Category Archives: Politics

Kidnapped by Boko Haram

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent…
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.”

– “Meditation XVII” by John Donne (1624)

WARNING: Graphic Images

The extremist group Boko Haram has since 2009 led a brutal insurgency in Nigeria with the twin goals of imposing Sharia law and establishing an Islamic regime. Boko Haram is known to utilize child soldiers; engage in the forced conversion, castration, and beheading of non-Muslim men and boys, as well as the kidnap, rape, and forced marriage of women and girls.

Mary Patrick was one of 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 [1]. The horrors she faced during four months of captivity included cannibalism, the murder of her older sister, and repeated rape by as many as five men at a time.

Given a Muslim name and forced to recite verses from the Quran, over and over, Mary began to lose her identity. Thankfully, she managed to escape before it was too late.

Why the World Matters

Why should this matter to American women? Why should it matter to abuse victims, in particular?

Many abuse victims are likewise brutalized. This tends to focus our attention inward, on short-term survival. But there is a great deal of pain in the world…not ours alone. The girls kidnapped by Boko Haram are just one example.

Abuse victims understand pain. That others, too, have suffered should not demoralize us. Rather, it should motivate us to reach out to one another.

Isolated by abuse though we have been, we are part of the world. We have a responsibility toward the world. And the exercise of that responsibility may actually prove healing to us.


During the Middle Ages, the bubonic plague or “Black Death” as it was known killed an estimated 75-200 million men, women, and children.

The dead grew so numerous that mass graves had to be dug. Venice and other cities banned the ringing of church bells during funeral processions. The sound was thought to discourage the living.

During one outbreak, the poet and clergyman, John Donne, wrote that no man is an island. We are all connected. That is how Christians see things or should. We are connected to one another – whether abuse victims, plague victims, or the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.

Leaving the Past Behind

No one can blame victims for seeking to forget their experience of abuse. We long to blot abuse off the face of the earth, and rightly so.

Unfortunately, much as we may desire to leave the past behind, we are often bombarded with unwelcome reminders of it [2]. The ongoing barrage of triggers can feel like defeat; the flashbacks, like daily fresh wounds in a war that has gone on for years [3]. We simply cannot move beyond the pain.

While recovery is not a matter of will power, confronting our demons may help us cut them down to size [4]. And using our experience to benefit others can give meaning to our suffering.

Outward toward the World

If we can manage to direct our attention outward toward the world, we may find that what we have suffered has actually increased our empathy for the suffering of others. Their suffering is personal for us, not merely political.

In turn, they may have lessons they can share with us.

Amazingly, Mary Patrick says that her captivity strengthened her faith. “Before, I didn’t go to church, I didn’t read [the] Bible, I didn’t pray. But now I go to church everyday…I am thankful for my life.”

[1] See, Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter, “Trained to Kill – Learning to Forgive”, August 2015.

[2] Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is frequently accompanied by intense flashes of memory. These flashbacks are triggered by sounds, smells, people, places, thoughts, and feelings which call to mind the traumatic event. Flashbacks can cause physical and emotional reactions, including a racing heartbeat, muscle tension, and profuse sweating.

[3] Coping strategies for dealing with triggers include deep breathing, mindfulness/grounding techniques, exercise, relaxation and self-care, writing, art, music, and prayer. The support of friends and loved ones can be extremely valuable.

[4] Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Collection, “Prolonged Exposure vs. Supportive Counseling for Sexual Abuse-Related PTSD in Adolescent Girls: A Randomized Clinical Trial” by Edna Foa PhD, Carmen McLean PhD, Sandra Capaldi PsyD, et al, 12/25/13,



Filed under Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Physical Abuse, Politics, Religion, Slavery, Terrorism, Violence Against Women

Time and the Value of Women

“Sales in Poznan”, Author MOs810 (CC-BY-SA-3.0 Unported)

‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ ” (Eccl. 1: 2).

Clearly, women in Western culture are valued for their youth.  We see this all around us.

Ads for every conceivable product from liquor to cable television feature young women (with two ton steel vehicles actually termed “sexy” to increase sales).

