By Lisa Lopez
I grew with an easy and happy childhood until the age of 12. Everything changed when my parents divorced. My mother remarried and I frequently had angry fights with my stepdad. I did not have a relationship with God at this time. I turned to alcohol to numb my emotional pain throughout middle school and high school.
One day when I was 16 years old, I decided to skip school to party with some older football players at my high school. My mission was to get drunk to escape my family drama. At the party, I felt sick and asked for help to find a place to rest. One guy showed me a place to lie down, closed the door, and sexually assaulted me. Another guy heard my screaming, came upstairs, and threw off my attacker. I thought I was rescued, but he closed the door and assaulted me as well.
That day was absolute rock bottom. I blamed myself for the abuse, rationalizing that it was my fault since I had too much to drink. I sunk down into shame, self-hatred, and promiscuity for years.
He Makes All Things New
Even through these dark times, God was at work, drawing me to Himself. Not long after my abuse, girls on my dance team invited me to a student ministry called Young Life. The brokenness of the world made sense as I learned about sin and how everyone has gone astray from God (Romans 3:23). I heard that the death and resurrection of Jesus completely covered all my sin and an ongoing relationship with the living God was possible for anyone who would trust in God through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 10:9-10). I wanted nothing more than to know this God of unconditional love and surrendered my life to Christ the summer before beginning college at SMU.
However, even after becoming a Christian, the effects of sexual abuse still hindered my life. I did not have healthy relationships with men, I felt ashamed of myself for not preventing or stopping the abuse, and I had nightmares multiple times per week. A friend encouraged me to go to Shelter from the Storm (Watermark’s sexual abuse recovery ministry).
In Shelter, I learned the truth and it set me free (John 8:32). I learned that God is near to the brokenhearted and can sympathize with our pain (Psalm 34:18). Over time, I saw the abuse was not my fault. There is a major distinction between choosing to drink too much and choosing abuse (no one chooses abuse). God removed my feelings of guilt and shame, helped me forgive my abusers, and gave me a passion to see other sexual abuse survivors receive God’s healing.
Set Free to Serve
Genesis 50:20 says that what people intend for evil God uses for good to help others. I saw this truth realized as I served within Shelter at Watermark for years. Over time, a group of Shelter volunteers felt called to expand the ministry and take the healing we received to other parts of the world.
From 2010-2012, I was blessed to be a part of three teams of Shelter volunteers who traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo to minister to other sexual abuse survivors. On each trip, our team shared our testimonies and wept with the Congolese women as we heard their stories of abuse. We assured them of God’s love through His Word and encouraged them to turn to Jesus with their pain. By the end of every trip, the women danced with great joy in gratitude for the hope and restoration God gives. This is just one way I have seen God turn ashes into something beautiful and exchange mourning for joy (Isaiah 61:1-3).
Something Only God Could Do
Years later, God still has me connected with Congo. On the first trip to Congo in 2010, a Congelese pastor saw that I loved playing with children. He surprised me by asking if he could name an orphanage after me. I agreed, but doubted anything would come of it due to the instability in Congo. Over the past year, I was stunned to receive emails and photos of precious children from an orphanage called the “Lisa Center” in Goma, Congo!
I am now privileged to be a small part of a team of people who work to ensure these children receive physical and spiritual care. I never dreamed such a sweet blessing would come from a mission trip connected with my past abuse.