… can you smell it? …

This morning, I re-read this piece of writing written by Clay Butler posted almost 3 years ago when I started learning about child trafficking in Cambodia.  My mind couldn’t grasp it then, nor I could now. Yet more and more I am exposed to the level of darkness when I engaged in this ministry, I am also encroaching on the blurriness between safety and danger in my own faith journey.  When I am confronted and demanded to extend such muddy water of forgiveness to those who had done such unspeakable harm onto children whose body frames are so small and frail to begin with, I have no words but flames of fires crawling against gravity in my throat when I attempt to pray (the same way Clay mentioned below). I would have flashes of the faces of children.  I can feel their tugging on my arms, their hands in mine, switching positions to sit close to me.  They are here when I close my eyes.  They are here when I open my eyes.  My throat close up with a gagging reflex as though my body was revolting against my attempt to pray.

Clay Butler — “After completing my schooling for Business Ethics and Biblical Theology, I decided to pursue my dream of working on the mission field. I accepted an offer to work in Cambodia as the Anti-trafficking Program Coordinator for Agape International Missions (a partner of Ratanak International). This organization has an After-Care center for girls rescued out of sexual slavery, an outreach center in the seedy red light district of Svay Pak, and a network of over 500 churches working to implement long-term strategies to crush the systemic injustice of Human Trafficking. I was excited about launching into this new endeavor, but my life thus far had not prepared me for the harsh realities I would face in Cambodia.

Every day in Cambodia I drive by brothels and condom vendors, and I see the young girls side by side with the men that profit from their destruction. I hear the investigative reports of new brothels that are discovered, some that contain over one hundred girls as young as seven years old. I have seen drawings from rescued girls in counseling sessions, where they illustrate their experiences in the brothels. They draw themselves getting beaten for refusing to satisfy more than ten men in one night, they draw themselves begging pedophiles to use a condom, they draw themselves tied to a bed with a rag in their mouth, and they draw other unspeakable evils.

One day, it all became too much. When I went to the Lord in prayer, I abandoned all religious formality and I let my heart do the talking, “Kill them all Lord! Destroy these pedophiles and the people that profit from the rape of your children! Burn their houses down! Make them suffer! Let all who see their bodies know that these men and women were cursed by God!” I immediately realized that something had happened. I had allowed the harshness of my experiences to implant a destructive seed of bitterness in my heart, which had now bloomed into unbridled hatred.

I sat condemned by Matthew 5:44, and 6:15, ”But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you… If you don’t forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” How could I pray for and forgive these men and women, and how could Jesus ask me to? Certainly this verse doesn’t apply to forgiving pedophiles. Certainly these verses don’t apply to parents that sell their children. As I tried to pray for the pedophiles like Jesus commanded, the words would literally get stuck in my throat. I would have flashes of the children’s drawings. As the images flashed in my mind I would have a gag reflex as though my body was revolting against my attempt to pray. How could the Lord withhold my forgiveness on account of these perverted men and women? I decided to meditate on Matthew 6:15 asking the Lord to provide an answer. As I studied and meditated, I realized that the issue of forgiveness serves an indicator of my relationship with God. If I walk in unforgiveness it is an indication that I don’t fully comprehend the depth of my own depravity, I don’t understand the nature of God’s character, and I am not committed to being an authentic witness of Christ.

Jesus taught an uncompromising message of forgiveness. History bears witness to this, demonstrating God’s patient and long-suffering attitude towards a sinful and rebellious creation. If I am truly committed to walking in the example set forth by Jesus, I must embrace His grace for myself and offer it freely to others, no matter how difficult that may be. Unforgiveness doesn’t reveal my righteous anger; it reveals my ignorance concerning my own depravity, and my contempt for Gods mercy.

I am grateful that God has begun to work in my heart through this trial and is helping me to pray for my enemies. Now when I am tempted to become self-righteous and unforgiving, I think about and try to follow the example of one of the girls that was cared for in our After-Care program. Like thousands of other girls in Cambodia, she was sold into a brothel and systematically raped throughout her childhood. During her time at the center she was introduced to Jesus and His message of forgiveness and mercy. She fell in love with Him and His plan for her life.

During her stay with us she was called upon to testify against her brothel owners, a husband and wife team. When the husband and wife team had been found guilty, the judge afforded the victims the opportunity to ask from this couple whatever they would like as compensation for their suffering. The first girl requested financial compensation, which was immediately granted. Next it was time for the girl from our center to make her request. This was her chance.

She could ask for anything or say anything. This was her opportunity to give full vent to her rage. I can only imagine the emotional cocktail of fear and bitterness that would be mine if I were the one confronting the people that had literally raped my childhood. All eyes were on her and all ears were attentive as she began to speak,

“I know this couple has a baby. My only request is that the baby would be cared for while they are in jail.” And then, turning her attention fully to the couple, “And I want you to know, that I forgive you.”

As everyone sat stunned, there was a subtle fragrance that was released into the room. It was a fragrance that is strangely familiar but rarely experienced, the rarest of all smells indeed. It is a fragrance that goes beyond the senses and is experienced in the depths of the soul. What was it that was experienced in that courtroom, in that moment, on that day? It was the indescribable fragrance of Christ being released by a young girl who decided to reject bitterness and offer forgiveness. This young girl, a victim who had been crushed by the most brutal institution of slavery ever known to mankind, had demonstrated the power of forgiveness. While I struggled to imagine anything other than vicious revenge, she by the grace of God found a way to bear every evil committed against her, and then the strength to love her former captors. That morning before the Judge, this little one showed us the way to forgiveness, the way to hope, the way to redemption—the way to Jesus. And her fragrant forgiveness filled the courtroom.

4 You have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
and a shade from the heat.
For the breath of the ruthless
is like a storm driving against a wall
5 and like the heat of the desert.
You silence the uproar of foreigners;
as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud,
so the song of the ruthless is stilled.

6 On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
7 On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The LORD has spoken.” – Isaiah 25

What I have left is to Trust in Him, Trust in His perfect faithfulness, Trust that He will do wonderful things, things planned long ago.

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