TW: sexual abuse
"On the local front today, our coverage continues on the sexual accusations against a youth minister at a popular Christian church here in our city. Known as one of the largest congregations in town, this story has gained much attention as the popular youth minister has been accused of sexual assault on a female minor, a member of the congregation. The accused Matthew Powell is presently out on bond, awaiting a trial date. Needless to say, there is much contention among the membership as the church leaders strive to maintain peace and order among the members. Pastor Bernard Easton, when interviewed soon after these disturbing events came to light, stated he and the other leaders along with the membership will wait to see what the court will reveal before making any comments. Pastor Easton added that they will continue to pray for Mr. Powell.”
Matthew listened to the report but felt as though they were talking about someone else. “I haven't done anything,” he whispered, “Why can’t he say that he knows I’m innocent? All he can say is that he’ll continue to pray for me, that’s it?” He wanted to add that he couldn’t believe this was happening to him, but before he could utter the words, looked down at his hands. The ink they had used to fingerprint him was still smudged on his fingers. The nightmare of that morning replayed in his mind. The accusation, the arrest, waiting to make bail had all happened that morning. He thanked the members who, at the request of his parents, had quickly come and bailed him out. He also thanked his parents who had come to pick him up and take him home with them following his release, but he refused their offer. They all said they didn’t want him to go home alone. This was his desire. No odd or sympathetic looks from family and friends could help him, because there would only be more questions. They would be softer questions than the drilling ones delivered by the investigating detectives, but it wasn't what he wanted. After such a horrendous day, He wanted only what he had at the moment; the evening alone.
Glancing at his phone on the small table beside his chair, he noticed the constant blinking indicating a missed call. He had stopped the blinking of it several times without bothering to see who had called or how many missed calls there were.
“Hope you’re not trying to call me, Ava. " he muttered as he put the phone down again.
Ava, his fiance, was out of town at a business conference for her job. For that, he was thankful. The thought of telling her about the criminal charges unsettled him even more. "I wonder if you would believe I'm innocent? Seems like no one else does."
He sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. The events of the day instantly arose to torment him. There were the voices of the interrogators taunting by insinuation . Then the absurd suggestions made concerning a non-existent relationship between him and the young woman. All made to frustrate him into admitting to things that never happened or anger him beyond reason and they declare him guilty due to irrational behavior. Either way, he was assumed guilty for assaulting a young woman without a cause, let alone that he barely knew her, all because she claimed it happened.
The media coverage seemed determined to present him as guilty and the lukewarm statements of support from the church leadership was no help.
Matthew now felt the life he knew was over. Realizing this, his mind ran wild as he struggled to choke back tears, " I can't make it through this, they're going to put me in prison!" He sobbed. "I'm innocent! He sobbed harder, suffocating in fear.
Despite his loud cries, he clearly heard a voice in his ear, " Why don't you just end it, kill yourself."
Matthew bolted out of his chair, looking around. The voice seemed right next to him. Seeing nothing, he sat back down, as he realized his own troubled thoughts had taken on a voice. He had worn himself down to the point that he allowed himself to agree with the idea. "Yeah, what do I have to live for now. There's no such thing as being innocent of this type of crime."
"They will all regret what they did to you, causing you all this pain. It will be so easy. Send them a group text, blame them all for killing you, they won’t be able to stop it. You could be dead by morning," his inner voice whispered again.
"Yes, I could...group text….dead by morning. " He muttered in agreement. As he finished, a sudden pain arose in his spirit and he cried out, "No, no,I don't want to die! God, help me!” He crumbled down to the floor and on his knees he cried out, "My God, Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, save me!"
His prayer was suddenly interrupted by several hard knocks at his front door. He paused for a moment, wondering if he had truly heard something. After a pause, even harder knocks jarred the door and rattled the walls.
Matthew leaped up feeling assured it was some prankster. He snatched open his door preparing to unleash all his frustration at the person responsible for the ill timed disturbance. He opened his apartment door to a dark, empty hallway. Peeping out, he looked first to his left; noticing that the building’s entry door was closed and secure.He knew it meant no one could simply wander through it to bang at his door. He turned to look the other way down the long hallway of other apartment doors, still no one. Another quick glance towards the entry door brought him face to face with a man Matthew was certain hadn’t been standing there before.
“I know I am disturbing you, but I urgently need to reach my friend,” he said.
