A Sabbath School teacher noticed that 8-year-old Sidney pulled away from him as he greeted the children entering the classroom. At first he thought Sidney was very shy. During church activities the teacher observed Sidney’s relationship with his father. When Sidney misbehaved, his father grabbed him by the arm and shook him violently. At times he yelled and threatened to punish him at home.
The teacher also noticed Sidney shying away from other men at church. He suspected that something serious was happening between Sidney and his father.
One Sabbath a boy in the Sabbath School class talked to the teacher. He was visibly upset as he whispered that Sidney’s father struck Sidney on the head with closed fists, sending him staggering across the room.
Now his suspicions were confirmed. Sidney was being abused by his father. This seemed to explain his observations.
The teacher knew he must protect Sidney from further abuse. He visited the local child protection agency to find out how they investigated reports of child abuse. When he was satisfied with the professionalism and confidentiality of the investigators, he reported what he feared was happening.
Fortunately, the father admitted his runaway anger to the investigator. Counseling resources were provided. The father agreed to a program of accountability and anger management.
The father never knew who reported him. The teacher respected Sidney’s desire to remain aloof. He waited for Sidney to make overtures of friendship. He noticed that Sidney came to class with a brighter countenance.
The teacher’s real reward for his vigilance came years later when he learned that Sidney was a well-adjusted teenager who has a healthy relationship with his father.
Some church members thought it was wrong to report the father to the agency. They never knew who reported him. The teacher heard their remarks, but he never felt guilty about trying to help Sidney.
We live in a time when the church is not immune from domestic abuse.
Background checks are now quite common when volunteers agree to work for organizations that serve children and youth. Some might see this as going too far, but vigilance is reasonable when it comes to avoiding abuse.
Sabbath School leaders need to know the signs of abuse. In addition to attending conferences on teaching methods, they should have classes in how to detect and report suspected abuse.
Sidney’s teacher recognized some of the signs of abuse. His hunches were confirmed by abuse in public. His alertness and courage to report the abuse to authorities saved Sidney from further abuse that could have crippled him for life.
Domestic abuse is a crime. It must not be tolerated in the church; neither should we bury our head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t happen in the church.
Funding for family life ministry sometimes is a low priority in church organizations, but if administrators could be a mouse in the corner during counseling sessions at an Adventist camp meeting, they’d reexamine their priorities. The church needs to be in the forefront when it comes to strengthening family life and combating domestic abuse.
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists