Being Jesus’ Hands and Feet

Posted: October 7, 2011 in Serving others
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It’s so much easier to preach about serving others than it is to actually do it! Even if I spend 30 hours or so preparing a message on serving others, it doesn’t compare with the stress of standing between a wife-beater and his victim for an hour while he yells and curses, or helping her deal with the police.

This story begins in Liberia, where Peter (Polish man – and not his real name) was working for a company involved in smuggling weapons for Charles Taylor during the latest civil war. Peter is a helicopter pilot, and for a few months served as one of Taylor’s personal pilots. He met Susie (also not her real name), a young Liberian woman, and they began a relationship. From the very beginning, however, he would go crazy angry at times, beating her and choking her. She would run away, but her family and the Liberian police would usually tell her to go back to him. In part because of his standing with Taylor, in part because of the general chaos in Monrovia then, and in part because of cultural misunderstandings of the place of a woman, Susie didn’t receive much help during the times Peter would beat her.

As is frequently the case, Peter would come to Susie, crying and begging her to return, and she usually did. As the rebel army drew closer to Monrovia, Peter and Susie were able to leave for Cote d’Ivoire. Susie was pregnant by then, and Peter came on to Poland to “prepare his house for them.” Susie arrived in Poland in 2003, pregnant, knowing no Polish, and having no friends. When we asked her why she came, she says because of the situation in Liberia, and because she thought that having a child would change Peter. What she didn’t know was that Peter had already driven one wife (with children) away by beating her.

One of the nurses who met Susie during her pregnancy told a friend about her, who then told Kaye. Kaye was able to give Susie some English books on pregnancy, and visit her after she had her baby. For a while Peter stopped hitting Susie. However, the home where they lived was only partially finished, and Peter did all he could to avoid paying any bills.

Kaye and Susie became close friends, but Susie never told Kaye that he was beating her, and had begun again. Sometimes Peter had work, usually he didn’t, though. When Susie tried to get work, he followed her, and would yell at her and beat her, because he was sure that she was selling her body. He grew insanely jealous and suspicious of her every time she left the house. By this time, Susie had a handful of Polish friends, although she still was unable to speak much Polish, in large part because Peter would do all he could to make sure she stayed at home.

In 2009, shortly after we went to the U.S. for a year, Peter lost another job, and began beating her worse than ever. He would choke her, and force himself upon her. By then, there was no electricity or heat, and over the winter, Susie went to live in the dorms with some friends, just so she and her daughter wouldn’t freeze. Peter allowed this, but sometimes at night he would stand outside the dorm and yell and curse at her. He also became convinced that she had a boyfriend. After the winter was over, Susie went back home – and Peter started beating and choking her more and more frequently. Susie called the police a handful of times, but every time they asked her if she wanted him arrested, she would say no. (A common response from victims of domestic violence). Sometimes, though, the police wouldn’t even ask – at first, since she spoke no Polish, they would just ask him what was going on, and then tell her to go back to him. Once, they even laughed at her, and her attempts to try to tell them what he had been doing.

In the spring of 2010, Susie fled to Germany with her daughter. At first she stayed with an aunt, then she lived in a refugee home. But Peter was able to find her, and convinced her once again to return to him. Susie and her daughter came back to Poland, and she finally told Kaye what had been happening. We intervened once after he had tried to choke her, and listened as he yelled at her for 90 minutes. Our intervention, and the shame it brought him, worked for a while, but he began again after a few weeks.  Early one Sunday morning in February, she called Kaye from her bathroom, and asked us to come quickly. We hurried over, in time to see – through their bedroom window – him throwing her around and hitting her. We called the police, and this time J did not back down. She filed a complaint, the police began their investigation, and a few weeks later, after he sent a text message threatening to kill her, she moved out.

After a few days of living with a friend of ours, she moved in to a spare room at our church. Peter was arrested and sent to jail for almost three months, and Susie was able to begin learning how to live on her own in Poland. She has made some amazing progress, although in some cases she has made some poor decisions – part of the learning process, of course. Peter is out of jail, and comes nearly every day to their daughter’s school, cursing and insulting Susie (in English, thinking that way no one else will know what he is doing) and walks them the 300 yards or so back to our church. Thankfully, though, once there, Susie feels safe, is able to go in and lock the door, leaving him outside.

Although he has a restraining order against him, in Poland that has little weight. According to the police, no one can keep him from meeting her on the street. We continue to intervene at times, but Susie is getting more and more courageous. Peter tries everything he can to manipulate her, and at first tried everything he could to force the police and family court to make her come back to him, or give their daughter back to him. He knows that if he can force the child to return, Susie will most likely follow. But, we’ve weathered those storms with her, and every thing he tries seems to backfire. We attribute that first and foremost to God working, protecting her, and also to Peter’s crazy, sometimes very stupid choices.

Although Susie has had help along the way from a number of Polish people, lately, the more Peter does against her, the more support she seems to gain – from the police, from the school director and workers, and from other parents. As well, the administrator of our building – who also lives at the church – and his family have been a huge help, especially in relating to the police. We’ve paid her legal fees – knowing as we do, that this exactly the kind of stewardship of our resources that God expects of us.

Although at times it has been tempting to back away, overwhelmed by dealing with Peter, the police and prosecuting attorney, family court, etc., we know that this is exactly the kind of service that God expects from us. Of course, the more people that are involved helping Susie, the less of a burden we have to carry – and much more importantly – the less of a burden she has to carry.

So – preaching a sermon is easy. This year, more than any other, I think, I’m learning that living it, getting involved in people’s messy lives, is so much harder – but so much closer to what God wants from us.

You can find the next installment of this story here.

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