Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Healing from Years of Abuse

Leslie Basham: After coming to faith in Christ, Josh McDowell was challenged by a mentor to forgive someone who had abused him as a child for years. 

Josh McDowell: When you fail to forgive, you burn the bridge over which some day you must walk. 

Every one of us needs forgiveness. We hurt people; we hurt, but we need forgiveness, and when we fail to give, we burn the bridge for receiving that forgiveness ourselves. 

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, June 14. 

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We’re back today with my long-time friend and long-time friend of our family, Josh McDowell. Josh, welcome back to Revive Our Hearts

Josh: Thanks. I’m so glad we could do another program together. 

Nancy: We’re finding out there are more connections that we realized that go way back in our background. You’ve been a member of the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ, now called Cru, for a half century. Do I have that right? 

Josh: Fifty-one years. I interviewed Bill Bright when he joined. 

Nancy: Oh, my goodness. Wow! And, of course, our family goes way back with the Bright family. 

God has used your life in such a significant way as an author, as a speaker, in so many areas of apologetics. Many of our listeners will be familiar with the “Why Wait?” campaign and other efforts that you’ve made to get the gospel into the hearts and minds of people around the world.

But as I think of the conversation we had yesterday, it’s a miracle that you are doing today what you are doing when you think about the background that you came out of, the dysfunction, the abuse, the broken relationship with your dad, with this farmhand who sexually abused you for years as a child.

I want to say to our listeners, if you didn’t hear yesterday’s program, please go back to, pull up that program, listen to it or read the transcript so that you can catch up with the part of the story that we talked about yesterday. 

Now, we kind of left with a cliff hanger on the last program because you had just come to faith in Christ as a college student, and yet you had all this baggage and pain and hatred and anger and broken family relationships in your heart. So you were a new creature in Christ, but things didn’t all change overnight. God started you into a process of dealing with those issues. How did that unfold? 

Josh: Well, given some of the dysfunction . . . I had one sister who had killed herself. My other sister volunteered for the frontlines in World War II, just to get away from home, as a nurse. Another brother ran away from home. Another brother sued my parents for everything they had. So you were right. It wasn’t a very functional family. 

Nancy: You told us yesterday that your dad was known as the town drunk? 

Josh: Oh, he was always drinking. He probably drank two to three bottles of wine every day for thirty years. 

After I trusted Christ as Savior and Lord, the first thing that happened was with my dad. I went to a diner in Battle Creek, Michigan, to actually tell him what I really thought of him. I’m sitting there and here was a man that even as a new Christian, I chose to hate by an act of my will because I grew up believing he had killed my mother and destroyed my family.

I sat there, and I said, “Dad, I’ve got something to say to you.” And what came out of my mouth was, “Dad, I love you.” I don’t know who was most surprised: him or me. 

Nancy: Because it was not at all what you were intending to say.

Josh: Oh, not at all. That’s when I knew it was true. I wasn’t used to that. I was used to loving those I wanted to love and hating those I wanted to hate. I never had the capacity to love those I chose to hate. That’s when I knew it was real. 

Nancy: Had someone told you that you needed to love your dad? 

Josh: No, but I knew the Scriptures commanded that. But, look, I was a brand new believer, and my emotions overruled the Scriptures, but the Holy Spirit overrode my emotions.

It shocked him, and our relationship changed. He only lived fourteen months because three-quarters of his stomach had to be removed. His entire liver had been destroyed because of his drinking.

I transferred to Wheaton College, and I was in a very serious car accident. After two weeks in intensive care in the hospital, they drove me home. Before they drove me 100 and some miles home in the ambulance, they called my dad. Well, he was drunk, so he thought I was dying. I wasn’t. I was just hurting a lot. They took me home and secured me in bed where I couldn’t move because they were afraid of damage to my neck and lower back, and I could hear the ambulance leave. 

In a few minutes, my father walked into that room. He paced back and forth, and then he just blurted out, “Son, how could you love a father such as I?” after I told him I loved him.

I said, “Dad, six months ago, I hated you. I despised everything that you stood for.”

Nancy: And he knew that there was good reason for that, humanly speaking.

Josh: Oh, yes. He totally understood it, and that’s why he was crying some. You could see it.

I said, “But Dad, I’ve learned one thing: That God became man. His name is Jesus, and He is passionate about a relationship with you.” 

He got up and walked out, and I thought, Boy, I sure blew that one

About forty-five minutes later he came back in, and he said, “Son, if God can do in my life what I’ve seen Him do in yours, I want to give Him the opportunity.”

