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Stolen Childhood Restored by Her Heavenly Father

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“As long as I could remember, my father could just fling off the handle and be screaming and yelling and beating me as a little baby. I mean, I can remember being three and him throwing me across the room and beating me up,” remembers Elishaba Doerksen.

She is the oldest of 15 children. Her father, a former hippie who said he found Jesus, twisted scripture to control, manipulate, and isolate his family from the world in a remote part of Alaska.  

“The first thing I thought as a little girl is that I had to crawl in Papa's lap and give him a kiss, and he would hold me there. And I knew in my heart that if I didn't do that, then I was in trouble,” said Elishaba.  

Her father known as “Papa Pilgrim”, severely beat the entire family, saying he was “correcting” them according to the Bible.

“We would have to go to him, three or four times a day, and be whipped with a leather braided whip,” recalls Elishaba. “I knew then in my heart that he liked pain. He liked to see me in pain. It seemed to my little girl's heart, that he was wanting me to suffer, and inside I wanted him to die. I felt really evil for that thought.” 

Physical abuse wasn’t the only thing Elishaba had to endure.

She says, “I knew that all my life he was sexually abusing me. But in my level of understanding, it was all normal. I slept with him every night. I wasn't allowed to sleep anywhere else. I laid there and just begged God to show me why – how could Papa love me and do this to me. It didn't make sense.”

Her father continued to distort scripture to justify sexually abusing his daughter.

“From the first day he really raped me, it was like for ten years, it was day and night. I wasn't allowed to leave my father's side,” said Elishaba. “I had so much shame on my heart, I didn't even feel like a human, I guess, to put it like that, I felt like my father's dog.”

Physical and sexual torment continued until she was 29. Then the oldest brothers escaped and Elishaba longed to join them. “I was actually terrified that leaving was against God's will. But in my heart, I knew I had to get away.”

On a rare occasion when her father left the cabin, Elishaba and her sister made their escape, desperate for freedom and praying they would not get caught.

She thinks back, “Well, I was sure that if he found out, that I would die. Or he would lock me up, either chain me up or put me in a cabin and I would just become his sex slave.”

They found refuge with a Christian family her brothers had met, and began a slow, yet painful healing process.

“When I got there, I felt really loved. I felt like, wow, there's love here. Even though I was scared to death of love. I couldn't face people. I didn't want to face people. I was so ashamed of who I was, I really wanted to disappear into the mountains by myself,” said Elishaba.  

She shared the truth about her father and he was arrested. Two years later she faced him in court. He showed no remorse.

Elishaba looks far off, “I had become so angry at what I had lost in life, 29 years. I guess my life depended upon the fact that I longed for him to say he was sorry and to admit that he had hurt me. But that day when I walked out, I was devastated, I was so devastated. Because I went in, and it was a good step, I wanted to forgive. But because my life depended upon him saying he was sorry, I realized later that true forgiveness doesn't demand or expect that the other will reconcile.” 

A year later her father died in prison. On father’s day 2015, nine years after her escape, she was finally set free from her tormented past when she chose to forgive her father.

“I just remember walking up and seeing the grave. It was scary at the thought of like, almost like he was gonna reach up and grab me up until that point,” recalls Elishaba. “But I couldn't believe the freedom I felt as I knelt on top of my father's bones and I just expressed that all these years I had all these longings as a little girl, and that was to be cherished and loved and safe and known. And that little girl has grieved the loss and I had given it to God. Because my heavenly Father is enough for me. And it was really powerful when I said the words, 'I forgive you, Papa.'"

Today Elishaba is married with two children. She cherishes her family and has worked through her painful past in the powerful memoir, “Out of the Wilderness.”

She continues, “It was like –do you deserve forgiveness? No, but none of us do. And we can't give any more than what we have. You gave torment because you lived in torment. But for me, my heavenly Father is enough. And He has shown me that He is a Father to the fatherless, and that He loves me despite my brokenness.”

(To purchase Elishaba Doerksen's memoir, please visit:

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About The Author

Karl Sutton

Karl Sutton has worked in Christian media since 2009. He has filmed and edited over 200 TV episodes and three documentaries which have won numerous film festivals and Telly awards. He joined CBN in 2019 and resides outside Nashville with his wife and four kids. He loves cycling, playing music, and serving others.