Thursday, March 5, 2015

Redemption

It was far more difficult than I could have imagined. It destroyed several stereotypes I didn’t even know I had, and put me way out of my comfort zone. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world, because it also clearly illustrated the redemptive heart of Jesus.

I was in the Philippines, where I’d gone to be with my daughter, Bethany, as part of the Parent Vision Trip with her missions organization. Our ministry was to work with prostitutes. Not exactly up my alley. I work with kids, not hardened, sinful women. Would they even listen to us white Westerners? Especially since the majority of their clients were exactly that? Fat chance!

When it came to the first night, we broke up into small teams and went to the Walking Street. It’s the place in Angeles City where the sex trade flourishes. Just back-to-back bars, where the girls “danced”.

It was dark in so many ways.

                                                     walking street angeles

We had been coached to look for the girls who looked uncomfortable, like they didn’t want to be there, because they would be the ones that were new, and less cynical. But it was hard; to see these girls, on stage flaunting their bodies, was heart-breaking. Some of them wore shorts and tank tops. Others wore far less.

It felt so wrong to even look at them.

Once we made a group decision as to whom to talk to, the protocol was to call them to our table and buy them drinks; they got a commission on it. I assumed they would order hard liquor. Stereotype #1 destroyed: they ordered Coke. Pineapple juice. Chocolate milk. Only one ordered anything with alcohol! And once we started talking to them, everything changed. As I looked into their eyes, they were no longer identified by their profession, but by their names, and their stories. Stereotype #2 destroyed: most of them were just young girls, many of them with children, working to support the family that they were responsible for. Caught in a cycle of broken promises and broken trust, they felt trapped, powerless to change their circumstances.

We asked about their dreams, what they would do with their lives if they could. Their faces lit up as they replied: “Be a nurse…a teacher…an HR director.” They all had dreams, dreams that were rarely vocalized because they were considered unattainable.

It was a different story when we asked them; “Do you like working here?” Faces falling, all but one shook their heads sadly, and hesitantly replied; “Noooo, I don’t.”

That’s when we got to share hope with them. Hope in a God who loves them dearly, who longs to have a relationship with them, and who sent us to offer them a way out. We told them of an organization (www.WipeEveryTear.org ) that provide group homes, where these girls could live, that would provide them not only a place to stay and food to eat, but also medical care, schooling (either high school or college), and even an allowance so that they could continue to send money to support those that depended on them. And they would be shown how to love and follow Jesus. We told them about a bus that would be there in a few days to pick them up and take them to see the homes and talk with the girls who lived there, then return them in time for work that evening.

Some grew quiet, afraid to believe that things could be any different. Others immediately promised to get on that bus to check things out. One even left the bar that night with one of the teams, claiming, “I have been praying for a way out—God has led you to me!” She moved into the house, sight unseen, the very next morning!

We prayed for all of those girls; for the seed of hope to be planted in their hearts. For courage to act on that hope. And that hope would bear fruit that drew them to our Redeemer, Jesus, who provided for their escape.

You see, the girls who led our teams? They were the same girls who had been rescued, helping us reach out to those still trapped. It had become their ministry, and they were passionate about it. These were the same girls who led us in wholehearted worship and prayer that God would draw others.

Eighteen girls got on the bus with us that Friday morning—eighteen! Willing to take the risk, to find out if this God we spoke of really did have something better for them. Last I heard, at least eight have moved from working at the bars to living at the houses.

Will they all stay? Maybe not. But they will hear of Jesus, who welcomed a woman who was shunned by many because of her sinful life, and forgave her because He loved her (Luke 17:36-50). They will hear the truth that there is a different way, that their past could we wiped away, because…

…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!                                                                                                  2 Corinthians 5:17

And they will learn to…

…declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.                  1 Peter 2:9-10

They will hear that Jesus redeems body, soul, and spirit.  And some will become His.

God is bigger than my stereotypes. And far more merciful than I can comprehend.

Further reflection:

1. Stereotype #3: God would not be able to work through me in this ministry. Are there any similar stereotypes you hold about what God can, and cannot, do through you?

2. Read Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who gives me strength”.

3. Which are you going to hold on to; the stereotype, or the truth? It is a choice we each make.

Father, forgive me for judging those whose sin is different than mine. You desire mercy, compassion, and a heart for the hurting, and I fail so miserably. Thank you that Your love is not based on our deserving it, or we would all be lost. Your love is based on Your own unchanging nature, bent to love us as we are, without being willing to leave us there. You are a good God, reaching down to redeem the lost, the hurting, and the proud.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The World Race

Many of you already know that my daughter, Bethany, is on an 11-countries-in-11-months missions adventure.  It’s rightfully called The World Race, and so far she has been to Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, Zambia, and Malawi.  She has worked with orphans, ministered to women rescued from horrific abuse, carried rocks to clear the ground, done door-to-door evangelism, and a host of other things. 

                                       Beth's world race        

I have expected it to a faith-stretching time for her.  The challenge of raising support, along with the difficulty—especially for an introvert such as Bethany—of meeting and living with a team of six unfamiliar people, combined with the adventure of living without the comforts of home, often in a tent, with everything needed for the year carried only in a backpack would be intimidating at the very least.

                     beth's world race 2

Those who organize, train, and oversee these teams do a wonderful job of planning out details while encouraging the racers to anticipate the unexpected.  I really didn’t think about what that might mean.  Until now.  It seems that six teams were crossing the border from Malawi into their next ministry site, Mozambique.  Two of teams crossed without incident, but the final four were held up at the border.  The officials claimed something in their paperwork was missing, and refused them entry.  The teams were tired, very hungry, and uncertain about next steps.  That was two days ago, and the teams are currently staying on opposite sides of the border while what is hopefully only technicalities are ironed out.  But there is concern coupled with a huge amount of uncertainty.

The teams are praying for resolution.  Their parents are praying.  None of us would have chosen this challenge for them.  After all, they were only doing what God had asked of them!

Then this morning God reminded me of Paul’s time in prison.

 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”  The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.  At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.                                                                                              Acts 16:25-33

Paul got thrown in jail because he openly shared his faith in Jesus, not because he did anything wrong.  Regardless of the reason, there he sat.  Along with Silas, praying and singing hymns!  And because of his faithful testimony, the jailer and his entire family came to faith in Jesus.

Sometimes hard things happen because while it’s not part of our plan, it is part of God’s.  He had a bigger plan for Paul; using him so that this jailer’s entire household became believers.  If Paul had not been in jail, this family may never have heard the good news of Jesus.

it was no coincidence that Paul was in a place he didn’t expect to be.  And it no coincidence that Bethany and the others are, either.  I am praying that God will use this unsettled time to grant these young men and women divine appointments, where they are able to boldly share their own faith, and that God would use that to draw others into His kingdom. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose… What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.                                                                           Romans 8:28, 31, 35, 37-39

Further reflection:

1.  Have you ever found yourself in a hard position that you never expected to be in?  If so, what was your response?

2.  Looking back, do you see how God used that to not only strengthen your own faith, but to encourage the faith of others?

3.  What are some verses God brings to mind that would encourage your heart should you be faced with such a situation again?

Father, how good it is to remember that You are a sovereign God.  Nothing is a surprise to You, nor is there anything too hard.  Thank You that Your plans for these teams, and for all of us, are for good. May they continue to rejoice in those good plans, trusting You to work out Your will for them.  I ask that You would use them so that others may hear and respond to that truth.