When I first saw her, I knew something was different about her. When she speaks, she looks around the room. Her movements are somewhat odd and she touches her stomach at inappropriate times. She occasionally lifts her shirt up for no apparent reason, but not high enough to reveal her development. She has a difficult time simply sitting in a normal manner, appears somewhat unkept, and seems untrained in a structured environment. She is 11, and she has been raped by multiple men. It began at age 7 by a neighborhood boy….. and it has continued every since.
“The older girl in the group. Has she… has she been abused? Sexually? Do you know her story?” I asked. Sometimes I just know – I just know things. I don’t know how. I call it a blessing and a curse. But I knew when I saw her that she had not known love. Not real love.
“I do not know…but he knows. He knows about her” Pointing to one of the social workers.
After more questioning, we found out that she had been more than just abused. The story went much deeper. She was living with her father with whom she shared a bed. Her mother lives in Ghana (a neighboring country) and she crosses the boarder by herself to see her when she misses her. She plays a gambling game in the streets of her village during the day, and she sleeps with the young men who live close by in order to get money for food. She has the insight of a prophet and a cunning way to see to the heart of each story we told and each part of the program we were teaching.
“God’s hands much be bigger than all of the world if He has all of our names written on them”
I looked at Marilyn’s fingers spread out on the table. She had all of the fingers of both of her hands spread out…. Counting. Using her fingers as a way to help this 11 year old girl count how many times she had been raped. We had already exhausted one hand. Five fingers. She was now on her other hand. Six. Seven. Eight
“I am not going home. I am staying here. They can go home, but I am staying” She said throughout the week. She loved it at the camp. I would too if I were her. But she didn’t stay.
“Can you look in my eyes?” I asked her. She had trouble even doing that. She looked and then she would look away. I held her hand and held back tears. “I want you to know this was not your fault. I want you to know that God sees you as beautiful and treasured and new. I want you to always remember that. We are going to help you. I’m so proud of you. You were so brave today.”
Marilyn translated. She acted as if she didn’t hear her. Like the words didn’t mean anything. But they did. I knew they did.
Throughout the week, her remarks resembled someone who was experiencing a new world for the first time. Because she was. She has limited to no contact with girls/women or people who generally love her for who she is. I’m not sure if she’s ever had that. Actually, I am pretty sure she hasn’t. Each story we told or scripture she read was knew and fresh. Even the concept of being loved unconditionally seemed to be foreign. And prayer. It was as if she didn’t know how to pray at all.
The journey is even more beautiful when you have never traveled it. It will be a long road for her – but she’ll get there. I know she will. Sometimes you can see God in someone’s eyes even when they don’t know Him. Because HE knows them. Sometimes that’s all that matters. At least for the time being…..