One thing we really appreciate about the West is the strong tradition of activism. People really want to get involved; they really want to help.
Of course there can be mixed motives in anything. Our desire to do good can be easily mixed with a need for significance or a thirst for adventure. Mission trip organizers usually build in at least one sightseeing day. But the fact that Western people care so much and want to help others is a wonderful thing.
Another challenge: there is a tendency in activism to become focused more on principles and action than the actual people we want to help. And in our focus on solving problems we naturally move to trying to fix people. But when we work with broken people we begin to discover that trying to fix them is sometimes the worst, most hurtful thing we can do, and the biggest and most difficult lesson to learn is how to stop.
The focus on fixing or solving also leaves many paralyzed. They want to help but don’t see themselves with the necessary ability or know-how. They are afraid to reach out to folks in need, thinking they won’t know what to say or do.
But the reality is that only God can fix people, and he simply wants us to watch it happen. We see in the example of Jesus, from birth to his entire ministry, that what God wants is for us to show up. Go meet people, love them for their beauty as God’s creation, and respond to what happens. They’re out there, primed and ready for transformation, just waiting for us to take our seat and watch the miracle.
For the last two months we have been witnessing “Su” transform. The change has been rather sudden and drastic.
We have known Su, 33, for a few years since a former member of The Well brought her to meet us. She spent a few days with the program at that time, but was too unmanageable to stick around. We also started learning that she was actively “sending kids”, the Thai euphemism for prostituting young women, usually teens.
So we were praying for her and discussing the problem among our team. One day Ann, our social service director and intake manager, confidently announced to me, “I want to give Su another chance, and invite her to spend a trial week. Give her a choice to stop ‘sending kids’, along with a clear warning that we will involve the law if she continues.”
I agreed, but cautioned that we had at least one teen already in the program that she had “sent”. But all said they would be fine, not at all frightened, so the next Monday Su came for her first day.
It was like a switch was ready to turn on. Her very first week, Su started expressing gratefully a new understanding of love, God’s way. She came into my office one day, excited, wanting to tell me all about it. “Do you know why we love you so much?” I asked. “It’s because God made us all and wants us to love each other,” she replied with a shy grin. A few days later she popped in again. “I just learned about Psalm 23!” She then sat down and proceeded to walk through each scene by memory, relating it to herself. “This is how God cares for me!”
I find myself thinking often about Luke 19:9, where Jesus exclaims with joy about Zaccheus, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.” What Jesus did that day was find a guy who was ready to change, but was simply waiting on someone to give him permission to flip the switch. That’s all we have done with Su. Now we find ourselves seeing a kind, caring heart that was living out of desperation. “I have been a prostitute for 18 years,” she told me. “I just didn’t know what else to do.”
Now Su is actively telling others, including those she used to “send” about her new life in Jesus. Last Friday she hosted a gathering of kids in her small one-room home, led by an outreach team from The Well.