Today I have invited my incredible friend, Hannah Ellenwood, to share this amazing story about how her dad’s influence powerfully shaped her life as a young girl...and how this one experience has stayed with her to this day. I know your heart will be touched, as was mine
A couple of weeks ago I was sitting on the couch with my roommate remembering back to my experiences growing up in the Czech Republic.
I remembered the feeling of being the only foreigner in my school, the only kid who came into first grade not knowing a word of Czech. The only kid who was a Christian. The kid who was immediately labeled as the “stuck up American,” who definitely wasn’t one of “them.”
Most of the time that didn’t bother me because my parents helped me understand what it meant to live and “stick out” for Christ. But this label was given to me because of my classmates’ perception of where I was from, not because it was true.
So, I found ways to adapt and fit in where it didn’t compromise my faith. I remember I would come home and ask my mom not to set out a new outfit for the next day because my Czech friends wore the same outfit to school three days in a row and I didn’t want to stick out in a new outfit each morning. I was okay with being different because I was a Christian, but culturally, all I wanted was to prove I could be one of them.
Me and my roommate’s conversation sparked a memory of my dad from 4th grade.
As I sat there sharing my experience with her, I realized how profound it was, how impactful in helping me know my worth as a woman.
But back then, it just felt like a threat to that “cultural sameness”.
In Czech culture it was perfectly normal for guys to touch girls whenever they had the urge to. They’d walk by me and my friends in the halls during recess and make a game of slapping our butts or trying to hang out in our locker rooms while we were changing after swim class. They’d call us really degrading names. And as we all grew up together, they would get more comfortable stepping further out of bounds.
I remember feeling really upset by this deep down, but my friends would laugh it off and tell me to let it happen and not make it a bigger deal than it was. My teachers would roll their eyes and wave me off saying: “Boys will be boys!”
One day, after I had repeatedly asked him to stop, a boy in school touched me inappropriately and made a disrespectful comment. I came home and told my dad what had happened and his first response was: “I’m fed up with this and this is not okay - I’m coming to talk to him tomorrow.”
I was mortified. I felt valued and safe with my dad, but at the same time, he was threatening my “security” at school. No dad ever came in to school to deal with something like this - because it just “wasn’t a big deal.”
So, all I did to prove that I fit into this culture was about to be shattered.
All next day I sat in my desk while all of my classmates engaged in learning the seven cases of the Czech language and I waited for that knock on our classroom door. Terrified. But also ready for my dad to kick some BUTT! The knock came, my heart dropped into my stomach, and my dad opened the door.
The whole class turned to the door as my dad said: “Hi Mrs. Teacher,’ (that’s what you call them in Czech) ‘I’d like to speak to Viktor in the hall, please.” Viktor knew what this was about and there was momentary satisfaction of seeing him shake in his seat. She said: “Go right ahead!” I think she was fed up with Viktor too, but at wit’s end on how to get through to him.
My dad pulled him outside and told him if he EVER touched HIS daughter again, my dad would be back to deal with him.
Viktor came back in laughing, trying to save face and show the class that he wasn’t phased. But I saw something different in him. Fear and respect. While he did continue saying disrespectful things about me and my dad and my family, he never touched me again.
What I was terrified of came true. My classmates ridiculed me for taking things too seriously, making a big deal out of nothing, and called me all kinds of names that just felt yucky to hear as a nine-year-old.
But I stand here today, an almost twenty-seven-year-old woman, knowing my value and my worth. I’ve never questioned whether I should let that stuff happen or act like it’s not a big deal.
My dad’s vision was so much bigger than mine at the time.
Yes, it was okay to want to adapt culturally to the place I lived - but never at the cost of my worth or value. Just because something is true of a culture doesn’t mean it’s good or right.
Through his actions, not just his words, my dad showed me that no man has a right to my body because the people around me tolerate inappropriate touching or because he’s a guy and “boys will be boys.”
He taught me it’s worth sticking out, going against the cultural grain and bearing that ridicule. Because it’s not just about sticking out as an American in Czech culture. I stick out because of the Kingdom culture I am a part of and because the King who calls me by name calls me His daughter and sent His son to die on the cross because I am THAT valuable to Him.
I’m so thankful my dad could see and act beyond the embarrassment I felt in that moment and the months to follow because he knew my eternal value and believed it was worth protecting.
Because I was worth protecting.