Friday, November 22, 2013

A Christian failure

Here's a true story about something that happened in the Portland Metro area not too long ago. I've changed names where appropriate.

For African women, getting one's hair done is more than a cosmetic activity --it's a social event. The process of having extensions braided into kinky African wool is a time-consuming activity that can often take 8 to 10 hours. The custom is that the women spend all day at it while watching Nollywood movies and eating African food.

Several years ago, a woman, an immigrant from sub-Saharan Africa and a Christian, came to our house so that Maty (coiffure extraordinaire) could braid the woman's hair. I'll call the woman "Fatou." The woman brought her 3-year-old daughter (I'll call her "Susie") with her.

At one point during the day, as Maty and Fatou were gabbing away in French, Susie looked at me and said, apropos of nothing: "Stevie put his penis right here!" She pointed at her vagina. All conversation stopped at that point.

"What?" I asked, uncomfortably.

She repeated the statement.

In the confused silence that followed, Fatou spoke. "It's true. She was raped." In response to Maty's and my gaping incomprehension, she shrugged. "The counselor told me to let her talk about it, if she wants."

Fatou then proceeded to tell us the story.

When Fatou's family came to America from West Africa in the early 00's, they were having a hard time adjusting to the new culture. A local Christian church, I can't remember the denomination, took the struggling family under its wing. They brought the family to their place of worship, invited them to social events, and made them feel welcome.

The family was grateful for the kindness and immersed themselves into their new community.

Susie's parents both worked and so they needed day-care for their daughter. Fortunately, a prominent family in the church provided day-care. The mother of that family home-schooled her own children and also oversaw a day-care center that catered to the children of other church members.

Susie joined other toddlers at the church family's home while Fatou and her husband went to their wage-earning jobs.

The family providing the day-care included a teenage boy of about 15 years whom I'll call "Stevie." Stevie had been home-schooled his entire life. On occasion, when his mother would leave the house on some errand or another, Stevie was asked to watch over the children.

On one such occasion, something bad happened.

On that day, Fatou picked up her daughter after work and was driving home when Susie told her about it. Fatou couldn't believe it at first. But as her daughter said more, Fatou began to panic. She took her daughter home, gave her a bath, and called the police.

Although Fatou later learned that giving her daughter a bath might have hindered the investigation, nonetheless, there was enough compelling evidence on Susie's clothing and on her body that a warrant was issued for Stevie's arrest.

The day-care family, as it happened, had left that very afternoon for the Oregon coast, to take part in a Christian convention. So Portland police called the Newport authorities and asked them to arrest Stevie and have him brought back to Portland. Apparently, the arrest occurred in front of the entire Christian community during their convention.

Stevie was found guilty. At the trial, the judge stated that he had never before seen a case where a 3-year-old girl had been raped. I don't know the details of the sentencing, but Stevie was incarcerated and assigned "sex offender" status, which will be with him for a long time to come.

It's a horrible story, but it doesn't end there. One of the most tragic and disappointing aspects of the whole affair was the reaction of the local Christian church.

Like good Christians, they rallied around the prominent day-care-providing family. I think that was noble and kind. That family was devastated by the act of their wayward son and was, no doubt, in sore need of support.

But the African family, Fatou's and Susie's family, suddenly found themselves shunned by the Christian community they thought had befriended them. Invitations to events dried up. People avoided them at church services. They were ostracized.

Eventually, the African family felt compelled to leave the church and find another place to worship.

It's a sad and tragic tale. A family in need comes to a community for help, is assaulted by one of its members, and then is turned away for exposing the community to shame.

Make of it what you will.

No comments: