This blog article tells the story of Ipiak, a remarkable woman who endured kidnapping, torture, abuse, and slavery but found hope and joy in her faith in Jesus. Despite the hardships she faced, she clung to her belief in God and eventually escaped her captor. The article also highlights the misunderstandings and judgment she faced from well-meaning missionaries.
TW: This blog article does mention sexual assault.
"Do you know, really know, that Jesus loves you?” I lost count the number of times Ipiak—possibly the most remarkable woman I’ve ever known—asked me this question during our brief but valuable time together. Tears burn my eyes, even now, as I recall the intensity of her love for Jesus, her love for me. In February 2017, my husband, Duane, and I, together with our three boys, were eight months into our sojourn through Central and South America when I first encountered Ipiak in her artisan market stall. We were only meant to be in the area another two days after this chance meeting—Duane was scheduled to return to Texas for work, and the boys and I were headed for Columbia. But the boys and I stayed put for a couple more weeks after hearing part of her story.
I bought a few pieces of her gorgeous, handmade jewelry, to take home. On a whim, I shared pictures of them on Facebook, asking if anyone would like to buy something similar and help support my new Amazonian friend. The response was electric. A hundred orders flooded in.
So, we extended our stay to give Ipiak time to make more of her one-of-a-kind pieces, and I came to learn more of her story—one of profound heartbreak, involving kidnap, torture, abuse, death, sorrow, and slavery. But in the midst of all of that, her tenacious grit and perseverance, her utter surrender to the goodness of God, filled her story with hope and joy and life.
Ipiak was dropped off at an orphanage in Ecuador when she was a baby. It was there where she first learned about Jesus, and His great love for her. Despite their role in teaching her the good news about Jesus, the nuns who ran the orphanage were not good to her. So, when she was thirteen, she fled to the Amazon jungle to find her mother. All she had to go on was her mother’s name and the tribe she’d been born into.
Traveling from village to village for several days, Ipiak finally found a woman who told her she was her aunt. She went home with the woman. But the woman had lied. And rather than reunite Ipiak with her mother, this woman kept her as a household slave for two months until the young teenager could escape. After breaking free from her lady-captor, a man approached her and asked where she was headed. He warned her that it would soon be dark and invited her to stay the night at his home, promising he would help her further her search for her mother the following day. Unfortunately, she believed him.
That night he raped her violently and, thereafter, held her captive for many years.
When she was fourteen years old and seven months pregnant, he pushed her down a flight of stairs and killed her baby. She was hospitalized for two months. Hoping to find protection, she confided all that had happened to her to the hospital staff. But when the man came to collect her, he convinced the staff of his deep love and care for her. He insisted that she didn't remember events correctly because she had hit her head in the fall. They believed him and sent her back into captivity.
Two months later, when she was finally able to walk again, she ran. She escaped into the jungle, but instead of finding a refuge in the wild, was once again caught in the man’s snare when he chased after her with a machete. He threatened to kill her if she did not return with him. So, she did. This was but the first of numerous escape attempts.
In the intervening years, Ipiak clung to her faith in Jesus. Though she was a prisoner and a slave, enduring constant abuse for so many years, she knew freedom in Christ, her Savior. The Lord protected her every time her captor tried to kill her—of which, there were countless instances. But all the while, she trusted in the God she had met during her early years at the orphanage. He became her only hope; the one thing that kept her alive.
Sadly, her limited interaction with Christian missionaries from the U.S. did not reinforce the Lord’s protection.
After many years of horror at the hands of her rapist, Ipiak sought respite within the walls of God’s house, newly built in her village by some American missionaries. Hearing the Word of God was balm to her scorched soul. She spent every moment she could soaking in the beautiful, life-giving words of her Father.
No doubt, her hosts were well-meaning and loved the Lord. But in their zeal, they spoke into her life without knowing all the circumstances she was living through. By this time, she had five children with her kidnapper. Despite her attempts to explain the cruel reality of her situation, all the missionaries could see was that she was an unwed mother living with a man, not her husband. They told her she was living in sin—like the Samaritan woman, whom Jesus encountered at the well—and unless she married the man she lived with, she would no longer be welcome in their church.
Heart-broken and panicked at the thought of losing access to God’s Word—for she had no Bible—Ipiak bound herself to the evil man who not only continued his reign of terror but unleashed further torrents of abuse on his new wife.
After eighteen years of torment, Ipiak finally resolved that she had to flee. One of her daughters had become life-threateningly ill and was getting worse by the day. Escaping to a hospital to save her daughter’s life