Matthew only stood staring at the man for a moment, before he repeated part of what the man said, “You need to reach your friend?”
“Yes,” the man answered, his voice calm, yet insistent, “I need to reach him.”
“You mean you want to use my phone?” Matthew offered.
The man only nodded and Matthew let him in, pointing to his phone laying on the side table.
As the man stepped in, Matthew watched him walk over to the table and pick up the phone. At the same time he wondered why he would allow this. He was in the middle of his own crisis, he had no time to attend to anyone else.
The man held his phone, looking at it instead of using it. “Do you know you have 37 unanswered calls on your phone?”
Before he could respond, the man continued, “There are a lot of people worried about you, Matthew”
"How do you know my name?"
"I know the name of all those who belong to me." The man answered as he laid the phone down on the table.
“What?” Matthew began, “Belong to you? I thought you were here to use the phone.”
“No, I said; I urgently needed to reach my friend and I have. I never needed your phone.” The man answered, giving him a steady look.
Matthew’s heart began beating wildly as he asked, “Who are you?”
“C’mon now Matthew, I know you. You should know me. Afterall, you called upon me, so I’m answering you.”
Matthew felt his legs buckling, the man was next to him in an instant, steadying him, then walking a few steps to the sofa, which was across from his chair.
"There now," the man said as Matthew sat back on the sofa, " You'll be much more comfortable there," He then took a seat in Matthew's chair. "Ah," he said as he sat down, "This is pleasant. "
His warm smile was reassuring, causing Matthew to feel himself growing more at ease.
The man glanced around Matthew’s living room. A gentle smile came over his face. He then folded his hands across his lap and looked at Matthew, his expression unchanged. " Your day was very hard. " The man began, "and though you would find it difficult to believe, as hard as this day was, I was there with you."
Matthew sat expressionless and silent. He could only stare at the man's face and hear the comforting words that flowed out to him like a tranquil breeze.
Of Course I've always been with you. I've heard your every prayer not only those you prayed for yourself, but those you prayed for others, Ah, those were the ones that touched my heart most deeply, because they were prayers for others to come to the greatest truth in the universe, the truth that I AM and that I AM all my word says."
He paused for a moment, "You didn't offer any prayers for others today and that's understandable. But there were many, many prayers offered up for you today. As I said,you are much loved. As you are much beloved by me."
The man looked over at Matthew’s phone. It was blinking furiously. "Oh, your voicemail is full." He said, " They're not only praying for you but they want to come over and be with you." He looked over at Matthew and added, "Especially Ava. Also, since you were wondering, she believes you're innocent.
Matthew's eyes opened wider, " She believes me?" he whispered.
"Yes, Ava does because she loves you. She and all the others are very concerned over your being here alone." He continued, "It's that strange nature of family and friends to desire to group together when there's trouble, but Mother and father can't heal the injuries from this fall. Isn't that right Matthew?
Matthew found himself staring wide-eyed at the man, "That's one of my sermons,"
"Yes, and one of my favorites," the man continued. " I recall you said how mother and father can heal your scrapes when you fall off your bicycle.
But who can heal your spirit when you fall from your faith? No friends or family can restore that loss."
"Only you can, Lord," Matthew said solemnly.
The man nodded, then added "You were in a dangerous place here alone. Your family and friends sensed it. You nearly fell, not only from your faith but much more. You gave heed to evil suggestions to end your life.
"Forgive me, Lord " Matthew said aloud,
"It's just… I felt I had no hope. I...I…"he lowered his head and began to cry softly.
"Matthew...Matthew," the man called gently, " I didn't tell you this to convict you. I told you so you could see how strong your faith is. You turned your back on a faithless sin and called to me full of faith.
Matthew looked up, "You're going to help me?"
"I already have," the man said.
"But Lord, they say I beat the young lady, I didn’t do it. I'd never hit any woman. They believed everything she said. They even believed I attacked her there in the church! And those detectives they kept after me, questioning me over and over, trying to trip me up.
One of them kept calling me 'church boy' and saying he knew my type. That we were nothing but a bunch of sex preditors, taking advantage of young girls when ever we got the chance. He blasphemed your name and I couldn't say anything...I couldn't say anything to convince them how wrong they were…."
Matthew paused, noticing the man was silent, his expression unchanged. He grew quiet and looked down.
