Maria was a 14 year old girl from a small town. Maria and her cousin went out together to a local fair. At the end of the day, they were waiting for the bus home. Instead of seeing the bus arrive, a semi truck pulled up, masked men jumped out, and without a word the girls were drugged and thrown into the truck.
What followed for the two girls was horrendous torture. For days, they were imprisoned in a darkened room with no food or water. Then, Maria says, one evening she was brutally beaten before being raped by 23 men.
Maria was sold to a pimp who forced her to have sex several times a night. Alcohol and other drugs were forced on her. If she did not look happy or act friendly with the “customers,” she was beaten. Her life was threatened regularly.
Once, Maria managed to escape. On the run in a strange town she saw some police officers. She approached them and shared her story. Unfortunately, the officers were taking bribes from the brothel she was enslaved in. Rather than help her to freedom, they returned Maria to her captors.
After months of torture and abuse, Maria managed to get away. After running for hours, Maria came upon a young man who seemed genuinely concerned for her. This young man, a Christian, and his friends fed her and gave her a place to sleep for the night. Then, the next day they purchased her a bus ticket to get back to her home town.
Maria was reunited with her family. She is now receiving therapy and job training to help her overcome her abuses. You can read more about her story on CNN’s freedom project here.
What strikes me about this story is the young man whose path intersected with Maria’s in what was a life or death moment for Maria. She had already been betrayed by men who enslaved her, and by police who chose money over duty and human decency. Yet something about this particular young man stood out to her. There was a visible presence in him that called out to her, that led her to put her trust in him.
That visible difference in him was the love of Christ. It was the power of God that changes not only the character and actions of a person, but in a mysterious and mystical way shines a light in the darkness.
As I think about this young man, follower of Christ, I put myself in his shoes. I think about the light that shone in that young man that beckoned to Maria on that frightful night that shone like a beacon of hope on the edge of a pit of darkness. This is the light that should shine in every follower of Christ, in every child of God. I wonder if I carry that light well, if it can be seen in me. Am I a place of safety and hope to those in need? Am I a good ambassador for the kingdom of peace that never perishes?
Or is that light hidden and dim in me, so that Maria would not seek me out in a crowd for help.
A few weeks ago I was speaking with a friend about all of the panhandlers in Portland. There a people on most street corners in the city who beg for money. Our work with the homeless gives us a unique perspective on people looking for help. For instance, there is an elderly woman that has a regular corner just down the street from our house. Contrary to what her sign says, she is not homeless. She has a house nearby that she goes to each evening. She panhandles because it is what she has always done. For a white haired woman in a city that prides itself in its humanity, begging is a lucrative business.
As a policy, I do not give money to beggars. It is, more often than not, only a means to empower that person in a destructive lifestyle of addiction and self-abuse. Most often, homelessness is a way to continue in a destructive lifestyle rather than seek genuine healing and change.
But then, there are always the Maria’s of this world. Am I… are you prepared to respond with the love of God when Maria walks into your life? Maria is not going to show up in a neat and tidy situation, like during church. Her life is not going to intersect with yours when you are sitting at home praying about how the love of God in you can make a difference in the world. You will be on a lunch break, or driving to an important meeting, or have a sick and crying child in the car. You will be upset and have other things on your mind. You will have bills to pay.
If you consider yourself a believer in and follower of God, then you have a special responsibility. This light you have been given is a beacon of hope to those in need. Yes, it is also a beacon of opportunity to the wolves and vultures of this world But, those wolves are really also hurting people with a different sort of need. Ask yourself, when the next Maria is on the run and looking for hope, will you be the hope she sees? Is the light you have been given shining in the darkness, or is it only shown in public when you are “worshiping?” Will your rules prevent you from helping? The light of God wants to shine through you to make a difference in the world. Am I… are you… letting it?Tags: charity, giving, homeless, need, panhandling