My first day of teaching focused on training students in proclaiming Good News to inmates and others on the margins. Our second day was spent putting the teaching into practice in a steaming hot 600+ inmate prison in Tacloban City, where Filipino inmates gathered hungrily for worship, Bible study and prayer ministry.
Conditions were worse in this prison than many I’ve visited, with inmates sleeping on cement floors and having to supply their own food or settle for filthy prison rice slop. But the men’s reports of abandonment, neglect and violence at the hands of their fathers echoed what I’ve heard in France, Mozambique, Guatemala and in our own county jail. I borrowed a club from a guard for Bible study on Psalm 23s “rod and staff” verse, which is a “toxic text” for most, who do not associate these words with images of God as protecting, comforting shepherd.
“How many of you have been beaten by something like this when you were a child, or at other times?” I ask, holding a wooden club worn for overuse.
Nearly everyone raised their hand, including many of the Holy Given students. Unresolved trauma and hurts from human fathers most certainly affect people's ability to trust God as Father. Distrust sabotages close communion with God, which erodes our relationship of trust, dependency and love as God’s children—which in turn disempowers us in life and ministry. Certainly the world is reeling under the curse coming from unforgiveness-- and pastors and leaders-in training are also often in serious need of extending forgiveness and seek reconciliation.
On the third day of my teaching I taught and ministered on extending forgiveness to our human fathers. Here is a testimony from one of the students: Richard, he is sharing a testimony from class about how he forgave his father. (You can see more photos, updates and testimonies on HG Leyte school on the HG school website - www.holygiven.org)
“I just want to thank God for the privilege He has given me. I am set free from anger towards my father. My earthly father is the reason why I am affected like this. He planned to kill me when I was in the womb of my mother. He didn't want the responsibility. He told to my mother - just kill that baby so we can be set free from the responsibility and the shame. That anger became bigger as time went by as I was affected by what they had done to me. My eyes were damaged because of the medicine my mom took to abort me. My height was affected too - I am 31 this coming May, but still my height is like a 13 year olds. This is because of the medicine. I am thankful because my brain and my senses were not damaged.
It was very hard going to school, I suffered very much. When I was elementary I could read, but by the time I was in High school it had deteriorated until I was in college. In college I met the Lord Jesus Christ and I realized that He has a great plan in my life. I said, “Lord, why did you allow that my father did these bad things to me if you had a plan for my life? If you loved me, why did you allow this to happen, why was my father hard on us?
When I was in grade 1, my father left us, and he abandoned us. From that time until now, the only person supporting us is my mother. She is in HK now working to support us. I am thankful that my siblings and I have finished studying. I am thankful that the Lord got me, and that He has a purpose for my life. He gave me a task that is easily fulfilled.
Yesterday, I recalled those hard times that I had in school – the teasing of my classmates and relatives. I told the Lord that it's so hard, my situation before is not easy, but look at me now, I am here and I'm on the top, and you're using me, and you moved in my life. Do you know the song ‘God will make a way’? That's a very encouraging song, I hold on to the promises of the Lord, and he will make a way in my life.
Yesterday, I totally released the anger I had towards my father. I said, “Lord, thank you for sending Brother Bob - you moved even in the very private things of my life. Thank you for teaching me how to forgive my father and for moving on. I am totally 100% set free from the anger - I plan to call my father and tell him I'm sorry and that I love him so much despite what he has done to us. I plan to share the love of God. I want my father to be saved - as God had done for me, I want it done for him as well. I want him to serve God in spirit and in truth. Lord, you are very very good, you fixed everything in me. I am very much blessed because I am set free. My heart seems 70 kilos lighter since I prayed for my father. I am thankful to the Lord, to God be the glory.”