As I watched red, white and blue sparks rain down across the night sky on July 4th, my heart felt like it might burst right along with the fireworks. I am grateful to have been born in a country with as much freedom as we enjoy in these United States, but I find it difficult to stomach the sheer privilege of it all when millions of people can’t begin to imagine what freedom tastes like. An agonized world begging for intervention presses their noses to the window while I watch fireworks and revel in my comfortable, free life. It feels ugly. It demands an unflinchingly honest examination of the way that I spend the days and dollars that I have been given.
Several weeks ago, I read a book called “Sold” by Patricia McCormick. It’s the story of a thirteen year old girl named Lakshimi living with her family in a small village in Nepal. As finances grow tighter and meals become smaller, her stepfather forces her to take a job to support her family. Believing that she is to be hired as a maid in the city, Lakshimi journeys to India where that little girl is hastily sold into the horrific world of prostitution. Her story is searing, heart wrenchingly impossible to read and still, impossible to set aside. I read the book in one sitting, unable to tear my eyes away.
At the end of the book, the author leaves us with this chilling note:
“Each year, nearly 12,000 Nepali girls are sold by their families, intentionally or unwittingly, into a life of sexual slavery in the brothels of India. Worldwide, the U.S. State Department estimates that nearly half a million children are trafficked into the sex trade annually.
As part of my research for Sold, I traced the path that many Nepalese girls have taken—from remote villages to the red light districts of Calcutta. I also interviewed aid workers who rescue girls from brothels, provide them with medical care and job training, and who work to reintegrate them into society.
But most touching and inspiring was interviewing survivors themselves. These young women have experienced what many people would describe as unspeakable horrors. But they are speaking out—with great dignity.
Some go door to door in the country’s most isolated villages to explain what really happens to girls who leave home with strangers promising good jobs. Some of them—even women who are ill with HIV—patrol the border between Nepal and India on the lookout for young girls traveling without their parents. And some are facing their traffickers in court—where it is often their word against the fathers and brothers, husbands and uncles who sold them for as little as three hundred dollars.”
To whom much has been given, much is required. Those who are free must advocate for those who are not, or I fear that we will look nothing like the Jesus that we claim to follow. Those who have given a voice must speak for those who have none, because freedom rings hollow when the bell tolls for a precious, privileged few. It is our solemn responsibility and sacred privilege to intercede for the broken, and to beg God to move for the orphan, the trafficked, the homeless, the hungry. We must beg God for justice and then fight for it with our lives. Over the past several months, God has been breaking my heart with the idea that we do not get to call a world full of hurting people our “brothers and sisters” as long as we do nothing. Not when we’d never allow our biological brothers and sisters to go hungry or sleep on the street or be imprisoned in a brothel in India.
Jen Hatmaker wrote a book called Seven [RUN to buy it. It’s ruined my life in the best possible way, and now I’ve got Kellan reading it so it can ruin his too.] and in it, she echoes this tension. She wonders with me,
“What would the early church think if they walked into some of our buildings today, looked through our church Web sites, talked to an average attender? Would they be so confused? Would they wonder why we all had empty bedrooms and uneaten food in our trash cans? Would they regard our hoarded wealth with shock? Would they observe orphan statistics with disbelief since Christians outnumber orphans 7 to 1? Would they be stunned most of us don’t feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, care for the sick or protect the window? Would they see the spending on church builds and ourselves as extravagantly wasteful while twenty-five thousand people die every day from starvation?”
It’s Monday. The sparklers have died, fireworks have fizzled and the grills have been turned off. At the end of this holiday weekend, I am left with the indelible impression that our freedom is cheap if it is hoarded. Jesus entered right into the very heart of our pain and took it from us to set us free. It cost Him everything. How will this change the way that we live?