Thanks for coming back to “Monday’s Life Change”. I hope these stories are encouraging and convicting, but most of all, I hope you see the faithfulness of God, even as the story is still being written. Today, I’m excited to introduce you to my dear friend Chelsea. She has been so special to our family for the past several years. We’ve had the great joy of getting to watch as the adventure of her life is unfolding. She is a recent University of North Carolina graduate, originally from Australia but grew up mostly in the States and has even spent a couple of summers in Kenya. We sadly said “good-bye” to her on Saturday, because she is boarding a plane this week and heading to Zambia to seek justice for orphans and widows. Here is some of her story:
“If there is a God, would he not come in the form of a man and bring us freedom?”
These words spoken by Raman, a man formerly enslaved his entire life in a rice mill in India before he was rescued by International Justice Mission, have stuck with me as a piercing indictment of my responsibility as God’s representative in this world to take seriously his commands (littered all throughout the scriptures) to seek justice and care for the poor. Raman, now a free man and a leader in his community, said the above words in response to an IJM’s social worker’s query about what he used to think when he was enslaved, violently forced to work 18+ hours a day with little food, no pay, and no hope of a different life in sight. Raman’s story, and others like it, have changed my life.
I am about to being a year-long internship with IJM in Zambia. IJM is a human rights NGO that works in about a dozen countries in the developing world to provide rescue and restoration to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent abuse. When I tell people about what I’m about to do – that I, a short, giggly, 22-yr old white girl, am about to move to an African country for a year to help widows and orphans who have been forced off their land after the death of their husband or parents – they either think that I’m crazy or that I’m brave/heroic/noble (or probably a mix of both). This latter response makes me slightly uncomfortable, because the real heroes are the nationals of the countries in which IJM works who daily fight against these abuses, and the victims who bravely testify against their abusers and who work to forge a new life after experiencing unimaginable pain. But it also confuses me a little bit.
Yes, this sort of work is hard, and the uncertainty of doing an unpaid internship in a developing country can of course be a little unsettling at times, but saying that I’m super brave or self-sacrificial because I’m pursuing this sometimes makes me laugh, because I am honestly never more happy or at peace than when I’m doing something like this, and because I am 100% convinced that seeking justice and serving the poor is what God has called me to do.
I was that girl in 9th grade who would spend her free time in computer class researching about the orphan problem in Africa, after which I would sneak away to the bathroom to sob about it, and then return with a fierce and joy-filled resolution to do something about it when I “grew up.” I would feel this same mix of sadness and resolution when I would befriend someone at UNC who didn’t know Jesus and who was so visibly weighed down by their own brokenness and the reality of life in this broken world that I was compelled to pursue them so that they might know God. I lived in a blissful cloud of that same joyful, peaceful resolution during the two summers that I worked in Kenya with the New Life Home Trust orphanages… because while meeting dozens of beautiful children who had been abandoned at hospitals or in garbage bins would break my heart, and while the realities of working in the developing world (along with the horrific stomach bug in gave me and the lack of internet, consistently warm showers, and people who understood my jokes) would sometimes make me want to scream, all of those things were forgotten when I got to watch a family meet their new adoptive child for the first time. In those moments, the conviction that I was doing what God made me to do far outweighed any sadness or inconvenience that I experienced in order to get there.
People like to say that I (i.e. my generation) am going to “change the world.” But that’s not true…one, because a lot of the world just sucks; it’s always been that way and will be that way for a long time after me. But it’s also misleading, because all of the things that I’ve ever done or will ever do for people, who most of us would deem “less fortunate” will never even compare to what they have done for me, what they have taught me, and how I have been changed by them.
I think a lot of people are afraid to actually live in the real world because they worry that its brokenness will either infect their clean-cut Christian bubble or will just be too painful to deal with. But even though I’m just as naturally pain-averse as most people, God has forced me to push through all of that fear and place myself in situations where I’m living and working in the middle of brokenness and evil and suffering. And because of this, I’ve learned that allowing God to use the world and the stories of people like Raman to change me, to refine me, and give me a better idea of his character is a blessing that I – that we, his church – should embrace joyfully, because it brings a deep joy.
Oh Lord, may your presence go before Chelsea and pave the way to justice for thousands of lives!