Nancy, you talk about joy . . . most people don’t have this much joy in a lifetime. Right there, my dad prayed with me. It was a very simple prayer, something like . . . as best as I can recall . . . "God, if You’re God and Christ is Your Son, and if He died on the cross for me and can forgive me for what I’ve done to my family, and if You can do in my life what I’ve seen You do in the life of my son, then I trust You as Savior and Lord.” 

All I know is my life was changed, Nancy, six months, to a year, year-and-a-half, and it was still being changed. The life of my father changed right before my eyes. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was like somebody reached down and turned on a light bulb. 

He only touched alcohol once after that, as far as I recall. Now, I don’t know if he went through withdrawal—he must have—but I have no recollection of it. But he only touched alcohol once. Got it to his lips, and that was it. Then fourteen months later he died. 

Nancy: But in the meantime, he really had developed a vibrant testimony of his faith in Christ in that community. Am I right?

Josh: Going out about 100-150 miles, I would say upwards of 100 people came to Christ because of his testimony.

Nancy: In those fourteen months?

Josh: He would go into the prisons in the State, and he would share his testimony in the jails and everything—my dad! He would go downtown, where before the town doctor, lawyer, engineer, everything would cross the street to ignore him, and they would go in and sit down in the same booth with him in a restaurant. I was very proud of him at that point.

But I would tell my kids, in that fourteen months, I learned what it meant to have a father, even though it was brief. I said to the kids, “You are the beneficiaries of that fourteen months I had in a closer relationship with my dad where I wanted to love him and not kill him.” 

But after all that drinking, three quarters of his stomach had to be removed; his entire liver was destroyed, Nancy, and he died. Even that hurt. I felt like I was being rejected again. I felt he always drank because I wasn’t a good enough son having a relationship with. Then I felt he died because it wasn’t worth staying alive to be a father to me. Now, none of that was true, but that’s how I processed because of the hurt. 

But in that fourteen months, about 100 people came to Christ as a result of it. After he died, I was thankful that he was my father. I was able to say, “Lord, thank You for my dad”—not that I want to be like him but to be thankful for him. I think that act of thankfulness and gratitude played a powerful healing role in my life.

Nancy: Well, forgiveness had to be a huge part of that process for you, to be able to come to that place. 

Josh: Oh, a big process. When I told him that I loved him, it was in the same context I told him that I forgave him.

Nancy: Was that something you felt? Or was that just active obedience? I mean, you had all those years of the pain and the anger. How did that just go away? 

Josh: I would say, with my father, I felt it. 

Nancy: God just put that in your heart?

Josh: It was produced by the Holy Spirit, yes. But here’s what I didn’t feel. With Wayne Bailey who homosexually raped me for seven years in my own house . . .

Nancy: This was the farmhand? 

Josh: Yes. He was a cook and a housekeeper. For seven years, every week, three to four times a week, he would abuse me, and my parents wouldn’t stop it. I’d go to my parents, and they wouldn’t believe me.

After I trusted Christ as Savior and Lord . . . Nancy, you probably had this, something in your life where you just had to tell someone . . . 

Nancy: . . . what had happened to you? 

Josh: Yes, but I don’t think I was looking for answers. I don’t think I was looking for healing or anything. I just wanted someone to believe me. So I called up the man who led me to Christ, Rev. Faye Logan of Factoryville Bible Church here in Michigan, and I said, “Can I come over and see you?” 

I drove over forty-five minutes to see him from college. I sat there forty-five minutes to an hour, and I couldn’t tell him. Finally I just blurted it out, Nancy, and he believed me. Oh, Nancy, that was like being born again, again. It scares me now to think what if he hadn’t believed me. I don’t think I ever would have gone to anyone again. 

Nancy: And this was back in the days when people didn’t talk about that kind of thing. 

Josh: Oh nobody even knew about it. I mean, you didn’t talk about it. You never saw it on television—which was black and white TV then­­. You never heard it on radio, never read it in magazines or newspapers. It was just as prominent then as it is today, but nobody talked about it.

And so my parents, who never went beyond the second grade, I can understand how they wouldn’t believe me. 

Nancy: But this pastor did. 

Josh: Yes. What Faye Logan did is he for six months mentored me on the Scriptures. People say, “Josh, why do you have such a deep conviction that the Bible is true?”

I say, “One thing is that I know why I believe it is true. The second thing is, I’ve experienced it.”

I mean, he literally ministered the Word of God to me, and I saw changes in my attitude, behavior, everything, over those six months from the Word of God being placed in my heart and mind. Then at the end of that six months, I knew he was going to say it, Nancy. I didn’t want to hear it, but I knew he was going to say it, and he did say it. He said, “Josh, you need to forgive him.” 

