Posts Tagged ‘joy’

Surprised by Joy

Posted: March 31, 2011 in Our work
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I always expected it to be difficult.

As soon as we decided to spend a year working with victims of sex trafficking and prostitution in Manila, I knew that while there would be good times, the work would inevitably be depressing, discouraging, and challenging. I was traveling through my own dark season of life, and I knew that if my daily American struggles of workaholism, broken relationships, and disappointed dreams could leave me feeling crushed, then the women at Samaritana would certainly feel even worse.

But the most surprising thing happened: instead of sinking into depression, I rediscovered joy. There have been days when I’ve felt discouraged, when I’ve cried because I didn’t know what else to do—but then I go to the airy, tranquil haven of Samaritana, and my spirits are almost instantly lifted. The women crack jokes and we laugh while eating meryenda (mid-morning snack); I give high fives to a few women who ran farther than they ever have before during Super Babae, our daily fitness group, and tell them how proud I am of them; they give me hugs and I tell them again and again that their brown skin is beautiful; a woman grabs my hand or my arm (an endearing cultural norm that I will definitely miss) as we walk home at the end of the day. There are far more smiles, laughter, and singing than tears or anger. The women I call friends are kind, generous, and incredibly sweet—but it’s not just that. They overflow with joy that I’ve only occasionally experienced in my own life.

I’ve puzzled over this again and again. How can it be that women who have experienced some of the most awful things imaginable radiate pure, unadulterated joy? I have seen them, on occasion, mourn the things they have lost and that have been done to them. But sorrow doesn’t sink them, and hope is never far off.

I think that unlike me–most of the time–these women really understand grace.

I think Samaritana is Christianity the way Jesus meant it to be: full of love and acceptance, but not without a call to something better. The women here are cherished just as they are—even if they choose to stay at the bars—and also challenged and encouraged to start anew. The amazing thing is that it actually works. Every day at Samaritana, the women have love heaped on them, and are shown again and again how special and precious they are. It’s not just through the quiet, contemplative moments of morning prayer, or the validating livelihood training that allows them to make more money than their daily allowance if they are diligent and excellent in their work, or even the counseling administered by staff and volunteers who are at Samaritana for the sole reason that they love the women. God’s love seeps through the walls and circulates in the air in this place. Even short-term visitors can’t help but feel it. No wonder these women have such joy; they’re the recipients of deep, untainted love and grace, and they know it.

I knew that this year would change me, but I never expected that I would receive so much by the very women I came to help.  We  recently booked our return tickets, and are startled to realize that in spite of the many things we love about our life in Oakland, we are sad–really sad–to know that on July 23, we will be leaving these women.

They challenge me to be brave, to stand strong no matter what life throws at me. They remind me of how beautifully resilient the human spirit is, and how my past mistakes or regrets need not define me. I think it’s God’s grace and love that allows them to heal–but what I hope to communicate to them in our remaining time here is how much God has used them to heal me.