"Yes Matthew, I know how much you were hurt." The man began, "Don't forget, I'm well familiar with the pain of false accusations, and the torment of an unjustified death sentence."
The man sat forward looking at Matthew intently, " I suffered all of it so I could redeem all of you. This that you've suffered can be resolved through your faith. Hold on to your faith in me, no matter what happens. Don't look at the circumstances, hold to my promises.
Do you understand?"
Matthew wasn't completely sure he understood, but nodded.
The man got up from the chair and stood over him."It's time for you to rest now. That's why I put you on the couch, you were going to sleep there tonight anyway." The man chuckled slightly as he headed to the door, the sound of it soft and musical.
Matthew heard his door open and close. He found himself unwilling to move. A great comfort came over him and he slept.
The knocking at his door was not as disturbing, but still annoying as he didn't want the peace of his sleep disturbed.
He was going to ignore it until a voice called his name, Mr Powell, this is police detective Joiner with detective Pierce. Would you open up please."
He jumped up in a panic. The two people who had caused him the most pain, were once again knocking at his door. Had they come to arrest him again?
By the time they announced themselves again, Matthew opened the door. "What do you want?" he asked, barely finding his voice.
"May we come in please, Mr Powell?"
The detective making the request was Detective Joiner. Matthew recalled him as being the less abrasive of the two. He glanced over at the other detective, who wouldn't meet his eye. A far cry from the attitude he showed during Matthew's arrest.
Returning his attention to the other one, he said, "Sure, come in."
They walked in and stood in the middle of Matthew's living room, as he slowly closed his door. "What do you want?" Matthew began slowly turning to face them.
He immediately noticed something different about them. They didn't answer right away and were looking uncertain.
Matthew didn't come any closer but stood near his door, his arms folded.
Detective Joiner cleared his throat, glanced nervously at his partner, then spoke. " There has been a new development in this case and, uh.."
Detective Pierce continued, " We arrested the assailant of Miss Julie Larson overnight, a Mr Franklin March was arrested. He was brought to our attention by a liquor store owner who noticed an under age female with a guy that was acting kinda rough with her. The girl fit Miss Larson's description and she was there during the time she claimed she was with you. She's completely retracted her story involving you." He completed his robotic telling of events and looked off.
Matthew didn't move or show any expression, which seemed to unnerve them both.
The other detective filled in the empty spaces with his part of the report. " Miss Larson said she came to the church and waited until after your youth meeting was over and everyone had left. She knew you were usually the last to leave. That's when she approached you about a ride home. She was already beat up by that time. You had indicated that when we spoke to you. She claimed she was so afraid her boyfriend would kill her. If she told anyone . So when her mother discovered she'd been assaulted, she said you were responsible."
Matthew remained unmoved. His memories of being tormented by these two men were still too fresh in his mind.
His stoic silence unnerved the detectives so they felt the need to state what was obvious. " Of Course all charges against you have been dropped." Detective Pierce said as he stepped towards the door.
Detective Joiner stepped closer to the door as well, but paused there as Matthew opened it. "Mr Powell," he began "We apologize for our handling of you during our investigation, but try to understand, we both have daughters around that young lady's age and we make it a priority to get the offenders, sometimes ploughing over the innocent to get to the guilty, you understand?"
Matthew only nodded again as he held the door open for them. "Oh, yeah," Detective Joiner added, " Your bond will be released to you, just go to the bailiff's office.
Matthew muttered a "Thank you." before closing the door on the worst day of his life.
"What did you do after they left, Pastor Matt?"
"What did I do?" Matthew answered, with a wide smile, "I fell flat on my face and praised my Lord Jesus for an hour or more because I knew I was delivered from those accusations. Later I prayed for the young lady that had accused me and for the cops who were so convinced I was guilty."
The Youth Bible Study had ended and they were having open discussion time. This is the time he was usually asked about his experience with the divine and Matthew never tired of talking about it and relating its impact on his life. The question most asked was the one Jesus had best prepared him to answer: What did He look like?
This is how He said it:
“One other thing Matthew,” he said turning back to face him, “When you tell them of our meeting, they will ask you what I look like. This is the answer you will give them: You’ll say I look like every person who believes on me as their Savior and has my word of love abiding in them, for I AM MY WORD.
The answer to this question stirred their souls every time.