Early one morning last week, as a steady drizzle fell from a dull gray sky, dozens of victims of child sexual abuse and the people who love them filed into Victory World Church in Norcross to pray.
The hour-long prayer vigil had been arranged by Voice Today, the Marietta nonprofit with a mission to break the silence and cycle of child sexual abuse, in recognition of their pain and to ease the sense of helplessness that comes with it.
For some, such a gathering might seem inadequate, but it is what people do, especially when they are hurting. Angela Williams, Voice Today’s founder and CEO, was hoping it was happening everywhere.
Unfortunately, it isn't. But I'm very grateful it is happening there.
And so here Williams and the others were singing, praying and praising their God. Not asking why, just praying no other child has to ever feel the pain, the shame, the guilt of having been sexually abused.
They had come to lay it all here at the altar.
Angela Williams, her husband, Phillip, and Amy Drummond sat in a pew close by, surrounded as if in executive solidarity with other victims, believing the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
This year was the fifth Voice Today has hosted the vigil followed by a breakfast and conference to raise awareness about child sexual abuse.
Williams believes the innocence of our children is under attack, that there’s little compassion for the victims of child sexual abuse.
Exactly right on both counts, unfortunately.
“It’s a silent pandemic,” she said in the moments before the vigil began.
And so as often as she can, Williams shares her story and encourages other women like Drummond to open up, too; to let go of the sorrow of their journey and stand in the gap for those who haven’t yet found their voice.
It is estimated that one of every four girls and one in six boys are victims of sexual abuse. Only one in 10 ever tell because of the stigma still attached to the crime.
“We are all responsible for our children, and as God’s people we’re all responsible for those who are broken and hurting,” Williams said.
Her proof? Jesus’ words written in Matthew 18:5-6.
“And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Jesus, Williams said, is very serious about us protecting our children.
Last Saturday’s vigil is just one step in Voice Today’s movement to “bring the issue out of the closet” and into the public arena so that solutions and strategies can be found to protect the next generation of children from sexual abuse.
That’s why Amy Drummond had come.
“If I don’t speak out now, our children who are being sexually assaulted today will not have anyone to protect them,” she said.
Drummond, 57, of Marietta said no one protected her.
Then 10 years ago, the memories of her molester touching her came bubbling up like hot grits.
At a church some time after, she saw an ad for a support group at Voice Today, and she knew the time had come to finally let go of the hurt the abuse caused.
“God had a plan for me all along,” she said.
Today, Drummond is co-facilitator of that same support group, helping empower survivors to break free of the shame and guilt she’d felt for so many years.
“I let go of the anger and forgave him,” she said.
No matter how many of these stories I’m told and I’ve heard a lot over the years, I’m always startled by how destructive we human beings can be. How does a father violate his own son or daughter? How does a mother? A priest?
How do we even begin to stop it? How many stories will it take?
As I sat listening to the songs and prayers for healing, I was reminded of Jesus’ heart-wrenching time in Gethsemane.
As that fateful hour of his crucifixion approached, he cried out to the Father even though, unlike us, he knew what was to come.
Then finally he prayed, “Your will be done.”
Gradually, last Saturday’s vigil drew to a close, too. Prayers had been whispered. Hugs had been shared. Tears had been shed.
People moved out into the parking lot and I sensed a peace that surpasses understanding.