Kathryn and my friendship began a few years before the chapter of her story that she shares in the guest post(s) below.
I remember the December day in 2013 when I hugged her goodbye outside of Purple Door Coffee; she was preparing to pursue the dream the Lord had given her of documenting stories and teaching art in Rwanda, Africa, and even though we didn’t know when our paths would cross again, I was pumped to see her step into her joy.
Three weeks after we parted ways, my phone buzzed at work as a Facebook Messenger alert crossed my screen:
“Kace. I have no cell phone… I was raped, and it was essential for me to get out of there. There’s the possibility of HIV and/or pregnancy, and everything else… I’m just focused on getting home now, everything else will be sorted out in time.”
The chills I felt that day as I read my dear friend’s words pale in comparison to the chills I had last week as I read her blog series on the Lord’s redemption of the worst day of her life.
This is your warning– the following post may be difficult to read, but if you can, I beg you to do so. Kathryn’s story is important for so many reasons.
It is real and raw, and I applaud her for boldly sharing the story the Lord has given her because I know first hand that her level of transparency is healing.
It was Kathryn’s Facebook Message that the Lord used to bring me to my knees in my classroom that afternoon, and that same message that He used to propel me into counseling later that spring (kicking and screaming [mostly screaming]) where I was first able to acknowledge, then begin to come to terms with my own past sexual abuse.
Shortly after her return to the States, but years before the semi-colon tattoo/ depression awareness movement and last fall’s social media #MeToo hashtag, Kathryn and I had a “me too” movement of our own. We decided that where our minds wanted to put a period– where we wanted to stop, to break down, to cease moving forward– we were going to allow Jesus to place a semi-colon– the lingual sign of moving forward with a similar and related story.
What man had meant for evil in our pasts, we were going to fight with every. fiber. of our beings. to bring to the light and give over to God. In a tattoo parlor in 2014, we vowed that our past abuse would no longer define or confine us.
However, as I watched #MeToo sweep social media last fall, I stared at my phone– a silent participant, acutely aware of the multitude of ways my own fear and shame has continued to confine me over the years, in spite of the tattoo I proudly display on my forefinger.
So while I’m “late to the party”, my heart’s desire is to tell you, sweet friends, that if you have ever been the victim of sexual harassment or abuse, you are not alone.
There is Hope.
There is healing in the tender arms of Christ.
Christ sees you. He loves you.
He is the bearer of every burden, if you allow Him to be.
I repeat: You. are. not. alone.
Thank you, Kathryn for paving the way to healing for me and hundreds of women all over the world.
Thank you for giving me the courage to say #MeToo four years ago and again today.
This week marked the 4 year anniversary of being raped while doing volunteer work in Rwanda. That statement is loaded, I know. The crazy thing is, I was most of the way through the day earlier in the week before I realized what day it was. As in, I forgot about it. As in, the day doesn’t lord it’s bad memory over me anymore. In year one, it surely did. Year two, was bittersweet. Year three, I still remembered, but now, year four… praise to the God who “restores the years the locusts have eaten”.
As I marveled at the work of my good Father, I felt like the time had finally come to share the whole story. The whole season…because surely, that’s what it was. A moment triggered a season, a hurt became a catalyst for the most profound healing. A wounded heart and broken girl called out all that is good and beautiful and awe-inspiring in God’s people and my community, and brought about some of the closest relationships I have ever been privileged to be in. I want to share, not just to expose the story once again, but to offer hope. The story has been shared, and shared, and shared! I have never kept it a secret. The sharing has been incredibly helpful, and sparked many other women to share their stories as well. But it’s even more than that… I want to tell of the wonderful works my God has done. I want to declare that I was surrounded by people who did and said the RIGHT things, and I want to share those things as a resource for whenever YOU have a girl who has been abused come across your path. And finally, I want to offer hope to those who have been victims. I want to say that this year, year 4, I didn’t even remember the day until my Facebook memories reminded me of it. There is HOPE for HEALING. A day, a moment, and a season does not have to steal your future.
