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.

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