Secrets and lies and photographs

Fifty years ago, a split happened in the Christian fellowship that my family was a part of going back at least two generations. The split was catastrophic, literally and figuratively tearing apart and destroying families all over the world, separating husbands from wives, parents from children and grandchildren, siblings from siblings, frequently by force. In many cases, family members were never seen again and many of them have since died without any further contact at all.

My own family, especially my grandparents, were at the heart of that split. Although I was very young, just a toddler at the time, my whole life has been lived with the backdrop of what happened back then. The sad thing is that this event from long ago continues to affect thousands of lives every day. It has led to numerous suicides, mental breakdowns, alcoholism and drug abuse, and severely warped and broken people.

The truth of what happened long ago has continued to be cloaked in secrets and lies that many people continue to believe as gospel, and these secrets and lies have destroyed many aspects of my extended family. Which story you chose to believe altered the shape of your life from then on.

Most days, I don’t think much about it, and I talk about it even less. As already noted, at the time it all happened, I was very small and I have no direct memory of the events. However, I’ve always known that there is a gaping hole in one side of my family. I have aunts and uncles and cousins whom I’ve never known and never met, and likely will never meet. I grew up with people who all suffered the same thing.

A few days ago, we came into contact with people who had extensive photo albums with recent photos of our relatives. My siblings and I talked through each photo of family members who are complete strangers to us. Our conversation took place during a Zoom call that included my mother, one of the last people still alive of her generation who lived through everything.

It was both fascinating and repelling to see these photos. That sounds harsh but what I mean by repelling is that the heaviness and sorrow, the weight of all of this criminal, twisted, evil, cultish system of things done in the name of Christ and sourced in secrets and lies, broke through the surface of everyone’s minds. Words cannot describe the years and years of unjustified anguish, heartache, depression, anxiety, and overwhelming relational loss encompassed in those photographs. The stories I can tell, without any exaggeration — stories of what is true, what really happened and continues to happen — would freeze your blood.

I do not feel animosity or hatred toward these unknown relatives, only bewilderment. They believe they are righteous and we are evil. At what cost? Is it really worth it? I have walked down the street of a small town on the other side of the world and had people in this fellowship who know who I am cross over to the other side of the street to not be contaminated by contact with me.

However, here’s the good part — at the end of our Zoom call, my siblings and I affirmed that God is over all things. His judgment is true and fully right. He knows all things, and there are no secrets He does not know and lies He cannot refute. We affirmed our trust in Him and our thankfulness for every move, every step, and every event in our lives. We refused to be preoccupied with and weighed down by these evil circumstances and choose to hand over everything into His hands. The faithfulness of my grandparents and my parents was remembered, recognized, and appreciated again through many tears.

There is a lot of hurt in my family, including between me and my older siblings. Much of that hurt is connected to this past I’m writing about. Somehow though, through the miracle of weekly Zoom meetings brought about by a global pandemic, I have begun to see some of that relational hurt begin to transform into healing. I didn’t think it possible.

Praise God, with whom all things are possible.

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