Could you forgive someone who sold your body, and that of your siblings, to be used sexually by many people?
Could you forgive someone, who after you’d been used, considered you unclean and sent you to live with pigs?
This past week I spent some time in East Timor and heard stories of girls treated in the most horrific manner-often by members of their own family. The girls range from 0 to 18. That’s right-0!
Hearing these stories made me angry. I’m angry that the girls (and some little boys) were treated so savagely and indiscriminately and then discarded as trash.
I’m angry that out of two hundred perpetrators in the last few years, only six have been prosecuted.
I’m angry that little girls are having babies and becoming mothers before they’re fully grown themselves.
I went on this trip with five other women and we all felt like we wanted to kill someone. We wanted revenge on behalf of these precious children.
My heart grew hard as I listened to what had happened to them. However, one by one the girls got under my skin and, whilst I didn’t lose my anger at the perpetrators, the miracle of love and forgiveness made my heart melt.
After being brought to live in Casa Vida (House of Life) these 65 children smile, laugh, hug and live free from shame. They have been rescued from their circumstances and given the opportunity to begin a new life.
They are educated, clothed, housed and, most of all, loved in Casa Vida.
A few of the girls who have been in Casa Vida for a few years spoke of wanting to forgive the ones who hurt them. This seemed incomprehensible to me. How could you? I thought. I can’t even forgive them, and I don’t even know them.
These children are not getting apologies, they are not getting justice, they are not receiving compensation, but they are being transformed by the power of love.
Love and compassion changes a person. Being valued and protected changes a person.
The girls are learning that forgiveness changes them. It doesn’t change the situation or consequences of what happened to them, but they are being transformed.
There is no answer to why this sort of suffering is allowed. I believe God must look at what humans do to each other and cry. That’s where we come in.
If we can, we must be the hands and feet of God, and do what we can to help suffering people.
To the girls I say:
I’m sorry you had to go through what you had to.
I’m sorry no one stopped you from being hurt.
I’m sorry you haven’t received justice.
I’m happy you have been rescued.
I’m happy you can go to school.
I’m happy you can smile again and feel safe.
If you can still have hope for the future after all you’ve been through, if you can still love when you’ve been rejected and abused and, if you can forgive even though you will never forget, I can forgive too.
Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future. Louis B. Smedes