By Johnny Cabrera
Last Sunday, I preached the final message in a sermon series called “Against All Odds: Stories of Survival and Redemption.” The main point: Every crisis is a spiritual crisis, a test of faith, an opportunity to grow. And whereas I had other church members share their stories in the three previous sermons, for this sermon I shared my own tale. And it was harder than I thought it would be. It was hard to share the necessary details in the short time I had. It was even harder to recount such a painful time in my life.
I will not recap what I shared in the sermon, though you can hear the sermon and my story it in its entirety on our church website. No, I am writing this as a followup, as a way to fill in some details that I simply did not have time to explain. I know if I were hearing someone else tell this story, of many years under a corrupt church leader in a toxic church environment, and how he finally escaped and healed from it all, I would have asked me a lot of questions. So with that, some explanations.
Were touching women inappropriately and insulting people in church the worst things this former pastor did?
No, not by any means. There is much worse, and as Ephesians 5:12 points out, there are some things people have done in secret that are too shameful to even mention.
Did my parents know about the abuse I was enduring from the pastor?
Yes, they did. However, it wasn’t perceived as abuse at the time, by my parents or me. Don’t get me wrong: I often felt a terrified hatred toward this man, and I was sometimes sick to my stomach with dread at having to go to school or church or basketball practice and face him. Still, my parents had so much misguided respect for him that whatever seemed like harsh treatment was explained as “tough love” or “spiritual challenging.” Eventually, I developed my own misguided respect for him, believing that everything he had done to me in my youth was for my benefit. Obviously, that was not ever the case.
And this has been one place where God, in His amazing grace, has brought healing to my family: I have been able to forgive my parents for allowing my sister and I to endure years and years of this torture, and my parents have been able to receive this forgiveness and forgive themselves. And hey, there is an upside to what all this verbal and emotional abuse did to me: You will hardly ever see me taking myself too seriously.