“I dreamed a dream” is the song sung by Fantine, a lead role in Les Miserables who was abused by a man, shunned by her community, and forced into prostitution as a last resort to keep her child alive. What gets me the most about her song is the line “I dreamed that God would be forgiving” followed by “Now life has killed the dream I dreaded.” Her heartbreaking circumstances led her to believe that God had abandoned her in a living hell. That he did not see her fit for his grace. That he is not good.
After my two internships with IJM and now Rethreaded, I have seen many of heartbreaking stories; stories of abuse, neglect, exploitation, and suffering. I am blessed to have worked on the rehabilitation side of these stories, the side of freedom and restoration. But the facts remain. While my office in South Asia has rescued over 4,000 slaves, an estimated 27 million are still enslaved around the world. While I have seen women experience healing and redemption at Rethreaded, there are still many more walking the streets of Phillips highway or being trafficked and exploited. How can God be good with all of this heartbreak and suffering?
After much thought and prayer I came to the conclusion that God IS good. He reveals his goodness through a loving relationship with Him and through loving relationships with each other. Another beautiful line from Les Miserables is “To love another person is to see the face of God”. So how can those suffering believe that He is good? This can only happen when we choose to show them His goodness through acts of love by meeting their physical and spiritual needs. The supernatural grace and love of Christ reaches into their darkness offering healing and restoration.
I have seen this happen at both IJM and Rethreaded! I have seen the power of love and sacrifice that allows those suffering to believe in the goodness of God. I threw in the word sacrifice because these acts of love are not easy. My coworkers at IJM did not just work a 40 hour week but chose to be on call at all times. If a rescue took 3 days, they were there. If a rescued family had a daughter in the hospital, they were there. Rain or shine, weekends or afterhours, they were there. They sacrificed so that people would finally get a glimpse of the goodness of God. My coworkers at Rethreaded never really leave work either. They physically leave the building but are constantly networking and advocating for the women at Rethreaded. They know that their dedication will lead to others seeing the goodness of God. I am not promoting becoming a workaholic and I do not consider those mentioned above be. I am simply trying to paint a picture of the kind of dedication God calls his people to when he calls them to show his goodness. It calls for flexibility and giving of ourselves even without a paycheck. It is a lifestyle, not a job.
My friend Beth came and spoke at Rethreaded about her experience serving in India. She said that she went to India to work with victims of the sex trade because she wanted to work among the people that had the hardest time believing that God was good. Many women suffering in the sex trade think as Fantine did, they can’t believe in the goodness of God because no one has ever shown them.
In the beginning God foresaw all the suffering that would take place and yet said, “It is good.” How God can not only be good but also say that this world is good? I think when looking at the immense suffering, this is a hard question to answer. But the world does not consist of suffering alone. Suffering is simply part of the equation. God longs to take our suffering and turn it into gladness bringing freedom and redemption for all through his unfailing love. God takes our ashes and turns them into beauty. The world is good not because of the suffering but because of the constant outpour of God’s love as he redeems and restores.
I am pursuing a master’s degree in international development. My aim is to bring development to the world, meeting the needs of the suffering in a sustainable and life giving way. But I know that there will be many times of failure. There will be many times that programs fail and great ideals are lost in reality. Many times that what I want for someone will not be what they chose for themselves. But I have hope because through my work, I will bring the gospel. If people receive the love of Christ through my work and yet my program fails, they have experienced true life. This is a concept I began to grasp through IJM but was further developed by working with Kristin Keen. The mission of Rethreaded is not to save women from the sex trade by offering alternative employment. While this is part of what we do the mission is to LOVE all those affected by the sex trade through relationships and community. The priority is to share the love of Christ. Kristin created this mission recognizing that programs mail fail but the love of Christ will always be life changing.
As my time at Rethreaded is coming to a close, I believe this is the most important lesson I have learned. I have seen how the act of loving has been more life changing than the actual business. Even when sales are down, people are transformed. The staff, the volunteers, those who come to Rethreaded events, everyone involved with the organization has experienced the love of Christ in a life changing way. Let me clarify one last thing. Love is not just a word but an action. Sharing the love of Christ means meeting someone’s physical and spiritual needs. The business of Rethreaded has extreme significance but the priority is love. I am blessed to have been a part of that mission and will take this thought wherever I go; Christ’s love is the only real way to being lasting change to those who are suffering in the world.
Thank you to all of my supporters who have helped me bring God’s kingdom to Jacksonville through my work at Rethreaded and who have helped me understand the love of Christ in a new way.
Here is a picture of my boss Kristin Keen and I matching at work. This has become a more frequent occurance which I can only hope is her rubbing off on me :)