The Power of One Story

by Dee Ann Miller
from author's home page:

In 1988, I asked myself two questions: "How can I bring good out of evil?" and "What would Love have me do with this horrible story?" Love spoke to me clearly: "Tell your story. Tell it far and wide."

At first there was little time to focus on strategy. My husband and I, along with our two children, were struggling to survive financially, emotionally, and spiritually after the biggest battle of our lives. We had left our careers and commitment to lifelong mission service in Africa, where we had been serving under the largest evangelical mission board in the world--that of the Southern Baptist Convention--for years not knowing that we were working with a sexual predator, an American missionary who had been on the mission field for a quarter of a century! His victims included two adolescents--one the daughter of other missionaries, the other a national who ended up in the emergency room with a physical injury, but was too intimidated to answer questions from a very wise and concerned medical assistant. I personally discovered the predator's problem during in a brief, encounter, as one of several co-workers who experienced harassment and the shock of third-degree sexual assault. Yet our family could have stayed on easily had the issues been addressed with appropriate expertise.

Instead, as in most cases the "expertise" was in damage control. It served the powerful system above all. The result was mis-management to the hilt. This, along with the total collusion of our colleagues, including all other victimized families, led to our forced resignation. I say "forced" because we were put on probation and refused to accept the terms that would have allowed us to "return in peace" (a term that obviously meant we were expected to return in silence!) Our sense of integrity could never have been "at peace" otherwise.

In 1988, we were grieving, not just for ourselves, but for the greater community of faith who were (and largely still are) blinded to the dangers of sexual violence within the institutional church.

Returning to stateside psychiatric nursing, I became painfully aware within six months of our resignation that our story was an echo of many others. As missionaries, we had been people whom our denomination frequently referred to as "the cream of the crop." Because of that, I knew that this story might be more difficult to ignore than many.

Almost every time I risked telling bits of my story to a friend or colleague, I would be reciprocated by someone who was carrying the burden of another story which had been told to them in confidence! It didn't take long to realize that my story had liberating power, not just for me, but others.

Recently I found a gem written by Dag Hammarskjold which best described my thoughts and feelings as I wrestled with how to tell my story:

"The most dangerous of all moral dilemmas: when we are obliged to conceal truth in order to help the truth to be victorious. If this should at any time become our duty in the role assigned us by fate, how strait must be our path at all times, if we are not to perish."
Within months, I envisioned a book....I knew the project could be very risky for me personally, but not telling it was dangerous for the larger community. I could potentially destroy my husband's career as a minister. Ron and I talked about this at length. He had no reservations. We both saw the project as a work of advocacy, not just for victims, but for his profession which is rapidly destroying itself because of it's own dishonesty.

I began writing, even as I worked a fulltime and a parttime job to support my family. I wrote even as I went back to school to obtain a degree in community mental health, which I hoped would enhance my envisioned ministry. I used a thick pile of notes taken during the intense heat of the case and wove in what I knew professionally to tell my story. In 1993, the finished product, How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct (Prescott Press) went on the market. It continues to bring opportunities for further advocacy writing.....

Frequently I am asked if it has been instrumental in my healing. Of course, it has. Yet the major portion of my personal healing had taken place by the time I started writing. I like to think of the book as evidence of my healing, rather than a personal healing tool.

....When I wrote, I visualized the larger community of faith as my primary audience. Of course, they have been my most resistant audience. The overwhelming responses of gratitude have come from survivors.

....The powerful story I have told is by no means dead. Like every survivor story, it is a witness. It will live on long beyond my earthly stay. As the Bible so well illustrates, the world needs to hear both the Good News and the bad news in our world. The first takes on an even greater power as we face the truth about evil. Yet speaking the truth about evil often has great consequences.

If you are currently wrestling with decisions about your own story-telling, I encourage you to give it a lot of thought. Your story is powerful. It has the power to build up, but also the power to destroy things precious to you. The outcome of self-revelation is always uncertain. There are many double-binds and no right or wrong answers. In time, God will reveal to what extent and how you need to use your valuable story for the greatest good in this world. You are not being selfish if you choose to use your story only for your own healing. There are many, many factors to consider.

Survivor Kerry Fitzgerald whose story appeared several years ago on the front page of the Miami Herald passes on to survivors what her therapist told her one day: "Remember, you aren't just your shit."

Whether or not you choose to tell your story publicly, remember that rising above the story into the glorious world of growth beyond human comprehension, is the greatest revenge.

Want to know where life has taken the author since 1993? Check out Miller's newest release (2017), based on the Oscar-winning movie, Spotlight, Enlarging Boston's Spotlight: A Call for Courage, Integrity, and Institutional Transformation

Dee Ann Miller is also the author of How Little We Knew: Collusion and Confusion with Sexual Misconduct (1993) and The Truth about Malarkey (2000)