In 2005, I had my little six week old baby, Selah, in my arms and my husband, a youth minister at the time, was watching an International Justice Mission video in the other room. I overheard it teaching about modern day slavery and the sex trafficking of children. Something in my heart broke like it never had broken before.
Five years previously, I had lived in a poor little village in Mali, West Africa, as a short term missionary. My year there was really hard, and I saw short life spans and absolutely zero ease of daily life, but I also saw joy, hard work, family, loyalty, and a precious culture. I loved the poor already. I loved nations and languages already. But I did not love justice yet, because I was so unaware of the lack of it.
There I was, 27 years old, newborn baby in my arms, the first time in my adult life that I literally couldn’t go anywhere I wanted around the world to try to meet a need. It killed me. I wanted to RUN to those people and I didn’t know what I would do once I got there, I just knew I didn’t want to be here, doing “nothing”. I lived in that real tension for a couple of years, my journals and songs and friends could tell you. It was such a slow and painful work the Lord did in me. But the outcome was life changing; it changed me from the inside out.
God did these things, in this order…
- He allowed me to SEE. He opened my eyes to what I had been unaware of, sheltered from. I became educated. Because of my relationship with Him and call to the nations already, it wasn’t hard to also SEE in another way: That these people were just as precious to God as I was, and they were deserving of justice, hope, and help. I asked God to help me see them as actual family.
- He made me GRIEVE. I thought, “How is crying and mourning and just being sad for these people–refugees, orphans, starving children, the persecuted–helping them at all?” But this grieving was part of the process to being changed from the inside out. This will sound crazy, but I even wore black most of the time for that season. My heart was half there, half here.
- He led me to PRAY. I began to pray for ministries helping people and the people groups themselves that were affected by war, slavery, trafficking, poverty, etc. I asked Him–no, begged Him–for more than “just prayer”. Eventually, this season of prayer and lamenting brought me closer than ever into union with the heart of God and it was in prayer that He gave me part of His heart. (And the same is true for millions of other believers!!)
- He made me dependent on the HOLY SPIRIT. The Church is really good at pep rallies, but that is not how God speaks to me. He made me wait on Him, and little by little the path of how I could tangibly “help” came into clear view. Some of what we started doing was with our church community, some of it was as a family, and some of it was personal. If ever I wasn’t listening to the Spirit, and just did what I wanted, it would be made clear– it just wouldn’t bear fruit, or it would feel like I was tugging something along that didn’t want to move. It was like I would say, “God, why is this not working? It’s a good thing!” And He would say, “I never told YOU to do that.”
- He led me to join in their suffering through TANGIBLE SACRIFICE and GIVING. Yep, we finally got there! We started our adoption of Yemi, from Ethiopia, when Selah was 2 years old. Parts of this were excruciating, as we fundraised, gave all of our savings, saw her health deteriorate while still in Africa, and eventually it would again be so painful as she realized her early losses in life. We got to adopt again from Haiti, this time two sweet girls, Eva and Zoe, who just got home 1.5 years ago. Again, we shared in personal suffering as we went through these long processes and became a trans-racial, bi-cultural family. As a family, we write letters, pray, and give to two sponsored children through World Vision and Compassion International. When we receive any unexpected money, we pray and find out where God wants us to give some or all of it. We pray through Voice of the Martyrs magazines, and when friends or family are going on mission trips or collecting items, we try to be a part of that. We financially and prayerfully support missionaries and organizations we believe in, like International Justice Mission that literally kicks down the doors of brothels and sets innocent prisoners free. We started a ministry called Sister Bridge where we partner with artists/women in third world countries and sell their items here, sending all of the money back to the artists, in hopes they can make enough money to keep their families together. We work with ministries that are sharing the gospel with these women/artists as they train them in these crafts and skills! We try to have a view of our money and belongings that they are God’s, and while I think we are probably failing at it, we want to live in equality with the least of these. It’s important to me that we always have before us this absolute tangible reality that we shouldn’t seek more comforts and privileges while others don’t have their basic needs met. I don’t feel guilty for my needs being met, or for gifts given to me, but anytime the “American dream” starts to sneak in my heart, He sends something to snuff it out. May He EVER continue to do so, and may He show me more and more and more ways I can be faithful!
I don’t say ANY of these steps, especially #5, to “toot my own horn.” There are so many people doing SO MUCH MORE. I still feel the tension of the needs around the world, the reality of hurting people, and my comfortable life. But I know for sure at this point that I am walking in obedience with an open and completely available heart and life. That’s all I can do, and when the Spirit gives me more opportunities to be an advocate, give, serve, suffer, or go, I will do it.
This song–The Other Side of Night–is a heart cry. It was written in tears. There is such a disconnect between the Church and the least of these. We are so, I AM SO, individualistic and independent and set on personal success and comfort and fun for my family. But I believe God never intended such a disconnect, such a great divide between us. I’ve heard this phrase and I love it: “Live simply so that others may simply live.” It’s a personal conviction I pray that I grow in and see how to live out.
May He do so much more in our hearts than the little I have written about today! But lets not be afraid to “do little”! Thinking nothing will change is not for the minds of children of God. We carry His love and hope in each little thing–each tear, each prayer, and each act of obedience.