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RESTORE Chicago Video: Lina AbuJamra’s Powerful “Letter of Forgiveness Over Church Hurt”

By Julie Roys

Before I began investigating Harvest Bible Chapel, I had no idea the depth of pain and devastation inflicted on people by abusive pastors. But as Lina AbuJamra so aptly described at the RESTORE Chicago conference on Saturday, church hurt isn’t a wound that heals and leaves a scar. It’s more like a “latent infection . . . Once you get it, it’s always there. It will go dormant for a long time, and then just like that, any kind of stress will cause a flare-up.”

It’s been six years since she left Harvest Bible Chapel, Lina said. “And it still hurts.”

Lina, who founded the ministry Living With Power, served for years at Harvest as women’s ministry director. Her very raw and vulnerable talk on Saturday profoundly impacted those who attended RESTORE. It validated the pain so many feel. Yet it also led them to a place of forgiveness—a place that many may need to visit again and again as they experience the “flare-ups” Lina described.

After listening to this video, I hope the larger Christian community begins to understand why pastors like James MacDonald need to be publicly disqualified as Harvest did on Sunday. These abusive men should not be allowed to “hit” and then “run,” as Lina put it, to a new location where they can abuse again.

I also hope the Christian community understands why publicly listing sins is so important to victims. Many have been shamed, falsely accused, and maligned simply for telling the truth. And one of the most healing acts for victims can be when the church publicly affirms what these victims know is true, but repeatedly were told was false. 

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Many have asked about the videos from the conference, and whether they would be available for sale afterwards. On Sunday, I met with my ministry board and we decided it would be wrong to charge for the conference messages, which people so desperately need to hear. So, I’m going to be posting RESTORE messages to my blog for free. 

Here’s the first of many videos from the conference. If you’d like to donate to help cover the cost for this ministry, we’d certainly appreciate it. It’s our prayer that God would use these videos to continue the healing and restorative work He began on Saturday.

Here’s Lina’s powerful “Letter of Forgiveness Over Church Hurt” for which I am deeply grateful:


I didn’t want to be here today. I wanted to hide. I wanted to extricate myself from this mess, to escape to another town, another continent, to hide and start fresh.

But that’s not the story I’ve been given.

My story is here. Now. My story is messy. And it still hurts.

I used to think that church hurt was a wound that would heal and leave a scar. That eventually everyone got better. That eventually, people with scars helped people with wounds and everything would turn out ok. And live happily ever after or something like that.  

But lately I’ve come to find out that church hurt is lot more like a latent infection, like herpes or shingles or mono. Once you get it it’s always there. It will go dormant for a long time, and then just like that, any kind of stress will cause a flare-up. And with each flare comes the pain—the flares can be sporadic or recurrent, and each is accompanied with agonizing pain known only to those who suffer from that same pain.

It’s been six years. Six years since I first walked out of a church I loved. Six years since I was finally able to admit that something was terribly wrong at that church. Six years since the pastor, my hero at the time, stopped being my hero and my world turned upside down. Six years since I last trusted a church leader. Six years since I’ve been able to shake that feeling of guardedness that now surfaces every time I step into a church. Six years since I’ve been able to tithe without wondering exactly how my hard-earned money would be spent, Six years since I felt safe among God’s people. Six years since I’ve wondered whether God loves “them” more than he loves me.

[pullquote]”(C)hurch hurt is lot more like a latent infection, like herpes or shingles or mono. Once you get it it’s always there. It will go dormant for a long time, and then just like that, any kind of stress will cause a flare-up. And with each flare comes the pain . . .[/pullquote]When It comes to our culture, if there’s one crime that seems more horrifying than any other, It’s the hit and run. Most people would agree that there are few more horrifying things than the driver who hits an innocent pedestrian then just takes off. The idea that any man or woman could run over someone then just drive away without an ounce of regret or shame or responsibility seems reprehensible even to the most godless in our society.

