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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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.

Rhythm of the Sea

To any other person it looks like the waves crashing up on the shore. A timeless, ageless tradition that men have set their clocks by for generations. But I see something different. I see the torment of the sea.

Again and again she beats onto the shore as if she is saying “Here! Do you feel this? Do you understand my pain?”

However, no matter how hard she batters him, the stoic shore never says a word. Unfeeling, unresponsive to her anguish.

So she relentlessly pushes on, never giving up the hope that one day the shore will join her in her tormented dance. She turns her anger towards the children of the shore. Towards those that leisure on the sand and frolic in her suffering. Towards those who run across her back and hunt her children for sport. She grabs at these, engulfs them in her froth, steals their father from beneath their feet, drags them further and further from home. She claims those who dare to climb upon her when her agony is greatest. Sucks them into the very depths of her cold, dark belly.

But no matter how many children she steals, the stoic shore never says a word. Unfeeling, unresponsive to her anguish.

Escape

He stumbled into the room unsteady on his feet. He didn’t care where he went as long as it was away from them. Away from the prying eyes of his supposed loved ones. He wanted to go to pieces in private.

He walked straight into the dresser, smashing his thigh into its sharp edge. He had gotten to the point where he didn’t even feel the pain, the signal his brain was sending him. He gripped the edge of the dresser until his knuckles went white. Slowly he lifted his head to look into the mirror.

The anger ripped through him again and this time he couldn’t hold it in. He grabbed the first thing his hands touched, a paper weight, and hurled it at the glass.

Shards of crystal exploded in his face. Even in his distressed state he could see and appreciate the beauty of it. The way the light caught the glass and cast a rainbow on the walls. A fleeting beauty that one could miss with the blink of the eye. But the aftermath was anything but beautiful. The mirror was cracked in a million places, unfixable, unusable.

Like him. Even through the cracked, ruined glass he could see himself. He was but a shell of his former self. The boy that everyone had loved, that everyone had believed in. He was gone, and in his place was a raging monstrosity. A beast that tore down and destroyed everything good. A savage that pushed people away and burned bridges.

He hated who he had become. His friends hated who he had become. His ‘family’ hated who he had become. Their frequent shouting matches were too much for him. He no longer had the energy, the will to go on with it.

He no longer had the energy to deal with people, to interpret their cryptic remarks, their threats hidden behind kind words. He couldn’t take it anymore. He had to get out, he had to leave this pristine prison.

He grabbed his duffel bag and threw in the first things his hands touched. As he packed he could see the cracked jade pendent hanging from his neck in the reflection of the shards. He grabbed it, clung to it, as if he was holding onto whatever was left. Whatever the monster hadn’t touched yet.

He took a last look at the shattered mirror and the glass strewn all over the floor. He’d leave it for  Amy to fix, since she couldn’t fix him. And with that he bolted out the door into the cold, bleak night.

Night Memories

A piece I wrote back in high school- it’s a character who has fascinated and eluded me for years.

Images flashed in his mind’s eye. Still pictures of horror he failed to suppress.

Blood splattered on the walls. A limp hand reaching towards him. A knife laying on the floor, dirty with blood. A woman, face down on the
ground, her dress splayed about her. And a man a few feet from her. The rise and fall of their chests long gone.

Screams all around, and a shadow coming toward him. Closer and closer, holding a dagger. Its blade glinting in the moonlight, seemingly winking at him. The shadow closing in on him, cornering him. The hand gripping the blade slowly rising, and then halting, suspended in air for a moment before it began it’s quick descent down. Down into his body, into his heart. He felt it. Felt the cold blade enter and tw-

And then he jerked up, awake, panting, sweating, screaming. His heart was beating erratically but he could still feel that cold, cruel blade. He clamped his hand over his mouth to stop the bloodcurdling scream. Hugging his knees to his chest, he reached for the pendent hanging around his neck. And as he sat there, hearing the ghosts of his past, Soran prayed for the light of day.