Her words took me back a bit, “I’m a bundle of emotions.”
Our conversation yesterday as she prepared to leave Africa and her last World Race assignment was filled with joy for her return home, but also sorrow at the life she is leaving behind.
Nikki is like me – steady, solid, not typically emotional and with a strong aversion to drama. I don’t know why I was surprised. I feel it too. This emotion that wells up for no reason. Okay, not “no reason.” For good reason. Very good reason.
She is in the air at the moment on the last flight with her entire squad. For eleven months she has lived and breathed every moment with this group of young adults. They have lived in 11 countries in 11 months. A whirlwind world tour of sorts. They have laughed, cried, prayed, and witnessed miracles and tragedies together. They have healed the sick, comforted the sorrowful and loved the unloveable. When they land in Chicago 10 hours from now, they will say farewell and scatter across the nation to reunite with the families that have loved them from afar this past year.
They are sad. And they are oh, so very happy.
I feel it too, this bundle of emotions. I can’t read a post on the parent group page without crying. I read about the dad who wishes us well, but won’t see his son yet as he is choosing to stay in Europe indefinitely, and I cry. I see the mom’s comment about her daughter needing to stay in Malaysia just a bit longer until doctors are sure her malaria is under control, and I cry. I read posts from other parents I met at the launch event last January or the Parent Vision Trip in September, thanking us for being so supportive of their kids, and I cry.
I use the word “kids” lightly. They are young adults, for sure. But they are more than that. They are writers. They are artists. They are medical experts. They are teachers. They are construction workers. They are healers. They are preachers. They are worship leaders. They are warriors for the Kingdom.
And they are coming home.
My daughter’s journey on The World Race has changed her. I expected that. What I didn’t so much expect is that it would change ME. Profoundly.
I see more.
I feel more.
I love more.
I want more.
She will spend the next several weeks exploring where she fits in back home. Her calling doesn’t end because the Race ends, and she knows it.
In some ways, it has only just begun.
And so has mine.
Let the Second Act begin.
Remember my last post about the Walking Street in Angeles City, Philippines? I had a sense of dread about going there. When asking myself how do you prepare for your heart to be broken? I said,
“I believe the answer to this question is – there is no way to prepare. It could be worse than I anticipate. It could be better, but I doubt it.”
I was right. It was worse than I anticipated. And I was wrong. It was also better.
Our night began by walking as a group before sunset down the Walking Street to the very end for dinner together at a large outdoor patio restaurant. That was an adventure in itself. Spectacle doesn’t even begin to describe what we must have looked like. Fifty or so Americans consisting of middle-aged men and women and their 20-something daughters and son along with a handful of Filipino young women who used to work on this street. They knew we were up to something.
As the sun set and we laughed and joked our way through dinner, none of us really knew what the night would hold. We had been told the basics. These girls were here because they didn’t have a choice. In the Philippines, college graduates are lucky to get a job at McDonald’s or as a helper in someone’s home. Where then, does this leave these young women? On the Walking Street.
Our job was to tell them about Wipe Every Tear. This ministry offers hope where there has been no hope. It offers a safe house to live in and enrollment in college or completion of a high school equivalency program. For free with no obligation.
A way OUT.
A way to see their children again.
A way HOME.
But just HOW do you approach an exploited girl with this information, exactly? You buy her a drink. You take her off the stage and occupy her time. For as long as it takes.
As we formed our teams and prayed before walking the street to search for a bar to enter, there was a sense of anticipation. Uneasiness. That’s it – uneasy anticipation. The men in our group were especially uncomfortable, given that the clientele of the bars was largely made up of their peers.
As my daughter reminded her dad that there will be no bar fights to rescue these girls, she took the lead as we entered the first bar. It was small, and our group of ten made up more than half of the patrons. The seating was configured so that the patrons sat facing the stage. The stage was full of about 25 young girls. They stood, swaying lightly to the music. Local regulations say they must be 18, but it was doubtful. This group wore cutoff short shorts and cropped tops. My first thought is that they had more covering than most women their age at California beaches. Their uncomfortable stance was hard to miss. Most had their arms wrapped around their stomach. All had a bra on even under a halter top, for a little added modesty. This bar owner must be one of the kind ones.
Nikki quickly approached the stage and began talking with a girl who caught her eye. She invited her for a drink. She happily hopped down to join us. We bought her a drink and she kissed the drink ticket before tucking it into her bra, for this means she made a commission without having to give herself away. We ordered drinks for ourselves. We asked her about her family and told her about ours.
What does she dream of doing someday? Nothing.
What would you like to do if you didn’t work here? Nothing, there’s nothing else I can do.
One of the girls on the stage was making big facial gestures indicating she would like to join us next. The two were friends and whatever this was, she wanted in. So, we asked her to join us. Keep in mind that the rest of our team was doing the same thing and collectively we now had probably 6 girls off the stage and hanging with the crazy Americans.
The same conversation happened again. And then, something extraordinary happened. The girls became so comfortable with us and felt so safe, that they began to share their dreams. “I’m a great baker. I’d like to own a bakery someday.” “It’s my dream to finish school one day. My brother is a pastor and two of my sisters are in seminary.” By then, we were chatting and laughing like we were old friends. Another round of drinks (more commission), and we danced. We danced with those girls like we were at a high school slumber party. Because, after all, girls just wanna have fun, right?
And then we’d talk some more. What if I told you there’s a place you can live for free away from here while you attend school? They will pay for everything, and there’s no obligation to ever pay them back.