Yet that is exactly what we are here to mourn today. It’s the shepherd who knowingly drove over a sheep leaving that sheep wounded by the side of the road, trying to make sense of what just happened, trying to pick up the pieces, while that shepherd drove away to the comfort of the rest of his life. Even more horrifying is the notion that that driver might be blaming the victim for not paying attention while crossing the road, or of getting in the way of the moving vehicle, or of even over inflating the amount of pain he or she is in, while all the while the driver complaining that he might be the one suffering in that laughable scenario.

It seems ridiculous. It seems soul less. Yet it’s part of this messy story that brought us here today.

I had an epiphany last week while I walked the beach trying to figure out a way of getting out of being here today.

I realized that I’m still angry.

I’m angry at a system that seems to continue to allow someone to get away with running over someone else. I’m angry at the driver who seems to have gotten away with it. I’m angry at the passengers in the driver’s car who have quietly moved on in their lives putting the past behind them without a shred of shame. I’m even angry at God for allowing it all to happen. And I’m angry at myself for feeling so angry, for not being able to just move on once and for all. 

[pullquote]”I’m angry at a system that seems to continue to allow someone to get away with running over someone else. I’m angry at the driver who seems to have gotten away with it. I’m angry at the passengers in the driver’s car . . .”[/pullquote]I’ve heard a lot said about unforgiveness, that it’s like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die—but mostly that the only way to freedom is through forgiveness. Until recently I thought I had forgiven, but like any person who has suffered a latent infection, the moment a flare up happens, the remedy must be taken again. And again.

So today the reason I’m here is for the remedy. Today I am here to forgive.  Again.

They say in order for restitution to occur, there must be both repentance and forgiveness. While I can’t control the repentance part, I know that I want to forgive more fully and more completely.

I want to be free.

So today I am here to forgive – again.

To my former pastor, I want you to know wherever you are, that I forgive you. I forgive you for taking off after running over the sheep without a thought to our wounds. I forgive you for caring more about your future comfort than our future health. I forgive you for still seeing yourself as a victim in this story. I forgive you for stealing our money and living a lifestyle you taught us would never satisfy us. I forgive you for caring more about the size of your church than the hearts of your people. I forgive you for creating a culture that made us feel ashamed for speaking the truth. I forgive you for using God’s word to defend your positions instead of using it to speak the truth. I forgive you for creating a world where I no longer want to go to church. I forgive you for making me resent anyone in Christian leadership because of your example.

I am also here today to forgive those leaders who supported you and are now hiding God knows where. I forgive those who saw you hit and run and chose to transplant themselves to other sunny locations without missing a beat. I forgive you for making us feel ashamed of speaking the truth. I forgive you for creating a culture of distrust and hate among God’s people. A culture that divides us vs them instead of seeing the whole as one family ultimately living together under Christ’s rule in eternity.

[pullquote]”While I can’t control the repentance part, I know that I want to forgive more fully and more completely. I want to be free.”[/pullquote]I am also here today to forgive those who still question why we speak up. I am here to forgive those who still want to shame us into moving on when our hearts are still too wounded to go on. I am here to forgive those of you who have remained in systems of abuse and refuse to see where change is needed. You still feel like this is about “bashing” a system we willfully left, yet you still make us feel uncomfortable every time we run into you at a restaurant or God forbid a gathering of believers.

I forgive those of you who still think we have a hidden agenda. We do not. We just hurt, like amputated limbs, we are still adjusting to life outside of your little body of believers. And I forgive you, our friends, who still go to our old churches and somehow see yourselves as victims in your own stories in this tragedy and have continued to inadvertently cut us out of your day to day lives, as if to remind us that, well, we made our beds, so we must now lie in them.

And as I forgive and experience the freedom that comes with forgiveness, it is not lost on me that I too must repent. So before I go on to the reading of our scripture, I pause for a moment to repent.

I repent of my anger against you, pastor, and my desire to see you hurt.

I repent for questioning God’s goodness in bringing justice in his time and in his way.

I repent for wallowing in my pain and my self-pity.

I repent for lumping the whole with the part, for doubting all leaders when in fact only a few have done the hurting.

I repent for holding brothers and sisters at arms-length because of my past experiences.

I repent for sometimes hating the church and sometimes hating believers.

I repent for hiding.

