I’ve been home for a little under two weeks now. As anticipated, I was ripped away from one flow of life into another, hardly able to slow down and think through the things I saw, heard, touched, tasted, thought and felt for that one incredible, life-changing week of my life.
I’m sitting in my living room, fighting through the thoughts that crowd and overwhelm my mind with tea and a three-page list of thoughts, to-do items, notes and reminders. People keep asking me how I feel. How do I respond? I don’t know how I feel. I don’t know what I think. Pieces of my trip pour out in random spurts, but not a constant stream. Often I don’t know what to tell people. It’s hard to know who wants to just hear how the trip was in general and who wants to actually hear my heart.
There is nothing I dread more at this moment than sharing that, even though I want people to know. There is so much pent up emotion that I’m afraid if I open it up, it will gush out like an open wound. My trip and my experiences have mostly been shut up in a box and stowed in a corner of my mind until I can grab a moment to sort through its contents, pray and remember. That is hardly healthy.
There is so much to share I hardly know where to begin, so I’ll just start where I can.
I have encountered darkness before–vile dreams at night, heavy spiritual warfare–but before the Philippines evil never had a face or a physical presence. My mind is haunted by the faces of men who bartered over the price of taking a girl for the night before my very eyes. By the dull, neon lights that lit a dark street, illuminating the faces of young girls–children–dressed in provocative clothing and hanging on the arms of men two to three times their age. I see the lifeless faces of men, expressionless and dead, eying the girls as if they were pieces of meat to devour and spit out rather than human beings. American, Australian and European men with small, Filipino girls hanging on their arms. There was no other reason for those men to be at Fields Avenue in Pampanga aside from sex tourism. Pedophiles. Lost souls. Bright flashing lights, hotels built exclusively for sex customers, the walking street 6 kilometers long with bar after bar. Happy Massage. Fantasy World. “Entertainment”. I see sweet faces, dark eyes, small frames. Abused. Beaten. Ridden and driven like nothing more than animals–treated as if beasts with no soul. Souls broken. Hearts broken seemingly beyond repair.
I can never unsee what I have seen. I’m not sure that I want to.
These are heavy, weighty things–they have opened my eyes to the harsh, painful reality of the world and have broken my heart, just as they break my Lord’s heart. Looking at the bleakness of the sex trade–how prevalent and rampant and disturbing that men would travel halfway around the world to satisfy their sexual desires–is sickening and overwhelming.
Yet, hope remains.
The field director for the Pampanga office told us that the darkness cannot stand when light is shone on it. Light exposes darkness. Always. However small or faint. IJM is helping bring that light. While I have looked evil in the face and felt its power, I have also seen the beauty of redemption and restoration in the faces of girls rescued, and that hope is far more powerful than anything I have ever known. That hope is a light from which the darkness has to flee.
On our flight back into the States, Alyssa and I flew over Greenland. I was greeted by the most amazing sight: the Northern Lights. Green and dancing, they waved like a great banner and beacon of hope. I felt the presence of God–serene and calming, filling my heart with hope and peace. While there is a God who reigns above, seated on His throne, there is hope for this world. Our God is forever working redemption and freedom in and through His people. Fear a lifetime of seeking justice? What, when I have seen with my own eyes sweet redemption? Fear the darkness? Has not Christ already come to conquer the grave? Fear? Never. I have already said that fighting for justice is hard thing, but it truly is a worthy thing.
Yesterday I made my way to Local Lion to spend some much-needed time with the Lord. I reread through my North Star notes and found myself fighting back the tears that would spring to my eyes as I saw the Lord’s hand gently leading me throughout college on this journey to seek justice–Him equipping and guiding me and reminding me of His faithfulness and goodness all the while. I’m exhausted, yes. Emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually. But I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.