How An Atheist Is Teaching Me To Live Like Jesus

by Laura on June 25, 2013

Russians Walking Street

When we first put toes into the water of the counter-trafficking community in SE Asia, we expected the pool to be a crowed one. We’d read the stories from the internet, we’d seen the documentaries and we assumed that other people had this fight covered– especially as it related to the process of helping find and rescue sex slaves. That was the stuff of police and Jason Bourne and crazy-qualified UN workers.

But several months into networking on the ground in a country where the sex industry is rampant, and we began to see a different picture than the one we expected. Through a series of events we never signed up for, Matt found himself in a local police station, talking with the police sergeant whom he’d been building a relationship with. This sergeant was responsible for all the trafficking cases throughout a major geographic area of the region, and it was this national to whom Matt asked what he assumed was an epically-foolish question.

“You have other people in the NGO community that are informants for you, right? I mean, you wouldn’t need me to go looking for tips, would you?” This from my youth pastor husband.

And the sergeant’s answer shocked us. He said, “You know, everyone likes to talk about trafficking. But not many people want to do anything about it. Right now, I do not have any Western informants.”

And we were living in a city where trafficking was thriving and which was reported to have the second largest concentration of Christian humanitarian workers and missionaries in the world.

Image 5-29-13 at 11.17 AM

A few months and a lot of brothels (and tears) later, I met Mike in a coffee shop while Matt was meeting with him about some new covert gear. He’d never tell you, but Mike regularly goes into locked brothels– places with barbed wire fences and deadbolts on the door– in search of kids enslaved. Mike spends his retirement hiking through jungles to follow leads, spends evenings in gay bars, (though he is heterosexual himself), in search of pedophiles. And Mike won’t take a salary for his efforts, and he demands that his real name never be used publicly. He doesn’t want credit for late nights in smokey bars, and he isn’t asking for recognition for the times he brushes shoulders with the mafia or follows a pimp down a back alley. The injustices of sexual slavery have haunted him, and he’s putting action to conviction.

And Mike is an atheist.

Image 5-29-13 at 11.14 AM

And several weeks ago, someone asked me what I thought was the biggest problem facing 20 and 30-something women in the American church today. And I’ve wrestled with the answer ever since. Maybe it’s too much religion or not enough time. Perhaps it’s an overabundance of things or a drought of true community. Maybe it’s a culture of materialism or pride or the all-encompassing Me.

And perhaps it’s all of those things, but I reckon you tend to see answers through your own story, and I can’t help but applying the same filter here. Because I look at Mike, an atheist who charges into locked brothels, and then I look at my Christian brothers and sisters who won’t, and I feel a pit in my stomach. Because I know that the brothel is a place that represents so many others like it–  the orphanage and the foster care system, the homeless shelter and the street corner, the ghetto and the nursing home and the third-world country. And it is in these places that Kingdom tends to thrive; these places that mark us for good and draw us into the redemptive stories spinning so wildly among the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized.

And just like the brothels in SouthEast Asia, these are the places, in large part, that my Christian brothers and sisters are not.

And I’ll be honest, that I am not enough either.

And this to me, this is the aching problem of the American church today. It is not a lack of theological knowledge or political conviction. It’s not becoming too liberal or too conservative, too rich or too poor. I think in large part it lies in becoming too isolated from the needs around us.

BNPRhj9CYAIk1PW

Because the Church, the Bride, the ones to whom much has been given? We should be the ones rising up, the force for Love out front. We need to be the kind of people who aren’t afraid of the darkness because we know we have a Light that’s so much bigger than it. We are called not to islands or white walls, but invited instead to the places where real people, just as broken as ourselves are– places like the brothel. And we are invited into those places not to gawk at the other or to feel better about ourselves, but we are invited to walk there like Jesus– this man who found good friends (not projects) in misfits and prostitutes.

Because this Kingdom we find ourselves in is one that will not be shaken, but it’s one that begs a bringing, too.

By hands of ordinary men and women. The kind of people with feet willing to walk into darkness and dirt.

And the kind of people who understand that Gospel comes to the brothel of their own lives, too. 

*****

I’m excited to highlight a group of women who are rising up as a generation of Jesus Followers ready to engage. If you haven’t already, mark your calendars for February 7-8 in Austin, Texas, where the first IF: Gathering will take place. It will be a movement towards greater Presence and love, and I’d love to see you there. Stop by their site, like them on facebook, or subscribe to their newsletter for updates.

*****

How about you? What would you say is the greatest problem facing the American church for this generation?

