My girl, she ran. A wounded woman-child, more afraid of being loved than used, ran from the light and tried to find her own way in the dark. As she was slamming drawers and stuffing bags, I quietly got dressed and packed my own backpack. She stomped down the stairs and towards the front door, and I followed her resolutely into the dark.
“Where are we going to sleep tonight, Little Sister?” I asked. She stopped only long enough to curse at me, throwing every vulgar word and hateful accusation she had stored up like so many sharpened knives, with pointed accuracy into my heart. I took a deep breath.
“I can see you are angry,” I whispered softly over her roar, “but you are my responsibility. I love you, and God loves you. I am not going back until I know you are safe.”
So we walked. I asked if she was hungry and offered to buy her some food, but she refused to acknowledge. We walked some more. I asked if she wanted to stop and rest, but she valiantly ignored my offer. I prayed, asking God for the right words, for His presence, for His peace. I prayed out loud, and I prayed silently while she tried to pretend that I did not now nor had I ever existed. After more than an hour, we ended up in the slum where her exploitation began. It took several minutes of her knocking loudly to awaken her grandparents from sleep. When her grandfather cracked open the door, she pushed her way inside and slammed the door in my face.
From outside the bamboo and cardboard shack, I made my last stand. “I love you, sweet girl. Nothing can change that. I will come to get you as soon as you change your mind. I will be praying for you and waiting for you to come home.”
Then, I walked some more. With tears streaming and heartbreaking, I walked away. As much as I wanted to change the situation, there is only one Savior, and I am most certainly not Him. Only God can work out redemption. One of our core commitments as staff at Compass 31 is that “I will do my job and let God do His job.” My job is to love God and love others, which is far more difficult than it sounds. God’s job is to rescue, convict, change, and redeem. She needed to choose freedom and only she and Jesus could make the needed transaction.
For the next twelve hours, I was caught in a riptide of grief. The waves crashed hard and fast, leaving me gasping for breath. There were moments in those 12 hours when I struggled with giving up.
“What are we even doing here? Maybe we should just give up and go home?” I heard the sulfuric voice of the Accuser loud, “You don’t have anything to offer. You will never make any difference here! Give up! Go back to the US to a normal life!”
Even still, the Word made flesh walked beside me. Jesus whispered quiet, silencing the shouting of the enemy. He reminded me of the verses that had spoken to me so tenderly the day before in John 8:29,”…He who sent me is with me, he has never left me…”
And then Zechariah 9:12, “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.”
Here’s the thing. I am a prisoner of hope. I am locked up in a fortress, chained to the hope that this all ends well; that there is victory, that Jesus wins and redemption is really truly true. Even if I sometimes want to give up, I cannot escape this prison of hope. I can rage against the chains and in the midst of a bloody battle I can cry out, “How many times can my human heart break and still beat?” Yet, I can’t break free. I can’t NOT believe in the redeeming love of Jesus. I am a prisoner of hope because I have been seized and conquered by Jesus. I am held captive by His love. He alone holds the keys to these golden shackles and honestly, if I were not chained by this hope, I might try running away too because this is bloody hard… Are any of us, really, so very different from my beautiful, stubborn runaway girl?
People have looked me in the eye and said, “We don’t try to get the girls out of the red light district because they like the sex and they like the money. We just try to love them where they are at.”
Others have argued that the 10-15 year old hill tribe children living on the streets and surviving in the sex trade, “are just bad kids, rebels, drug addicts. They choose this life.”
People have said to me, “We don’t invest in restoration work because it is quite simply a waste of resources. We focus on prevention instead because 9 times out of 10 they will go back.”
Those are actual quotes, friends. The words of professing Christians, no less. At first glance, the story of my runaway might fit neatly into their paradigm. My soul rages at the lack of belief and I want to shout at them.
“Jesus!? Do you even know Him? Have you read the Bible? When Jesus says, ‘go and sin no more,’ or ‘go, your faith has healed you,’ was He just talking to hear His own voice? Was He lying and overstating His own ability to heal and restore?”
My girl, she ran, but she did not run far and she did not run long. She did not return to her perpetrator, she did not go back into the red light district. Even as we walked side by side on that dark night, she was hearing the voice of God telling her spirit, “Go home! Go home, you made a mistake.” 12 hours later she listened to that still, small voice and she reached out to Emily, the C31 staff member who leads our art therapy program. Emily listened, Emily saw God at work in our girl, Emily loved and Emily brought her home. Emily did her job and she let God do His.
Last night I sat with my girl and listened to her pour out her heart. With tender tears, she asked forgiveness for causing me pain. And after a while she asked, “Mama, what am I supposed to do when I grow up?”
“I don’t know, baby. But God knows. He has a good plan for your future.” I answered with confidence.
“Mama, I am glad that you are more stubborn than I am,” she said with a shy smile. Then she took a chance and she whispered her most guarded secret, “I think in the future God wants me to be a missionary, but I am afraid.”
And we sat in the quiet, and we prayed, this fellow prisoner of hope and I. Both of us held captive by Love that transcends time and sin and brokenness. And together we dreamed of a future that God is more than able to accomplish.
How dare someone say restoration is a waste of resources? How dare they insinuate that a broken girl will always go back? Those who would argue such nonsense can consider this fair warning, this mama bear will go toe-to-toe with anyone who speaks such blasphemy. It isn’t that freedom isn’t possible, it is that it is hard. It is costly but with God all things are possible. Redemption and restoration are not only possible but they are entirely probable when Jesus is at the center. That is God’s job and He does all things well.