I repent of doubting God’s love.

I repent for my shame. I have done nothing to be ashamed of.  So I repent.

I repent that we have spent so much time fighting with other Christians while the whole world around us is burning

I repent for allowing evil to steal my joy.

I repent for making much of man.

For loving material goods too much.

For longing for the same so-called material riches and fame that I resented and despised in the broken leaders of our churches.

I repent of my desire to find peace in escape instead of standing up for the truth and fighting to see wrong righted.

I repent for much today but I also rejoice.

I rejoice that I am heard.

I rejoice that I am loved.

Yes, I am loved, not because a man has said it to us as a mantra at the end of a church service, but because by God’s grace, and despite all of this pain, the king of kings, Jesus, has spoken these words over us forever. We are loved. And He has forgiven us.

Indeed, in this we rejoice.



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22 Responses

  1. Thank you Lina, I attended Harvest when you were our ministry leader and I always was blessed by your words. I feel these same feelings and you have described it perfectly. I am praying for repentance from all involved, for their own souls sake, not for mine.

  2. Thank you, Julie, for making the Restore conference available to those of us who could not attend in person. I had prayed you might do this. There are many of us at a geographical distance experiencing the same injury through HBC church plants around the country whose pastors took on the same abusive characteristics and fostered the same harmful environments that were happening in Chicago. HBC’s statement of disqualification and the release of the Restore sessions will do so much for so many. It gives me hope. I am continuing to work through forgiveness, which is ongoing and arduous process. I am grateful for your work.Thank you.

  3. “I repent that we have spent so much time fighting with other Christians while the whole world around us is burning.”

    I thought this was a powerful statement. Jesus Himself called out the religious leaders of His day, but His focus, and I hope ours as Christ followers, is to go into the world and make disciples.

  4. Thank you Dr. Lina for showing us the raw pain in your wounds that you still experience on occasion six years later after the fact. It is through God’s grace that we heal as time passes by.

    Thank you Julie for making the Christian community understand and realize the need to publicly list those offenses so victims’ pain are acknowledged and they heal also through God’s grace.

  5. That was (is) a tangible depth of hurt that is applicable to many afflictions by an abuser. The analogy of the ‘hit and run’ is a vivid picture of the carnage left behind by the driver who claims he NEVER SAW IT happen nor own up to the possibility of fault.

    Adding passengers to the car who encourage the driver to speed off and to hide in a sunnier place with no thought of the ‘road kill’… unfathomable.

    I’ve felt this in a previous church, I feel this for all of you and myself deeply as once a WITW supporter! Thank you Lina for articulating so aptly forgiveness, repentance and love.

  6. Where in the Bible do you get the authority for forgive people who sinned and do not repent? God did not forgive them but somehow you can forgive where God does not.

    1. Yes. Out of respect for her hurt and pain I can understand and sympathize and almost hesitate to write. Yet, repentance is transactional in the scriptures, not an exercise in personal or individual therapy. Our therapeutic culture has reached into the church and sentimentalized forgiveness and turned it into an individualistic imperative. Biblical reconciliation requires a repenter and a forgiver to complete the beautiful transaction– anything less is not forgivness as the scriptures define it. Our responsibility is to stay ready to forgive, should they repent. And if they never do, we seek the peace of Christ. To say we are to forgive without the offender repenting, is to lay a burden on ourselves or others which God Himself does not require- and we may even stray into working against the Holy Spirit by claiming to release the offender from the necessity to repent. We cannot extend the benefits of reconciliation without reconciliation actually happening; we deceive ourselves. Nor does God forgive without repentance- that would be to argue for Universal salvation. If they repent we forgive them, and we forgive, as “God in Christ forgave you”.
      I truely hope she finds peace in the storm she has endured, and finds strength and comfort from the God of all comforts. I admire her and her ‘hit and run’ analogy is powerful and helpful and convicting, I suspect, I hope, to one who might yet read it. I hope too that she maintains a readiness to forgive should repentance occur– I hope the beauty of reconciliation is not yet beyond the possible.

      1. Kevin and Jack… I agree with you both in one aspect though on the cross, Jesus said ‘forgive them Father for they no not what they do’.