How can this be true? Cue the girls with us who used to work in the bars. As they came and chatted with the girls, the expressions on the faces were priceless. “It’s true. I used to work here just 7 months ago. Here’s a picture of me in my school uniform. Here’s a picture of the house where we live. Here’s my school schedule.” Phone numbers were exchanged. We had FUN in the sexploitation district of the Philippines. Oy.
After about two hours, we promised the girls we’d be back the next night.
And we were.
We entered that bar the next night to the happy greetings of our new friends on the stage. As we called the girls to join us, there was a new joy in that night. You know what it was? It was HOPE. We had returned, just like we said we would. Maybe that other stuff we said was true, too.
One of the girls we’d spoken with the night before was absent, which made me sad, but we were able to chat with three girls in our time there. We danced some more. Even the mamasan (madame) joined us in our revelry, dancing in the middle of our circle. The DJ happily took our song requests. They were happy to see this crazy group of American missionaries enjoying themselves. We danced even more. We bought the girls more drinks (the three of them all ordered milk for their second drink, which was brought to them in a lovely wine glass. It was more precious than words can describe.)
And then we made our offer: Come with us. Come and see this house we’ve talked about. Meet the other girls. Ask questions. See if it’s real. Then we will give you money to get back here in time to work tomorrow night. We told them the bus leaves at 10:00 am and we know they will be tired from working all night, but they can sleep on the bus.
Our prayer and our dream was to fill the bus. That bus was more than full. In many rows, we sat two to a seat. An already full tourist bus added seventeen girls and one toddler anxious to see if a new life was possible. HOPE was in the air.
All because of a bunch of crazy Americans who were willing step out of their comfort zone to come to them. To invite them to come away. To invite them to come HOME.
How do you prepare for your heart to be broken? I’ve been pondering this a LOT lately – but really, always thinking about my daughter on the World Race. For 8 months, Nikki has been loving the marginalized people of our world. She has held the hands of the destitute in Costa Rica and offered them food and love, she has bathed and cuddled a 1 year old who lives on the street in Cambodia. She has looked a prostitute in the eyes in Thailand and told her she is worthy of true love and a life away from her hellish reality. Her days in Malaysia included physical therapy sessions with an 86 year old blind stroke victim named Aunty Margaret, giving her mobility and some relief from her daily pains. I have watched her see people as God sees them, with love and compassion. And I have watched her heart be broken for them. Her new normal is a life of compassion, always. But there is no sadness here. In the midst of it all, her joy has increased. How do you prepare for your heart to be broken? Today, I turn this question to myself. What initially was seen as an opportunity to spend a week with our daughter on the World Race on their Parent Vision Trip has turned into a stretching and growing exercise. I am about to take a flying leap out of my comfort zone and into a hellish street in Angeles City in the Philippines. Every night, this street holds between 12,000 and 15,000 girls who offer their bodies for sale. They have entered this life in order to eat, and send money to their families to feed their siblings or their own children. They tell their families they have found good jobs.
The minimum wage for legit workers in the Philippines is the equivalent of $11 USD for a 10 to 12 hour day, which keeps even college graduates firmly at the poverty line. These girls sometimes make a bowl of soup and a handful of rice. They sometimes are paid a few dollars per day. Occasionally, they make equal to minimum wage. Obviously, the tourists who come here to buy a girl for the night or a week are paying much more than that. The bar owners are the profiteers.
I am sick.
This morning I awoke with a sense of dread. How do I prepare for my heart to be broken?
I feel the tears at the rims of my eyelids, just waiting to spill out. But I must overcome this. I need to be able to see these girls with a heart of love and compassion tonight, and do what my daughter has been doing. Offer them a way out.
A new life.
I believe the answer to this question is – there is no way to prepare. It could be worse than I anticipate. It could be better, but I doubt it.
These girls are someone’s daughters. And I am joining with my daughter to offer them hope.
I’m falling in love.
With my daughter, Nikki, away for 11 months on The World Race, I find myself a bit envious of her adventure at times. But when I see the photos she posts, I fall in love. Not only do I love my daughter more, seeing the world through her eyes has given me a new appreciation for the beauty of the people and places she is serving.
She has just finished the first of 11 months, and has spent nearly a month in Antigua Guatemala. And I tell you – I’m in love.
I’m in love with her ministry team – Team Agape. These young women are sisters, in every sense of the word. They love each other and their love will only deepen as they face the world together. I am blessed because they are blessing each other.
I’m in love with the scenery. Can you imagine spending a month living in the shadow of an active volcano?
I’m in love with the town of Antigua Guatemala. I imagine walking these colorful streets and taking in the colors and the people-watching at the farmer’s market.
But mostly, I’m in love with the LOVE my daughter is sharing with these sweet people.
A precious little girl and her puppy…
This sweet little one in church one Sunday…
The precious abandoned elderly at the “Grandpa House” where Nikki shared her love and joy with these precious souls…
Painting with them… Offering a simple touch, or a hug and a smile… Playing checkers with them…
And even making a new checkerboard for Roberto. He was so proud, he asked her to sign her name in the corner & carries it with him everywhere! Nikki and Roberto played checkers every day she was at the Grandpa House, and the best she could do was tie a game with him! He’s a checkers master.
Yes, as my daughter’s world expands, so does mine. I will spend this time quietly taking in the sights through her eyes, the turmoil and heartbreak and victories through her words. And while I count the days until she returns safely home to us, I know she is exactly where she is called to be. And I will love every moment.