I heard a story tonight I’ve heard before. This isn’t the first time this has happened — my grandmother had favorites she told over and over, and we laughed with gusto every time we heard them, because she told them in a way that made them fresh every time. It won’t be the last time it happens — as I get older, I hear myself telling stories I’ve told before and wonder whether I’ve told it to the current audience, and pray I haven’t, because I do not have Mimi’s gift for storytelling. Unfortunately, the yawns usually tell me I have …
This particular story involved two young girls and an evil man (I don’t throw that word around lightly, as you will see). The man in question was a American pedophile who left the U.S. for Southeast Asia, which seems to draw pedophiles like a flame draws moths. He was a serial abuser; he would typically bring in a couple of girls, abuse them for a month or six, then pass them on to another pedophile. “Abuse” in this case means not only sexual abuse, but also on-going physical torture (I said I did not throw the word around lightly).
Through the efforts of IJM and the country’s national police, the two girls (and others) were rescued, and the pedophile was arrested, extradited, and eventually brought to trial in the U.S. Unfortunately, the abuse of the girls was not yet over, although this time the abuse took the form of a badly screwed-up justice system, that, although among the best in the world, still has its moments of mind-boggling injustice. The two girls were flown to the U.S. to testify in court against the pedophile. Among the indignities they were allowed to be subjected to by the defense lawyer, they were shown pictures of several men’s genitals and told to pick the one of their alleged abuser.
In spite of all this, however, the girls stood strong. They were poised, they were confident, and they were courage personified. Why? After all that had happened to them, while facing the kinds of questions they faced in the trial, why did they not fall apart?
There are obviously many, many things that went into it: the care shown them by IJM and the aftercare center they were sent to, the many people pouring into them and praying for them, etc. But we’re just going to focus on one for the moment.
As the couple that ran the aftercare center prepared the girls for the trip to the U.S. and the trial, they told them the story of David and Goliath. They told the girls that all it took to bring down the giant was God, one small stone, and an obedient teenager. They told them that in this case, the evil man was Goliath, and all it would take to bring him down was God, the truth, and two obedient (early) teenagers. To reinforce this, and to help them remember, the couple gave each of the girls a small stone, with the word “Truth” written on it. And, as in the Biblical story, the stone hit its mark.
In one of those “coincidences” that are neither “mere” nor “chance,” we sang “Come Thy Fount” tonight. The worship leader said he’d never used the song before, and that he chose it before hearing anything about the evening’s itinerary. As you may or may not know, depending on your age, the second verse of the song says, “Now I lift mine Ebenezer.” For those of us who love Dickens, that brings up images of raising Ebenezer Scrooge by the head — an amusing, but altogether incorrect picture of what the song is trying to convey.
The reference is from 1 Samuel 7. Earlier in Samuel, the Israelites foolishly took the ark into combat, thinking it was a talisman that would protect them from defeat. God was angered that their confidence was in the ark, not in Him (and that they didn’t bother to ask Him before moving the ark), and so the Philistines not only defeated the Israelites, but captured the ark as well.
However, as the saying goes, that did not end well, and the Philistines ended up sending the ark on its way tied to the back of a cow. In the first few verses of 1 Samuel 7, the prophet Samuel calls Israel to repentance, to turn away from their false gods, so they could be rescued by God. They did, and He did, and as part of the celebration, Samuel took a large stone and placed it between the two towns where the Philistines had been defeated, and, verse 7 says, he called it “Ebenezer,” because “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”
Thus, the statement reflects on the name. “Ebenezer” is the transliteration of the Hebrew “Eben Haezor,” which, literally, means “Stone of Help.” Thus, Samuel raised a “Stone of Help” to remind Israel how God had helped them “this far,” i.e. at every step along the way until the current time.
As I have become more familiar over the last couple of years with the importance God places on justice, as I have seen how much of His word is spent telling us to impart justice, to take action against the unjust, to actively be a part of enforcing justice in His world, I have come to understand that we should all be someone’s “stone of help.” When someone asks, “But what can I do?”, I believe that is the answer — be someone’s Ebenezer. Be the person someone would think of if ever they sang that song.
It was not the physical stone in their pocket that enabled those brave young girls to get through their testimony. It was the couple who gave them that stone who were their “stone of help”. For the last several years, that couple, who left a comfortable life to work on the other side of the world, has been Ebenezer to countless other young girls in this same country.
So, you might not be able to bust down doors and rescue teenagers from a fate, literally, worse than death. You might not be able to single-handedly figure how to change a justice system to treat victims with the respect due them. You might not have any idea of what to do against unspeakable evil. But you can do this thing, you can be someone’s “stone of help.”
Who is calling you their “Ebenezer” today? Who will be tomorrow?