I was so excited to go to Ethiopia for the first time. Ever since I was a small child, I remember feeling called to missions in Africa. Our team had been meeting for months and training hard. I had raised over $2000 from family and friends so I could go. We had been purchasing all things needed for a medical mission trip and I had already bought all my snacks and things I would need overseas.
Then, at our last meeting before the trip, our team leader pulled a select few of us aside. He told us that he had just received news that a 14-year-old girl from the orphan care program we were going to visit had just been raped. He explained the violent circumstances surrounding this event and told us how the mother of the girl was fighting the corrupt legal situation there and trying to get justice for her sweet daughter. He also told us how her mother is dying of cancer and is delaying treatment to be in court when need be. He told us the girl is HIV+ and tried to tell the men who raped her and they didn’t believe her and kept attacking her.
I instantly stepped up and said “I want to talk to her when we get there!”
You see, I had been raped when I was just 16, so I felt I could connect with her on a level that most people cannot. Even though it was half a lifetime ago for me, I remember everything so clearly like it was yesterday. Those horrific days, weeks, months and even years afterwards are so similar between all of us who have been sexually assaulted. You are constantly scared, you don’t know who to trust, you cry for no obvious reason, you flinch at loud sounds or sudden movements and so many other things are going through your mind. But then, there are also many differences. Some girls sleep a lot and go into a depressed state. Some are hyperaware of all things around them and can’t sleep due to fear and anxiety.
Either way, I now knew the reason I was going to Ethiopia. It was to meet this girl.
So, we to went Africa. We had a team of 19 remarkable people including doctors, nurses, teens and the rest of us with other skills. It was an awesome adventure, even though I was pretty sick for the majority of the trip. The local people were kind and incredibly hospitable. The culture, language and food were amazing. We bonded quickly with all our translators and local hosts. We fell in love with the children who begged for “just one more” sticker or high five. We learned so much about each other and enjoyed furthering friendships with those teammates that had flown across the ocean with us. We personally understand what God meant to take care of the widows and the orphans. Our hearts filled with things that only Ethiopia can offer.
We had left on a Friday, traveled for two days, attended local church, did all of our medical clinics that were planned and taught a great birthing class.
On the last day, before driving to a different town and orphan program, I was pulled aside and told that SHE was here. The poor girl who had just been brutalized two weeks prior was on the church property and willing to talk to me.
So, a translator, local social worker, this sweet girl and her mother met me in a tiny hut away from prying eyes. I explained to her that I had heard her story and wanted to meet her. I told her how even though she has never met me and may never see me again, that THIS American woman was constantly going to have her in my heart forever.
I told her how I have been praying every day for her since I heard and will continue to pray for her every day for the rest of my life.
I told her that I was so proud of her bravery and I commended her mother for fighting for her in court.
I told her what had happened to me when I was a teenager, what I felt afterwards, how I coped, what was normal and asked her if she was experiencing any of the same things.
Through a translator, I poured out my heart to this young girl and told her there is life after rape.
I told her that she will move on eventually and not be stuck in this terrible current place and that someday she will trust men again.
I told her how she would grow into an incredible young lady and get married and enjoy sex someday with her husband.
I told her that God has amazing plans for her life and that maybe someday when she is in her thirties like me, she will get to hug another young victim and comfort them like I was attempting to do on that day.
She cried. Her mother cried. I cried. We hugged and kissed and hugged and kissed some more.
And then I left.
I returned to the states a changed woman.
Although I have shared my story with some and comforted others who have been victimized in the past, something was different in Ethiopia. I never realized that something that forever changed me in 2001 would connect me to someone over 8,000 miles from my home. I didn’t realize that some young man taking advantage of me when I was just learning to drive would allow me to speak life and truth to someone who doesn’t even understand my language or have matching skin tone.
So…here I am three months later and still thinking of her daily. I bought matching bracelets that have BRAVE inscribed on them with two hearts. The leaders of World Orphan (the organization we partnered with) are going to Ethiopia in October and agreed to take over her bracelet and connect with her social worker to get it to her.
Though I most likely will never see her again, we are connected.
We are connected because we were both brutalized. But, we are also connected by our faith. We are connected by our loving, protective God. And we are connected because what God allows in our past that is ugly and painful and life-changing, He will use for His good and His glory.
Written by Kristina Wrobleski