Nancy: This Wayne Bailey.

Josh: Yes, who abused me, and I said, “Absolutely not. I want him to burn in hell, and I will escort him there.”

But here was the issue: I knew the Bible was true, and I knew God commanded me to forgive. So I did it. But, Nancy, I want you to understand: I had no good feeling. Nothing. I did it by faith. And the Bible says, “Except by faith we can’t please God.” And I knew God commanded it. I knew He desired that I do it, and if I did it, He would bless me out of it, and He would be blessed. So I did it without any feeling. I wanted the man to burn in hell. 

I was in Battle Creek, Michigan. I drove up to Jackson, about forty-five miles away, and knocked on the door. When Wayne Bailey answered it I said, “Wayne, what you did to me was evil. It was very evil. But I’ve come to know Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord, and I’ve come here to tell you . . ." What I told him I knew it was true, but, Nancy, I really emotionally did not want it to be true. I told him, “Wayne, I’ve come here to tell you that Jesus died as much for you as He did for me. I forgive you.” 

If I hadn’t done that, Nancy, I would have destroyed my marriage, my family, everything, because that bitterness would have eaten away at me. But I think it’s important that people understand that I had no good emotional feeling about it. I did it out of obedience, and God blessed it. God changed my life through the act of forgiveness.

Nancy: How did he respond?

Josh: He just stood there, and I never saw him again after that. Eight years later he died.

Nancy: Okay, for some people I know this is touching a real raw nerve. A lot of listeners right now have a Wayne Bailey in their life, and there is no emotion in them saying, “Forgive,” much less go to that person and engage with them in any way. In fact, there is maybe this sense that by you going to that Wayne Bailey and saying what you said that justice wasn’t served or that you’re letting them off the hook or that you’re saying, “What they did was okay.”

All these thoughts have got to be flooding in. How do you put all that together?

Josh: Well, I think it was through that six months of mentoring. When I get up to speak to any group of young people, no matter the finest church in America, I have to have in my mind: One-third of them have been abused, and that could be low.

Nancy: And that’s probably true of our audience right now.

Josh: And they say, “What do I do?” My first comment is this: “Don’t go it alone. You won’t make it. You won’t make it. It’s too deep, especially over a period of time where it builds in you. It doesn’t go away. You actually stuff it down further, and it controls your very being.

Nancy: So when you say, “Don’t go it alone . . .” 

Josh: Find someone you can share it with, someone you respect. If you’re a young lady, if you’re a woman, find a woman. If you’re a man, find a man. Go to them. Share it with them. Ask if they will mentor you—not for long, maybe three months—not a long time, not a year, no. Just a short period of time.

Nancy: You mean mentor you in the Word of God.

Josh: That’s right. It has to be in the Word of God.

Second, the attitude that probably freed me up more than anything and has brought me through so many hard times is the conviction that the Bible is the Word of God and Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and not just believing that, but knowing why I believe it. That’s why I’ve written so many books on it.

That brought me through so many tough situations. For example: Knowing the Bible was true, I concluded this, and, Nancy, this is the most freeing thought I’ve ever had in my life. It changed my life. It brought about tremendous healing. I get chills thinking of this. There’s nothing too great in my life for God’s power to deal with, nor anything too small or insignificant for His love to be concerned about.

Nancy: Okay, say that again.

Josh: There’s nothing too great in my life for His power to deal with, nor anything too small for His love to be concerned about.

That set me free to be vulnerable, to trust God for my emotions, my hurts, my bitterness, my hatred, that His Son went through all that. And that phrase: Nothing too great in my life for His power to deal with, and nothing too small or insignificant for His love to be concerned about, set me free.

Nancy: I know we have some listeners right now who are thinking about that humongous situation in their childhood or their past or their present. Some are living in that kind of situation right now where there is pain, there is dysfunction, there is brokenness, there may be abuse, and this is just too big for God’s power to deal with. You’re saying, “Not so.”

Josh: Oh, absolutely not so. This is where anyone who will mentor you, you will come to that conclusion from the Scriptures.

Nancy: If you’ll get into the Word.

Josh: Absolutely.

Nancy: And what I love, Josh, as I listen to this story is how God has rewritten, rerouted your family line. He’s given you a new family line, so unlike the one that you came from. And who but God could do that?

Josh: You know, Nancy, that’s something that I’ve said over and over again in all the years. One of the greatest motivations in my life was I wanted to change the McDowell family tree.

Nancy: Josh, I know there are people listening to this story right now who are thinking, who have been thinking, “My family line could never be anything but really, really messed up.”

