Trudy Harder Metzger is an author, speaker, trauma coach and survivor of long-standing patterns of abuse and incest — patterns inherent in some Old Colony Mennonite families in Mexico and then perpetuated when they migrated to Ontario. She now shows victims of abuse where to find help. The cycle must be broken.
Her father was a violent, legalistic man, nurtured in a violent, legalistic church culture. His two wives bore him 16 children, whom he saw as the means to make him rich when he put them out to hire, often in seasonal work. Wives were beaten as a matter of course, as were animals who didn’t obey him. Metzger grew up with whippings, even threats of being killed.
In this dysfunctional family, she was brought up on horror stories of violence, murder, suicide and demon possession instead of happy children’s stories. Mixed with them were teachings about a “harsh, angry God with a measuring stick” — and a God who loved her. The result was confusion. “Which God is real?” she asked herself. “Which one is safe? Which one will ultimately save me? Which one will condemn?” She lacked biblical understanding or psychic strength to sort truth from untruth.
Confusion about God was duplicated in her thinking about women’s place in family and church — a culture dominated by rules, especially regarding dress, hair styles and coverings. Men were the power-wielders. Women were objects with no voice in their own destiny. Men determined the colors and patterns printed on dress fabric — even the width of the band on women’s head coverings — all supposedly to protect their purity and well-being. Church leaders took part in the religious facade by being passive in one situation and violent in another.
Sexuality was a great mystery but also very common and therefore confusing. Young children just beyond the toddler stage learned to give sexual pleasure to older siblings before they knew what they were doing. She was abused herself but is discreet in her depiction of the assaults.
The result of growing up in this Old Colony Mennonite home was confusion about sexuality, about God and the church and about the role of a father, whose love she coveted yet whom she feared. Growing up, she never learned to relate to men in a healthy fashion.
She left home to become a domestic and attended other churches but was excommunicated for infractions of church rules: possibly dyeing her hair, watching TV, listening to instrumental music and attending churches other than her home church. The book chronicles her downward spiral as her body responded to sexual urges she didn’t understand, as she drifted aimlessly in the world beyond the church because of the duplicity of those who made the rules within it.
Once her church threw her out, she began drinking, smoking, taking drugs and experimenting with sex. She let herself be abused, thinking she was not free to say “no” to men. It took years for her to separate despicable behaviors and understandings from the truth and to realize she had a choice. She could be an agent in her own destiny.
In a rare moment, she saw herself as the woman caught in adultery brought to Jesus. Her life of sin “collided with undeniable love and grace.”
Healing emotionally, spiritually and mentally took about two years under the loving care of a kind couple, who invested themselves in her in a way no one had before. She emerged a stronger person ready to speak out about her own years of abuse to break the silence about this long-standing evil. She took public speaking courses to improve her skills with audiences and launched into speaking at conferences about sexual abuse, “to acknowledge the crime and to open the door to healing.” Her new organization, Generations Unleashed, opened that door to many people, including the Mennonite community, to speak about the evil while recognizing the good residing in family and church.
Memoirs like this one open small cracks in a large subject that is difficult to write about. A conservative Mennonite man said at one of her conferences: “This has got to end. This silence has to be broken.” Metzger is joining her voice to those of others who are breaking the silence.
Katie Funk Wiebe, a Wichita, Kan., author, blogs at kfwiebe.blogspot.com.