 *All photos above were taken covertly from the team of investigators in The Exodus Road coalition, a nonprofit my husband was able to start during his time in the field and that has supported the rescue of 189 victims of trafficking in the last 11 months in India and SE Asia. Mike is a member of this coalition and just yesterday was involved in the arrest of a pedophile.

  • Misty Griffin

    WOW. Sharing this all over the place today!!! Thank you Laura!!!

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Oh, thanks, girlie. Appreciate your help in this sphere with us.

  • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

    Love this Laura. Thank you for the challenge and the encouragement and the reminder that I am in the right place, but even here, I need to be intentional and courageous.

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Rachel- you my friend, seem to live a life engaged. Thanks for the ways you are loving the hottest planet on earth– dirt and all. :) Hang in there– you are living Gospel in beautiful ways.

  • Jen

    Thank you Laura for such a challenging post! God decided to completely move our course of direction and the path He wants my family on now is one who enters the darkness and shines the brightest. The path is uncomfortable, often times feels crazy, but He wants to wake up my sleeping soul and press on for Him.

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Jen– yes to the need to wake the sleeping soul. Oh, I feel that too now. And its the discomfort and pain that draws me out of slumber– but it seems those very things I fight so hard to avoid.

      Keep your eyes up, friend.

  • Lisa

    Just.yes. I love this. So going to be there in February. Praying daily for them.

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Cool! You are going to SE Asia? I sure love that part of the world . . . thanks for stopping in and thanks for engaging.

  • http://www.Katiecampbellphoto.com/blog Katie

    Beautifully written and so challenging. Thank you for sharing your passion and heart. Somewhere along the way we have lost how amazing God’s grace is, this grace that compels us, this grace that is so outrageous that it isn’t for us to keep to ourselves but to give away.

    Your words are full of truth and power, amen sister.

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Thanks, Katie. I appreciate the encouragement. Truly.
      And, YES– amazing grace.

  • Melodie K

    Oh that our hearts would break for the things that break God’s heart, and that we would do something to make a difference! Heading to the mission field in a few years with my husband and cannot figure out why more people aren’t going.

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Melodie– yes to our hearts needing to break more often about the things that break God’s. Neat to hear that you are heading overseas! Have you seen our other site: http://www.aLifeOVerseas.com? It’s for missionaries, by missionaries– you may find some encouragement there. You are on an exciting path for sure!

      • Melodie K

        Yes! I just recently learned of that site and I love it. So practical and encouraging. I hope to contribute to it at some point. I am a budding blogger but am finding more time to write as my life settles down. I blog here: http://africazmelodie.blogspot.com

  • daisy

    wow. Thank you for sharing.

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Absolutely. Thanks for reading. :)

      • daisy

        I mean not only your point at the end but also cannot believe there are no western informants. Both hit home

  • Adam Willard

    I completely agree with your thoughts, about the church in the US and just about everything else. As a missionary, I also have too often seen workers gathering in the places that are nice and comfortable and doing the ministries that are nice and comfortable too. The fact that “human trafficking” is such a hot issue among churches in the US now, you’d certainly think that with a place with such a high concentration of Christian workers would be trying to do more about the city’s seedy underbelly. But as I said, my experiences have shown me that most people just don’t want to touch it. I’m glad that you guys did for a time and I hope your fundraising attempts are truly the best use of your efforts.

    On a small side note: YES, some people are actually called to islands. Madagascar is a huge island and one of the poorest countries on earth, with many many parts of the country (especially its rural areas) still needing major entrances of God’s Kingdom. And several of its urban areas are also seeing dramatic rises in sex trafficking as well and could use many people working on their behalf. My family and I (and several people who will be joining us) are actually called to an even smaller island that’s part of Madagascar, to introduce for the first time the Kingdom of God to a group of people who’ve never heard it. You can read more about it here if you’re interested (http://www.madmissions.com/wordpress/antakarana-people/) . But all that just to say that YES, some people are called to islands, and for good reason. I don’t know what you’re referring to by “white walls” though.

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Adam, thanks for your comment and for your future service to Madagascar! The references to islands and white walls were purely metaphorical. I was just referring to the idea of hiding behind walls or being isolated from others and from the real world.

      All the best in your future move and thanks for visiting here today.

  • http://www.hiddenvalleysimplicity.com Melissa

    Thank you for this post! W.O.W.

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Thanks, Melissa– so appreciate your encouragement. Truly.

  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    Appreciate your boldness and courage — pass along to your hubby as well. Stay strong.