Josh: And that’s wrong. God is greater than that, but if you try to go it alone, it will probably be messed up. You’ve got to allow people in the Body of Christ to step into your life and minister Jesus and the Word of God to you.

Here is something I’ve learned over the years: When you fail to forgive, you burn the bridge over which someday you must walk.

Every one of us needs forgiveness. We hurt people. We hurt, but we need forgiveness. When we fail to forgive, we burn the bridge for receiving that forgiveness ourselves. And when we fail to forgive, it doesn’t hurt the other person. It does not hurt the other person.

Nancy: As much as we’d like it to.

Josh: That’s right. But it hurts us. I know so many people. They come up to me.  They’re sixty, sixty-five, seventy years old, and they’ve allowed somebody else to control their life. When you don’t forgive, that other person controls your life. I know many people, their fathers still control their lives from the grave because they haven’t forgiven them. This is where the Bible is so strong on forgiveness.

Nancy: Josh, I wonder if you would just, right now, pray for listeners who are grappling with this whole issue of forgiveness, who need God to intervene, give them a new family line, and they’ve been hanging on every word of your story, and maybe there’s just this glimmer of hope that, “God could do something to change my life, to set me free from the bitterness, from the anger.”

I just want us to pray for those listeners right now and ask if you would lead us in that prayer.

Josh: Well, let’s pray.

Father God, I just thank You for Your Scriptures, and I thank You for how Your Word has played such a major role in my own life, in my thinking, my emotions, my whole being.

And Father, I pray for that sister, that brother who’s listening right now that has maybe has been through some of what I’ve been through and maybe other areas. I pray, Lord, that first of all, as a result of this program, You will give them hope.

I pray, if nothing else, You will use this program to give them the conviction that they can’t go it alone. Father, bring someone into their life that can minister Christ to them because we’re so blinded emotionally to our own needs and to the solution because the hurt is so great.

And Father, I pray that every person listening will come to the day where they can say, “Oh God, You are good. You have met my emotional needs. You have dealt with my fears. You’ve dealt with the guilt. And You’ve dealt with the lack of forgiveness.” In Jesus’ name, amen.

Leslie: Our tagline at Revive Our Hearts is “freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.” Josh McDowell has been talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about how he found freedom from bitterness after years of abuse growing up. We also saw how the Lord provided him with fullness, and, today, Josh’s life is very fruitful for the Lord.

Your life can be full and fruitful as well no matter what kind of hurt you have gone through. Josh will encourage you in that process in his book, Undaunted. And, Nancy, I know you’re excited to share this book with our listeners.

Nancy: That’s right, Leslie. I know that everyone listening to my voice today has gone through some kind of hurt, and some of those hurts have been deep and painful. They’ve created scars and marks in listeners’ lives.

I often meet women who have experienced the horrendous marks and wounds of sexual abuse and other kinds of abuse. I know from listening to those stories that the path of least resistance is to hold on to that hurt and to let bitterness and unforgiveness rule our lives.

Well, the thing I love about Josh McDowell’s story is that it shows what it looks like to trust God even when it feels like everyone else has let you down. Josh’s story also illustrates and demonstrates how you can trust God with those who have wronged you and offer forgiveness in the name of Jesus.

We’d like to send you a copy of Josh’s book, Undaunted, when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. Now, as we offer resources on Revive Our Hearts, I know that you can go to other outlets and order them, but when you give a gift to Revive Our Hearts, what you’re doing is investing in the lives of hurting, needy people who need to hear the message of God’s grace and God’s forgiveness.

There may be another Josh McDowell out there, somebody who’s been through this horrendous pain of abuse and domestic violence, and God wants to set that person free. As you contribute to this ministry, you’re helping us get out the message of Christ and His grace that will bring healing to other lives.

So give us a call at 1-800-569-5959. Let us know that you’d like to make a contribution to Revive Our Hearts, and when you do, let us know that you’d like to get a copy of Josh’s book, Undaunted. You can also visit us at to make your contribution and to ask for a copy of that book. And when you contact us, you can also order the movie version of Josh’s story on DVD.

Now, over these last couple of days, we’ve heard the story about a son dealing with a far-less-than-perfect dad. We heard how Josh was incredibly able to forgive his dad and to choose to be thankful and honor his dad. We’ve also heard how God used Josh’s grace and forgiveness to be a means of salvation and healing to his dad’s heart before his dad died.

So this weekend, whether you had a godly father or not, whether you’ve been close to your earthly dad or not, I hope you’ll honor your heavenly Father by showing honor to your earthly dad in some tangible way.

Then after this Father’s Day weekend, be sure to join us again on Monday when we begin a study on the biblical concept of meekness. Please be back with us for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.


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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.