I’m in a new season of life now, in a new country with new people. For a long time, this “thing” about me, this brokenness, was worn in such a way that it was just right up front. People knew, it was a prominent part of my story. I was in the midst of it, and in the midst of coping, dealing, healing. Now, it is still part of my story, still very defining. However, it is not “the” defining thing, and God has brought me out into new territory after it. Many people are new in my life and know nothing of it, because it doesn’t come up like it used to. It is important, though, to remember Him and His works, and it is important to share the stories He gives us. There are times when I feel like I shouldn’t share anymore, like He has healed me and I should just move on and be done with this testimony. Not too long ago, I was reading “Through Gates of Splendor” by Elisabeth Elliot, the story that is famous around the world about her husband and his friends, killed on the mission field in the 50’s. She shared these words as an afterward, written as a much older woman–
“I have not been allowed to forget the story. I would not have wanted to forget it, but there have been times when I have wondered if others might. Perhaps they have tired of it. Should I continue the retelling as I am so often asked to do? I spoke of my misgivings to Miss Corrie ten Boom who, as an old lady, indefatigably traveled the world to tell her own story over and over again, of her family’s providing refuge to Jews in Holland during World War II, of their being betrayed and imprisoned in a concentration camp, and of the deaths of her sister and aged father as a result. “Sometimes,” she told me, “I have said, ‘Lord, I must have something fresh. I cannot go on telling the old story.’ But the Lord said to me, ‘This is the story I gave you. You tell that one.’ ” So Corrie encouraged me to go on telling mine.”
And so I shall also go on sharing mine, because it is so full of the love of Jesus I can hardly stand it. It is the worst thing that ever happened to me, and the way that God stopped me in my tracks and did a marvelous work as well.
I’m going to share this in 3 parts, because it’s kind of a long story. Part 3 will be all of the practical resources I can offer (or that were helpful to me), as well as an essay I wrote about 10 months after the rape which I have never shared until now.
Kigali, Rwanda :: January 25, 2014
Oh, that day was such a fun day. The whole day had a brightness about it, a sunshine and warmth. The kids at the art program were delighted to come out to the studio on a Saturday, and on this day we were doing a special photography class. I had been in Rwanda for 3 weeks, and intended to stay another month or so before heading to Uganda. I was fresh, oh so fresh, out of art school, ready to take on the world and serve in any way I could, particularly using my camera. I was eager, I was green, I was naive by choice to many things and ridiculously optimistic. I had spent the last 9 months of art school saving up for a big trip, part tourist and part serving work in a Christian mission, to explore my options for the future. My own wedding and portraits business was really taking off, and I had quit all my part-time restaurant jobs months before to just do photography. I also felt the continual call to the mission field, a nudging that had been a familiar companion since my early teens. I had barely gotten out of art school still alive with my Christian faith, it being tested pretty persistently with the incredibly liberal and strange culture of art students, drugs and drinking. I had some big questions for God. To be completely honest, I had some pretty big pride and that awful Western “Savior complex”. I had a desire for answers and the spare time to explore.
A friend connected me with an American woman who had been living in Rwanda for several years, running an after-school art program for kids in a rough neighborhood of Kigali. She was headed to the States for a few months and wanted an intern to take over for her for a bit, which seemed like a perfect fit for me! She provided me a place to live, and I came up with art and photography classes to teach, while learning the culture and the kids. In the beginning of January 2014, just after arriving and getting situated for a few days, she left me and her program in the hands of an older Rwandan woman (who incidentally was out of town for nearly my entire stay there), and a young Rwandan man, the same age as me. I’m going to call him Charles and not use his real name.
That Saturday, we had a full house. The kids were crowded into the studio, as well as using the cameras provided by the program to go outside and photograph the neighbors. The older kids had a line of people wanting to get passport photos. The mamas were even around, with their pedal sewing machines set up in the shade outside, doing mending for the children and whoever stopped by to bring them pants. I felt like I was in my full glory, laughing and singing and dancing with the kids. The girls decided I needed to learn how to balance things on my head like a Rwandan woman, so they tied a little girl to my back, and wrapped my head up in a scarf and balanced a bucket on top of it all. We took turns photographing each other, I taught them some of the lighting techniques I had just learned in school. In the afternoon, a downpour began and all the passersby crowded in to our tiny space for some shelter.
