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Soon after choosing this issue's theme, I found an e-mail message on my computer screen: "Last week one of my colleagues, a Christian RN, and four patients were killed at the hands of one of the patients she had dedicated her life to caring for. I was a nurse on duty that night. I would like to write a first-person article on this tragedy and also how my faith is helping me to deal with the aftermath."

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Although I encouraged her to write her story, she never submitted an article. In fact, I eventually lost track of her completely and worry about whether she received the support she desperately needed. However, other nurses did submit their stories of violence and abuse. In doing so, they offer us a gift born of their suffering.


Along with these manuscripts, queries came from other nurses who wanted to tell their stories but just couldn't finish the job. Writing about personal encounters with violence is hard work. It requires an author to relive horrendous memories and try to make sense of the senseless. The process can be deeply healing, but terribly exhausting.


While victims of public violence may receive an outpouring of support and encouragement, victims of hidden violence suffer alone with their dreadful secrets-child abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse from teachers, clergy and other authority figures, as well as the abuse of power and control by supervisors on the job. The problem is not new, and it's not going away until Jesus returns to usher in the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1-4).


We first read about the encroachment of violence in Genesis 4:8, when Cain killed his brother Abel. By Genesis 6:11 the violence had spread, "Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence." After that, God sent a flood to wipe out the evil people, but as soon as the ark landed, violence resumed within the circle of "righteous" people who had been saved from the flood. Centuries later, the prophet Habakkuk implored, "O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you 'Violence!!' and you will not save?" (Hab 1:2).


Victim support will never be a quick fix. It is a long-term commitment.


We cannot deny the violence in our midst, yet we do. Within six months of the World Trade Center explosions, most Americans were back in denial-living as if this could never happen again, tired of the gory news reports and numb to the pain of the victims and their families.


To a much greater extent, we deny the problem of domestic violence and other forms of abuse that occur when perpetrators hold positions of trust. We don't want to believe that our clergy sexually abuse the young and the vulnerable, or that schoolteachers or health care professionals take advantage of those in their charge. It is easier to remain skeptical or to blame the victim.


Confronting violence head on can be nasty. Those who try to expose violence and abuse may become secondary victims. Acknowledging the violence that occurs in our midst erodes our confidence in the security of our environment. We don't want to know about the problem and we don't want to deal with the potential consequences-upheaval, shame, embarrassment, retribution and litigation. Abuse in a Christian setting confronts us with the reality of sin in our midst and in ourselves. Instead of facing that actuality, we deny that such things could ever happen here.


After all, doesn't God promise us peace? Isaiah 60:18 tells us, "Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise." So what's going on? Why do Christians have to deal with the ugliness of violence and abuse? We must, because we live in a now and not-yet kingdom. Although we live in the hope of God's promises, and to some degree experience the first fruits of kingdom living, we also must deal with the problem of sin in today's world.


Jesus gave us a clear example for dealing with violence when he told the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. The man by the side of the road was a victim of violence. He had been robbed, beaten and left for dead. Just as the Samaritan in Jesus' parable cared for that man, we are to care for the victims of violence, even if it means putting ourselves in danger-or, at best, being inconvenienced. We don't ask, "What was this person doing traveling alone on such a dangerous road, anyhow?" We simply take care of the wounds, provide for long-term care and assist in any way we can.


To do that, we have to face the violence head on. We can't, with integrity, walk to the other side of the road and pretend not to see. It means listening to victims with full attention, asking the right questions, responding with compassion and being aware of resources where victims can go to find healing. Victim support will never be a quick fix. It is a long-term commitment.


Psalm 72:13-14 describes the good king: "He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight." As followers of Jesus, that is our job as well.