Lowered head, with a shy smile peeking through, Jamie* begins to speak. “My name is Jamie. I am glad to meet you and to share my story. I hope that you all will share it with many more people.”
Jamie is beautiful. Quiet strength felt with every word; courageous determination seen with every step. Jamie is a teenager, listens to Chris Brown and Beyoncé, and is going to school…the ninth in her class.
Jamie is also a survivor of abuse. A survivor of sexual assault. A term that is difficult to hear, and even more difficult to discuss. A term that is a reality of Jamie’s story; a reality of her past. Her story is one that grips your heart, and tears your soul. At fourteen years old, Jamie endured things for weeks that no child should ever have to endure. All the specifics of her victimization are not necessary for this online space, but you need to know that her abusers locked Jamie in a house and she was left alone…and then the house caught fire. Jamie was trapped. By the time neighbors could break down the door to reach her, she was severely injured, with large burns covering her small body. The damage to her legs was so extensive that both legs were amputated below the knee. The trauma, pain, and devastation she must have felt are unimaginable to me.
I first heard Jamie’s story while interning with International Justice Mission last fall, and it absolutely broke my heart. I couldn’t fathom the violence she had endured; how powerless she must have felt. I couldn’t imagine that this kind of sexual violence happens daily around the world, even in here our own country, where those with power take from those who are powerless. I’ve spoken about IJM before, but for those who may not know, IJM shows up to fight for justice in places where justice may not be so easily found. In places where justice systems are broken. In places where the voiceless remain silenced. They work in nearly twenty communities in the developing world, protecting the poor from violence, and proving that justice for the poor is not only necessary, but that it is possible and that it is their right.
IJM has a field office in Rwanda, and soon after Jamie was taken to the hospital, a nurse contacted IJM, knowing they had experience in this field. She knew they had social workers who could assist Jamie in her physical and emotional recovery. IJM took the case, and sent incredible social workers named Brigitte and Baraka to meet with Jamie and her family, taking the first steps toward the process of emotional healing.
While the social workers were caring for Jamie, IJM’s Rwandan team of investigators and lawyers worked to find the perpetrators who were responsible for this act of violence. They were successfully able to locate the men involved, and after proceeding through the necessary legal channels, they were found guilty and held responsible for their actions by the Rwandan courts.
Jamie’s healing is far from finished, but she is on her way. She is a part of IJM’s trauma-focused counseling programs, and has been fitted with a pair of prosthetics. She is receiving physical therapy, walking around with her prosthetics so well you can hardly tell she has had them for such a short time. I could not believe that the girl I saw sitting, walking, and talking with us was the same girl who had been on my heart for so long. Jamie is attending school; learning, hoping, and dreaming. She shared with us that she hopes someday to become an orthopedic doctor, to help children just like her. I have no doubt…no doubt…that she will make this dream a reality. She is beautiful; she is strong. She has a story to tell and she is not afraid to share.
Yesterday, I met Jamie in person for the very first time, after hearing her updates for so long through IJM. Today, I know the way she lives her story, the way she wears her scars, has changed my heart forever.
Many of you know my sister’s story. The story of her scars. Brooke was born with severe congenital heart defects, with several palliative repairs done, but no long-term cure or “fix” available at this point. Her scars are prominent; provoking questions, second glances. I approached Jamie at the end of the meal, eyes brimming with tears. I could hardly speak, trying to find a way…any way… to express to her just how deeply her story touched me; how much her courage meant to me.
“I hope that someday…someday…my Brooke will wear her scars with as much grace and courage as you do today. I hope she will tell their story the way you tell yours. I am so proud of you. So very proud of you.”
Jamie looked at me then, took my hand, and said, “Would you like to feel my scars?” Her hand guiding mine, I touched the raised skin, now forever a part of her story.
Pain. Sorrow. Courage. Strength. Hope. All wrapped in that single touch; the power of her scars. Both our eyes now filled with tears, she hugged me hard, and whispered so softly I could barely catch it…
“Please tell your baby sister. I, too, hope that she is proud of her scars. Tell her that her scars show she is brave too; that it is not shameful to share her story, the same as I. My scars show how far I have come. They are painful, but they show that she is strong. Tell her to let her scars be known. Tell her I hope this for her, like I hoped for myself.”
I know Brooke’s story cannot compare in the least to the horrors Jamie faced, but I will always treasure Jamie’s words, and the kindness and hope with which she shared them. Her message of strength rings true for us all.
“To let our scars be known.”
To trust others with our stories. To encourage them in their own story. To be vulnerable and let others see our scars. What a powerful thought.
I know I will never forget Jamie’s story. I will never forget her scars. As we were leaving our lunch, she asked us to take her greetings to our friends, to tell them that she prays for them; that she is now able to walk on her own. She paused for a moment and looked up at us…”Are you taking my message?”
Jamie’s message is written on my heart. And I want you all to hear it too. I wish I could say the violence stops with Jamie. That she is the only one; the rarest of rare case. But she isn’t. Not by a long shot. Violence to the poor is an epidemic, and it must be stopped. For Jamie. For our Rwandan sisters. For the daughters, the sons, the friends around this world who have fallen victim to violence. They deserve for their stories to be shared, and I want you to hear it. They wear their scars, each and every one of them, and their story speaks loud and clear.
How will we then respond? How will YOU respond?
“IJM is releasing a short film about Jamie’s powerful story in a couple weeks. Be among the first to see it by making sure you’re signed up here to get email updates. You won’t want to miss it. Please consider partnering with them in their mission to protect the poor from violence by signing up to become a Freedom Partner. A donation of $24.00 every month, so that IJM can show up, 24 hours a day. You can do so HERE. We can step forward. We can start TODAY. You can make a difference. Let’s do it, friends.