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An abuse survivor speaks to the church

Young woman shouting into megaphone. Photo courtesy Shutterstock

As I prepare to return to the blog next week, I wanted to end these series of guest posts with the powerful words of a dear friend I met this past year.  David Linwah is a survivor of horrific child sexual abuse.  David Linwah is also a survivor of being failed by the church over and over again. Through all the hurt and failings, David somehow still finds beauty and hope in Jesus.  A Jesus who gave up everything in order to demonstrate His immeasurable love for David.  A Jesus who values David more than life itself.  A Jesus who is all too often not recognized by the very people and institutions that profess to know and follow Him.  Amazingly, David still has hope that the church will one day actually reflect Jesus.  The One who never fails pursuing the hurting and valuing the marginalized.  The One who loves unconditionally.   Perhaps, David’s words will shine Jesus into the very soul of the church and help it once again to be known for its immeasurable love.  Let’s hope and pray that the church is listening.  I am so grateful for David Linwah. – Boz


In our modern age the church has made a reputation for being an unsafe place. Not only do unbelievers feel unsafe when misjudged or scrutinized by the church, but many believers in Christ have left the church because of the issue of safety. As a survivor of sexual child abuse myself and a believer, I have found it very disheartening and alarming to witness the naivete of the church in response to a victim of abuse.  I personally believe that the majority of the church in our nation does not understand how to  respond to abuse because there is a lack of knowledge pertaining to the subject of abuse.  Being made aware that there are still victims of abuse who may belong in your own ministry is crucial in the equipping of the church to become the safest place that God intended the church to be.

I am personally sharing with you from a place of having experienced the mistreatment of being a victim while growing up in a Christian family with parents who had served the Lord both as missionaries and as pastors. When I was only a child I was abducted on the missions field by my perpetrators. Tragically, my abduction was not a one time event but a recurring imprisonment of sexual manipulation and abuse. In the midst of my on-going abuse, my parents as well as the church community where oblivious to the reality of the systematic ritual abuse that I was trapped in. Nobody found me.

My perpetrators were not naive in the process of my abductions. They were very intentional about appearing harmless to the church community, gaining trust and making sure that there was a very good reason why they needed to spend some special time with me. In those “ special times” I would be introduced to evil that was beyond my comprehension and capability of understanding. The agonizing truth is how absent minded my parents and the church community were while I was being sexually victimized. In God’s great mercy I was saved and preserved to share my story with others today.  However, the lack of understanding and knowledge that the church has in regards to responding to a victim is still extremely evident to me.

There are many ministries that have ended up becoming a part of the systematic abuse of a victim because of the absence of interest or urgency to the subject and reality of abuse within their own communities. For any victim, this reality for him or her with current or past ministry involvement and relationship is what has separated them from fully walking into their God intended purposes.

A primary reason why victims are afraid of the church is because of the level of immaturity and ignorance they have experienced in how they are treated or handled by the community and leadership of a church. There can tend to be irrational treatment in response to a victim’s inability to serve or need for pastoral care as well as professional help. This irrational treatment or behavior within the church has made itself obvious from what the nation has most recently witnessed in regards to the Duggar case. When addressing the issue of sexual abuse by no means should we throw stones of condemnation, but by no means should we tolerate or allow unjust behaviour to be normalized or justified either. When we believe that it is righteous to use scripture in defense to justify sinful behaviour, we become a stumbling block to believers and unbelievers. As believers we should never assume that we know how to love and serve survivors until we have personally exposed our own heart to those who are suffering as victims.

There is now an entire generation that has left the church and might not ever return because of the negative impact that the church has had in the lack of understanding and compassion for the broken and the wounded.

David Linwah - courtesy of Mr. Linwah

David Linwah – courtesy of Mr. Linwah

One of the greatest impacts the church can have in response to a victim is being conscious of the fact that although you may not see blood, bruises, cuts, sores or an open wound on a victim, that doesn’t  mean there aren’t any. They may be hidden from your physical eyesight but with the eyes of Christ you have an invitation to look deeper behind the veil of the shallow surface to see the naked agony of a victim who may be barely holding onto life. Victims and survivors of abuse have learned to cope with their pain in such a way that it may be completely unrecognizable or even unnoticeable from face value.

