Reposting this reflection on her internship at NightLight, from my friend Maria. I’m always blessed and encouraged by Maria’s love for Jesus and search for Him in all things. It has been an honor to watch her fight through to joy in the face of what she’s seen.
Eight years ago an atheist friend told me, “Now that you’re a Christian, you’ll have to suffer for your faith.” I sensed the sarcasm, but the comment still struck me as odd… and awkward. I’d only just recently decided for myself that I believe Jesus is our only hope for salvation. Neither my friend nor I really knew why “suffering” was in the Bible, so I changed the subject. Take that memory and fast forward to the past 8 months:
Bam. God’s journey for me led to dark and dubious parts of Bangkok, where almost ANY atrocity goes. NightLight staff led me through the city life into hotels where trafficking is happening in plain sight and is as “accepted” as a drug deal in inner city Philly. They brought me into gogo bars where we sat next to pole dancers on their breaks, listening to stories in broken English and Thai. I watched as they rescued and sheltered women out of trafficking situations and offered bar and street workers alternative employment making jewelry. Asians, westerners, Uzbeks, women in burkas, powerful-looking Saudi Arabians, Africans, men, women, children, pimps, criminals, (corrupt) police men, business owners, tourists, i.e. people of all walks of life were everywhere. After about 3.5 months of this, I started going through what is called “second-hand trauma” and I started grieving at more painful depths than I’ve ever experienced before. I grieved for these injustices, for humanity, for our broken world condition and for myself, because my life-perspective had changed, and I could never go back to not-knowing.
After about 5 months I felt completely wiped out. I remember sitting in NightLight’s prayer room one day and begging Christ to take over. I felt I had no more strength or energy to fight the crazy mental, emotional, spiritual battle of that environment anymore. I asked God why I had to stay for two more months when I felt like I might be losing my mind. At the time, I was shocked at how easily and deeply my strength was spent (talk about humbling). Thankfully, God provided plenty of answers, encouragements and people to help me along the way. One mentor encouraged me to start praying for tears to release this soul-spirit grief, so I did.
Month six I took a trip to the genocide/war ravished city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. There, God woke me up at sunrise. I walked to the top of an apartment overlooking the city, and began to WAIL – a heart-song of sorrow, anger, questions, pain, prayers, shame, humility, hope and praise, and everything DRENCHED in tears. It was then, when the tears subsided, that God reminded me of an incredibly important truth: LIKE MY SON, IF YOU WANT TO HELP ME SAVE YOUR FRIENDS, YOU MUST ENDURE THROUGH THE SUFFERING. THERE IS NO OTHER WAY. You see, at some point, through all the grief, my thoughts had turned to myself and I had lost perspective on what God was doing in that place and what He was allowing me to be a part of: so many women being rescued from slavery and sexual exploitation, whole families being changed, and whole communities coming to discover deeply and eternally how much God would go through to prove His love for them. I began to reflect on Jesus: He did not come from heaven to earth as a conquering hero or political leader but as a servant, willing to endure all things to save us. He loved people, he taught scripture, he offered forgiveness, he stood boldly against wrong-doing, and then he was mocked, beaten and hung on an excruciatingly painful cross. He did this all willingly, knowing that His perfect sacrifice was the only offering God would ever accept to make up for the sins of the world. [“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” – Jesus, Luke 22:42]. He trusted the path God called Him to and three days after His death, God raised Him from the dead. This is the moment Christians believe Christ overcame the evilness in this world (including sex trafficking) and made a way for all of us to be saved, if we put our faith in Him.
God does most of the work, but He wants us to understand the cost of saving another. He calls us to follow Him and, when necessary, to walk through pain and share in His suffering (Romans 8:17, Luke 9:23, Matthew 16:24-26). For example, if you have noble dreams of joining a rescue mission, beating down doors and saving 100 trafficked women, rest assured, no matter what faith you follow, it will hurt and you will have to sacrifice much or just give up. We cannot build a relationship with the suffering if we refuse to come close to them. We cannot win the fight against sex trafficking and exploitation (or help the ill, or impact students’ lives, or help transform broken communities, etc.) if we are not willing to consistently walk into heart-breaking places and get messy. Jesus (and logic and history) demonstrates to us that THERE IS NO OTHER WAY: pain is a part of saving our friends. And God knows we are experiential beings: He wants our hearts to pay attention to, and break for what breaks His heart.
YET IN THE MIDST OF SUFFERING, NO MATTER HOW GREAT, WE CAN HAVE JOY! This crazy concept is also taught in the Bible. I’ve been praying and seeking this wisdom for months and months…. but this post is already too long. We’ll save it for another week. For now, I hope these words encourage, convict, inspire, and/or help some of you, and that they overall demonstrate the power, patience, love, compassion and greatness of a very real God.
[“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – Jesus, John 16:33].
It’s still my birthday fundraiser month, won’t you play a part?
NightLight needs funding to send trafficked women home! They are waiting.
Will you step up and be part of their answer?