Then there are the countless products marketed to women for the ever present “problem” of aging (creams which claim rejuvenating power, hair dyes, Botox injections, and breast implants, to name just a few).  As if living were insufficient.

Starlets in flimsy clothing populate our magazines.  Girls as young as 14 model for us, in the place of adult women.  Meanwhile, women in their 60s seek plastic surgery – even in vitro fertilization – to prolong their saleability.

Each moment lived, a woman’s value decreases or so it can seem.

A Flight from Death

Perhaps the urge to remain young, or at least appear young, is a flight from death.  If anything, however, it highlights the inexorability of time.  The race is rigged.  Everyone loses in the end.

Christians know that this jaded view is incorrect, incomplete since it fails to take God into account.  Some 3000 years ago, when King Solomon composed the Book of Ecclesiastes (from which the quote above is taken), he deliberately wrote from that skewed perspective to drive home his point about the need for God in our lives.

Human nature has not improved much, in the intervening centuries.  We remain susceptible to the adversary’s lies.

True Value

But if youth is valuable, maturity is no less so. Our value in God’s eyes does not diminish with age.  It was never linked to time, in the first place.  Our true value derives from the fact that we have all, male and female, been created by God and that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for our Salvation. Continue reading


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All the Jenises

The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him” (Nahum 1: 7).

A little girl named Jenise died this week [1]. Just six years old, Jenise was raped and murdered by a seventeen year old neighbor in the Washington trailer park where she lived. The teen accused of the crime has been arrested.

But Jenise was not the only child in jeopardy in recent weeks. Around the globe, children’s lives have been at risk from factors equally beyond their control.

  • Shrapnel-torn corpses rained from the sky, after Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by separatists in the Ukraine [2]. The belongings of children were randomly scattered across the debris field.
  • Children in Gaza are dying as a by-product of Israel’s ground war there [3]. Both sides have blood on their hands. The practice by Hamas of shielding military operations by civilian targets has contributed to the death toll. Misdirected fire by Hamas has, also, resulted in the death and injury of children. As of this writing, the rocket bombardment by Hamas which initiated the conflict continues.
  • In Iraq, some quarter million refugees have fled in advance of the Islamic militant group ISIS [4]. Some 40,000 of these (including 25,000 children) from a Kurdish religious sect that predates Islam have been under siege on Mt. Sinjar without supplies. The United States is now providing aid and cover on a limited basis.
  • The world’s worst Ebola outbreak is raging in West Africa, with fears it will spread [5]. The disease has a fatality rate as high as 90%. Over 900 deaths have occurred to this point. Children who have not themselves contracted the disease may still lose one or both parents to it.

Few things drive home our crushing limitations more so than the death of children does. War, crime, and illness pull back the curtain on a painful reality, and we see clearly how little control we have over our lives. That information can rock us to our core.

We may never understand, on an emotional level, why God allowed Jenise’s suffering. We can be sure, however, her suffering pained Him, more even than it does us.

God hears the cries from Gaza and Mt. Sinjar, as He does those from Nigeria, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. He knows all the Jenises.

At a time like this – when lights seem to be going out across the world – it is more urgent than ever we keep faith and bear witness to the truth. God is not impotent. Nor has He abandoned us. To the contrary, He gave His life for ours.

Men and women of goodwill play a vital role in sharing the love of God with the world, and spreading the Good News of Salvation. We must not permit what appears the increasing presence of evil to undermine our resolve. Continue reading

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Madame Mayor

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time” (Judges 4: 4).

In Turkey, a Muslim woman with a 5th grade education, married at 15 y.o. to an abusive husband, and largely confined to home all her married life, has been elected co-mayor of her district [1].

Technically, men and women have equal rights in Turkey. The reality is far different. Four in ten Turkish women polled in 2009 said they were victims of domestic violence.

Long isolated from the outside world by her husband, Berivan Kilic somehow found the courage to divorce him after fourteen years of marriage. Turkish women do have the legal right to divorce. Since employment is not widely available to women, however, they must either remarry or “fall into the streets”.

