Well my third and final internship is coming to a close. And although I am stoked out of my mind to go home and see my family and all my pals, I am very sad to leave this one. I was sad to leave all of them. But for some reason, my time in India feels unfinished. I will make no promises of returning, because it’s not my place to know the future. But something has stirred within me, a fire that won’t be put out so easily. Whatever I end up doing with my life, I can never again feign ignorance for the lack of proactive action fighting for social justice in our world. That was a mouthful, basically what I mean is that I cannot pretend that I have not learned what I have learned here. You can’t ignore a bullet that hit you right in the heart. Maybe I can only make a lasting difference in the lives of a few street kids. But that would be so worth it. To give a few kids a chance in life that should be their human right. I certainly can’t save the world, but I can do my part. If I backed away now it would certainly be a greater wrong than if I had remained in my bubble of ignorance.
Don’t freak out those who love me that are reading this. I’m still getting on that plane tomorrow. I’m actually planning on going back to school for a couple of years if all goes well so I’ll be living in Canada for a few years yet. And social justice also needs to be fought for on Canadian soil.
What I am really trying to communicate is that I have learned so much from my time at ISM. During this last internship I was sick so often that it just became a joke. But I have encountered a part of God that I had only glimpsed before. I have known God as the sovereign creator, and God as my closest friend for almost my whole life. But now I also know God as the dad that fights for every one of his kids, who has made bigger sacrifices and has shown more grace than any earthly father even has the capacity to give. Who is reaching out to even the most rebellious of souls, always.
This has been a very important 7 months in my life. I can feel the weight of it. My faith has solidified on a solid rock where it was pretty shaky before.
So here’s to the God that chooses to be our dad, even when we’re the worst kids ever.
For Narnia! And for Aslan! (Just thought I’d throw that in there)
- Sarah Ricker – ISM 09.14
by Maria Gambone DeJesus, current ISM intern at NightLight Bangkok
It was my first day ever on outreach with the NightLight Bangkok team or in a red-light district. I remember feeling so small and completely lost as to what I was supposed to do. What did God expect of me? What did NightLight staff expect of me? As I prayed through these questions and worries, Lucia, one of our marketing staff, grabbed her camera and a candle, and led me out of the quiet, cozy outreach building and into the busy, city night-life. She then had me stand in front of the neon lights of the main club area, placed the candle in my hands, and lit it. This is how I spent the first 20 minutes of my very first outreach – standing in the middle of darkness literally holding a candle.
As we stood there, I felt the atmosphere of everyone around us change as they gazed at that candle. I could see people looking from the street and from their bar stools, thinking, pondering. I sensed that if any of those individuals had ever had the smallest experience with God before that night, the Holy Spirit was stirring up those memories, questions and convictions in their hearts. I began praying to that effect. Some people passed us by with a smirk, as if they were in tune with an insider’s secret. Then, an Indian man walked up to us and asked us if we were praying. Mind you, I was just standing there waiting while Lucia walked around me with her professional camera shooting pictures, SURROUNDED BY SEDUCTION AND OPPORTUNITY. Yet, that man instantly thought about spiritual things. In those minutes, God answered my nervous heart saying “I’m not asking you to do anything but walk, sit, be where I send you, to carry my light and to trust that, yes, my presence is this powerful. Watch with anticipation and I will use you in spite of yourself. Just hang out, be yourself, make friends, be in love with me. Listen to me at all times and watch what I WILL DO.” It was then that I finally understood why NightLight leaders advise that if anyone asks what we are doing in that place to say, “We’re just visiting friends and making new ones.”
Recently, this message came to me again from the testimony of an elder cousin. She grew up in inner city Philadelphia, known for some of the highest crime rates in the USA. But to her, as a little girl, this neighborhood was home. She would walk by the street-corner drug dealers on her way to play at her friend’s house. The neighbors would talk about who graduated, dropped-out, got married, got arrested. As she grew older and started to realize the things she was seeing weren’t right, she had no idea what to do about it. After her parents put their faith in Christ as adults, she began to see their corner dry cleaning store turn into a light for that neighborhood. Somehow, the community members sensed that it was a safe place. They would walk in and, whether on purpose or in response to a simple question such as “how are you today,” they would begin pouring out their burdens and hurts. She saw her parents love, pray with and minister to many in that neighborhood. With willing hearts, they gave their everyday lives, including their business, to serve God. There, in that broken community, in everyday relationships, God used them to glorify Himself and shine a big light. She concluded her story by saying “I tell you this story so that you know and remember that the light ALWAYS outshines the darkness. Just by you all being there, things have changed in that place. Trust that God’s light in you will ALWAYS outshine whatever darkness you see.”
So in the hard moments – like when I’m sitting next to a half-naked, 40-year-old woman whose circumstances led her to prostitution and my heart breaks because all I can do is sit there and listen – God brings me back to the minutes I stood there holding that candle. When I’m angry that God keeps walking me even deeper into an awareness of the pains and sins present in our world, and I don’t want to know any more, God reminds me of His power to save. When I don’t feel like I’m strong enough, experienced enough or skilled enough to do much of anything to help, He reminds me to trust in this truth: that the light will ALWAYS outshine the darkness, ALWAYS. So, following the example of my leaders, I keep pressing forward and I fight to trust God with all circumstances.
