Why Does the Malayalee Pentecostal Church Protect Predators?

It was a normal Sunday, nothing that would make it stand out from the 100s of other Sundays that came before it. But on that particular day, something happened that changed me forever.

I was wearing a red and gold checkered churidar, my favorite one, the one that I wore slightly too often. It was totally on trend, with the bodice being cut short so that it fell just above my knees. A churidar, for those who aren’t aware, consists of a dress, pants, and a shawl for extra modesty. It was the epitome of Indian fashion in the early 2000s. Service had just ended and I was anxious to leave soon so that I wouldn’t have to talk to too many people.

I weaved and bobbed my way through the crowd as I headed to the back of the sanctuary trying to find my parents. I smiled and said hello to a few uncles and aunties but I kept moving.

Until he blocked my path. He smiled, like he had 100 times before, called me molay and asked how I was.

I gave him a shy smile and said that I was good. That’s when I noticed him coming closer. Before I could blink or take my next breath, I saw his hand reach out.

He reached out and grabbed me. Down there. Then he squeezed me. Then he let go, and brushed past me.

It happened fast. Lightening fast. Fast enough that his smile never left his face while he did it. Fast enough that not one of the 60-70 people surrounding us noticed.

I stood there for a minute completely stunned and overwhelmed. Then I heard my name as my mom called me and said we were going home.


All these years later, what shocks me the most about that moment is the sheer audacity that he had in touching me in total public. He had no fear of being seen. He had no fear of me screaming. He had NO FEAR.

Why? Because he knew that he would never be caught. He knew that even if I told my parents, which I did, we wouldn’t feel like we could do anything. He knew that he could get away with it, because he had gotten away with it before.

You see, this man that violated me, also molested my friend not long before this incident.

In the years that have passed since both of us were taken advantage of, I cannot imagine the countless number of young girls and boys he has had- and continues to have- access to. My biggest regret in my entire life is that I was not able to be the last person he ever molested.

Now some of you may read my description of the incident, and say that it wasn’t a big deal, at least I wasn’t raped. Or that I must be mistaken, he simply brushed his hand against me in the crowd. But I can confidently say that I have been in many crowds, and I have never been brushed like that before that day, or after. When you feel your crotch being squeezed, you know that it is intentional. Sure, it could have been worse, I was lucky that was all he did. But even at that age I knew that if he could do that to me so quickly and casually, he certainly would have no qualms doing much worse in private. And I was right. He has done much worse in private.

I recently shared a quick description of this on Facebook, joining the chorus of #MeToo. I posted it because I was frustrated that the Malayalee Pentecostal community refuses to talk about sexual abuse in any capacity. I have known too many Malayalee kids who have been sexually abused, and yet never once have I heard of an abuser being held accountable for their actions.

After I posted my status, I received a request to take my post down. Apparently it made me look bad. Apparently it was shameful.

No.

The only thing that is shameful is that you want to silence me. Because you do not want be uncomfortable. You do not want to deal with this problem in the community. You do not want to believe that the person who sits next to you every Sunday is capable of such atrocity.

I’ve been looked dead in the eyes and told by Malayalee aunties and uncles that I would go to hell because I wore nail polish and got my ears pierced. I’ve been told that wearing jewelry and dresses to church makes me unfit to teach Sunday School…yet these same people hear about sexual predators lurking around their churches and they keep quiet.

I am now in seminary, and I work as a full time Children’s Minister in a church in Southern California. We background check every person that volunteers in our Sunday School. We have training where we talk about what it is appropriate touch and speech. To my fellow leaders in Malayalee Pentecostal churches- do you talk about these things with your volunteers? Do you do background checks? Do you vet the people who have spiritual authority over your children? Don’t assume that because most of your volunteers are women you have nothing to worry about. Women have just as much capacity to be sexual abusers, and boys can be targets to be victims. Same sex abuse is also possible.

To Malayalee parents of young children- I am fortunate enough to have parents who are profoundly open with me and my sister. My mother talked to me from a very young age about being careful around people, and what I should deem as acceptable touch. I felt comfortable to tell my parents about the incident and I am grateful that they both believed me. They told me not to go near him. At that time that was all they felt they had the power to do.

Parents, please have an open dialogue with your kids. You may think that they are too young, but it is never to early to teach them how they can protect themselves. Make sure that you can be the person that they trust to tell if they have been hurt. Lastly, if your child has the strength and bravery to tell you something happened, please believe them. The disbelief can sometimes hurt more than the abuse itself.