Many victims and survivors have learned to master the art of performance and look almost perfect on the outside.  In many abusive circumstances there is an expectation to perform under pressure in order to survive the condition that they were manipulated and forced into. In those unruly circumstances, the victim’s value and worth is based in association and attachment to the level of appreciation they receive from their perpetrator, which causes a mental distortion of what it means to be useful or valued by society, including the church.

What we see on the outside that looks appealing to our eyes or looks beneficial to the ministry may actually be a misrepresentation of who an abuse victim is on the inside. On the inside, the victim is in tremendous fear of being taken advantage, but there is also a tremendous need and longing to be loved and accepted unconditionally. Albeit many victims are very talented, loving and servant hearted because of their experience with trauma and abuse. They are often much more sensitive than most people and tend to carry a heart of compassion that is recognizably large. Sacrificial love is not taken lightly nor taken for granted by a victim.  We understand that the cost to be loved and accepted in spite of all of our wounding is not an easy or cheap effort. In fact, staying committed to loving a victim of abuse is a road less taken by the majority of society.

We are at a critical time in the history of the church where we have been given the opportunity to rise up and to truly learn how to love. If the church can awaken in response by being aware and conscious of the suffering victim in the midst of their own congregation,  then there is hope. A hope to live an existence of healthy relational bonding rather than feeling imprisoned by managing every relationship out of fear and mistrust. Once the leadership and community of a church are made aware of the victims amongst their own congregation, they can learn to love the victim by establishing boundaries.

Victims of abuse need to have healthy relational safety measures as well as protocols in order to be able to grow in trust with the church community. When there are no safety measures provided or established in developing healthy relationships for a victim of abuse with his or her community, it will be impossible for that community to succeed in becoming the safe environment that God intended it to be. When the appropriate safety measures and protocols are taught or set in place with the community, the victim will be able to feel safe as well as protected. In doing so, the community is acknowledging and honoring the worth and value of the victim. The message that the church is sending to the victim and to the community is love. Love that is willing to take action and to make a way for more victims to have a future and a hope to be apart of a family in the body of Christ. It is a love that preaches the gospel through the communities efforts to do all that they can to provide a place of refuge for the victim. This kind of love provokes the rest of the church to take a stand for the victim who has been taken advantage of and overlooked for far too long. It creates a counter cultural revolution that changes the mindset of a victim who has purposely chosen to stay away from the church and to find hope once again in seeing a possibility of being a part of God’s family.

When a victim is able to recognize that safe measures have been established on their behalf, they will need healthy mentors to come by their wounded side and shepherd them. Providing and establishing healthy mentorship is vital to the restorative process for victims. Hiring professional and qualified Christian trauma counselors and psychiatrists to help in aiding the victims with the healing process is also a vital necessity for a church or any ministry.

The church is responsible to contend for the safety and deliverance of the victim by looking at each individual victim or survivor as a unique child of God with a unique plan for his or her life. What should remain the same is the support of the church as a family structure that is built on the foundation of justice in faithfully committing to lead the survivor out of bondage and stewarding its God given privilege to love the victim or survivor with the heart of adoption. In the same way we have been adopted by our Heavenly Father, so shall it be unto the church to step into the spirit of adoption for those who have been neglected and unwanted.

Unfortunately, my journey of finding a church community as a survivor has been predominantly absent of what I have shared. My heart has been manipulated, condemned, forgotten and has felt the treacherous stab of betrayal many times by my own brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet I have never stopped believing in God’s church to arise and shine in the resplendent glory of understanding and knowledge towards victims of abuse. My hope continues to resonate from a place of knowing that in every betrayal or rejection that I have endured, the heart of the Lord also endures with me.

Through tears of perseverance that flow into rivers of mercy, reservoirs of courage are preserved within me and I long for the day to witness the liberation of His sons and daughters who stay imprisoned inside of the church as well as isolated from the church. It is written in God’s word, “ in all their affliction He too was afflicted,” and in that truth I am comforted by a God who understands the depth and the pinnacle height of a love that is long-suffering. The Lord never forgets the crushed in spirit and in His relentless affection, He will secure a safe place for every victim beginning with His house. I look forward to a great revival of justice, righteousness, compassion and mercy that will reform and reconstruct the entire House of God for every survivor of abuse beginning with you.

David Linwah Lam is a Christian minister who believes in passionately advocating God’s justice towards the abused and neglected. As a former victim of systematic ritual abuse, his utmost vision is to see reformation in the body of Christ by the knowledge and understanding of God’s heart for the afflicted. 


