It’s a moment I rarely talk about and one I’ve tried to forget – but it’s finally time to talk about when I was sexually assaulted on one of my first-ever mission trips.

Dreaming of rescuing children and reaching the most vulnerable, I headed to Mozambique for an internship, learning from a charity I respected. It was a life-changing and amazing time – but sadly the trip holds bad memories as well as good ones.

Taken unawares

On a rare day off, I wondered down to the beach to top up my tan. In Mozambique, culture dictates that you should not uncover your knees – to do so would be to announce to others that you were a prostitute.

Looking back I should have known better, but I wanted that tan so I had rolled up my skirt and walked down to the beach. There were starfish there like I’d never seen before: vibrant colours…beautiful shades of red, green and blue, with so many shades in between. I was captivated by them, so did not see a man come up behind me.

As I was bending down, he lifted my skirt and pushed his body against me. I screamed, turned around and backed away. By now he had exposed himself.

Finding safety

I didn’t know what to do, but caught the local beach café out of the corner of my eye. I figured if I could make it there, I would be safe. I also needed to be brave, and not to show fear. I shouted “No!” both in Portuguese and the local tribal language. But still he came towards me, exposed.

I walked as fast as I could without running. He followed. Thankfully, the café was not that far away and I made it there, pretty distressed by then. Two of the girls from the mission camp were there, having breakfast. Seeing the state I was in, they rushed over to me. Once the man saw that others were with me, he backed away and ran off down the beach.

My upbringing was sheltered. I have a loving family. I had hardly been out of the UK. To be assaulted in this way was such a shock.

Face to face again

It didn’t quite end there. Looking back, I should have reported the man to the police, but I didn’t. Two days later we were in our morning lectures in the big tent. These lectures were carried out in English just for the students. Partway through the lecture a man came in, clearly drunk, and sat down on a seat right in front of me. I wanted to scream. It was him. I felt a rise of anger and had to hold myself back from hitting him.

One of the girls that had been at the café saw what was happening and recognised the man. While the lecture progressed, she came over to me and prayed with me. All of the anger and fear left me. It was immediate. So much so, I was able to go over to the man after the lecture and say to him: “Jesus loves you.” He looked at me, surprised and taken aback. He stumbled out of the tent and I never saw him again, but I know that in a moment when he should have expected anger and retaliation, he was shown God’s love. I pray he found it.

Questioning my calling

Although I forgave the man, I didn’t forget it. In fact, I wondered whether or not I was brave enough to do the kind of work I felt called to. What if it happened again? What if I was attacked in a more severe way? Could I cope?

But I have learned that your commitment needs to be stronger than your emotions. Two years after the incident, I had another defining incident in Africa when nine-year-old Felicity assumed I wanted sex from her in return for a pair of shoes. In that moment I decided to start One By One, and a few years later we’re now reaching more than 10,000 children per week, have built two children’s homes and more recently rescued 50 children from slavery in Pakistan. 

Becky Murray is the founder and director of One By One. Becky will share this story and others at the online launch of Embrace The Journey on 10 June at 8pm where she will be interviewed by Pam Rhodes.