Usual church routines and religious protocol were set aside this Sunday morning in our little town.
Believers normally divided by denominational as well as physical walls gathered together at the local civic center. Our purpose was to participate in a ministry called “Project Ignite Light” (ignitelight.org), which provides backpacks filled with basic comforts to children of abuse upon removal from their homes by Child Protective Services.
With artificial barriers between brothers and sisters temporarily removed, united in purpose and heart, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the auditorium was almost palpable.
Oscillating between smiles and tears, hundreds of believers listened intently to stories relaying the experience of real children on the day, or night, of their removal. We heard how a gift of basic toiletries and new pajamas offer a sense of cleanliness to a child soiled by abuse, how a flashlight can provide respite from the shadow of darkness, and how a soft blanket can wrap a child in love. We learned how these simple objects can ignite a spark of hope for a child living in the shadow of abuse.
Three mounds of fleece squares awaited the hands that would tie them into blankets to be added to backpacks that would join the 8,000+ already distributed to hurting children. Excitement escalated as we anticipated the fellowship and joy of sharing in this labor of love.
However, some in the auditorium were experiencing something quite different. To them, talk of footsteps creaking in the night and doors closed in darkness evoked more than empathy. The stories brought shadows back to life, shadows that grew larger with each picture of a broken child until they threatened to swallow them up, nearly suffocating them.
One such broken child sat by my side. Sensing his distress I reached my hand over to take his, only to find it covered in cold sweat and trembling. I looked up to see all color washed from his face and panic in his eyes that communicated a desire to escape. My heart ached for his pain. It was evident that the emotional and psychological healing begun years earlier was still in progress.
What is also evident is the grace that carried him through that darkness and is at work in his life to this day, where he walks beside me through life as a man of faith and honor. Together we share five children, whom he has cherished, loved and protected.
As I witness his journey from a victim of child abuse to victor, I am learning that though shadows persist, and perhaps always will, they need not overcome.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners…
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.