Three weeks ago, Bishop Henry Joseph invited us to minister at Grace Church in Oudtshoorn until his return to South Africa in mid November. Marshall has been preaching during the main service for two Sundays so far, and next week will signal his final ascension to Grace’s pulpit. I missed the first service because I was in Johannesburg, but I hear he did quite well. The kids didn’t do so well that Sunday, however, so I promised them a beating buffet this week if they did anything to embarrass their father or themselves during service. You act up, you get cut up…just choose when and where, but a cut up there will be!
Marshall has been preaching foundation doctrine all around the garden route. It’s something he’s been studying for years and it’s really something to hear him talk about what makes for laying groundwork for a stable relationship in God. Grace Church is primarily a Colored church, so everyone speaks Afrikaans. I don’t know if everyone understood the minutia of his teaching, which was smattered with words in Greek, a sprinkling of biological terms and one or two references to aspects of coding, but I have faith that the gist of the message was translated. At the end of the message, Marshall made an alter call for anyone who needed prayer for sickness, infirmity, etc.
Given the poor state of healthcare in these corners of the world, calls to receive healing are a sure bet if you want to get a crowd up to the front. I’ve always wondered if an evangelist could draw such a number by asking if congregants wanted to know the deep mysteries of the Lord, for understanding about the cosmos and cellular construction and so forth.
Prayer lines are not something I’m accustomed to participating in on the contributing side. I usually find myself among the eager masses ready to receive whatever the Spirit is dolling out that Sunday, or – most usually – observing fellow believers doing the same. However, the position of spectator is not one that I have been afforded since we moved to South Africa. I have no defined duties as Pastor Marshall Grant’s wife, other than to come when bidden. However seeing the line of people who’d assembled at the front, I put on my prayer work boots to attend to the needs of those with supplications. Having also been a long time spectator, I know that a lot of believers want the Man/Woman Behind the Pulpit specifically to pray with/for them, because that’s the person with the “juice” in the thinking of most Christians. All that is to say that I was prepared to be rejected, which prompted me to ask: “Can I agree with you in prayer?” before shouting in perfect strangers’ faces. (I didn’t eat Haloumi cheese this time, Sandy!) I prayed with three women before the fourth did just that.
“I want pastor to pray with me,” she said with a dismissive smile.
No worries at all. The line was much shorter by this time, so I went back to my seat to sway with the choir. Then I looked up and saw Marshall waving me over intensely.
I’ve told you before that my husband likes to summon me to pray for circumstances I can identify with on a personal level.
“Malaka! You had a headache this week…come pray for this Mama with a headache!”
“Malaka…you know what it’s like to experience depression. Come pray for this sister!”
I strode over to the woman his was standing with, a gorgeous, slender sweet woman who looked to be in her 20s who was sobbing heavily.
“She was raped,” he whispered. “Can you pray with her?”
It’s hard to explain what I felt in those brief moments following his gentle request. Fury, sadness, melancholy…righteous anger. Not for myself, but for this woman who was standing before us both dealing with so much pain.
It’s something I’ve written and spoken about openly when the need has arisen, but I was sexually assaulted during my sophomore year of college. I didn’t speak about it for many years, because when I confided in one friend I felt I could trust with my anguish, he sneered and said, “How could it have been rape if you didn’t scream and fight back.” That I was scared, young and too paralyzed by fear to do anything – and I do mean anything at all – was proof, in his mind at least, that I was mistaken, or talking nonsense, but certainly not raped. After that, I dealt with my pain silently, and it took time and the power of the Lord to set me free.
I don’t know under what circumstances her attack happened, but I connected immediately to what this young woman was going through. I could feel her tethers, I could sense the bondage she was experiencing, and in the way her shoulders were hunched I could see the shame she still felt. But above all else, unforgiveness was reverberating from her very body. I prayed in the only way that I could: I asked that God would do for her what He had done for me. I asked that He would take away the guilt, the sadness, the despair and to restore healing and wholeness in its place. We wept together as we called on the Lord and cursed the work of the devil.
The reality is there’s no point in asking the Lord to take away the memory of something as traumatic as rape, especially in a case like this precious sister’s. Being sexually leaves a permanent mark on you. It robs you of a part of yourself that you can never really get back. An aspect of your personhood is amputated in an unseen way. If you cut a person’s hand and you can visibly see how they are forever altered. When a person is sexually assaulted, those scars are not visible to the naked eye. This woman had asked my husband to pray for her because the agony associated with the rape she experienced was putting stress on her liver and other organs…and then she introduced us to the daughter who was the product of her assault: A beautiful little girl of about 6 that she hugged tightly, proudly and ruefully all at once. Even before I knew she had borne a child of rape, I knew that the best God could do would be to remove the pain connected with the event – that when it came to mind it did not cripple her with emotions that there are no words for as it had done to me. And honestly, that’s enough. Because the grim reality is that one day, this woman and/or her daughter will encounter another woman who will need their compassionate prayers for this very same reason: to confront the legacy of rape that is so prevalent in our culture.