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Yesterday I had the amazing opportunity of going on an arrest operation. It was surreal to say the least. After months of looking at pictures of perpetrator’s faces and front doors, I found myself looking right into the eyes of a man who had repeatedly raped his niece.

I woke up before the sun to meet our head investigator and two police officers for the operation. After months of covert surveillance, our investigator had learned this man’s patterns. When he left the house at 7:20 AM, we would be ready.

As soon as he crossed the street to head to the bus stop, they had handcuffs on him. I watched from behind the lens of our investigations camcorder as this man finally had to face what he had done.

As you can imagine, there’s a level of secondary trauma that comes with this job. I haven’t written about that much because quite frankly, I’m still processing it. I’m learning how to live with the paranoia, the nightmares and the moments of panic.

I want to share with you one of the most powerful tools God has used to strengthen my heart in this wild season. This is a practice that began as a small seed in my heart several months ago, but has taken deep roots.

Prayer.

I know, you’re thinking, well duh. But let me explain that this is a very specific, intentional prayer that has made all the difference.

Several months ago, in the quiet moments with Him, I started timidly whispering prayers of mercy and redemption for our perpetrators. At first, I couldn’t even bring myself to say their names. It was too much. It made me sick to my stomach to think of them. But slowly, God shifted my heart. Praying for them made them more human in my eyes. They became real beings that have strayed far from God’s intended design.

This isn’t something I made up or started doing to make myself feel better. It was a heavy command from Scripture that I tried to ignore: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Sure, that could be a roommate you don’t get along with or a coworker who doesn’t respect you. But these men are also enemies as they are living against God’s will for His creation. And God calls us to pray for them.

Let me assure you, this is one of the hardest things I have ever done. It didn’t come easily or comfortably. But it happened, and it changed me. It’s still changing me. 

Yesterday I found myself in the front seat of a car with a perpetrator sitting just behind me. He was handcuffed for his crimes, captive to his sin. It took all of me not to weep. And so I prayed, because he too needs freedom.

I expected to seek freedom for those abused at the hands of the powerful, corrupt and manipulative. I expected to pray relentlessly for our clients and their families. I expected to have a heart of compassion for the victims, and a hardened heart against the perpetrators.

But my Jesus proved me wrong. He wants mercy and freedom just as much for those committing the abuse as He does for the abused. He wants to delight in them. To find joy in them. To call them by name. After all, they are His children too. They may have strayed from the path as the one lost sheep, but as the shepherd He will surely pursue them to their return. They’ve rejected their Creator, but He wants to bring them back to living as His Creation- to a place of fear and love for God. I’ve begun to understand the unfathomable pain that our Father feels when one of His own hurts another one of His children.

Yes, God is a god of justice, but the mystery of the Spirit is that he is simultaneously a merciful God. And He will ultimately bring both justice and mercy. And as Gary Haugen has said, God has a plan for bringing justice and mercy: “His plan is us.” May we live into that plan through our prayers for the voiceless, the oppressed, the captive, but also for our enemies.

So I pray beyond my own strength and will that you, Lord, would help me do the hard thing.