Aisan, Berivan’s mother, brokered a third alternative. Aisan convinced Berivan’s father to let Berivan move back home.

With her two young sons, Berivan returned to the house where she grew up. To support herself, she began cutting hair. And she resumed her education by studying at home. This shocked, but intrigued the small town of Kocakoy.

Along the way, Berivan joined the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The party, whose core values include gender equality, urged Berivan to run for office. Astonishingly, she won.

Local women now have a representative who understands their needs. One of Berivan’s priorities is, in fact, creating employment opportunities for women. She believes that this approach will for cultural reasons accomplish more good than a women’s shelter would. Berivan is, also, planning a crafts market for women’s handmade goods.

An act of courage saved a life, and is today changing other lives for the better.

[1] NBC News, “Turkish Teen Bride Divorces and Blazes Trail to Politics” by Emily Feldman, 6/5/14,



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Juvenile Justice

According to Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies, and statistics.” To most of us, statistics are drier than dust. But numbers can be revealing.

• Earlier this year, the Coalition for the Homeless reported a record-high number of 53,000 homeless regularly spending the night in New York City shelters [1]. Nearly half are children. In March, conditions at two city shelters were found to be so horrific that 400 of these homeless children had to be removed for health and safety reasons.

• Using the “zero tolerance” policy toward school violence as a basis, then popular Pennsylvania judge, Mark Ciavarella, sentenced over 2000 high school students – some without benefit of counsel – to incarceration for offenses as insignificant as swearing at another student’s mother, and creating a false MySpace page. Once in the criminal system, some remained imprisoned for years. At least one committed suicide [2] [2A]. Continue reading

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Fault Line

A 7 y.o. Philadelphia girl is reported to have been sexually assaulted by her 59 y.o. foster father [1].

A first assault had been reported. However, the child’s natural mother and the child, herself, were not initially believed. The girl was placed in foster care after her natural father accused the mother of abuse she adamantly denies.

The story is much like thousands of others across the country. A governmental entity charged with the protection of at risk children removes them from one perilous setting only to place them in another.

Often this is not the result of neglect and callousness, so much as overwork. Caseloads can be overwhelmingly high, even for the most dedicated social workers.

Funds for human services departments are chronically inadequate and foster parents few, trustworthy or not. Other governmental (or political) obligations are routinely viewed as more pressing, and given priority in budgets. There are not many well-heeled lobbyists for at risk children. Continue reading


Filed under Abuse of Power, Child Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Politics, Sexual Abuse

In Dire Straits: Philadelphia Schools

“ ‘And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children…’ ” (Deut. 6: 6-7).

The Philadelphia School District is in dire straits.  The latest financial crisis has closed schools and stripped those remaining of nearly all personnel but teachers and principals.

A full twenty percent of the district’s employees have been laid off.  Among these are classroom aides, guidance counselors, nurses, librarians, secretaries, assistant principals, and lunchroom staff. Evidently, these were considered superfluous.  Why would inner city children need the help of a guidance counselor? What good could a librarian do children not reading at grade level?

Class size will undoubtedly increase. There has been talk of combining grades to reduce the number of teachers still further.  In the birthplace of liberty, we may be headed back to the one room schoolhouse.  That is hardly likely to improve Philadelphia’s 50% dropout rate for high school aged African American and Latino males [1].

Charities and corporate donors are actually being approached to support the school system. Without their help, tutoring and afterschool programs once underwritten by government will simply vanish.

Philadelphia and impoverished cities like it are on the forefront of the battle for the future of this nation. We cannot produce informed citizens, capable of facing fresh challenges, if we do not provide our children – all our children – a quality education.

Those who drop out or graduate without a basic knowledge of history, literature, science, and the arts will all too soon find themselves unemployed and unemployable. We have no right to destine those young people to failure.  It is the sacred obligation of one generation to educate the next.

The nation cannot afford to lose those young minds, and what they might create.  Nor can it withstand the drain on resources of an ever growing underclass [2].  If nothing is done, we may all someday find ourselves in dire straits.