About the author

Boz Tchividjian

“Boz” Tchividjian is a former child abuse chief prosecutor and is the founder and executive director of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). Boz is also a Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law, and is a published author who speaks and writes extensively on issues related to abuse within the faith community. Boz is the 3rd-eldest grandchild of the Rev. Billy Graham.

He is a graduate of Stetson University and Cumberland School of Law (Samford University).


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  • I’m so terribly sorry for the abuse you suffered. Our youngest daughter survived sexual abuse in a “Christian daycare”. When we had proof from the pediatrician and a full investigation was launched by the state (which by the way – so many mistakes were made) the church just couldn’t believe it and deal with it. We spent the next year of our lives in the most frustrating and agonizing time ever. The person was never caught. She was young and doesn’t remember but it’s something we will never forget. I’m glad you can still know the Lord through it all. He is so real! The church really needs to wake up and see this is a problem. It is!

  • Thank you for giving a voice to a large number of us who have been left voiceless by a lack of love and understanding from others.

  • Thank you Sarah for your courage to be a voice as well. I believe in you and more importantly, the Lord believes in you. May your experience be redeemed.

  • I am so sorry to hear about your experience KH and my heart breaks for your daughter. May the abuser find mercy with the Lord and I pray that your daughter experience God’s healing love for her. I also pray that you would find comfort in the Lord’s faithfulness and lovingkindness in the season that you had to walk through such agonizing pain. Thank you for being a voice for so many other parents who have had an agonizing experience with abuse and the church.

  • Thank you, David, for your candor and for bringing this issue to the surface. I would broaden your critique of many American church structures. Most are not designed or equipped to address the deepest hurts many of us bear. For instance, I’m an alcoholic and a drug abuser (clean and sober 32 years). Despite occasional programs such as Celebrate Recovery, in my experience most churches do not and cannot meet the needs of addicts and alcoholics who want to stop abusing chemicals and themselves. A long list could be compiled of deep-seated issues many churches do not have the temperament or the skills to address spiritually. I am reminded that churches are for sinners and the victims of sin. The church should be more like a hospital than a place to worship once or twice a week. Bless you in your walk. Thanks for speaking out.

  • David,
    I’m so sorry for what you endured. As a mother to survivors, I’ve never before witnessed cruelty that could top our experience with how our former church dealt with the abuse and my children. The consolation is that God sees everything and is raising up survivors to be voices for the many still suffering and offer hope. It never ceases to amaze me just how content some people are to remain callous and uninformed about child abuse and the ravaging effects of it. Every church leader and member needs to read what you’ve so beautifully written, they have much to learn about God’s heart for the broken.
    As Boz has written before, only when the church embraces transparency and true humility can there be hope for change. Grateful for you, Boz and all those who have the courage to speak up and bring truth and light into the darkness. Thank you.

  • Thank you for your comment Bill. I agree and will continue to pray for the church to awaken into maturity for the sake of the lost and suffering.

  • Thank you Lori. Yes, I believe that it is time for more leaders in the body of Christ to move into action for this matter as well. May God’s light shine into the hearts of the leaders of the body of Christ concerning their role in shepherding the abused. I pray blessing over your children as well. Thank you for mothering them in the love of Christ as a leader yourself 😉

  • Hey Tom, yes , what I went through was Satanic ritual abuse and most of systematic ritual abuse is Satanic. Glad that you have heard about. The majority of the church is still unaware of the existence of it or is unable to approach the issue because of how dark it is. if you have further questions about it or what I went through please feel free to ask 🙂 much love, David

  • “Boz is the 3rd-eldest grandchild of the Rev. Billy Graham. ” Then I stopped reading because his family reeks of dishonesty and the fleecing of their “non-profits” especially regarding the large salaries paid to Franklin and Billy.

  • David, Yes, I’ve heard some about this, although you didn’t say much about your own experience. It might help to share some of that here. What I’ve read about was in the USA, not on the mission field. As an MK, that part caught my attention. You also have found peace and strength, so how did that happen or where did you go for help?

