Of course, not that I didn’t want Him there, and not that I didn’t expect Him there, but I just didn’t realize He would make it a point to let me know and feel the weight of His presence after having my senses staggered from a walk through the dark brothel corridors of a red light district in South East Asia.
Our trip to Asia with The Exodus Road began the second week of January. And just to bring you up to speed on what in the world I’m talking about: about 27 million people are trapped in modern-day slavery. 80% of the victims are women and children and are suffering in 161 countries, including the United States. Sexual slavery has become a lucrative global industry, targeting the poor and inflicting abuse, usually in the darkest of places.
As a Freedom advocate who believes strongly in going alongside ministries on ground, I got involved with another coalition, The Exodus Road, late last year. This is an organization that fights modern day slavery through covert investigations. Our coalition of operatives work together to gather evidence and conduct rescues for those trapped in sexual slavery. I’m very excited to join them as an active voice for the captives and the courageous investigators who go into the dark trenches, focusing on strategic intervention and rescue. There are three focal parts of countering human trafficking– prevention, intervention, and after-care (restoration). Intervention is a tough proponent that needs a lot more attention.
There is nothing like comradeship on a mission, and that’s just what I found with our directors, and fellow blogger, John, who is also sharing about this experience on the huffington post and his blog. We managed to share a lot of laughs and encouragement through the sobering journey and he’s got a lot of deep insight to share there.
I mentioned that my trip with The Exodus Road began in January, but really I had been in preparation for this particular mission for months. During the summer part of my creative sabbatical, I came back from several trips, and suddenly Asia was laid on my heart. As much as I love the nations and multi culture, Asia just hadn’t sat heavily on my heart for that long–yet. I was also challenged to pray even more specifically concerning the rescue of women and children. Awareness is one thing, raising funds is another, but continuous spiritual warfare in prayer opens doors. I’m awed at how we get to be included in God’s grand plan and the trust we develop as we learn to obey when we only have little bits and pieces of information at a time.
But back to my opening question, and what I understood to be part of His answer. To the new church you heard Jesus include in His instructions to “go” quite a bit. Perhaps because the lost will not necessarily know to come to us. The parallels of God’s outreach to us and how we can reach out are pretty interesting. What we came to realize as well as many at work in the field was that combatting trafficking wasn’t as simple as one might think. That kids aren’t just laying around to be picked up and rescued, nor are victims running through the streets freely crying out for help, hence my first post title about the coalition. No, many are well hidden behind cultural facades and the permissive passivity of an already broken system even though their profit-making tactics (brothels, etc) are in your face. I mean how do you pick out victims among willing prostitutes when the victim has been broken and well coached, otherwise she or her loved ones would suffer the deadly consequences? Our investigators, however, who are “everyday” people have been trained for a covert process of going into the trenches, digging out the facts, and seeing a case all the way to raiding and prosecution, thank God.
So, who should “go”? Well among many, I know the church has the full answer (spirit, mind and body) and more of us should be encouraged. But can we get past the grime of extreme immorality and abuse waiting in the brothels? Will we be “permitted”/supported by our leaders? There is already controversy about this issue and I respect it’s delicacy. But, is going and blending in the issue, or is participation the issue? It is necessary to rightly divide this. Because I know Christ did not participate in sin, but obviously blended in enough to a point that angered the religious leaders of the day. Let’s look at the rest of the parallel I mentioned before: we were also slaves, sinning and being captive to sin. But He stooped, and came to us. Though He hated sin, He made Himself in such a human way that he could come to sinners, face the same temptations, and resist them every time. This is where we get hiccups with the parallels of intervention. But the key is in a statement Jesus made a lot, and I paraphrase: “my WILL is to do the will of my Father who sent me.” He opened and closed in this spirit of this statement and passed the baton to us… “for as He was in this world, so are we” (1 John 4:17). The will, the motive, the desire… There was nothing in Him that desired sin, therefore the issue of falling was resolved.
Do we have enough in the body that are so consumed with the will and desire of our Lord that sin and lasciviousness are distasteful? Therefore making them bold to step out with a clear mission (in this case, to rescue)? Do we have enough that are mature to know when to go and when to stay back; wise enough to be accounted for, but hopeful enough not to be stifled by sin “management” versus GRACE empowerment? Will they come out “alive,” or is the modern church low on the revelation of grace and constantly cleaning up after “members” who go purposelessly into these environments just to feed the flesh? Are we left with a lack of confidence only to babysit rather than get kingdom conquest done? I find that answers become clearer when they become personal though. If a child of a believer were trapped behind the walls of a brothel, the relator in him would overwhelm the religion in him. Which is also part of why God came as Jesus anyway, so we would know Him relationally and not religiously.
Imagine sharing the gospel with that rescued woman or child and drawing the perfect parallels between the gospel and her physical rescue… priceless.
I say instead of the fear of catching “something” we are convinced of God’s empowering grace in us to make that “something” bow and release the captive. If we’re not the ones in the trenches, we should support and undergird them the with prayer and funding. Well how do we know the right candidates, since these are matters of the heart? The thing about the heart is that it eventually tells on you. It comes out of the mouth, attitude and actions. The consistency of these expressions becomes ones character. The church is a relational organism and people were never meant to function in a vacuum. Paul, for example, wrote quite a bit to Timothy about how to select leaders and the criteria were much in the context of known relationships and character. The Exodus Road for instance, started with a Pastor-turned-investigator and recognizes the delicacy and responsibility of going into these places. The coalition continues to grow organically through relationships, along with ensuring adherence to a standard of operations.
To wrap this up, the reason I was startled by His presence was because I had walked through stark godlessness. If He’s with us He’s definitely at a distance and He’s probably “not so sure” about all this “stuff” we’re up to. Or so I felt. But it wasn’t like that with Christ. He didn’t look at Him dishonorably because He was with “earthlings”. In fact there was only one time Jesus experienced the agony of separation from His Father and that was on the cross when the full weight of the world’s sin was put on him and he had to bear the punishment as though He committed the sin Himself.
Where would the power come from to keep going? Where would the sustenance of the victims’ lives come from until rescue came to them? Where would an unexplained change of heart of the cartel leader (yes, we pray even for them, and believe in miracles) come from if my Lord isn’t there?
And the thing about when God tells you to “go” is that He has every intention of being with you… actually going before you and behind you. Like in Matthew 28:19-20 where He begins with “go” and finishes by telling His disciples “I am with you till the end of age.” He knew why we were there. He knew his daughter needed a reminder, and some comforting assurance. And to top that, a couple of days later as I got lost for a short while up in the indigenous village market, what did I hear but my favorite hymn being sung in the local language. With the language barrier, none of the market women could tell me where it came from, but it sounded like the gospel had made its way and created fellowship in this literal neck of the woods! It was music to my soul. He is indeed everywhere!