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.
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.
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.
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.