  • Thank you. I’ll be completely honest…I’m in a place, right now, where I don’t have a lot of optimism for the church as individual congregations ever really getting this. I always held to hope for this, and then four years ago I finally found a really great church, really solid and loving and mostly safe for a regular person…and they’ve not yet stopped letting me down, as an abuse survivor. And the worst part is that they can’t even see it! They think it’s a failing in me – that after all these years, I should just magically be better, be well, be whole. You know, and shut up about anything uncomfortable. Christians…we like our wounded on the outside, were we can help them once in a while in some mostly useless way, then return to our privileged halls feeling better about ourselves, leaving them to bleed. And we justify this because if they truly wanted to be better, they’d just pray a little prayer, feel the feelings, and be better, be well. That’s not how it works. And…

  • Hey Tom, There is actually a lot of Satanic ritual abuse that happens in the US apart from other countries as well.

    The reason I did not go into more of my own personal testimony is because it would have made the post too long for some to be interested in reading. The post was also focused on the positive and negative impact of the church’s response to abuse rather than what I had went through specifically. If I have another opportunity to write solely on what I went through than I will.

    My Satanic ritual abuse occurred in Thailand. How I was miraculously saved from it and how I met the Lord as well as how I received the healing I needed to be where I am today are all much bigger stories. If you are really interested in knowing, you can shoot me an email at: [email protected] // and I would love to personally share with you how 🙂

    Much love, David Lam

  • Dear Alena,

    Thank you for sharing how you feel. I’m glad that you found a great church. I believe there are still great churches out there in America and in the nations, even if there are few and if they are still in the process of learning how to know God’s heart for the abused. The Lord is gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love for His church to know how to care for His people better. I know that it can be a challenge for many to believe that the church can do or become what I shared in my post because there are not many who are willing to believe that the church can be much more glorious then where the church has been. If there are more of us who are willing to choose to hold the standard up by believing through prayer and worship then the church will eventually grow up much quicker.

    I’ll be praying for you Alena. Your life is a miracle and a testimony of Jesus.

    Much love, David Lam

  • Hey Max,

    Thank you for taking the time to read my post. I really appreciate your heart of compassion towards those who are suffering. I’m not one to argue or debate about the existence of Jesus but I understand that you have your own personal beliefs and perspectives so I want to respect and honor what you think is true or not.

    I personally would choose the first option out of the three that you presented but would say that Jesus does intercede as it says in the bible and He doesn’t just watch His people suffer without moving into action.

    Jesus actually saved me from my perpetrators and I didn’t ask Him to nor did I know how to pray at such a young age. He supernaturally saved my life and He continues to save the lives of many others supernaturally. Thats why I am alive to share my story.

  • I’m afraid that I just don’t understand this. You say on the one hand you found a great church, and on the other hand they haven’t stopped letting you down.

    which is it?

  • Bernardo, You’re abusing the rest of us by violating the first rule of blogging: Stay on topic.

  • Tom,

    I was responding to : “Atheist Max Aug 2, 2015 at 10:24 pm
    This is a heartbreaking situation. I’m sorry it happened.

    But instead of “turning to Jesus”, how about we take a fresh look and consider the possibility that Jesus is the immoral center of these crimes?

    If Jesus exists, he doesn’t intercede to stop the sex crimes, but instead watches them thinking he has a good reason to let them happen.
    So Jesus is Immoral.


    Jesus doesn’t exist. And he can’t intercede at all.
    Which means it is immoral for a priest to believe he has been forgiven for raping people.

  • I am very sorry you had to endure such abuse, I really am. We live in a fallen world and until recently did not realize how fallen it really it. I was watching a youtube video “180” and it said that out of the murders committed in this country every year, over 100,000 of those murderers will not be caught, that mean exponentially we have, every year more and more murderers, rapist, pedophiles,thieves walking the streets. I say this first because we must remember we live in a very broken world.That God has made a way through reconciliation through His Son’s death and Resurrection. There is no REAL justice on this earth.Can we be encouraged and forgive .Oh yes. I too was sexually abused as a child, but God has forgiven me so much, a great sinner I am.My sin is not any better than my abuser, I have forgiven him and God has got the glory from that.My healing was in Christ, who forgave me, that I could forgive my abuser.For God’s Glory. If you such for earthly justice you may get or…

  • Romans 1- You do believe there is a God and you hate this God because you suppress this Truth in unrighteousness. If you didn’t you would bother with trying to disprove something you don’t believe. Example: I don’t believe that “fairy s” exist but when someone talks about fairies, I am sure they are fiction and give not a another thought about them. And you like to pervert the Word of God. Surely, man, you too shall perish if you do not repent. Eternity is forever. Run to the Son, to the cross, do not shake your fist at your Creator, for when you die you will stand before Him and He will Judge you, too bad if you don’t like that, it is the Truth. Please seek God while He may be found. To love my neighbor- you,is to tell you the Truth

  • Thank you for sharing Shellie, I appreciate your voice and empathy.
    God is merciful and the vengeance and justice belongs to Him. He will judge righteously.

