By Wade Burleson
When I heard about the self-inflicted death of your abuser, I felt compelled to write you this open letter. The only thing I know about you comes from the Voice of the Martyrs media release and the police department report in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Both describe you as "a young girl." They also said that your abuser, Tom White, had "inappropriate contact" with you. Many of the young girls I know are computer savvy, and if you search for information regarding Tom's death, I hope the Lord will guide you to this open letter. If after reading it, you feel loved, understood and encouraged, then I will have accomplished what I believe God intended.
I have chosen to address you as Tabitha because I believe this name represents your character well. Tabitha means "gentle and kind." In the New Testament, one of the women admired by all the disciples was named Tabitha. She was known for her gentle, trusting character, and most of all, for her desire to do good. These things, by God's grace, precisely define who you are. How do I know this? Because you and your family were close to Tom White. You share the same values of caring for Christ and His people, particularly those Christians who are being persecuted around the world. Unfortunately, you have suffered the most severe type of personal persecution there is. The invisible physical, emotional and spiritual boundaries that every adult should respect in young girls have been violated by your abuser. What makes your abuse even more horrific is that it came from someone trusted by us all. I am proud that you talked about what happened to you. You did good! I admire your courage and strength. Tabitha, you have strength and character, and I marvel at your wisdom for such a young age. I have a daughter of my own that I dearly love, and you exhibit all the characteristics I see in her. I would be just as proud of you if you were my daughter.
In Acts 9, when Tabitha died in Joppa, her death was important enough for the disciples to come to her home immediately without delay (Acts 9:38). Though I cannot physically come to your home today, I send this letter with the prayer that it finds its way to you. There are a few things you may want to know about me. I am in Christian ministry. As already mentioned above, I am a husband and father. For many years I have sought to help young girls who have been abused. The first person I thought about when I read the story of your abuser's death was you. I do not view his death as something more tragic than his abuse of you. Let me say that again in a different way. The abuse perpetrated on you is far more tragic than your abuser's death. I did not think of his ministry, his reputation, or even his family when I first heard of his death. I thought about you.
I know that last Wednesday a portion of you died when you heard of Tom White's death. My grandfather in the ministry once wrote "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind." The news must have been overwhelming to you and your family. In some ways you may feel relieved that you will not have to continue to talk about your abuse in the police station or the courthouse, but inside you feel diminished because Tom White is dead. There are others around you who are comforting you and telling you the truth, but my hope is that God will startle you by allowing you to read this letter and know that He is speaking to you through a perfect stranger who understands:
(1). You are not responsible for your abuser's death.
There will be times that you may feel if you had kept quiet and not said anything about what happened, then the tragic events of last week would have not occurred. When those times come, please remember the truth. You are no more responsible for your abuser's death than you are your abuse. Anytime you begin to have thoughts of "If I only had ...." or "If I had not..." push them out by knowing that God alone holds the keys of life and death, and He never gives them over to us. More importantly, bringing to light the abuse is not the cause of your abuser's death. Your abuser's sin and shame and his lack of personal responsibility and courage are the direct causes of his death. Your abuser took his own life and you had nothing to do with it.
(2). Your life is not defined by your abuse or your abuser's death.
Yes, it will be difficult to ever forget what has happened these past few months, but it is one thing to remember events, quite another thing to be defined by them. You are a child of God who has significance, value and worth because of Him. Your future is His. One of these days I believe that you will be able to help other people overcome the pain of abuse because God has granted to you the special grace of experiencing supernatural healing that only comes through enduring unnatural hurt. You have been abused, but you are not defined by that abuse. Your personhood is defined by your God, and He makes no mistakes.
(3). Your ultimate healing (and mine) will one day be in the presence of Christ.
The Bible does not tell us a great deal about heaven, but one description given is that He (Christ) will "wipe away every tear." All the tears caused by the dysfunction and curse of sin will be removed by Christ. I don't know how it happens, but somehow, someway, the reconciliation between the abused and the abuser will occur in the presence of Christ. When you are unsure of your forgiveness of your abuser now (a natural feeling, by the way), turn it over to Christ. When you doubt your ability to ever desire to see or speak to your abuser again (a very natural feeling as well), turn it over to Christ. Your abuser professed faith in our Christ, and for many years he worked to lead others to know Christ. However, no matter what he did on earth for the good of God's kingdom, what he did to you on earth is unconsionable and inexcusable. Christ knows that better than you or I.
Only Christ can bring about the needed reconciliation. He will bring it to pass. Don't despair. Your complete healing is coming one day. And when it comes, it will be done right, with utter and absolute grace and righteousness, and it will be a permanent solution to the wounds in your soul and the sin in your abuser. Christ alone has the kind of power that can wipe away your tears. He will. Until then, I pray you experience Him as your "balm in Gilead."
Until we meet personally, know that you have a friend, a Christian pastor serving in the same state in which you live, who cares for you far more than you may ever comprehend.
In His Love and Grace,