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Thanks, Tara! I love that you guys are in the thick of the “darkness and dirt” there in Haiti, too. Love your work. And hope that one day we get to rub shoulders in real life. Keep pressing forward there– catching babies and loving that precious family of yours.

  • Tiffany Deluccia

    Laura, this post is so important. I’m sharing it with my blog’s readers, who are mostly young women and teen girls. I especially like that you bring up foster care, orphanages, ghettos, etc., as those are not foreign to our American dreamhouses. We can do so much more if we let love grip our hearts.

    wastingperfume.com

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Thanks, Tiffany, for sharing this! I appreciate it and hope it will encourage your readers. And yes, there is definitely need right in our own backyards– sometimes a greater one because it is covered in such veneer.

      Here’s to love gripping our hearts . . . .

  • pastordt

    Amazing work here, Laura. Thank you for all of it – the work, the friendships, the rescues and this writing, this call to action. Really, really well done.

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Thanks so much! I am just always so consistently encouraged by you. My hope? To meet you one day in for-real life. :)

  • Richelle Wright

    convicting…

    i think it is one of the scariest things about coming back to the states and not knowing when we’ll leave again… what if i forget, what if i get sucked into this world of always being fed and never sacrificing to feed others – literally and metaphorically…

    and then i remember days as a misso, expat worker when my attitude was all about me and not about the ones i was “supposedly” serving and remember that no matter where i am, what i am doing… life must never become all about me but always all about Him and pointing others towards Him in deed as well as in word.

    sometimes the words are easier because they don’t come with the same price tag of sacrifice…

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Huge prayers for you friend as you process and transition . . . what a big thing you are stepping into right now.

      Yes, i agree- words are easier when they don’t come with a price tag. True on so many levels.

  • ellenbtler

    I have a bit more grace for my fellow American Christians. I see from many of the comments here that there is a sense we should do “something.” But who knows where to start? I have felt deeply about this issue, and I have prayed for these women, and yet I haven’t the slightest idea how to start or what to do. The days are evil, and there are a million directions we could go, and so we end up not doing anything. It’s not really selfishness or laziness, although it is hard for anyone to leave a place of comfort; I believe at the heart of it is a lack of vision or direction. I’m happy Mike is out there doing the Lord’s work. I don’t care if he is an atheist, all might and power belongs to God, and He can use whomever He chooses. But it truly is something to consider. I plan to forward this to my pastors. We do support the homeless and domestic violence victims and wounded military. But I know we need to delve into this, because I’ve heard that D.C. is a hotbead for human trafficking, and we are less than 50 miles from the city here. I’m asking the Lord that we would be able to take that first step and watch the seas part, in Jesus’ name.

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Ellen– I have lots of grace, too. In fact, I wrote just today over here about how following Christ can happen on any latitude.(http://www.alifeoverseas.com)
      I think I am not just speaking about trafficking in this post, but about a general attitude. The idea that “we just don’t know and so we don’t do” is a really dangerous one in any social justice issue, and I was just calling the church to ENGAGE in the needs around them.

      And yes, to your hearts desire to help in the trafficking arena. We just launched a new program Called Search and Rescue where people can literally join an investigative team. You should check it out: http://www.theexodusroad.com/search-and-rescue .

    • amyr

      Ellen, you voice a frustration that is wide spread. I would place much of the blame on missionaries and organizations not offering tangible ways to get involved. And, by the way, I am a missionary involved in the fight, so I continue to ask myself hard questions and look for places and opportunities for people to get involved. It is overwhelming and a huge problem, but it sounds like your church is helping address some major root issues. We need to all get involved how God leads and use the gifts He has entrusted. This is not a one man, one organization or one continent fight. We need to engage an army!

      Thanks for joining in! And, by the way, teenage runaways and refugees are also big risk communities in the US as well.

      Amy

  • Tyler Buth

    Man, yeah I guess we figure it’s all taken care of, or it’s a job males aren’t really allowed to do, especially in Christian circles. I’m an American dude living in Bangkok, I’d be interested to hear if there is anything I can do to help.

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Wow, interesting . . . . if you’d like, email me at: Laura@theExodusRoad.com . We have teams working there and there is huge need. Of course, there’s training and a pretty strict vetting process, but if you are interested, drop me an email, Tyler.

  • http://CindyTunstall.com/ Cindy Tunstall

    Reading this I have a huge lump in my throat that’s not going away. Thanks for sharing this. Gracefully challenging!