Help Us Continue Shining in the Darkness
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Well, here we are! The beginning of December… This month will see most of our September students returning home, our January students completing the final stages of preparation to come, and ISM staff thoroughly enjoying the whole process!
It’s hard to believe the first class is already finishing up their internship. I remember the weekend they all arrived, standing at Meeting Point at the airport, hoping I would recognise our students in real life from the photos we’d received, and wondering what the following month would have in store… We had everything planned out nicely on paper, but once you start adding ‘little’ things to plans like, say, people or real life, anything can happen!
In reflecting on this first term, both the in-class training and the internship time, one thing that really stands out is how incredibly open and embracing our students have been. They each truly have a desire to grow and learn and stretch themselves. They have thrown themselves into this experience wholeheartedly, and it has been an honour to see them grow in understanding and confidence as a result.
It is my prayer that as these students return home to their families, friends, and “normal” life situations, they will not return to who they were before they came, but will cling to what God has done and wants to continue doing in them. I pray that regardless of where they end up living and working, their relationship with God and their posture of humble service will be not only maintained, but continually fostered and nurtured.
Looking forward to January, we have another great group of young people getting ready to come, learn, and serve. I am excited to not only see the growth and changes in their lives, but to see how their personalities, thoughts and experiences contribute to making this term at ISM unique and meaningful. I know God planned for this group of students to come together at this time for a reason, and can’t wait to see what He has in store for us in 2013!
One of my most vivid first remembrances of witnessing what I considered an injustice was in Grade 6. One of the students who often was in detention tipped so far back in his chair that he fell over hard on his back. The whole class erupted in laughter but the teacher was furious. He made that student sit in the tipped over chair on his back for the entire day. As a 12 year old, too afraid to intervene, I didn’t speak up, although I felt what I had witnessed was very wrong. The first time I remember doing something about an unjust act was also in a classroom with my Grade 10 French teacher. He, who will remain nameless, had cruel ways of dealing with students that he deemed as a “problem”. If someone was talking or disturbing the class he would throw chalk often hitting them in the head with his small guided white missile. On one of those occasions I felt as though I had witnessed enough cruelty so I stood up and said with my small shaky voice, “You are out of control, I’m reporting you to the office.” I then ran out of the class, blinded by angry tears and marched into the Principal’s office. Sadly nothing changed, as I was dealing with a respected teacher and I was just an “emotional” 15 year old. All of us are wired differently and are provoked by different situations but I think I was taught at a young age that you do have a voice and you should use it to speak up when you see something that is cruel or unfair. I spent my first two years in high school “talking to the Principal” because as a young student I didn’t really have an appropriate understanding of how to handle injustice. As I look back now at least I was trying to make a difference.
One of the things I love most about young adults is their passion for social justice. I believe that when that passion is partnered with the Holy Spirit this generation of young adults will be an unstoppable force in our world. Change really can happen! Social Justice has become the hot conversation with everyone inside and outside of the church community. I think congratulations go to the Salvation Army, World Vision, IJM, Childrens’ Homes, NightLight, The Well, Jewels in a Crown, Dtonn Naam, Rahab, Imagine Thailand, and many many other organizations for addressing social injustice LONG before an awareness came to the general population. Several years ago the biggest concern was AIDS, then it was child soldiers and now it’s Human Trafficking. I’m thankful for those who have been on the front lines for a very long time and continue to live, give and serve sacrificially those who have no voice.
Jesus makes it clear that following Him includes caring for the broken and the hurting. The New Testament is full of directives to love, care and serve the poor, abandoned, widow and orphan. Isaiah 58 says it loud and clear.
1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
Oh how I love that!
Sometimes, however, the passion for social justice can get blinded by the desire to do something good in the world simply making people’s lives temporarily better and yet perhaps falls short of touching the deepest, darkest need – soul pain. I remember one group telling me on a visit to Bangkok that they didn’t really care much about the Thai women in prostitution because they were only exploited and they could leave the sex industry at any time. They felt that victims of Human Trafficking were the only ones truly suffering as human slaves. I so appreciate their desire to fight for justice and they were completely right that we MUST fight human slavery, but that passion can be a little misguided if we don’t look at the deepest part of human slavery.
If you could rescue 100 victims of any injustice you would be hailed as a hero. But there is so much more to helping a hurting life than simple relocation or providing training, income or food. Often women are involved in human trafficking because their lives are full of pain and poverty. Many see the offer of a job in another country as “a way out” without realizing what they are getting into or the full ramifications of their decision. They are mistreated and often kept as slaves by their Trafficker. Most Christian organizations realize that the rescue is only the first small step to truly RESCUING. Soul pain is a far deeper pain than physical pain. Both must be addressed.
Jesus said in Luke 4:18
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
The first thing Jesus says He was anointed to do was to preach (speak, proclaim, declare) the GOOD News to the poor, bringing spiritual justice – the core human need. He then says he came to release the oppressed, imprisoned and blind bringing much needed physical justice. When we set out to go about doing good, as followers of Jesus, we MUST alleviate physical pain and suffering as much as is humanly possible. But if we only want to alleviate physical slavery and temporal injustice and don’t proclaim spiritual freedom and justice, they are still behind bars, human slaves, trapped in a prison. And that is the greatest injustice of all.