Margaret McGuckin is the leader of SAVIA (Survivors & Victims of Institutional Abuse), a charity set up to give a voice to victims of historic abuse in Northern Ireland. We sat down with Margaret to hear her own experiences of being abused in an institution and how God went on to meet her and transform her life.
From the age of three, I was left in the care of an institution. From the first moment that I can remember, even being in the baby unit, I remember the humiliation and the shouting and the coldness and nobody coming near you when you cried. Those memories never go away.
When I finally left, I didn’t know who I was. I was filled with fear, loneliness and anger. When I got out, the Troubles in Northern Ireland were beginning. There was a lot of rioting, and I found myself at the head of this. That was the way to vent my anger. I practically lived under a railway bridge, not wanting to mingle with society because I didn’t feel I fitted in. I didn’t know how society went about their normal lives because I hadn’t had a normal life.
Many times I ended up in prison. I mixed with the wrong people. I thought it was great to be wanted by other criminal elements. I shoplifted many times, and I was arrested for disorderly behaviour and assault. I knew my life was going nowhere and I remember being in the prison cell and crying out ‘Lord God, if you’re real, let me know.’
There was something, there was a glimmer of hope, that somehow my Father, as I call Him now, was real, and I asked Him ‘if You’re real, please help me’. I know He has helped me in many instances. I was tested when people would ask me to go out shoplifting, or renew my criminal activity, but I said ‘no, because I know You’re real, God’. So many times I had prayed, ‘get me out of this, and I’ll never sin again’, but this time, I meant it, and God knew this in my heart. He was keeping a close eye over me.
I felt something flicker, and I knew I wanted to get closer to Him. There was some craving in me to get a Bible. I just felt a desire to learn and to read more. My friend told me of a Christian group who were doing an Alpha course, and I joined that. I went for the sandwiches and tea first (the sandwiches were nice!). Everybody was closing their eyes in prayer, but I could never close my eyes because I never trusted anyone. I wondered what they were doing because I’d never known anything like this. Everything that I knew was cold and horrible. But I began to warm and feel this longing, this love, and this special feeling. I longed for God’s word, I ate it and I read it, and then I got a little magazine called the UCB Word For Today, and it was just like the words opened up to me and God spoke to me. On the radio I was able to listen to Joyce Meyer, Charles Stanley, Bob Gass, and I just grew, and I ached for more.
Many people would say ‘why don’t you leave your past where it belongs, in the past, and just forget about it?’ You cannot forget about it. You have to be set free, and the only way to be set free is to bring it out from deep down. It’s so heavy and burdensome that you have to speak up. I would encourage anyone, no matter how long ago that they were abused, to tell someone.