She wouldn’t look at me. In fact, if she did look at me it was only for a split second and she would look away. She was around 16. Her eyes were Flat. Angry. Hidden. Harsh. It was as if she was tucked away inside of her Self. Her soul as broken as was her body that could only walk with crutches. 70 – 80% of these girls are victim to sexual violence because of the wars and the culture of Congo.
I tried a few times to hug her, but she flinched each time. It’s a reaction we see in a lot of children who have been abused. I couldn’t even put my hand on her shoulder. She would pull away. Her head was shaven close, her spirit was closed, and she was never without her two crutches that held her up. Crutches sometimes indicates that a girl or women has been sexually violated so severely that they are unable to walk normally again.
She was always behind the other girls. Off to the side. As if she didn’t belong. But she did. She just didn’t know it yet. Today was more of the same. Rarely am I not able to connect with a child. Even a teenager. Given enough space and time, they usually open up. But she was determined not to. We did the art therapy trauma workshop with the younger and then the older girls. Two separate groups. The younger group first. Toward the end, when we were handing out the crayons and paper to the girls, she hobbled in on her crutches. She seemed to come alive a little more around the younger girls. Like she needed to be needed. So I took advantage.
“Will you help me?”
She looked down at the crayons and paper. Without saying yes, she took them and started handing them out. After distributing them, she came back for more. This time she looked at me. I smiled. Again trying to at least pat her shoulder. She let me, and she didn’t flinch. What has happened to her, Lord? What is her story? During the time we were working with the younger girls, the group from Hope Center was giving the older girls a short test to assess their level of trauma. This means that the older girls had just been asked to recollect their most traumatic event. So when it was time for them to begin, they didn’t want to be there. They’re not used to talking about their feelings. Let alone their worst memory.
“They are tired and they do not want to talk anymore. I think we should do something uplifting for them” Kavira told me. I was quickly forced to throw out my plan in all of 2 minutes while having about 40 teenage girls stare at me with sad and angry eyes.
“I know what you have talked about today is hard. Sometimes when we talk about our pain, it causes us to be sad and remember things we haven’t thought about in a long time.”
She was on the front row. Looking down. Looking up. Looking back down.
“But if we don’t talk about our pain and our secrets, they just get bigger. But I want you to know that God is bigger than your pain. The plan He has for you is so much bigger than you can even imagine! When I look at you, I see beautiful young women. My wish for you is to see yourself through the eyes of a God who loves you so much! I think that’s something to sing about! I think that’s something to dance about!” (There are times that I feel like I’m pulling something out of my back pocket and don’t know what it even is. Sometimes I just open my mouth and, while my lips are moving, I’m praying for God to give me the words. This was one of those times)
I ran over to the drum and started playing. And I mean playing! They all laughed at me so hard! Not sure if was because they didn’t think a white girl could have rhythm or if I was just making a fool out of myself. Either way - they were laughing : ) And before long….. they were singing and then they were dancing. And Singing and Dancing. And SINGING and DANCING. We were grabbing all of them into the circle and dancing with them and singing with them. I looked over and saw a familiar face with crutches once used only for sustaining. Yep, she was dancing! With her crutches ! But not in the circle. She couldn’t. She was on the outside. And by the look on her face. she was dying to get in. I came to her slowly, and she let me guide her into the circle. Not just smiling - she was beaming! Not just standing – she was dancing! I was holding up one side of her (SO excited that she was letting me) and she was dancing with the other. We danced and danced. Sang and Sang.
Before we ended our time, we got down on our knees and prayed together. I looked beside of me and she was there. She was there. Not only there. But by my side the rest of the night until I had to leave. And I hated to leave.
Driving away I wondered if she would dream of her dancing crutches as much as I would. I hope she does….