Open Up the Cages

While I was preparing to leave for the Philippines, I got this question a few times: what sparked your passion for fighting against sex trafficking?  Well to be honest, there are number of reasons, yet when I was amidst my preparations to come to the Philippines to live out that passion, I was reminded of a dream I had a few years ago that I believe foreshadowed this current chapter of my story.

The setting of my dream began at church, where I was attending a women’s conference.  I was standing at the entrance of the building, and the guest speaker came out to meet me underneath a big overhang that leads up to the door.  Attached to the ceiling of this overhang were half a dozen cages—rusty, black cages so filthy that even the air inside looked dank, polluted, and grim.  And inside these cages were young girls, nearly unidentifiable with weathered faces that had seen three or four lifetimes in the span of the years they had walked this earth.  Their figures were more shadow and less flesh.  Their eyes were sunken and terrified.

The women in these cages were exploited.  Their bodies were sold for sex.  They had no choice in the matter; they were victims to poverty, poor circumstance, and the ugly things that sin can cause one human to do to another human being.

I felt every muscle in my body tense up at the horror of the sight, and all I wanted to do was unsee.  Just then, the guest speaker of the conference approached me.  She pointed at the cages and said,

“These girls are trapped.  Are you going to help them?”

“Yes!—”

And then I awoke.  I am awake.

Years later I am waking up again.  Upon my first visit to the Philippines, I learned that my dream was real, and that the cages are more atrocious than I had expected.  During my first experience on Filipino soil, I discovered that these iron capsules are actually entrapping hotel rooms, massage parlors, or run-down bars.  Sometimes they are even disguised as shiny night clubs, and those are always the trickiest because everyone seems happy and full of life there.  But you can always tell by the air.  Something is not right about the atmosphere.  The oxygen is undeniably soiled my monstrous cruelty.  How can one breathe freely in a place where souls are stolen and bodies, human bodies, are bought and sold with pocket change?  With one inhale of that poison, I knew that I had to do something about it.

So here I am in the Philippines, not as a hero or an answer to human trafficking as a whole.  To be honest, I am just one ordinary girl from Boise, Idaho with brown hair, green eyes, and freckles on her nose.  I’m not especially talented by my own right.  I’m sure there are more passionate, gifted, experienced, and knowledgeable people in the world who could do this job a whole lot better than me, but it’s me God chose and sometimes I cannot make sense of it.  And I don’t say that as false modesty; I’m not searching for compliments, because whenever someone tells me how brave I am for moving halfway across the world to live in a developing nation and work for an organization that is on the front lines of fighting sex trafficking in the Philippines, well sure I’m flattered, but I don’t necessarily feel brave.

When I think about the word “brave,” I think of the girls in our care who used to once identify with their prisons and are now are identifying with hope!  With love!  With the relish of materializing dreams!  With the trust that Christ knows them and sees them as daughters!  They are free now, but they first had to have the courage to leave their cages.  Some people will ask why they didn’t just leave in the first place, or choose another profession and avoid the whole tragedy altogether.  What is so crucial to remember is that prisons don’t lock from the inside, and once the door is closed, it often takes another person to unlock it.  These women have been pushed into their jail cells by poverty and lies.  They are all victims in one way or another.  These girls were so broken that they believed that captivity was their only purpose.  So yes, for leaving and saying “no” to the enemy’s lies, these girls are very, very brave.

These women inspire me.  Many of them are so thrilled at the joy of freedom that they come back to the bars with us to tell their old coworkers, their friends, and their sisters that there is more.  They choose to spread the joy that they found instead of being continually victimized by their pasts.  There is freedom, hope, and a future available in the arms of Jesus.

I love these girls so much.  And I am thrilled that God chose me to join them in their fight to find restoration and achieve their dreams.  It was not my ability, my charisma, or even my religion that got me here.  It was my ‘yes’ to God’s call, and the vision that God gave me that broke my heart and reformed it to look more like the Father’s.  My passion for human trafficking was sparked by God’s perspective when I wasn’t even really looking for it and by his effort to pave every single step of the way.  However, she is what ultimately ignited the flame.  “She” personified is the dozens of women I know personally who have new lives of freedom because of Jesus and his work through Wipe Every Tear.  She is worth it.  She is the reason we do what we do.

And there’s nothing quite like the moment of walking up to that dirty cage, turning the key inside the wretched lock, and swinging the door wide open.  To reach in and sit with her for a while, to remind her of the sunlight, to tell her that her dreams can come true.  To take her by the hand and spend time with her in the moment that everything about her life starts to change.  To lead her out of the prison with a glorious sunrise on the horizon.  To watch the light return to her eyes at the sound of the word…

Freedom.

 

 

Learn more about Wipe Every Tear and how you can #refusetodonothing about sex trafficking at wipeeverytear.org.

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The Lion’s Battle

Before I left for the Philippines, I was sitting with the US staff for Wipe Every Tear retreat in the Idaho mountains when our founder, Coach Kenny, read us a text from our Filipino director that broke my heart.  The message detailed that one of our girls left our care that morning, with very little of an explanation except for her insistence that this was all too hard for her.  School had been challenging, and she had struggled to find the motivation to push through it.  Tearful, our director explained her sorrow over the loss of this girl, because she and all of us know the reality of leaving Wipe Every Tear’s care.  Sure, there are less rules and more freedom, but that soon proves to be deceptive without a well-formed plan of how she can make it on her own.  Without education or livelihood opportunities–which are difficult to attain if you’re even remotely poor or don’t have a network built for you–it is very likely that the girl will return to the bar scene.  It’s not an “always thing,” but we don’t deny the very enormous likelihood of it.

