was into pornography,” McDowell said. “He made me look at it with him. As a child, I didn’t really understand what it was, but I knew it made me feel bad. Like every abuser, Wayne threatened me about telling anyone. He told me my parents would never believe me, that no one would believe me. I believed him, so I didn’t tell.”
When McDowell was 9, he worked up the courage to tell his mother about what Wayne was doing to him. She was outraged he would make such an accusation.
“She didn’t believe me. She said I was lying and making it up. She made me get a switch from a tree in our yard, and she beat me until I said I was lying and told me I better not tell anyone else.”
McDowell’s abuse continued until he was 13 and was big enough to be a threat to Wayne. Even after the abuse stopped, McDowell never told anyone.
McDowell left for college as soon as he graduated high school. Getting away from home was easy, but getting away from his history was impossible.
At school, he met a group of Christians who shared the gospel with him. “I couldn’t believe anyone could be so stupid,” he said. “As an 11-year-old kid, I believed that if God were real and if He were loving, He would never allow anyone to go through what I went through. I didn’t want any part of them or their Jesus.”
But as he argued and made fun of them, some of the Christians challenged him to debunk the story of the resurrection. His research took him to libraries in America, Scotland, England, and Germany. He talked to professors and scholars. Finally, he had to admit that he could not disprove Jesus and His claims. He met Pastor Fay Logan at Factoryville Baptist Church. Logan proved to be a huge influence on McDowell. He lead McDowell to Christ and also became his Christian mentor. When McDowell told him about the abuse, Logan believed him.
Logan told McDowell that despite all that had been done to him, he was going to have to forgive if he ever wanted to be free of the past. He had to forgive his father for his drunkenness, abusiveness, and lack of love. He had to forgive his mother, now deceased, for not believing and protecting him. But, hardest of all, he had to forgive Wayne.
McDowell focused on the truth that forgiveness is a command. He went home and met his dad in a coffee shop. He told him, “I forgive you.” When his dad asked how he could do that when he’d been such a bad father, McDowell told him, “I’m a Christian now.” All the years of hating his father broke, and McDowell said, “I love you, Dad.”
That statement greatly impacted his father. He accepted Christ and became a man who loved Jesus and shared about Him often.
Logan patiently worked with McDowell on forgiving Wayne. According to McDowell, Logan told him, “Your forgiveness does not condone what he did, Josh. But it does set in motion the process by which you free yourself from the chains of the past. It allows you to move on in life and provides a lost soul with the opportunity for redemption.”
So he went to Wayne’s home and knocked on the door. McDowell told the man who had abused him for so many years that he was now a Christian, and as a Christian, he was commanded to forgive him.
“I didn’t want to tell him, but I had to say, ‘Christ died for you as much as He did for me. I forgive you, Wayne.'”
As he turned away, he told Wayne, “One more thing. Don’t let me ever hear of you touching a young man again. You’ll regret it.”
McDowell walked to the parking lot and got in his car. “I wondered where the emotion was, where the euphoria was. I’d stared down the demons of the past. Then it hit me: I had peace in my heart, a peace like nothing I’d ever experienced before.”
It took McDowell about 40 years to open up about his abuse. Even his wife didn’t know until about 10 years ago. “When I was a child, sexual abuse was never talked about. Now there are agencies and law protection for children. People aren’t likely to shame the children who come tell.”
McDowell said two Christian psychologists he has worked with say the percentage of children who are sexually abused is the same in the secular and non-secular world – about 30 to 40 percent.
“I get angry that most evangelical pastors won’t even acknowledge the problem,” he said. “I’ve had pastors and other people get mad at me for bringing up the issue. There are people in our churches who are so damaged from sexual abuse. Until we acknowledge it, these people won’t come forward and get help. It makes it so hard for Christian young people.”
He said that most sexual abuse of children begins at age 6 and that about one-third of all children have experienced it.
“You don’t get past it on your own,” he said. “If you try to get past it by yourself, you won’t make it. I hear people say all the time, ‘All you need is Jesus,’ but that is just not true. You need the body of Christ. He sent us out two by two because He knew we’d need each other.”
McDowell said he strongly believes every church needs a sexual abuse recovery group.
“We have them for other problems: alcoholism, drugs, divorce, food. But with sexual abuse, we have nothing. It’s not something we want to acknowledge.”
He said God brought six men to walk through his life with him. They know his story and have never been critical or judgmental.
“If you have been a victim of sexual abuse, you can heal,” McDowell said. “It starts with relationships. Find someone older in your church whom you deeply respect, someone who has a very mature walk with Christ. Ask if you can share something very personal. I can guarantee he or she will say yes. Ask if the two of you can begin a three-month mentoring relationship. Mostly you will talk and they will listen.”
McDowell said he wrote Undaunted for all believers who had been sexually abused and “to help believers who had never been abused to understand what I went through so that they can be more sensitive to and ready to help those dealing with the issue of abuse.”
Undaunted by Josh McDowell
This article is courtesy of Mature Living Magazine.