Childhood Sexual Abuse Survivor Shares How She Healed
Andi Buerger's trauma-filled life could have ended very quickly. But God had a plan for her. She shared with The Stream keys to her healing.
Andi Buerger, age 57, knows the pain of abuse. From age six months to 17 years, family members preyed on her. Her family passed her around throughout her childhood to other family members to use for sex. Her mother tried to kill her. By age five she felt desolate. She tried to end her life.
“My particular case is hard to grasp,” Buerger said.
This took place in the 1960s, before much light was shined on human trafficking. But Buerger was passed around to be used, like sex trafficking victims are. In her case it was perversion, rather than greed, that drove her abusers. While the common definition of sex trafficking is limited to commercial sex acts, Buerger calls for a broader definition to include sexual abuse of minors within a family system, like hers. She knows exactly what it’s like to be under the control of an abuser and be assaulted repeatedly by a number of adults.
“If you drive a child to an uncle’s house knowing what’s going to happen, that means you are providing a child for the purpose of sex,” Buerger said. “That ought to be considered under modern-day trafficking definitions, even if you’re not getting paid for it.”
Buerger said she wants people to know that this kind of extreme childhood abuse is more common than we realize. She said children under this kind of abuse face hurdles in receiving justice that stem from the fact that their legal guardian is their abuser.
But For the Grace of God
Buerger said that pastors and counselors she’s spoken with are surprised at how well she functions. They wonder why she’s not a trafficker herself, a drug addict, in prison, in a mental institution or dead. “But for the grace of God,” she said, their expectations would be her story.
Research tells us that such extreme trauma can devastate a child. Studies have linked adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) to chronic health conditions, low life potential and early death. It’s linked with suicide attempts and psychiatric disorders including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.
Yet, when I spoke to her on the phone, she exuded joy and peace and said she loves her life. Most of the time she feels like she’s 30 years old, she says.
Andi has a long resumé of accomplishments as an adult. She earned a law degree and a successful career in business. Her greatest joy, however, is as the role of mother to hundreds of homeless teens through her ministry, Beulah’s Place. Based on her experience working with abused teens, and her own ordeal, she’s become an international speaker that coaches law enforcement officials, government agencies and universities on how to spot signs of human trafficking.
God has healed her and given her influence. Her life is beautiful. But it didn’t come easily.
“I had no clue it would be as devastating as it was,” Buerger said of her trauma. “But yet I came out of it, knowing that God would not forsake me.”
So how did she heal? Buerger outlined for The Stream four keys to her healing.
Healing is a Choice
The first key, she says, is making a choice to be healed, despite the pain that will come in the process.
“If somebody wants to be whole and healed they have to choose it first. God will not force it on them.”
“We have to go through a painful growth process, like growing pains as a kid,” she explains. “Growing is good, but it’s painful. So you have a choice.”
The second key is having a simple trust in God and His character. She calls it “God’s gift of child-like faith.”
“When we trust without agenda. When we trust Him without our own desires being first. Basically, you trust that: Hey, God is God. Jesus is Jesus. Holy Spirit is Holy Spirit.”
Or, as she discovered at a young age: “There’s a big God out there and I believe that He is who He is.”
“When you’re childlike, you’re vulnerable,” she adds. “But you trust Abba Daddy to protect that vulnerability.”
Seeking to Connect to God’s Heart
The next key she described is pursuing God’s love. “Just the pure pursuit of His heart.”
She also described it as seeking to experience God as the God that she knows He is, but specifically in her own life.
“Not only does God pursue us, but man, I went after my faith. I went after Him to keep His promises — even though I knew He would — but I wanted to feel the fulfillment of promise in my life. So I learned as much as I could.”
“I was involved in church and anything that connected me to other people. I was after God’s heart the way he had been after mine. So I wanted that relationship to expand and to grow.”
She also called it creating intimacy with Christ. Or trying to love God the way she felt He loved her.
“Intimacy with Christ. Because that’s how you know His heart, if you create a relationship of intimacy with Him, and that requires trust. So if somebody has trust issues they gotta pray through that first.”
“It’s miraculous,” she says of her deep sense of God’s presence. “It’s just saturation of unconditional joy and love that you can’t even really describe.”
Pursuing Tools for Healing, Including Forgiveness
Finally, she has pursued the tools that God gives us to get healed. Buerger spent three years receiving counseling, and says she highly recommends it.
“Searching for the things that would help me get past, or get through the pain. Whether it was Christian or not. And I don’t mean drugs or anything illegal. I mean counseling and deep communication with God — you know, prayer and pleading, and praising. I would praise Him for every day that I woke up.”
“Whether it’s reading a book about redemption or counseling. Or you have somebody who’s a little further down the road than you are in healing.”
“Find a mentor. There are all these tools that God gives us through His love to utilize for our healing.”
“It could be a movie. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten something I needed out of a book, out of a show, out of a stranger, you know, who just happened to be in my life for a split second. So God used all of His creation to help me heal, but I had to want it.”
The most important of these tools, she said, is forgiveness. “It all has to start with relinquishing at the cross, at His feet.”
Relinquishing what? “The pain the bitterness, the anger — all of that. You have to leave it at the foot of the cross.”
“My pastor has a great saying. He says, ‘Put it on God’s tab.’ Meaning that pain, that sorrow, that loss — all that — put it on God’s tab to deal with.”
“I know people who go all the way except for forgiving the people who hurt them. And they’re still missing out. They’re better, but they’re still missing out.”
Buerger will be sharing her story with lawmakers this year in Washington D.C. and touring the nation to speak to leaders and college students to prevent human trafficking. She’s shared advice for healing with teens at Beulah’s Place who have experienced similar abuse, and many other people who haven’t. But the truths are the same in any case.
“My pain is different from somebody else’s pain, but pain is all relative,” Buerger says. “That’s what I tell people when they say, ‘Oh I haven’t been through what you have.’ That doesn’t matter.”
“If you have pain in your life, or hurt, or betrayal, all of that has to be pulled out before you can grow strong and grow pure.”
Call to Action for National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
In honor of National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month, The Stream is highlighting stories related to human trafficking. Please join us in educating ourselves about this fight and committing ourselves to prayer. Please pray for slavery to end in our nation and in the world. Pray that God will give wisdom to leaders in the church, world governments, business, and communities to promote justice in their lands. Ask God that he will change our own hearts to care about what He cares about, to pray for His will on the earth and to give and act as He directs.
Consider giving to RescueLIFE, a ministry of our publisher, James Robison. RescueLIFE allocates funds to vetted Christian ministry partners in the U.S. and around the world. These ministry partners fight traffickers, educate communities, rescue victims from the hands of traffickers and restore those who have been rescued through the love of God.
For more stories related to human trafficking, see here.