        In today’s vernacular, is that likened to ‘forgive them for their stupidity, anger, naïveté and or evil’?

        Holding forgiveness from one is moth eating of the soul! It’s brutal. The abuser lives rent free in ones head. How does one reconcile all of it?

      2. I don’t disagree with you, Kevin. I think a lot of people are in process about what forgiveness means in these horrid situations. And what I hear Lina saying is that she’s doing the hard work necessary to offer forgiveness as a gift to her offender. I lean toward the position that says the offender must still open that gift for true forgiveness to have occurred. (I had Chris Brauns on my radio show not too long ago, and he does a really good job of explaining these things.) But I’m still wrestling through it, as I think many are.

        1. I don’t disagree with Kevin either. I think “forgive” may be an insufficient/inaccurate word for what is actually happening when we say to ourselves and to God, “I am ready to offer this person forgiveness, & am giving the offense to you, Lord, so that it will not take root as bitterness or unrighteous anger.”

  7. Thanks Lina! And Julie for an amazing conference! I was immensely impacted by the msg & prayer. Lots of what I feel yet couldn’t put into words. Blessings to both of you for seeking truth, honoring God & ministering to us wounded warriors.

  8. Wow. I listened hoping to be able to better understand what those in attendance at this event were experiencing. And then I realized that I was struggling with the same issues. I had not been in on any inner circles when I attended Harvest.
    I am a single lady and I left because I sensed there was evil lurking in the leadership. No one that I knew was talking about the problem or even addressed it. The ladies in my small group all loved James when I left. It was a confusing time and I left quietly.
    I didn’t realize the hurt is still there. I’m one of many.
    Thank you to all who’ve been working so hard to reveal the truth. Cling to God.

  9. Wonderful! Not there, likely will never be. Don’t even want to forgive. But so good to hear such an apt description of what occurred. Amazing. Thank you Lina.

  10. Thank you, Lina, for the grace and humility and love you exhibit even in the midst of pain and hurt.
    Thank you, Julie, for sharing this life-giving message of hope and the only way to healing.

  11. We can forgive because Christ has forgiven us (Eph. 1:7). Where in the Bible are we not told to forgive? Support for forgiveness: how about for starters Matt. 6:12, Eph. 4:32 and Col. 3:13!

  12. As a previous Harvest Church member I think this perfectly describes how I feel. Immense intense life-changing pain

  13. As the dawning of this new day begins – a gift from our Heavenly Father’s heart – and while sitting in the warmth of the Intimate Place within our Sanctuary – l read the transcript spoken by Lina at a Restore gathering. Which l was not sure l really wanted to hear what she had to say – as Lina has always been a “truth sayer!” And as l read the transcript, l could feel within my heart, pain gently moving up to the surface for me to face, once again…as unbeckoned tears gently touched my face. And there it was again – we were unimportant to a Shepherd who chose to scatter us – the Sheep of God’s Pasture – and who did not love us! I could so identify with what Lina shared – which pierced my heart – as we as a Harvest Small Group, were under the Leadership of both Lina and Gina who poured themselves into our lives as intricate parts of the Harvest Women’s Ministry – who had become so deeply wounded and discarded without honor. And when Lina shared about the “hit and run” mentality that has taken place – blaming the victim for not getting out of the way – while taking no responsibility for his part – and still does not – words slipped through my lips as l said, “Yes! That’s how l feel!” And yet, sadly, we still don’t have complete closure – as James Macdonald is still sitting comfortably wrapped in his “blanket of denial” – while the precious sheep that were placed in his care by our Heavenly Father -are laying bleeding at his feet. I also realized that l still feel the pain and struggle with forgiveness – which we are asked to “willingly choose” by our Savior Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who laid His own life down for us – snatching us from the fire to save, restore, heal, and redeem us. While placing us on solid ground – on a firm foundation – which is “Himself” – Jesus Christ our Messiah – King of Kings…who is trustworthy and true. And for this I will always be forever grateful. So once again…From my heart…l choose to forgive! ❤?⚘???⚘?❤ Psalm 40:1-5

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