Perched on her living room chair, with a cup of coffee in hand as the winds roar outside, Jenny-May is at peace with herself. She is a woman who radiates the beauty of Christ, and though she bears the scars from years of childhood abuse at the hand of her father, Jenny-May is the epitome of hope, grace and forgiveness.
Jen resides in Perth with her loving husband Elmore, their three children (Zane, 22, Dean 20, and Ashleigh, 16) and their two chihuahuas, but she is still a South African girl at heart and regularly ministers over here.
Jen you have a dramatic story of redemption. Tell us more…
A. In the green leafy city of Pretoria, my father beat my mother even before they were married. After the birth of four children, it was only a matter of time until he directed his anger toward us. He would play mind games, manipulate emotions and use violence to subdue us. The fear I felt for my father was overwhelming. His physical abuse was not the worst though; a family friend (sensing I was looking for fatherly love) began grooming me for sexual molestation.
It started out innocently enough with treats, pet names (I was his “special” Jenny-May) and trips to the shops…then one night I woke to find Uncle Etienne in my bed. My sobs scared him off, but the shame and fear I felt stayed with me. Dedda continued to beat Mamma, who told me to keep quiet about it all. Threats of violence escalated until one evening neighbours intervened when Dedda threatened to kill us all (he was a police reservist, so guns were always around).
Your father ended up being shot and left paraplegic. How did that affect the rest of your childhood?
A. My father lived by the sword, and one evening he met his match when a night-time altercation ended up with him being shot. I witnessed this trauma at the age of fifteen and was called to testify in court. Because of his new limitations, my father abused prescription drugs and alcohol. He forever altered our lives five years later on New Years Eve – when he intentionally wanted to ruin a celebratory day for all of us.
You were born-again at age nine. How did you relate to God the Father, when your own father was such a negative example?
A. The transformation of my character, and the healing of my many wounds, took years. It is a work in progress. But through it all, I did not blame God. As a child, I directed the reasons for the abuse back to myself: I believed that I was the cause and that I deserved the punishment that came my way. I loved my father, I prayed for him. Through the years, I have experienced God as a loving Father, which supersedes the image I grew up with.
How long did it take for you to reach a place of being “whole” ?
A. Similar to our bodies bearing scars, I do not believe there is such a thing as complete emotional healing; I do believe there is something called total awareness. Layers of awakening that continue unfolding on a daily basis, until we depart from this world. Although scars do not hurt, they remain to be seen, and fade in our hearts and minds when we use the battle through which we acquired them, to help others. Jesus is hope, love and restoration.
What helped you in this process?
I try to focus on how Christ sees me. He sees me as perfect, whole and free. He has never changed His mind about me. The trials I experienced taught me skills such as compassion, understanding, strength, love, self-control and so forth.
Every experience offered me an opportunity to qualify in that area to empathise with others. The process of being whole had more to do with being set free from the lies I believed about myself than healing from the experiences. I took responsibility, aligned myself with the right people, prayed continuously, and changed my attitude.
You have a blessed marriage. What advice can you offer to men whose wives struggle with their past?
A. Love your wife. Love is so powerful.
Elmore loved me unconditionally, and respected my journey. While I messed up horribly at times, he never rejected me. He stuck by me, and is a part of the reason that I am functioning today.
Seek pastoral help, intervention or counselling if your wife needs it. Do not sweep the abuse under the carpet. It can manifest in many negative forms. Your wife cannot just “get over it” My husband did not give my abuse “life”, but he helped me focus on the positives. Seeking help is not a weakness, but in our culture we have almost been conditioned to think that it is, which is extremely sad.
If I suspect a friend is being abused, what should I do?
A. Evil thrives in silence. Prayer is powerful, but one cannot always pray a situation away without doing what is practically needed to bring change. If I keep driving down the same highway, I will keep getting to the same town. To get to a different outcome, I need to take a different route.
My father was only successful in abusing us because he relied on us being too fearful to speak out. It is tricky, because people who are abused often do not believe they deserve better or have been led to believe that they will pay the price if they dare to seek help.
You are a motivational speaker and author; tell us about your ministry.
A. There is nothing better than to see a connection take place with an audience and the liberating truth of Jesus setting people free. I wrote my autobiography truthfully, and speak candidly on stage. I’d like to give a special mention to Angus Buchan for his hand in my book ‘Monsters, Mice and Mercy’. This book would not be without his help.
We frustrate the enemy each time we take the very thing he intended to harm us with, and use it to enlighten and free through Christ, those who have travelled through the same valleys. As I speaker, I love young and old, men and women and I have a wide variety of topics which I speak on. I am regularly in South Africa to speak at ladies days and conferences. I love sharing my story and helping other women live victoriously despite their circumstances.
Interview by Jackie Georgiou
To book Jenny-May as a speaker, please see her website www.jennymayministries.com. To buy her book, go to Amazon.com or get it from CUM Books. Like her facebook page: Jenny-May Ministries