As Coach read the entirety of the text message, I remember feeling extremely discouraged.  I sat in quiet thought, and deeply wondered about this next season.  After a few minutes of allowing my heart to turn the situation over and examine it from every angle, I cried out to God, “Oh Lord, how can I do this next season?  How can I handle these battles on the front lines when I’m in the States right now, 7,000 miles away, and I can hardly keep myself together?  How will I walk day-to-day in the Philippines and find the grace to choose joy in the midst of very harsh realities?  How can I carry the burden of motivating our girls to press forward when all they want to do is give up?”

His response was perfect.  He said this:

“Dear daughter, this is not your battle to fight.  I may include you in this army that I’m assembling against the injustices of sex trafficking, but this is still my battle.  And I already won the victory.  Your job is to live in that promise and not give in to the lies of the enemy that try to trap you and cause you to feel defeated.  I will fight for you, and I will definitely fight for these girls.  They are my daughters, too, and I am pursuing them relentlessly.”

That response gave me a better handle on the situation, but then God revealed an imagery to me that overwhelmed me with a peace beyond my understanding (which is another promise of God, as stated in Philippians 4:6-7).  The vision was this:

I was reminded of a story that resonates in my heart very deeply.  I thought of C.S. Lewis’ book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  There’s a point in the story where Peter and Edmund are fighting the battle against the Witch and her army,  while Aslan—the perfect Lion who stood in place of Edmund to pay the consequence of his betrayal—is resurrecting from his sacrificial death on the Stone Table.  Lucy and Susan had been near him since his execution the previous evening, and are relishing the un-capped joy of watching their hero come back to life.  Aslan knows about the battle that is occurring only a short distance away, but before he joins the fight, he builds his army.  Lucy and Susan climb on his back, and he gallops away to the Witch’s castle, so he can breathe life onto all the creatures who had been turned to stone by the Witch’s wicked power.  One by one, he awakens his troop.  He sends them into a functional formation, and this is the part that stands out to me.  Aslan commands,

Those who are good with their noses must come in the front with us lions to smell out where the battle is.  Look lively and sort yourselves.

And with a great deal of bustle and cheering they did.  The most pleased of the lot was the other lion, who kept running about everywhere pretending to be very busy but really in order to say to everyone he met, ‘Did you hear what he said? Us lions. That means him and me.  Us lions.  That’s what I like about Aslan.  No side, no stand-off-ishness.  Us lions. That meant him and me.’  At least he went on saying this till Aslan had loaded him up with three dwarfs, one Dryad, two rabbits, and a hedgehog.  That steadied him a bit.

I love this passage.  It shows that when God breathes on us, he gives us a new identity.  He calls us to stand alongside him in this battle.  He doesn’t see our flighty, easily excitable characters as a weakness, he sees us as lions.  He simply uses our passionate energy to carry those who do not have the strength to charge into battle, but are nevertheless needed.  He doesn’t name himself the greatest warrior, though he undeniably is.  It’s as if he takes us by the shoulders and says “You, dear child are a lion!”  Then he takes another, and another.  “And you, are a lion!  And you, and you, and you too, are indeed a lion!  And you are meant to fight this battle.  I’m strengthening you for this Kingdom work.  I’m empowering you for this war.  The same power that is in me is in you as well!”

(At this point in this post, I have to issue a spoiler alert, though if you are picking up the metaphor that Lewis brilliantly displays and if you know the Bible’s ultimate resolution, you’ll know the end of this story.)  By the time the second troop of warriors arrives on the battlefield, the first of the soldiers along with Peter and Edmund are tired and nearing defeat.  Many have mortal wounds.  Some already seem past the point of no return.  The situation appears bleak, but then Aslan roars, and oh, does he roar.  He shakes the ground with his thunderous growl and every creature—good and evil—stops in their tracks.  Swords silence their clashing, and hearts melt in terrific awe.  Aslan leaps from his mountainy ledge onto the Witch and finishes her, once and for all.  He uses his breath to soften the bodies of the warriors turned to stone, and sends Lucy on a quest to use her cordial to heal those with wounds.  The entire troop of evil is completely eradicated, whether killed or far off in retreat.  Aslan could have done it all in one mighty act of power, but instead he used those he called with his life-filled breath.  The dogs exercise their teeth, the giants squash enemies with their feet, and every single creature is using their divinely-created ability to be instrumentally victorious in the way they do best.  Aslan uses the ordinary, the broken, and even the traitor to defeat the greatest enemy of Narnia.

And like Aslan, God is doing the very same thing in the Philippines.  He is using simple, ordinary people in their unique abilities to conquer the evil here.  Revival is spreading as God breathes life into his army.  Sure, the struggle is very much present, and there are moments where it appears that our heads will not stay above water.  But I know that the Lion is coming.  I know that he is constantly feeding his troops.  He is empowering us to say a resounding “no” to the face of extreme evil.  And though I’ve only been here a week so far, I know in my core that my God will never, ever fail his children.  So even though there are days when our hearts break in seemingly endless routines for these girls, I trust that the Lion will breathe into us and build us back up and strengthen me again for another day.

So, we as Wipe Every Tear are not afraid.  This will never be our battle, but because of the Lion, we will always be able to claim the victory.  We advocate for the victory of freedom, hope, and a future even when we don’t feel like we are gaining any ground.  Disappointments don’t set us back, and hardships don’t leave us staggering.  God is strengthening our feeble knees and reinforcing us with an abundance of provision, even if it comes at the very last minute.  He is roaring confidence into our bones.  We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is so for these girls that he will continue to fight for them and pursue them relentlessly.  We believe in the Lion of Judah, the one who never tires, the one who never fails, the one who was, the one who is, and the one who is yet to come.