Thursday, February 27, 2014

Food for the Journey

Trigger word warning: Domestic violence and abuse.

(The names of both persons and locations in this story have been changed--as have some identifying details--in order to protect the safety and anonymity of "Abigail."  Domestic violence is a plague of evil upon this world, and there are countless other Abigails across the world seeking and/or working actively towards their own salvation from their abusers.  I'm sharing this story with you because it has been weighing heavily upon my heart as of late as a reminder that behind every statistic is a name with a face and a heart and a life that deserves to be reclaimed.  And as many steps as there were in Abigail's escape, for many victims/survivors, the route towards safety is even more daunting.  I cannot say this enough: it is seldom as simple as "well, why don't you just leave?"  Nobody should have to flee literally halfway across the country to escape an abuser, but Abigail has. This post is for her.  -E.A.)

Abigail sat across from me on the other side of the desk, and though her eyes were the ones who were downcast, it was me who almost couldn't bear to look her in the eye as she told me her story.

"Please, call me Abby," she practically whispered to me as she sat down, curling up almost into the fetal position in her seat as she began to tell me about the man she lived with who would beat her and abuse her until she fled to our local Emergency Support Shelter (which our congregation furnishes with food, toys, and clothes every year during Christmastime as one of our missions).

But like anyone living in a battered family shelter, her current circumstances were temporary.  She could not stay there forever.  To that end, she was trying to arrange some sort of one-way transportation to Chicago, be it by bus or by train, so that she could start her life over.  She did not volunteer to me who she knew in Chicago who would take her in, and I did not ask.

Tucking her shoulder-length hair behind her ears, Abby explained to me that since fleeing her abuser, she (like many other victims who escape) had little more than the clothes on her back and had no way of paying for any sort of transportation to get to Chicago.  Her advocate at the shelter, Rachel, had informed her that there really wasn't--and isn't--an agency in town dedicated to relocating abused wives/mothers/children, and that her best bet was in asking the local churches to fund her escape.

When she told me how much a bus or a train ticket would cost, my own face fell a little.  I would be unable to use congregational cash to pay for a ticket for her, due to rules that I myself had written when I took this job in 2011, and while I had a sum of cash sitting in my pocket that second, that cash belonged not to me but to my local ministerial association, for which I am the treasurer.

Haltingly, I explained to Abby that I simply could not afford to buy her a one-way ticket, but that if there were another church or two to share in the cost, I was sure we could help out somehow.  She nodded, said she understood, and thanked me.  I gave her my business card and promised to check in with her and her advocate.

I heard from her again first thing the following morning.  Not only had she been able to secure funding from other churches, but between all the ones she asked, she was able to fund the entire ticket!  She was talking to me for another need, though: a ride from Kelso to Chicago would take over a day to complete, and she had nothing to eat during that time.  Could we maybe give her some food to take with her?

Yes, we most certainly could.  I asked her what she liked to eat, and I cannot forget the surprise in her voice when I did--it was as though she was completely unaccustomed to anyone asking her what she would like or what she wanted.  She'd eat anything, she said.  Yes, I said, but what do you like to eat?  Crackers?  Granola?  Beef jerky?

And so it was that I found myself at the Safeway up the road from the church, shopping for nonperishable finger foods that were simultaneously nutritious, filling, and tasty.  Standing in the checkout line, I looked down at what I felt was my fairly lame ingredients for a spread--some apple bars, some oat-and-honey bars, some whole-grain crackers--and I realized that I was buying food for someone making their exodus out of a situation of pain and abuse.  God may have sent manna to the Israelites in the wilderness, but our victims today get Nutri-Grain bars from the pastor.

After delivering Abby's food to her at the shelter, I begin to pray and think along the drive back to my office, and the gravity of it all begins to sink in.  My jawline begins to ripple with emotion, and before long, I have to pull over into a parking lot because my vision blurs from the tears that are threatening to well up.  I know I don't come across looking very good in this story for not doing more, and I recall the Bible verse from the Gospel of Matthew:

I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.

My prayer is that next time, I will do more.  Because the sad, terrible, horrible truth is that when it comes to this type of evil...there almost certainly will be a next time.

How I wish that were not so.

Yours in Christ,


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Eric, those occasions for ministry are ALWAYS tough. I am glad you gave Abby the gift of time and the important experience of time with a man who respected her and reached out to help her. We always could do more. Our fragmented social service "net" has so many holes in it. You are right about the next time. Encourage others (persons and government) to more adequately fund our shelters. Give a shout out and thank you to the dedicated staff who work there. Observe Domestic Violence Month with those faithful Longview FCC folks. I have joined you right now in prayer for Abby as she heads east toward a new day. Take good care.