God can transform the most painful experiences of our childhood into preparation to bless others. Joseph told his brothers many years after they sold him into slavery, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20).
I just finished listening to a similar story. In The Tank Man’s Son: A Memoir, Mark Bouman shares his gut-wrenching account of pain and misery, while growing up in rural Michigan. He was the son of an abusive man who owned a tank and ran a gun range near his home where military weapons of various kinds were regularly (and illegally) fired. His memories are terrifying – and at times comical – but always highly unusual.
As a young boy, he suffered shrapnel wounds while helping his dad with the shooting range. He found a huge tree root sticking through the roof of their home when their father used too much dynamite to blow up a stump. He watched his father and his friends play war games in his backyard at night. His parents’ home was unfinished, marked by holes in the floors and broken fixtures, and situated on 11 acres of garbage and various items crushed by the tank or left to rust. But above all else, Mark’s childhood was ruled by fear of his father’s totally unpredictable outbursts of anger and regular physical abuse.
Mark grew up in this chaos and fear, believing the lie that he was worthless and a failure at everything he tried. But God had not given up on Mark Bouman. In his 20’s while in the Air Force in Montana, he came to understand the Gospel, believed in Christ, and was totally transformed. To his amazement, he became a missionary and ended up running a large orphanage in Cambodia several years later. During the time that he was in charge of this orphanage, a civil war broke out. All the foreigners were forced to evacuate, including Mark and his family. They escaped to Thailand at great risk to their lives by traveling through territory that was already in the war zone.
As the missionaries who had been evacuated from Cambodia were being debriefed after their terrifying experiences, Mark suddenly realized that the trauma had impacted him far less than others. He recognized that what had been unbelievably stressful for others was really not that unusual for him. The gunfire, the tanks, the chaos, and the uncertainty had all been all part of his highly unusual childhood. As a result, he decided to return to Cambodia for the sake of the orphans that called him “Papa”. His timely return, although at great risk to himself, saved the orphanage from being closed by the military.
In previous blog posts, I have talked about the crucible experiences that God often puts us through to refine us and prepare us for future ministry. But ministry preparation can also happen through painful experiences from our childhood or before we were followers of Christ. No child should ever have to suffer the fear and pain that Mark Bouman experienced. Yet even this unbelievably traumatic childhood was graciously transformed by God into something that made him more resilient and able to function and even lead in a time of great stress and chaos. Furthermore, God’s grace is also remarkably demonstrated in Mark’s forgiveness and love for his father after his return from Cambodia.
How have the experiences of your childhood, maybe even painful ones, prepared you for the ministry with which you now have entrusted? In what ways can you say what Joseph said? “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”