Out of the Nightmare

Mark Sowersby found healing and the power to forgive after childhood sexual abuse

Ican’t recall the exact day it happened, but I vividly remember the cracking sound of the threshold and the foul smell of my attacker’s breath and sweat. I remember the awful touch, the lies, the physical pain, and the overwhelming sense of confusion the first time I was raped.

I can still hear my mother’s husband saying, “Markie, don’t tell anyone because they will take you away from your mom.”

That was the day I became a victim. I was 7 years old, and I felt utterly lost and alone in my suffering.

I tried to make sense of what was happening. Maybe it was not real. Maybe I was not real. Where was my biological dad? Where was my mom? Where was my defender? Was there an escape from this nightmare?

I died a little more each day until I was just a shell inside. Broken and brainwashed, I resigned to the idea that abuse was my lot in life.

By the summer of my 16th birthday, my outlook had changed. I was older, bigger, stronger, and determined never to be sexually abused again. Although the assaults stopped, the verbal abuse continued. My solution was staying away from home as much as possible.

During one of the final days of that summer, I went to church. The youth group sang, and the youth pastor shared the gospel. The words of the message penetrated my heart: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”(Romans 10:9).

The nightmare I lived through once tethered me to brokenness, but the Lord saw my affliction and grief and set me free.

I knew I needed God. I responded to the invitation to receive Christ and repeated a prayer I would come to know as the sinner’s prayer. That church and youth group quickly became the center of my world. I found faith, friends and sanctuary there.

It wasn’t long before I was back at the altar, praying about God’s will and direction for my life. The still, small voice of the Lord spoke to me.

In that moment, I sensed God saying, “I’m calling you to ministry.”

Overwhelming fear and doubt rose within me. I could barely read or write. One of the casualties of my childhood was my education. Dyslexia, learning disabilities, and trauma at home made school impossibly difficult. How could I get a Bible degree?

Still, I wanted to honor God. After gathering all my courage, I finally went to visit a college.

I sat across the desk from the dean, who asked, “Mark, are you called by God?”

 “Yes,” I replied.

The dean got up from his desk, walked over to a window, tapped to get the attention of a staff member who was walking by, and introduced me to her.

I enrolled that day and became the first student utilizing the new learning center. I faced many challenges, but I also had help. Today, I’m a proud graduate of Zion Bible Institute (now Northpoint Bible College in Haverhill, Massachusetts) and an ordained Assemblies of God minister.

God helped me forgive those who hurt me and those who failed to defend me. Since that time, forgiveness and healing have become central themes of my ministry.

Christians often view forgiveness as an instant release from pain, but it seldom works that way. There is nothing magical about saying you forgive someone. Forgiveness is a process and a journey. Thankfully, it is not one we navigate alone. God walks beside us every step of the way, providing grace and strength. He promises never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

My testimony has given me opportunities to minister to many hurting people. I remind them their wounds are not their identity. I talk about what it means to find your identity in Christ.

Although what I have been through has shaped me, it does not own me.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 10:14:

But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
you consider their grief and take it in hand.

The victims commit themselves to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.

The nightmare I lived through once tethered me to brokenness, but the Lord saw my affliction and grief and set me free. I am no longer a victim. I am a child of God.

This article appears in the summer 2022 issue of Influence magazine and is adapted from Forgiving the Nightmare by Mark Sowersby.