  • Nomad

    It is great that Mike is working in this way and I agree that we need more workers in the sex trafficking area. But I also know it is not for every male. I live in Southeast Asia and know of several men to fall morally due to sexual temptation. This is not an area where men should just randomly volunteer and be unprepared. I think they need to be confident in their ability to resist temptation.

    • http://www.lauraparkerblog.com/ Laura Parker

      Absolutely! I completely agree– this is a dangerous arena and NOT one into which every man or woman should charge into– especially at the expense of their families or marriages. YES. Training and accountability are key.
      I think the question we kept coming back to was: “If it were our daughter, wouldn’t we want someone to figure it out? To at least try to push through the difficult to find her?” and I think– in OUR story– that was what motivated us to forge ahead.
      But, YES– absolutely, it is a highly- dangerous field on many internal levels . . .
      Thanks for the comment, Nomad.

  • DvoraH

    Years ago in college, I learned of a highschool friend who had become a homosexual. God put it on my heart to find him, and tell him, “Jesus loves you.” That’s all. Little did I know that journey would take me into all the cross-dressing, hard core homosexual bars and nightlife of Columbus, Ohio. A friend knew someone (not a believer in Jesus) who was willing to escort me. We looked for my friend all night, going from bar to bar, night club to night club, that my friend used to frequent. I would be told over and over by the most bizarre people I’d ever seen, what are you doing here? I would say, I am looking for my friend, and gave his name. They would say “Why,” and I would answer, “God wants me to tell him, ‘Jesus loves you,” and over and over I was allowed in to look for him. Invariably people asked questions. I spent the night sharing the gospel with everyone but my friend. I never did find him, though everyone promised they would convey my message if they met him.

    Sometimes I was asked to leave because my presence was preventing a striptease show from coming out on stage, or disturbing others who “felt” something from me and they could not continue with their normal life around me…

    Many people questioned the wisdom of my doing this, to the point whee I too wondered… and reading this article, I am reminded of that night, and am thankful I obeyed. If HE asks me, I would not hesitate to do it again. May God give us all courage to reach the lost… the time is so short.

  • http://essentiallyjess.com/ EssentiallyJess

    You have no idea how much this resonated with me, and God’s nudging me towards a purpose filled life.
    Thank you.

  • jamieivey

    Thank you Laura for these words. “We need to be the kind of people who aren’t afraid of the darkness because we know we have a Light that’s so much bigger than it.” Whoa. So true and so convicting. Thanks for sharing your story and I look forward to reading more.
    :)Jamie

  • Jennifer Palmer

    Thank you for this great post. It was very convicting for me, gave mea lot to think about and pray about. I’m going to start following your blog to see what other wise, motivating and inspiring things you have to say.

  • Karen Yates

    “Because I know that the brothel is a place that represents so many others like it– the orphanage and the foster care system, the homeless shelter and the street corner, the ghetto and the nursing home and the third-world country. And it is in these places that Kingdom tends to thrive; these places that mark us for good and draw us into the redemptive stories spinning so wildly among the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized.”

    Love this Laura. And the thought that we each have our own brothels, our own dark places where we need rescue and deliverance.

    I believe a part of the problem within the Church is not a lack of doing or a lack of knowledge. I think it stems back to intimacy with Christ. There is something happening within the heart of a man if he knows he SHOULD pray but he doesn’t want to, or if he knows he SHOULD help with trafficking, but he’d rather do his own thing, or he knows he SHOULD confess and repent and turn from an unhealthy behavior, but he doesn’t. There is a heart issue behind all the whys. I am personally working on this in my own life — taking time to explore the heart issue within me and all my Christian behaviors and motivations. When Christians serve out of the flesh, out of guilt, out of their own desires for success or promotion or prosperity, God can use it, yes, but it doesn’t have the transformative work in our hearts that it can and should. And outsiders can see our insincerity. Do we REALLY love God? Do we REALLY want what He wants? Are we REALLY surrendered to being and doing and living the way He purposes? And if there is a resistance in us, why? If we don’t want to hang out with God — if we want intimacy with God without wanting to spend time in His presence, Why? No marriage will last without cultivating the love — which comes from a surrender between two people, submitting to each other, devoting themselves to the love they share, courting, romancing and spending moments together staring in each other’s eyes. As we grow closer and closer to Jesus, and fall deeper in love, the outpouring happens naturally. I believe part of what is missing in the Church is not about doing, but about our heart and whether we truly love our Savior.

  • Demitri Cruz

    I was raised in a Christian home, but have been an atheist for four years now. I am often told I cannot possibly live a “good” life without being religious. So I appreciate this article. :)

Previous post:

Next post: