I don’t believe many people decide they are going to go on a mission trip to change their own life. Most of the time we, as Christians, look at mission trips as opportunities to; minister, help, love and hopefully change the lives of those He leads us to. As a victim of sexual abuse, I knew that this might be an emotional and tough trip. However, God has called me to help work with women of sexual abuse in Inner-Healing and now He was calling me to begin work with survivors of trafficking and exploitation. For me this looked a certain way, it looked a lot like a rescue mission. Little did I know, I would not be doing any rescuing. In fact, it would be quite the opposite.
My first journal entry occurred at thirty thousand feet in the air while flying over the Pacific Ocean from Dallas to Tokyo. Once I settled into my flight, I found myself overcome with the strangest emotions and tears began to flow. They weren’t happy tears. They weren’t sad tears. They were just tears. I wrote about the release that I was feeling. I saw labels falling off of me; mom, boss, neighbor, friend, sister, daughter, wife, colleague. And I felt a wall begin to come down, an invisible wall that I had not even noticed was there three hours before.
I wrote in my journal about how comfortable and alive I felt sitting in an airplane full of strangers, while missing my family already. How it contrasted being home surrounded by those who I loved, yet always feeling a little alone. I had been told by several friends and family members that this mission trip would be life changing, but for the first time on that plane I began to wonder if they meant it would be life changing for me, not just the girls we were going to work with.
After a bit of cultural emersion and getting to know my group of women I would work with, settling into Manila was a piece of cake. I could do this. I was up for the adventure.
“Ok God, let’s do this, show me who I can work with to help them heal. Show me who needs rescuing and who needs heart work done.”
I’ve always considered that one of my specialties, working with people on the intentions of their heart and helping them to find genuine authenticity in the way they love themselves and others. I was eager to bring this to survivors of trafficking and exploited women.
Day one in the field we went to meet some of the girls of Wipe Every Tear. I quickly learned that these girls were not bruised, beaten and just pulled from underground clubs where they were trafficked. No these were girls that were given another opportunity in life. They were previously exploited or at risk for being exploited and Wipe Every Tear had essentially helped them out of the bars and into their scholarship program. We referred to them as scholars. The homes they stayed in had the joy of Jesus and cheerful innocence of a sorority house. The young women were playful, beautiful, hopeful and dignified. It was quite the opposite of what I had expected to see. It was nothing short of the work of the Lord, but I was very confused as to what my place in all of this had to be. These weren’t girls broken and crying for me to help them or save them. In fact, even discussing their stories or trying to imagine what they had been through was exploitation in itself. God quickly made me aware of this.
“What am I even here for Lord? What can I give to these girls that they don’t already have?”
Day two in the field we went into Angeles City, the second highest trafficked district in the world behind Bangkok. One would think that going there I would be nervous or scared, typical feelings in anticipation of this experience. But I wasn’t scared of anything happening to me. I was scared of something happening within me. I was scared that I would be so infuriated at the sight of men purchasing women, or seeking out children to buy that I would lose it. How would I be able to contain my response to the sickness and sin?
That night I watched grown men purchase beautiful girls and gallantly march them down the street back to their rooms. Men in their thirties, forties, fifties and even some in what appeared to be their seventies came from all over the world. I watched them pay to temporarily fill a void. My emotional response was the complete opposite of what I thought it would be.
I stood back and watched wondering what amount of brokenness had to have occurred in each one of their lives to get them to that street. The men purchasing. The women selling. The girls being bought. I found myself lost in stories I was imagining and making up in my head. Stories about the sick and twisted things that must have occurred with these men and women that had taken them from being victims in life to now being perpetrators. From being exploited to exploiting. From their hurt to now hurting others. The layers of brokenness and cycles I pieced together blew my mind. I saw a street full of Jesus’ lost broken little children. Every single person there was just a lost little broken child, including me and my team. I felt remorse for them. I felt sorrow for us all.
I’m not sure I have ever seen anything through the eyes of Jesus, but that night I sat with Him in a cafe on the side of Walking Street in Angeles City. I watched all of His hurting children. Then I left and I wept.
The next three days my Beauty for Ashes team held a retreat for a little over sixty young women from Wipe Every Tear. Three very emotionally exhausting yet joy filled days. We let down our walls. They let down theirs. We became one, the same… all daughters of God there in a safe place with no walls of judgement or expectations. It was the most beautiful thing I have been blessed to experience and be a part of spiritually.
In those three days, God showed me that I was there to do the work of a farmer in Manila, Philippines. I planted seeds of love, understanding, compassion and hope. As the farmer plants seeds in his field with faith that it will yield crops, I had to let go of control of expectations of performance and outcome. The only thing I was there to do was plant the seeds and leave with faith that Jesus would care for His crops and grow these beautiful young women up to eventually be farmers one day as well, just as He had done for me. I was taught that while I have been so good at helping others with their heart work, my heart actually needed the most work. It had become hardened, darkened and I had little hope it could ever be alive with joy and innocence that it once had. But I found myself having compassion for the perpetrators on that street and saw them not as monsters but as men who had fallen into the darkness of sin that so many of us do. In five days, God took my heart and tore it apart from the inside out only to restore it with compassion, understanding and hope. I may or may not have truly helped the girls, I might not ever know. What I do know is that while I was planting the Lord’s seeds, those beautiful young ladies helped me. I was not there to rescue anyone. I was on this trip because Jesus needed to rescue me.
– Jenae Hibbard