That evening, to celebrate the successful day, Charles suggested we go out to eat, and his cousin would meet us at the restaurant. We did just that, and ate, drank, laughed. I learned several new phrases in Kinyarwanda, I asked many questions about their lives and growing up in their country as it healed from its deep wounds. About an hour in, I got super sick, and started throwing up at the restaurant. Never have I figured out if it was food poisoning or there was something in my drink, but I was violently ill all the same. The restroom attendant thought I was drunk and said I had to leave the premises at once. The two men I was with carried me to a taxi, as I couldn’t walk and was bent double with nausea, and agreed to take me home. I was so sick in the taxi though, and the driver was not pleased, that Charles said he could take me to his house to rest for a bit, since it was right around the corner.
A lot is foggy, really. I remember being laid out on a bed in a tiny two room “house” that was little more than a shack and being given a bucket. I remember continually vomiting. And I remember that he raped me. It was not violent, as I was pretty incapacitated and couldn’t fight him off. It was all so confusing. I hadn’t seen it coming at all, not even a little bit. I just held still and searched my mind for what I could have done wrong, where I misunderstood the culture, what foolish mistakes I had made that day.
Kigali, Rwanda :: January 26, 2014
I went to the hospital to get some fluids because I was so dehydrated and afraid that the water would only make me worse. I told them I had been raped, and the doctor told me that if I turned the man in, he’d get 25 years to life in prison. The doctor gave me a pregnancy test, which terrified me, and I was also confused…didn’t this just happen? Surely you couldn’t know yet… I was in a state of shock though, and couldn’t think rationally. I later Skyped one of my best friends back in Colorado and told her what had happened. She immediately went next door and grabbed our pastor (who just happened to be her neighbor and home at the time), and we all got on Skype together. She cried, my pastor cried, I just sat there stoney faced and confused. They asked what I wanted to do, and I actually had to think through it a bit. In the end, we decided to get me home and go from there…I didn’t want to leave Africa, or the kids program or my long trip I had planned out. Yet, I also didn’t want to stay in a place where I was alone and so terribly oblivious to culture and legal systems.
Charles wanted me to be his girlfriend afterwards. He came over later that day, and I confronted him. I told him that what he had done was wrong. He had fear in his eyes. He never took responsibility for the act, but he was afraid which showed me he knew he was wrong. I told him I was leaving and to never contact me again. Maybe I should have turned him in to the police. Maybe I enabled him to hurt someone else. That responsibility has always felt heavy on my shoulders, but I also knew I was a single white girl in a foreign country and a fish out of water. I learned some pretty serious cultural differences right there. I was slapped in the face with the truth that I had a false sense of security and, dare I say, a sense of invincibility as an American girl. I realized in that moment that women are looked at differently in different parts of the world, that I as a foreigner was viewed as loose and willing. In that instance, from his point of view and cultural upbringing, I probably DID do everything that indicated I wanted intimacy with him.
This singular part of the story has been one of the hardest parts to overcome. In hindsight, I should have taken some classes on culture before going. I should have done more research and asked more people what were the appropriate ways to act around the men in that country. But I didn’t. So maybe I did communicate in many ways that I was completely unaware of that I wanted him. Maybe had I gone with a more structured organization, maybe if I had been accountable to some others there, instead of just being left with this one guy… maybe maybe maybe. Some of my questions have been worked out, but others not.
A few hours later, I was on the longest plane ride of my life, headed back toward the United States.
I’m going to say this right here, as an interjection into the story: THE FACT THAT I TOLD SOMEONE RIGHT AWAY about being raped has probably been the greatest catalyst of healing from it. I’m a terrible secret keeper, and usually my face reveals all anyway. This time, it was to my advantage. Had I kept it a secret, I would have remained in Africa for another month or two. The guilt and shame and lies would have ample time to take root, and then what? I said something Day 1, and it has been to my advantage ever since then. It made it easier to say something Day 2, and Day 3 and forward from there. In the past 4 years, I have ended up hearing countless stories of women who either a) kept their rape a secret for months/years/decades and lived with the burden of its shame always in their souls or b) told someone and were accused that it was their fault or told to just forget about it. I have MUCH more to say about this later on. WHY on earth was the response to me sharing gentle and compassionate, filled with tears and words of truth? I don’t know. God did it. He provided that, and the only reason I keep sharing my story is to offer it to other women as well.
The story doesn’t end there, of course. There is SO MUCH REDEMPTION in this story I can still sometimes not even believe it. You’ll have to read Part 2 and Part 3 of the story, which are really the best parts and a testament to the grace and healing work of God.
Follow Kathryn’s blog here or follow her work with Reach Global and stunning photography on Instagram here.