The stranger. The poor. The orphan. The slave. Often times as Christians we might be called – as the Bible beckons us – to reach out to one or two of these groups. But in her involvement with New Life Ministry to fight human trafficking in Athens, Greece, Langham Scholar Myrto Theocharous has discovered a world that encompasses them all. Myrto reflects here on reaching beyond her comfort zone to see how Jesus uses us to help those who cannot find help and love those who are cannot find love.
How the Father Brings Near the Ones Who Are Far
On my first outreach to women in prostitution, I was forced to confront humanity. This is a humanity completely hidden from daylight and regular life, a humanity that has no point of contact with me, a humanity so separate and foreign that if it ceased to exist, I would not be affected nor would they be affected had I not existed. But these two worlds were somehow brought together in a city, a certain street, in the night, forced to decide what to do with each other. This humanity stood before me in an anorexic body, a short skirt, and a forced smile. If I may equate this experience with something, it is like walking in a forest and you are confronted with a wild creature that you’ve never seen before. You are then faced with three options: to run away from it, to conquer it, or to befriend it. After that first encounter, I was no longer the same.
Identifying with Strangers
I had studied biblical anthropology but I was never forced to look at it, literally, in the eye. These women embody a variety of categories found in Scripture: the stranger, the poor, the orphan, the slave. It is this strangeness which forces you to act out your biblical anthropology. It is this reaction before the absolute foreigner that reveals your own identity. The ultimate test is to identify your story with the stranger’s, to re-read your past and search your own story until you find this stranger somewhere in there. See him or her in you. Your identity is revealed in your encounter with the stranger; that is the moment that you know where you come from: whether you come from a Father who brings near the ones who are far off or not.
“Human traffic” is another way of saying “slavery.” There is the master/trafficker who moves his/her slaves around, locks them in houses, and lets them go out only for work. We get glimpses of them in the streets; every minute we get is precious, every hug we give them is eternal, every smile will last them through that night.
How much truth can you speak in a minute to displace the lies of a lifetime? How long did it take for God to phrase, “Let there be light?” How long can you hug a person to outweigh the abusive grasp that will follow? How can you love this world that maintains such corruption? How do you wrestle with your own inability, inadequacy, and incomprehension of this Goliath standing before you and mocking this invisible kingdom you profess? These are some of the daily tensions.
Love for the “Fallen Leaves”
In this ministry I discovered the “biased” love. This love must search out and find the ones who cannot love back, who can never repay what is given to them, who offer no visible or tangible ground for deserving it, who are not or do not look lovable or huggable or easy to sit down with, be seen with, converse with. This love finds no ground in its object but the ground is in itself. This love is often turned down and rejected, but it is still there raining over the “just” and the “unjust” alike. And since the person is unable to offer you some ground for your love then whatever you do unto them you are necessarily doing it to Him. Christ substitutes the undeserving, the poor, the stranger, the prostitute, the slave, thus always giving you ground in His person to love the least without restraint.
A State social worker has said: “Many women are aware of what they are getting into; they were not tricked, so we cannot help them.” This could be true for a tiny minority but, even then, what factors were there pushing a person’s “free will” into a corner? Intense poverty? Child abuse? Rape that has shaped their self-esteem? Single mothers abandoned by everyone now obliged to sacrifice their bodies so that their children could live, get medical help, food and clothing? How can these women run to a shelter for protection? How can they place charges against their traffickers when the policemen they run to are their regular customers? Why would their interests be protected over their traffickers’ who bribe their way through the system? A poet has said that no leaf falls to the ground without the silent consent of the whole tree. But we look at the fallen leaves, we blame them, we avoid them, and we label them as the sinners who brought about their own downfall. These women become the scapegoats for the sins of the entire community.
The Driving Force
This ministry is a public declaration to the earthly and heavenly realms. It is a declaration of the infinite value of God’s creation, of all His creatures. Incarnation is proclaimed when those who get no benefit from these women decide to go down simply to find them, simply to love them, simply to give and relate to them, to hear their pain and to cry with them. Even when we willingly choose sin, even when we are deserving of our state, even if we reject His offer, incarnation still takes place despite of us. This ministry is a puzzle to the local community, and journalists from local newspapers have many times sought to understand the driving force behind it. We are dealing with a national sin so the resistance is great and the healing extremely slow. However, the transformation we witness in the church is remarkable. Volunteers from all denominations unite in prayer and offerings, and work against a single enemy creating an admirable testimony to the watching world.
|Myrto (second from right) with mentors and fellow JSM-Langham Scholars at Wheaton College in illnois|
The support I receive from Langham Scholarships as well as their vision of impacting communities through God’s Word is a tremendous help for my doctoral studies in the Old Testament and for my future vision. This ministry has inspired me to get deeper into Scripture and plan to give a theological framework for social works in what I write in the future with the hope to inspire more people; “for the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you saying, ‘you shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land’,” (Deut. 15:11).
Myrto is a graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, currently studying at Cambridge, England, with plans to graduate in 2010. For more information on the Langham Scholars program, visit the Scholars section of the John Stott Ministries Web site.
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