Tracey grew up in a chaotic and dysfunctional home with 17 siblings. She was born in London’s East End in 1966 and some of her earliest memories revolve around sexual abuse.
“My mother was a lady of the night; at least that’s what she called it,” she says. “We were too little to understand what it meant.” Tracey was often left at home to be cared for by her eldest sister. “Abuse happened on a daily basis,” she says, “it was a normal thing for us; we never knew another way of living.
“We would wake up with lots of men in the house who would say they were our ‘uncles’. But I knew they weren’t real relatives. They would abuse my sister who would offer herself to them so that they didn’t touch the younger ones, including me.” Tracey’s sister took her younger siblings to a church to keep them out of the house. “At church they would feed us, wash us and give us clothes,”
Tracey recalls. “They tried to support us to live the right way – God’s way – not my mum’s way of prostitution.”
One Christmas Eve when Tracey was twelve years old, her mother left her and her brother alone in the flat – and didn’t return. By that point, her sister had been taken into care so there were no adults around, apart from the ‘uncles’ and prostitutes who would come and go in the house as they pleased. Tracey married at 17, thinking it would be the happy-ever-after ending that would take her away from the nightmare of home life.
“He had experienced trauma too – his mum was also a prostitute,” she says. “We tried to block out our memories with drink and drugs.” Tracey lived this lifestyle for several years until her daughter was born, at
which point she got clean; she felt the baby was a blessing from God.
But these years were to become some of the worst she had ever experienced. “It started with a punch in the face from my husband for giving birth to a girl,” she says. “He didn’t want a girl.
“Over the years I was subjected to the most horrifying abuse. I was shot, stabbed, raped, used as a sex toy. On many occasions I was able to escape and run away, but would always be found and punished double. On one occasion, my husband hung my daughter over the balcony of our fifth-floor flat. He threatened to drop her if I didn’t return home.”
When I ask Tracey whether she reported these crimes, she said: “For reporting rape I got shot by my husband, for reporting being shot I got raped by his friends. That was when I stopped reporting it.” Tracey would cry out to God to take her life, but God didn’t respond in the way she wanted and the abuse worsened after the birth of her second daughter. “He would drug me and violate my body with objects and instruments and make my daughter watch. One time I spent a whole year in hospital recovering from my injuries.”
Finally, the police took Tracey and her daughters to a refuge where she received counselling. “I moved away from London and started a new life. But I ended up back in Bethnal Green after I received a phone call telling me that my husband had been found dead in the park. I came back to identify his body and stayed because, although I had a lot of bad memories, it was the only place I knew as home.”
Encountering the Holy Spirit
Tracey found herself at a female-only hostel in Whitechapel where a church group often visited to pray with the women there. “Some white cards displaying the crown of thorns started arriving under my door,” she says. “I recognised the symbol and it evoked sadness in me because I remembered that Jesus had to wear this to save my life and that of others.”
The cards were an invitation from East End Church to attend an Alpha course they had started for the women, but Tracey wasn’t ready: “I’d watch from afar and listen outside the door to what they had to say. Their words were a new hope for me and my broken heart; but I was still mad at God.” She tells me she was struggling with lots of health problems: collapsing and haemorrhaging. “I had many internal injuries from all the abuse,” she says.
During a Holy Spirit day at Holy Trinity Brompton, which she reluctantly attended, someone prayed for physical healing for her. “In the back of my mind I was thinking: it’s not going to work because my problems are man-made. But as they prayed I started shaking. The Holy Spirit was doing something in me. After that day my pain was reduced and my haemorrhaging was much better.”
Tracey started going to East End Church regularly after that. “One day, during worship, I said sorry to God for asking him to take my life and I literally felt like a massive weight had been lifted. God started doing all sorts in my life, helping me to forgive people and to open up about my experience.”
Tracey experienced her most dramatic encounter with God while on a church weekend away. “During one of the meetings, a man I had never met said he had a word from God. He made his way through the crowds and it was like Jesus was trying to get to me. He said: ‘Your bleeding has stopped and your womb is healed.’ There was no way he could have known about my situation,” says Tracey. “When the doctor saw my scan after that weekend, he said it was a miracle that I no longer needed surgery.”
Tracey was baptised last November and when I ask how she feels now, she says, with a twinkle in her eye: “Before I was healed I felt like an 80-year-old woman in a 50-year-old’s body. Now, with God’s help and love in my heart, I feel 21! I’ve been riding a bike, carrying a child in a pram up the stairs and running in the park with the children from church.
“When I first came to church, I walked through the doors like a scared rabbit. Now I sing as loudly as I can for Jesus to hear how much love I him. I’ve gone from having nothing in life to having it all in God’s love.”