Sunday, August 31, 2008

When She Said “No” to a Man

Fourteen-year-old Sophea learned what would happen when she said “no” to a man. She found out in a roadhouse along the road to Siem Reap. She was on her way to what she thought was a waitressing job. And she and her traveling companion—the female broker whom promised her the job—stopped to rest for the night. But there would be no rest for Sophea that night.

A man came into her room wanting sex. When she resisted, he raped her. Then another man came. Again, she resisted, but this man brutally beat her and then raped her. Sophea learned the hard way that saying “no” to men is dangerous.

The broker reassured Sophea not to worry; the men had paid for the sex. But Sophea never saw any of the money. And when she got to Siem Reap, she found that there wasn’t any waitressing job awaiting her. Instead, she was sold to a brothel where saying “no” to men could be deadly. Her customers and pimps would not tolerate it.

At Rapha House, I invited Sophea to attend a week-long training session for a select group of girls that we are preparing to serve as peer counselors. Sophea came to a couple sessions and then dropped out.

When I saw her next, she shied away from me. She didn’t know what to expect from saying “no” to another man. She wasn’t prepared for what happened next. I gave her a hug and told her that I loved her. I reassured her that I respected her “no.”

I don’t know what will happen with our peer counselor program. And I don’t know what will happen with Sophea. But I like to think that the most significant lesson she learned from this whole experience is that she can say “no” to a man and her “no” will be respected. Nothing Sophea could have learned from the training was more important than that.

Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. (Psalm 6:4)

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Shirt with Two Right Sleeves

I own a dress shirt with two right sleeves. It fits me perfectly because it was custom made for me.

It’s not that I have two right arms. I don’t. But the Rapha girl who sewed the shirt for me made a mistake in the rush to finish it during my last visit and attached a right-hand sleeve to the left side of the shirt.

This shirt is one of my favorite shirts. I wore it to a funeral today that I officiated. Nobody there even noticed. Nobody said, “Say, do you know that your shirt has two right sleeves? What’s up with that?” And if they would happen to ask, I’d tell them.

One reason why I like my shirt so much is that every time I wear it, I think of the girl who made it for me. I think about how far she has come. And it fills me with joy. No store-bought shirt has ever done that for me.

But another reason I like my shirt with two right sleeves is that it reminds me that something flawed can still be something truly beautiful. Every person that I’ve ever met (myself included) is deeply flawed. Trafficked or not, we all have some real challenges within ourselves to overcome. The reason I like working with trafficked girls is that they know that, and many are facing their challenges head on. The rest of us sometimes, to our shame, are more concerned with looking good than getting the help that we need.

I have a confession to make. When I first discovered that my shirt had two right sleeves, I was tempted to get it fixed. Then I realized that would only ruin it. So I’ll continue to wear it proudly and let it remind me of a special girl and the truth about myself.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Woman of Honor

Can a sex-trafficked girl who has lost her virginity, been forced into prostitution, and lives with a sexually transmitted disease, even if that disease is not life-threatening…can such a girl become a woman of honor?

Many in the West may have no hesitation in answering that question. We understand that what happens to sex trafficked girls is not their fault. They are victims.

However, the girls that I’m talking about don’t live in the West. They live in the East. And many in the East believe in karma—the iron law of cause and effect. So believers in karma see these girls differently. To them, sex trafficked girls are persons who are reaping the punishment for sins of a past life. To them, these girls get what they deserve.

To become a woman of honor in the East, a girl must be a virgin when she marries. It’s a cruel irony that certain forces in the East compel young girls into prostitution and then despise them for not being virgins.

So the question remains. Can girls who have been sex-trafficked become women of honor?

Besides karma, another important value in the East is face. Face is roughly equivalent to prestige or status. Status is measured largely by wealth. And business ownership is one indicator of wealth.

Recently, I received an email about one of our girls who has completed our program to return home to run a business that we helped her to start. The message reads with only one edit on my part: “Recently everybody is very happy to see the successful of [our graduate]. She is going home with the honor and everyone take her a good example.” Did you see that? She is regarded as a woman of honor and not just by her peers. Society now sees her as a woman of honor because she is a business owner.

I am thankful that the true value of persons is not determined by society but by the Cross. At the Cross, God makes a bold statement that He thinks that we are all worth dying for. But whether in the East or the West, we live within a particular society. We cannot give back sex trafficked girls the precious things that they have lost. But we can help them become women of honor. We can share in God’s work of giving them beauty for ashes.

I will give them a crown to replace their ashes, and the oil of gladness to replace their sorrow, and clothes of praise to replace their spirit of sadness. Then they will be called Trees of Goodness, trees planted by the Lord to show his greatness. (Isaiah 61:3 NCV)