Culled from the book Echoes of Mercy by Nancy Alcorn
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He proclaimed what was written about Himself in Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind the brokenhearted to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. (Isaiah 61:1 KJV)
When people hear about troubled youths, runaways, teen drug users, and victims of physical and sexual abuse, they commonly assume that it is the government’s responsibility to take care of them and restore their lives. Even Christians sometimes overlook their biblical responsibility, leaving it to the government.
The state cannot bring restoration to broken lives- it is unequipped for the task. The reason is simple: God has not “proclaim liberty to the captives.” He has anointed the church. We are to set them free.
Though my five years at the correctional facility gave me invaluable experience, they were also extremely frustrating years for me. One of the most significant lessons I learned was what not to do to help troubled girls.
Many of these girls thought God did not love them because of the all the horrible things they had experienced. They needed to know that Satan, “the god of the world” (2 Cor.4:4), was at work. He was the one bringing death and destruction to them, but Jesus came so we could have real life, abundant life. First John 3:8 says:
“For this purpose the son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (KJV).
Only by Jesus, the name that is above every name, can the works of the devil be destroyed in lives of people.
The system wasn’t working. I did not feel I was contributing to any real improvement in the girls’ lives. I had had a heavy dose of the government’s way of dealing with all these problems- the results were disappointing.
I thought I might make a greater impact and see better results if I worked with a younger age group. Thus, I asked for and received a transfer out of corrections and into state Department of Human Services, working with children suffering from neglect and abuse. I felt that it might be possible to intervene in the lives of these children before they reached the point of being committed to correctional facility. I hoped to become involved and see lives restored, but I was headed for even more frustration.
For the first year, I supervised foster care placements in the Nashville area. Then I had an opportunity for more challenging work with the Emergency Child Protective Services Unit. I was on call twenty –four hours a day, investigating charges of child abuse and neglect. Often my work would take me on a case with an investigative unit to a dangerous part of the city at any hour of the night. This position was challenging because it involved working with troubled youths and, though it was dangerous, it was also exciting.
One day I was sitting at my desk writing up case reports. A few of my co- workers were in the room at their desks, also doing paperwork. We worked in a big room with many desks and big glass windows. Suddenly I heard a loud bang and glass flew around the room. A bullet had been fired through the window and had passed between a co- worker and me, hitting the opposite wall. We were only four feet apart. Though we never discovered the perpetrator of that drive-by shooting, we assumed it was an enraged parent whose child had been removed from the home because of abuse.
Another time, I responded to a report that a man had been physically abusing his children the previous night. Because it was broad daylight, I did not think I needed to arrange for a police escort. I found the house and went up and knocked on the door.
As I waited for response, I wondered what I would find this time.
“Hi, I’m Nancy Alcorn from Department of Human Services,” I said, trying to sound pleasant. “We’ve had a report I’d like to discuss with you. May I come in?”
I immediately smelled the strong odor of alcohol on his breath. He was not stumbling drunk, but definitely under the influence. He slowly ambled over to his couch.
I sat across from him and I told him about the report we had received and that I would need to talk to his wife and children individually.
Suddenly the man’s expression grew furious and he started yelling at me, “Nobody’s going to take my children away from me!” As he shouted, his hand reached behind a pillow beside him and came out holding a revolver. “Get out of my house!”
Fear gripped me as thoughts of what could happen flooded my mind. But suddenly, a stronger force than fear took over. In a brief moment, my thoughts went to a scripture in psalm 91 where God promised to give His angels charge over me in all my ways of obedience and service. In a flash I knew everything was going to be okay.
“Sir,” I said as calmly as I could, “I don’t want to take your children away from you. If there’s any problem, we want to help you. I am a Christian, and I care about people who need help. Jesus will help you if you ask Him to.”
As I talked to the man about Jesus, his countenance softened, and he slowly put the gun on the couch and started crying. I said a silent prayer of thank to God for His protection and intervention.
Because of the circumstances, we had to remove the children temporarily. However, as a result of this being handled with God’s help, the man and his wife cooperated with us and agreed to receive the care and counsel offered by the state.
I had many other horrifying, traumatic experiences while I was with the investigative unit. One day around noon we received a call from the police to meet them at a sleazy hotel in downtown Nashville. They had received a report of someone possibly beating a child in one of the rooms, and I was assigned to check it out. I met two policemen at the hotel; they accompanied me upstairs.
They pounded on the door. “Police. Open up.”
No one answered, but I could hear someone whimpering.
The police kicked open the door. I will never forget what I saw. In a corner, a man was crouching like a sacred animal. The two officers cuffed him, leaving me to examine the little boy lying on the bed. He looked to be about seven years old. He was covered with blood and swollen from several lacerations on his face and upper body; he was shaking uncontrollably.
I bent over him and asked gently, “can you tell me what happened?”
“Bad man beat me,” he told me in a quaking voice. When he spoke, a tear slid down his cheek and mixed with blood. He was obviously badly hurt, so we called an ambulance.