You may ask why I am talking about this more than a decade later. I am talking about it now because I want our community to stop being afraid of talking about our issues in public. Each time we shove an incident under the rug, we are creating an opportunity for that abuser to abuse another child. The mentality of ‘as long as it’s not my kid’ is disgusting.

The first step is to actually talk about the fact that this is happening in our community. The next step is to take action. Ideally, these abusers should be in jail. Ideally, they should be on the National Sex Offender Registry. Our children should be able to go to church without seeing the face of their abuser every week. I hope if you are reading this and you have been abused, or you have a child who has been abused, you will feel inspired to tell someone who can help you. Tell the Senior Pastor. Tell the Director of your Children’s Ministry. Tell the police. Tell someone who can protect the other children.

Our Malayalee Pentecostal churches are a safe haven for sexual predators. I, for one, am tired of protecting them.

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Focus

In the moments when our eyes are locked together,

We’re suspended in time and space.

We’re neither here nor there

And nothing matters but the

Silent, intoxicating gaze of the other.

In those moments a great mystery transpires-

The edges of the world blur away

And every detail of the lover comes into clear view.

His usually alert eyes, now soft and unfocused

The rushed sweep of his hair to the side

The fullness of his lips

The strong set of his jaw

And his hand gently resting on

The slight slope of his cheek.

It is in this suspension that I realize

I am hopelessly, irrevocably his.

A Curious Thing

It’s a curious thing.

To be completely exposed.

To be stripped of all your barriers.

To let go of all your inhibitions.

To explore the crevices of your own hidden heart.

To be fully seen and fully known.

It’s a curious thing.

To fall in love.

Who Goes Bump In the Night?

When you’re alone, when it’s dead silent, when it seems dark, you can hear a door creaking. One of those slow, laborious creaks that take a lifetime to finish. It’s surprising and terrifying, because it’s a door you’ve shut and forgotten about. But in those lonely moments, when you’re sitting in the swirling darkness of your own mind, it pushes its way open. With that haunting moan it reminds you of its existence. Reminds you of what you’ve locked away.

A chill goes up your spine, shivers through your body. You know you’re not alone anymore. The ghost you’ve locked away has slipped out. He begins to flit through the recesses of your mind, assaulting you with memories. Laughter, tears, words spoken so sweet, promises made, fights had, hopes lost, dreams deferred. Everything you’ve locked away comes tumbling out all at once.

You run to the door and shove it closed, but the ghost knifes through your body and complete terror paralyzes you. You can’t stop the barrage of memories, and emotions, and desires. You can just feel them, in waves, overwhelming your senses.

Sprawled out on the floor, you see the wisp of a person standing over you. Even though he doesn’t say a word, his translucent eyes accuse you. Accuse you of betrayal. The betrayal of being locked away and forgotten about.

Slowly, he gathers his memories, and herds them back into the room. He looks one last time at you, his eyes begging only to be remembered. All he wants is for you to open the door, and visit him and the memories. Take them out to play every once in a while, in the light. So he doesn’t have to haunt you in the dark.

He gently shuts the door. This time no creak.

You fetch some kerosene and a match. You douse the door, the handle, the hinges, the floor. You strike the match, watch it flicker, and drop it. The flames hungrily lick the oil, and a hot damning blaze begins to destroy. As you walk away, for the last time, a screech rips through your mind. The haunting screech of a dying, betrayed, forgotten ghost.

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

Nelson Mandela

The Ocean Before and the Army Behind

Exodus has always been one of my most favorite books of the Bible, especially when I was a kid. To me there was no other book in the Bible where God was more awe inspiring. The story is epic.

Little old stuttering Moses in front of the great and powerful Pharaoh.

Moses requests, “Let the people of God go.”

“Never!” Responds the stubborn, pig-headed King.

So God reaches down and starts shaking things up. Water to blood. Flies. Dead livestock. Boils. Hail. Frogs. Locusts. Darkness. One after another, calamity is heaped upon Egypt. Yet Pharaoh is still not ready to let them go. So God lays down his trump card. The angel of death sweeps over the land and steals every firstborn Egyptian for his own.

The cries of despair rip through the land, and Pharaoh’s voice mingles with them. He’s through with the Israelites and their God, “Leave us alone!” He exclaims, “Get out of here! Take everyone! Go!”

The Israelites leave Egypt as conquerors! Their neighbors weigh them down with silver and gold, they take food and animals. They leave victorious!