  • A safe place for people who have suffered abuse: RestoreandRebuildMinistries.

    The blogroll at The Wartburg Watch also lists excellent links. I found the link to this (GRACE) site there.

  • Thank you so much David, your words were just exactly what I have been experiencing. I am so frustrated that no Christian church is able to be patient enough to walk with me in love and help me. I have distanced myself from church and I no longer attend one but I hope I will one day find a Christian community who is willing to educate themselves about abuse survivors and help the many hurting souls out there.

  • Um – any evidence that Boz himself “reeks of dishonesty”? I’m not sure whether what you say about Billy and Franklin is true, but simply dismissing a ministry that is making a huge impact on the church, primarily because of Boz’ complete transparency and passion for child abuse prevention, because you think Billy Graham makes too much money is crazy.

  • Max,

    I was faced with this same quandry when I, recently made “single” after finally being able to escape a nightmare “marriage”, discovered my toddler son was being sexually (and otherwise) abused by his licensed caregiver.

    The police and child protection investigated but could do nothing.

    After weeks of weeping, I was finally able to see this issue clearly enough to bring it to God Himself, the one and only King of the Universe: who WAS He, to have ALL THAT POWER and NOT stop a monster human being from violating a BABY?!?

    What kind of a good Father WAS He??? I, a mere mother, would have gone through whatever obstacles were in my way to have rescued him. I know my own father would have done the same for me.

    Our heavenly Father PROMISES us protection numerous times in His Word!!! Was He lying? Or was He a sadist?

    I have since learned this is NOT the case at all.

    There is an adversary who hates all things of God (you & I).

    God is LOVE. His Word is TRUTH…

  • David,

    God bless you and bless you then bless you some more: you are so brave. That you survived at all is a miracle – so many children do not. Those who work with child trafficking (yes in our own back yards) and prostitution (yes in the suburbs of the USA and Canada) are soldiers in this “invisible” war with an enemy that devastates the futures and souls not just of the children but of our community as human beings.

    David, God has blessed you with such a beautiful ability to intelligently address this – and with such love! I am amazed. Thank you for writing and speaking out.

    The church is not what we see. Cry out, “Mercy mercy!” Let’s find the courage to stand and face this squarely: Love IS Justice (mercy is the antecedent in this equation, not the precedent or an isolated element). And at the heart of justice is truth: a straight line, with no decoration, angles or warped surfaces.

    God knows the hearts. Let us pray for “Grace, grace!” – His favour to envelop…

  • … His favour to envelop survivors of such personal atrocities – truly, the end of our world as we knew it and the entry into hell on earth – in His LOVE.

    By His stripes, we were healed. May the healing manifest before our very eyes for all to see the magnificent glory of the Son of His love and triumph over His & our adversaries … UNDER His feet, to be ground into dust.

  • Hello David, I am so sorry to hear about your experience. I came across this article when I was searching about abuse in churches and wanted to say thank you for honestly sharing your experience.

    So many points struck a chord with me. In my own life and in those friends who have confided in me, I have noticed that “victims tend to be more sensitive and compassionate and to have a heart that is recognisably large.” I think this is part of the reason that people who have been abused are so easily taken advantage of in churches. We are already afraid to hurt someone else.

    I also think that you are definitely on to something when you say that “A primary reason why victims are afraid of the church is because of the
    level of immaturity and ignorance they have experienced in how they are
    treated or handled by the community and leadership of a church.” I am seriously considering leaving my church of 18 years because I realise how much unnecessary suffering has come about as a result of poor ways of responding to abuse and lack of knowledge in how to support the victim.

    Most importantly, I just wanted to say how much this post inspired me and reminded me of the love of God. If after everything you have been through, wisdom and love and a call for change are the fruit, I can believe that the grace of God can “work all things for good.” And, I believe there are still true Christians out there who continue to fight the good fight and set examples for the rest of us.

    Thank you so much again for your honest and thorough post. Hoping you find a safe place of at least safe hearts to share your journey.

    P.S.I think a lot of people may have wanted to respond to your post, but are embarrassed by the need to post with an email etc. I created a new email address just to post here so was already a bit late responding. I’m sure many are sending prayers for you too!