The boy’s mother had gone out for shopping and left him with her disturbing boyfriend. He had beaten the little boy with his fists and the heel of a shoe. The boy was admitted to the hospital for several days for broken arms and cuts and bruises.
The state was able to repair the boy’s arm, but I wondered who fix the internal damage? Would he eventually grow up to abuse other children? I wished I could have the freedom to minister spiritually to such victims of abuse.
Another time I was beeped at home. A local hospital wanted me to come over right away. When I arrived, a doctor told me a woman had brought her eight-year-old girl to the emergency room with a broken leg. “There’s absolutely no way this break could have occurred the way the girl’s mother said it did,” he said. “We need you to question her”
I talked to the mother in private and she adamantly stuck to her story. Finally I decided to speak from my heart. “Listen”, I told her, “I am a Christian, and I understand that people do things sometimes because they’re hurting and that they may need help themselves. If you’ll tell me what really happened, I’ll do my best to try to get help for you.”
The woman began sobbing uncontrollably. When she regained her composure, she confessed to me that she had become so angry at her daughter that she lost control. She propped her daughter’s leg on the end of the couch and purposely broke it in two. A chill went down my spine as she told me what she had done- I could imagine anyone doing such a thing.
Though the woman did get counseling from the mental health center, at the roof of her violence lay a spiritual problem. No secular counseling program I knew of would be equipped to deal with the real spiritual issues underlying her behavior. There was no question in my mind that this woman was being driven by evil powers. Because of her desperation, I broke the rules and directed her to a pastor of a local church that was equipped to give her the right kind help. By that time I had seen so many parents horribly abuse their children and then be disgusted by their own behavior that I was certain they were under the influence of evil spirits. Only the name of Jesus is above every name, and I knew in my heart that only the name of Jesus could set this woman free. It was my responsibility to take legal action against her by removing the child from her care, but my heart went out to her. I urged her to take the initiative to go to church and ask for spiritual help in addition to completing the required state counseling and psychiatric testing. I don’t know what happened since I dealt with the emergencies and then turned the case over to a long- term counselor.
Another time I was called out late at night to go with police to a house neighbors had complained about. They reported that the house was so disgustingly filthy it was unfit for the two children living there. As two policemen waited outside, I went into the house and walked through it.
As I opened the front door, an unbearably foul stench hit me like physical force. It was the filthiest place I had ever seen. Roaches and other insects crawled all over the walls, ceiling and floors. A dog had had puppies on one of the beds and two weeks of refuse was dried up on the mattress. Insects had even invaded the refrigerator and freezer.
Though her two teenage children were extremely nice and seemed quite normal, the woman who lived there was oblivious to how repulsive her house was, I was overcome with what a horrible situation her children were being forced to live in. They were extremely embarrassed and ashamed, and I became incensed. “These kids are out of here tonight,” I told the mother, “and I’m giving you three days to get this place cleaned up. No one should have to live in this filth! I’ll be back to check; and when I do, this place better be spotless.”
I had avoid touching anything in the house. Nevertheless, when I came outside the waiting policemen spent several minutes examining me with a flashlight, picking off the roaches that had managed to get on my clothes and hair during my brief tour of the house. I shivered at the thought of a roach they might have missed crawling through my clothes.
That night I removed both the teenagers for their own protection. Once again, however, I felt incapable of bringing restoration to the family. The woman’s willingness to live in such disgusting house was indicative of a much deeper, darker problem than any government program could possibly uncover. She must have dislike herself terribly to be willing to live in such utter filth. Only God could uncover the woman’s deeply rooted problems that caused her to live this way.
I had many other experiences with degraded and broken lives. Such incidents caused me to feel the same frustration I had felt at the girls’ correctional facility. I deeply desired to see the broken lives of those I was dealing with restored to wholeness. Instead I saw children being brought up in horrible situations with no hope of a new start in life. I saw cases of four-and five- year- olds who were sexually molested by adults. It was heart wrenching.
The first five years of my state work, I was given an in-depth look at the teenage products of abuse, abandonment, neglect, and broken homes. The following three years, I was given an inside look at what small children experience growing up in abusive situations. God was showing me the whole picture- a sad picture-one that I will never forget.
As I reflected on the course my life had taken and my eight years of service with the State of Tennessee, I realized that restoration to hurting humanity apart from the delivering power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Looking back on it all, I now see that it was part of God’s plan for me to know and understand that secular programs and secular treatment centers cannot produce lasting changes in the lives of people. They cannot restore shattered lives.
It was necessary for me to live out those eight years regardless of the frustration, so that I would not be tempted to look to the wisdom of the world when I came up against difficult cases.
First Corinthians: 1:19-20, states:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (NIV)
No matter how many academic degrees a person may have, the real power to change a life is in the simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Although I was one of those people with degrees, I longed for the freedom to teach what I had learned in God’s school. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, God was listening to the cry of my heart