For weeks they witnessed the hand of God at work on their behalf. They saw the might of Lord fighting for them, in all sorts of ways. But at the first sign of trouble, at the first point where it seemed as if the tide was against them, they forget everything.

They forget the water to blood. The flies. The dead livestock. The boils. The hail. The frogs. The locusts. The darkness. The firstborn.

All they see is a raging ocean before them, and a furious army behind.

This is the point in the story where I think, “Stupid Israelites. God’s been on your side this whole time. How could you doubt Him now?”

And then, if I’m really honest with myself, I realize that I am no different than the shifting Israelites. How easy it is for me to forget God’s might. How quick am I to forget His mercies, His power, and every way that He has brought me.

I look at the sea before me, and the armies coming behind me, and I forget to look above and call on the name of my God. I forget that He has delivered me in ways that no one else is capable of. I simply forget. Why do I forget?

Then, for the time in 21 years, I took notice of this verse- Exodus 14:3-4

“Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.”

God planned it. God wanted the Isrealites between the ocean and the army. He wanted them to see the power of His hand. He wanted the world to see how mighty He is. The parting of the Red Sea wasn’t just God responding to a situation. It was a conflict that He himself had orchestrated. It was the final act to one of the most epic stories told in the Bible.

So why do we doubt God’s power and His ability to deliver us, when it is He who began the good work in us? The moment you truly submit your life, your heart to God, is the moment that He begins to orchestrate a story that is impossible and that shows how desperate we must be for His power.

The point of our lives is to glorify God. So if you are standing before an immovable ocean, and if there are vicious armies coming behind, rejoice! Now is the time for God to do something impossible.

Philippians 1:6

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Obligatory Lookback

So every year I usually write a reflection on the past year and then state my goals for the upcoming one. What I’ve realized is that instead of feeling great about another successful year, I linger on all my failures. I over think my mistakes and berate myself for what I should have done, and what I didn’t do.

So I’m not writing a reflection about 2012. Cause I don’t need to relive every moment to know that it was mostly crappy. Instead, I am choosing to record the only part about 2012 that matters. The part where God reached down and shook up my life.

In January 2012 I called my mother late one night, around 2 AM, and told her that I was done living my life according to my plans. That night I decided that I was going to do what God wanted me to do. Now I didn’t know at that moment what that meant, and a year later, I still don’t know what that means. I don’t know if He wants me to be a missionary, or go to seminary, or become a nurse, or something else completely. The only thing I am sure about is that I want to live a life that brings glory to God. I may not be rich by the world’s standards, but I will be rich in the grace and glory of the Lord.

My parents were obviously alarmed, thinking I might drop out of college and move to a third world country to do missions for the rest of my life. To their relief, there weren’t any open doors that God seemed to be pushing me towards as far as ministry work went. Even when I tried to find missions, there was a block in my path. Slowly, through studying His word, I came to realize that I was planted where I was because He was still using me here. He also has a lot of work to do on my character. So 2012, 2013, and who knows how many more years, will be a time of growth and training for me. I still believe that He’s calling me for something that I never expected to be called to. And when He does call, I want to be ready to hear it, and to go forth. Until then, I am patiently waiting and working out my salvation.

Anyway, that phone call must have been exactly what God needed from me, because a few months later I ended up changing my major to nursing, a career path that I swore I would never go into. God has been taking a lot of things that I said I would never do, would never want, and He’s been making them my desires. I think that’s how I know they’re from Him. It’s stuff that I never wanted out of life, and the closer I get to Him, the more of a  pull I feel towards those things.

So 2012 was the year when I stopped living for Christal  and started living for God. My only goal for 2013 is this- To live everyday for the glory of the One who gives me endless grace.

Ay, Sexy Lady!

I remember hearing a lot of different languages and songs in Malaysia and Singapore, but the song that stood out to me the most was ‘Gangnam Style’. I had heard this song while in America and hadn’t payed it too much attention, although I knew that it was sweeping the nation like wildfire. What I didn’t know was that the song was a hit all around the world. A group of little boys in the Melaka village came up to us and began doing the dance moves from the video. Some of the students in the group started to dance with them, and while neither group could understand each other, or even the lyrics of the song, they were connecting because of it. It shocked me to see that this song and this dance could instantly give the two groups common ground. Even our tour guide, Shaukani, was a fan the song and would occasionally play it for us. ‘Gangnam Style’ was another reminder to me that though we seem to be worlds apart there are things that tie us together. An infectious South Korean pop song helped a group of American English speaking college students connect with a rambunctious group of Malaysian village boys. It was definitely one of my favorite moments of the trip.

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