A Year in Five Minutes

Posted: September 9, 2011 in Our work, Who we are
Tags: , , , ,

As we restart our lives in the US, one of the key ways we hope God will use us here is being able to share our experiences with various groups here. We got our first such big opportunity a week ago Sunday,  back in Minnesota visiting the church Laura grew up in–and where we got the sabbatical idea in the first place. They’d also supported us this past year, and gave us five minutes at their services to present our story. If you’ve wondered at any point “Uh, where’d they get that crazy idea? How’d they do that?” and so forth, here’s the answer:

Nate: It was a Sunday morning in 2002; Leith was preaching, and I was half listening, half worrying about school work. But then God dropped an idea on us that would pull us across the planet, take a year of our lives, and bind us to a topic that makes most people squirm.

Laura: The sermon was on Leviticus 25, where God tells the Israelites to take a Sabbath year every seven to break from ordinary work and trust in his provision. We weren’t “missionary types;” Nate was studying advertising; I was applying for MFA programs in fiction writing. We were just regular people, but that Sunday, we asked ourselves how life might be different if we took a year off to serve God.

Nate: Then we got married, I graduated, and we moved to California for Laura’s grad school, but the Sabbath year idea was gestating.  We made friends. We bought a house. We were putting down roots—but God was only going to let those roots go so deep. By 2008, we were still committed to the Sabbath year; we wanted something that would challenge and change us, but we didn’t know the who, what or where.

Laura: Then a friend lent us Not for Sale, where we read that there are 27 million slaves today. We went to see Call+Response, a documentary on sex trafficking and prostitution. Walking out of the theater that cool Berkeley night, we realized that this could be the focus of our year.

Nate: For the next two years, on top of our full-time jobs were meetings with our financial planner, contacting dozens of organizations, and Laura applying for (and God providing) a Fulbright scholarship to fund research on her novel about sex trafficking in the Philippines.  Thanks to Wooddale, family and friends, we raised the remaining funds we needed, packed up our lives, and two days before our flight, found tenants to rent our house. We knew the year would change us, but we had no idea how much. On July 25, 2010, we flew to Manila.

Laura: No amount of research could prepare us for what we found: one of the dirtiest, most densely populated cities in the world—and one of the worst hubs for sex trafficking. Manila rattles and roars with the energy of twenty million people hustling to get by, stray dogs and roosters roaming the streets, jam-packed jeepneys careening through traffic, acres of tin-roof-and-cinderblock slums, and grilled intestines competing with diesel fumes in dense, sweaty air.

Nate: It also smells of the broken dreams of countless women who come to escape chronic poverty, but often end up being trafficked or selling themselves instead.

Laura: As part of my research for my novel, I interviewed many women and girls whose stories often left me in tears. Victoria’s friend convinced her to move to Manila to waitress; only after she arrived did she find out that the restaurant turned into a brothel after dark.  Caroline was just a teenager in the wrong place at the wrong time when she got rounded up by the police; she was drugged and raped by an officer, and so distraught that she later turned to prostitution to feed her children.  Gemma moved to Malaysia to work as a maid, but upon her arrival was imprisoned in a brothel.

Nate: As awful as these stories are, we are happy to say that when we met Victoria, Caroline, and Gemma, they could smile thanks to Samaritana, a shining light in the dark night of prostitution. Samaritana is a small Christian organization that helps women leave the spirit-crushing life on the streets and start anew. It became not just our workplace, but our Filipino family.

Laura: Samaritana’s holistic approach includes education, spiritual development, counseling, exercise, and livelihood skills. God’s love seeps through the daily activities, and also through the daily grace that the women feel from the staff and volunteers.  It is the most joyful place we have ever been.

Nate: Samaritana convinces women to leave the streets by building friendships first, then by offering them sustainable work. But when we asked the women what the best thing was about being there, every one of them had the same answer: “I came to know God here.  I learned how to read the Bible.”  One woman told us, “I accepted Jesus into my heart, and he accepted me into his.”

Laura: When we left for our Sabbath year, we naïvely thought we would just return to our normal lives. Now that we’re back—jobless and with a mortgage looming—Nate is looking for work, and I’m finishing my novel. But we’ve never felt so grateful, or had such a deep sense of how much we have to give. We’ve been ruined for the better.

Nate: Along with a taste for rice and mangoes, we came back with a passion to continue serving the women at Samaritana, and to urge others to expand the definition of who our neighbor is, to love our neighbors both here and around the globe.  We’re also asking God where he’ll take us in 2017, and trying to bridge our Western world with the impoverished one we left behind.

Laura: We want to close by asking for your prayers for Samaritana and for all the women still on the streets. As with Wilberforce and Lincoln fighting slavery in the 19th century, fighting human trafficking today is a chance for Christians to change the world. The Bible exhorts us repeatedly to serve the poor and oppressed, as in I John 3: “But if anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”

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Comments
  1. jen says:

    I am so honored to have Jesus-loving, writer friends who live out their passion for justice.

  2. Robin Davis says:

    I am so proud of you, for your original dream of the sabbatical year of serving others, for your persistence until it became a reality, and now for your continuing work to bring Samaritana and human trafficking to people’s attention, particularly in the churches.

    • freeisaverb says:

      Thanks, Mum! Thanks for raising N to believe that this kind of thing is possible. I know those sabbatical years that you took him along for shaped him profoundly, and made him realize that most people can do what we did–if they’re willing.

  3. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. – Matthew 5:16 (NLT)

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