Hey everyone! My third month with IJM is now finished and what follows are some insights into my life as a Fellow with IJM Bolivia. Sometimes I wonder where time goes.
Today I would like to share about a life-changing experience I had while attending a meeting of our networks. I know meetings can be boring sometimes, but I don’t think I will forget this one. Neither will you, I hope.
I was going to be late. Running made more sense apparently than holding on to the crazy idea that the labor strike going on at that moment would be over soon and my trufi (a shared taxi) would move. So, in my fancy black suit and my (thank God) FLAT shoes I ran a couple of blocks and made it just in time.
Exhausted, thirsty, and with a heartbeat that I thought everyone in the room could hear, (yes, I am soooooo out of shape) I chose one of the empty chairs that was facing the window and sat down to catch my breath. An amazing view, I must say – the San Francisco Church and beloved mountains.
The meeting started only an hour and a half after I got there. (Bolivian time is great!) Even in business meetings, those who arrive “on time” have plenty of time to chat. It was the first time I have ever seen this woman with whom I was chatting, and the first thing I thought was, “Gosh! I need to ask that lady how she managed to make her beautiful blue eyeliner stay on her eyes and not melt.”
This meeting aimed to create a space for organizations to talk about commercial sexual violence in El Alto. Nevertheless, we talked about life and about the things we enjoy. They, of course, were chocolate addicts like me, so I guess we did have that in common. Then, we talked about how horrible the world is sometimes and how much work needs to be done. We exchanged business cards.
Finally, the meeting (and introductions) started. The woman with blue eyeliner started talking. “Good morning. My name is ____ and I am a sexual worker.” My heart stopped, and my inner voice started talking: Did she really just say that? Does she know that we are here to talk about ways to stop commercial sexual violence? I mean, her work has two of those three words!… I want my business card back!… I mean, it’s not that I’m judging her or something, it’s just because… I should get rid of my blue eyeliner right?…
I know. I AM A HORRIBLE PERSON!
Memories of my mission training in 2002 came at high speed to my mind. There I was, singing in the worship service in one of those remote villages where the Christian Training Center enjoyed taking to all of us, Christ-wannabes. We prepared a small evangelistic drama, and some of the members of our team dressed as vagrants, drunks and prostitutes and walked into the church. People’s reactions were fun to witness. Some people would ignore them; a couple of them took huge steps to the side or even got out from their seats to find new “safe” places to worship. I even remember one person that complained to an usher and then walked out of the church. I remember thinking: That’s not how a Christian should act, right? Can we ignore/reject them just because they don’t look like or live up to our church standards? I hope my heart will never turn as dry and cold as that.
11 years later. I was one of them!
I was distracted by the fact that I wanted my business card back, trying not to make any weird gestures so no one can realize the horrible person I can be sometimes (and if you know me, you know that withholding gestures is DIFFICULT FOR ME!), and generally not paying attention to whatever it is they were talking about. And then it hit me!
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139: 23-24
“Make me more like you. I want to be like Jesus. I want to walk like you” has been a part of my prayer for the last couple of months. And there I found myself, in a similar situation as Jesus was in the gospels, sharing my table with a sex worker. Instead of loving and sharing the good news, I was lost in my own thoughts, prejudices and legalistic feelings – my own sin.
I am trying to live like a “good” and sincere Christian, helping an organization to fight against injustice and oppression, and as I learn that there is so much more work to be done to bring justice in this world, I am also learning that there is so much more work that needs to be done in my own heart.
To be honest, I was hesitant about telling this story. I mean, I don’t like putting my bad thoughts and prejudices on virtual ink. But I guess this is part of being honest and real and not showing only the nice part of this process, right?
This experience helped me realize that sometimes it is much easier to pretend to be a good Christian than to actually be like Christ. Someone mentioned that the reason these women were interested in working with us to reduce underage girls in sexual commerce is because it would reduce their competition. I am not entirely sure that I agree with that. I do not agree with sexual commerce at all. I believe it is wrong. But then, I wonder, how many of the older sexual workers started in this “business” as victims of trafficking for sexual commerce? Maybe they want to prevent other girls from suffering the same. Or, maybe that someone was right; it is all about removing competition. But who am I to judge?
Is it good to try to help even if you are actually looking to get something out of it? Should we, as individuals or institutions, only work from purely altruistic motives? Can we say “no” to someone that wants to help, even if we don’t agree with the life they live or the motives we think they have? I have a bunch of questions and few answers on this matter. Have you ever felt or reacted in this way? How have you overcome situations like this one? I would love to know and learn from you! So, comment here or e-mail me your thoughts.
Please pray for me, that God will clean my heart. That my prayer to live like Christ will continue and that His transforming work in my heart would never stop, even when it hurts. That my heart won’t ever turn cold or dry. That I can learn to live and love with compassion and not with legalism. That I can serve without judging.
On a happier note, as I wrote this post, we received great news in one of our cases. The perpetrator that sexually assaulted a 13 year old student was convicted and sentenced. Our team is celebrating that justice was obtained for this girl and her family after a long process, since it all happened in 2010. SO, GIVE THANKS AND REJOICE WITH US!
Love to you all and talk to you in my next post!
* Don’t forget: If you are able to support me financially, you can donate online using the link below. I am really thankful for any amount you could contribute; it may make a difference for me to keep serving on this project.
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