It was one of those rain-drenched days where every city commuter was in the same boat. Actually, a boat might have been helpful, as every other form of public or personal transport was not going to ensure a quick trip home. I felt particularly unfortunate, as I only travel into work one day a week – and it ended up taking me three hours to get home.
As I sat on the train, announcements kept ringing out: ‘Apologies for the short delay… an incident on the tracks has halted progress…’ Short delays turned into longer and longer ones.
In my bag I had stashed a book my friend lent me. A book which frequently made me feel uncomfortable and emotional. Called Forgotten Girls, it is a series of short, real-life stories on girls and women throughout the world who have suffered in various ways. Some of the stories end well, some not – and throughout, we are encouraged to pray and reach out to those still struggling, for God’s light to enter their dark realities.
It’s amazing what effect this short book had on me, especially on this particular trip home. It’s a cliche that stories and experiences of the third world put your ‘first world problems’ into perspective, but it’s true. The trouble is, often we’re too uncomfortable (as I was) to enter into the depth of other people’s struggles, to ponder them. Because it might ‘guilt’ us into action, or bring us down, or what have you.
But as I started reading these compassionately written stories, something really did change in me. Probably the most memorable story was of a little Indonesian girl called Beti, whose mother left her with a neighbour when she was four years old. She told her she needed to go to find her father, and would be back in two weeks. Borang, the neighbour, was a witch doctor who agreed to take her on as a housekeeper in exchange for room and board. Instead, Borang tied her to the tree in the backyard rather than invite her in with the family. She continually issued punishments for perceived misbehaviour or for not completing her tasks to perfection. Beti was beaten regularly, and as she was treated like a wild animal, she started to behave like one – whimpering and refusing to speak. Neighbours would raise concerns, but no one knew what to do, and they feared retailiation.
Then someone suggested they contact the local pre-school at the Christian seminary, and they were able to inform the leader there, Mirah, of the girl’s situation. When Mirah visited the house, she fumed with anger. ‘How did this happen?’, she demanded. Beti trusted no one, so she said nothing. Borang tried to argue with Mirah, but she firmly said: ‘We’ll be watching to see if the child improves. If not, we’ll be back to talk with you.’
A week later, Beti was found wandering in a daze down the village’s dirt road. Her head was bleeding after she’d been cut with scissors. Neighbours reported the incident to Mirah, and after bandaging her head up, she wrote down a contract naming Beti the ward of the seminary. The child would never return to the witch. When the contract was presented to Borang, she said ‘She’s a lazy dog – I’m glad to be rid of her!’. No one could believe she would relinquish Beti so easily. After being cared for at the seminary, she gradually turned from the wild, frightened creature that she was to a gregarious young girl who loves to sing. She has now been adopted by the seminary’s resident cook and lives a happy, redeemed life.
This story is one of many that describes the abuse of young girls throughout the world. Beti’s story ended well, but many girls are enslaved, misused and abused just because of their gender, and in many countries there is little legislation to protect them. According to UNICEF, gender-based infanticide, abortion, malnutrition and neglect are believed to be behind sixty to one hundred million ‘missing’ from the world’s population.
An author [unknown] describes the way we often feel when we hear these stories:
As I serve the roast meat, fresh fruit and vegetables to my family, don’t tell me… about those in China who only have a cup of rice to eat each day of their lives… or those who live on garbage others throw away… or those in Africa who have to resort to eating insects to keep from starving.
As I wash, sort, and put away the permanent press, double knit, mix ‘n’ match wardrobe of my family, don’t tell me… about those who have to weave their own clothes by hand… or those who only have the clothes on their backs.
As I dust our polished furniture, vacuum our plush carpeting, and wash our sparkling china and crystal, don’t tell me…about those who live every day on the streets… who have no shelter… and whose possessions are only what they can carry.
As I sit on the verandah with a cold drink and a good book, don’t tell me… about the woman in Haiti who spends 12 hours every day pounding boulders into pebbles to earn a dollar in each week.
As I use fresh, clean water from the tap, don’t tell me… about those in Thailand and India who use the water from the river, stagnant with debris, human waste, and dead bodies.
As I sit in my comfortable, air-conditioned church building worshipping God and hearing inspiring talks, don’t tell me… of those who don’t know Jesus… or who maim themselves to serve their spirits… or who prostrate themselves before a lifeless stone God.
Don’t tell me… I am afraid to know.
Don’t tell me… I am too comfortable.
Don’t tell me… I might begin to care…
Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Could I be one of these world-changers?
As I entered into the lives of these girls with lives so different from my own – the trafficked and the abused and oppressed – I didn’t want to go home for a bit. I just wanted to sit and dwell in this kind of transcendent state where all the personal ‘stuff’ I was dealing with didn’t matter so much. Where there were suddenly possibilities and opportunities outside of this ‘cotton candy’ world I inhabit. Chances and ways to reach out.
If you want to think/pray about doing something to aid our forgotten girls and don’t know where to start, here are some websites to check out. They’re also linked up with Facebook and Twitter so you can stay connected.
* The organisation She is Safe begins with a search for women and girls at high risk of abuse and exploitation. When they identify who lives at the highest risk, they ask what issues make her vulnerable, and what the best practices are for preventing, rescuing, and restoring her from abuse and exploitation. http://sheissafe.org/
* The A21 Campaign is strongly opposed to human trafficking and has recognized a significant need for women to be rescued and restored in the region of Europe. http://www.thea21campaign.org/
Giving money, and interceding in prayer are two of the most powerful ways we can help the exploited.
“‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” – Matt 25:35