Monday, June 1, 2009

The Mission, The Girls (Part 2)

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I left for the Philippines lugging extra baggage crammed full of emotions ranging from euphoria to apprehension, ineptness to gratefulness, and fear to sadness. My great adventure had begun but I left behind an unresolved situation at home that made me question my reasons for going on this trip. I was supposed to work with young female victims of sexual abuse and slavery but what about the young female I left at home?

My twenty-year-old daughter and I fought before I left for my trip. It wasn’t just a battle of words but a full-on brawl, fisticuffs and all. True to form I allowed pride to harden my heart and didn’t apologize; nor, did I speak to or bid her farewell before I left on my trip. No, it wasn’t one of my proudest moments and I sat on the 747 and questioned myself. Who do I think I am trying to help young, sexually exploited and abused girls when I don’t possess the humility to apologize to my own daughter? What makes me think I have the authority to give these broken girls advice when I contributed to the brokenness of my own child? In retrospect, I could have handled our altercation differently before it gained momentum and lost control. I prayed that God would forgive me for my weakness and pride. I asked for another chance at reconciliation. When I landed in Manila, I forced myself to focus on the reason for my trip in the Philippines and hoped I would have the chance to make amends when I returned home.

On April 23, 2009, our first day at My Refuge House, we were welcomed with open arms and bright smiles by the staff and six female residents. As soon as I saw the young girls seated around the table I felt my ineptness like a heavy cloak on that very hot and humid day. I felt like a total fraud and tentatively smiled at them but kept my distance and hid behind my camera. One or two girls tried to engage me in a game of badminton but I was struggling with my own demons and declined. That night, our team gathered for devotionals and Psalm 10:17-18 assuaged my inner turmoil:

Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will prepare their heart; You will cause Your ear to hear, To do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, That the man of the earth may oppress no more.

Despite the cross I had to bear, I knew that I had to fulfill my purpose in the Philippines and swallow the colloquialism I spout to my kids, “You made your bed, now lie in it.”

The rest of my visits at My Refuge House fared better. We learned each girl’s story that proceeded to break our hearts. I was smitten by Girl A’s joie de vivre. She was an affectionate sixteen-year-old that was sent to work by her parents when she was ten-years-old. Unbeknownst to them, her employers locked her in a cage with a dog and only released her to fulfill her duties. She ate, slept, urinated, and defecated in the same cage with the dog and remained in this state for six years until a neighbor found her this past February. I finally understood why Girl A kept to herself during group activities.

Girl AB was another sixteen-year-old who stole my heart from the beginning. She voluntarily worked at a gentleman’s club to help care for her mother and six siblings. A family member almost raped her when she was ten-years-old that ultimately caused her father’s death by depression and alcohol. Girl AB’s family poured the guild trip so thick that she felt compelled to make money and sustain her family. I fell in love with AB’s bubbly and outgoing nature. AB aspires to be a nurse in order to continue providing for her family.

Girl AP was more reserved and I related to her aloofness. I sensed that she was skeptical about our intentions and wasn’t as open as the others. AP was also a sex worker and is a mother of two young children, which explained why she seemed older than her sixteen years. AP shocked me (and that’s hard to do) when she told us about her thirty-four-year-old Japanese boyfriend when she was only fourteen-years-old. I discovered that many of these young girls refer to their clients as “boyfriends.” She showed us an album filled with pictures of her strung out on drugs, induced by the brothel’s mamasan and I could barely contain my anger at the corruption and perversion of these people.

The remaining three girls were shy, but endearing nonetheless. M was a sixteen-year-old sex worker who serviced clients for one week before she was rescued from a brothel and placed in My Refuge House. Sixteen-year-old J and thirteen-year-old SJ were victims of rape by family members. On the surface the girls appeared to be normal, giddy teenagers and the depth of their emotional damage undetectable. It wasn’t until they drew their pictures or spoke intimately to us that we were privy to their trauma. For example, Girl A drew a picture of her locked in a cage with a dog symbolizing a time when she felt the most fear.

I was grateful to see that these girls were nurtured, counseled, and cared for at My Refuge House. Each day, the girls undergo a structured, educational program equipping them with a proper sense of self-worth. But what impacted me the most was their spiritual growth. Despite their life circumstances their childlike faith in Jesus sustained their hope to dream and persevere. When I finally recounted my life testimony and divulged the fight with my daughter to them, they were so concerned that they prayed for me. ME! I went there to help them but they were instrumental in my own healing. The girls taught me the importance of my role as a mother. I learned that despite my shortcomings I must be accountable to my daughter and grant her forgiveness. Through my vulnerability my children will be taught humility.

I promised the six girls at My Refuge House that I would pray for them daily and tell their stories when I’m back in the States. They were afraid they would be forgotten even as I assured them otherwise. Before my bittersweet farewell to the Philippines, I dumped the extra baggage I lugged with me. Today, I carry a lighter load filled with the hearts of six girls and the valuable lessons they taught me. 
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