1 The African American and Latino Male Dropout Taskforce Report (September 2, 2010), .

2 Violence must be part of that calculus.  Crime may seem a tolerable evil to those at a distance from it.  Not so to those whose lives are daily impacted.


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The Child Victims of War

Syrian rebels claim that President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons this week to kill another 1200 of his own people. Over 100,000 have died in the past two years in Syria’s civil war.

Footage has been provided of children choking, adults writhing in pain, and bodies stacked in temporary morgues like so much cordwood. Hammish de Bretton-Gordon, a British counter-terrorism expert, has said these symptoms are consistent with a chemical attack.

Since the rebels are not thought to possess the sophisticated weaponry required, the attack is more likely to have originated with Assad’s forces.

Adults can decide which side to support in a war; can argue their actions are justified, and believe their deaths meaningful.  Children do not have such options. These victims of war often cannot comprehend why anyone would harm them.  Their world is simply thrown into chaos. Loved ones disappear. Horror prevails.  Deprivation becomes the norm for those few who survive at all.

UNICEF estimates that, during a recent ten-year period, fully 2 million children died as the result of armed conflict; 6 million more were injured or disabled [1].

About 15,000 – 20,000 people are killed or maimed each year by landmines or other explosive remnants of war (ERW) [2][3]. Approximately one in every five victims is a child, and 85% of children die from their injuries before reaching a hospital [4].  Children are more likely than adults to handle these dangerous devices from curiosity, assuming them to be toys [5].

Another Mother for Peace, an anti-war group from the ‘60s, was known for the slogan, “War is not healthy for children and other living things.”  The merits and shortcomings of pacifism cannot be resolved by a sentence or two.  We can all, however, agree that war is not healthy for children. Those engaging in it should make absolutely certain there is no better course.

[1] Human Rights Watch, Armed Conflict: Child Casualties of War.
[2] and [4] UNICEF, Children and Landmines: A Deadly Legacy.
[3] Care in Landmines: The Hidden Menace places the figure at 26,000 deaths.
[5] UNICEF, Impact of Armed Conflict on Children.


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Not Democracy

Then Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore her robe of many colors that was on her, and laid her hand on her head and went away crying bitterly” (2 Sam. 13: 19).

For those who may not be familiar with the Bible story, Tamar, a daughter of King David, was raped by her brother, Amnon.  She was denied justice.

Not a great deal of progress has been made in the Middle East since then.  Over 180 rapes have taken place in Tahrir Square while the world watches.  The possibility of justice for these victims remains remote.

As many as 30 to 100 men will isolate a woman, then violate her with their hands, literally tearing the clothing off her back.  Women may be beaten with chains, chairs, and other objects while being raped.  The genitals of some women have been cut.

Public violence against women has been a problem in Egypt before.  Foreign journalists, including Lara Logan and Sonia Dridi, have been assaulted and raped.  Even more disturbing perhaps, a UN survey on gender equality reported that 99% of the Egyptian women responding had been subjected to some form of sexual violence in their lives.

The message being sent is that women have no place outside the home.

A large part of the problem is the fact that sexual abuse is not a crime in Egypt.  Sexual violence may be committed without fear of reprisal.  Police treat rape victims as if they were the culpable party.

Tahrir Square is no Tiananmen Square.  Whatever else the protests ongoing in Tahrir Square may be, they are certainly not democracy, and should not be mistaken for some fledgling version of it.   We should not delude ourselves.


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Attacked at School

Nearly 100 Afghan school girls are believed to have been the victims of gas attacks last month.

In Faryab Province, a man was spotted running toward the school’s orchard at the time of the attack.  In Wardak Province, police found nothing at the school which might have caused the problem. They could not rule out heat and a lack of hygienic conditions. One of the stricken girls, however, reported a “bad smell” and defended her school’s cleanliness.

These were just the latest in a series of incidents involving school girls. In May of this year, 80 girls were taken ill in Faryab Province; another 150, in Balkh Province.  Gas was suspected. In April, 74 girls fell victim in Takhar Province. The odor of gas was present.

The Taliban denies responsibility for these cowardly attacks. There is, however, great fear that the attacks will accelerate once Western forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan.


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