I have. I’m supposed to gather stones.
In the book of Joshua (in the Bible) the Israelites FINALLY get to cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land. In the process of crossing the river, the Lord speaks to Joshua and tells him to have one man from each of the twelve tribes go back and gather a stone. They are to carry the stone on their shoulder to the place where they stayed the night (in the middle of the riverbed that God had dried out just for them). The stones were to serve as a reminder that God cut off the flow of the water just so they could walk into the territory that had been promised to them. Hope I haven’t lost you, but this story is extremely significant to me at the moment. You see….
From 1998-2000 our family lived in a little Korean city called Tongduchon (I’m quite certain I spelled it wrong.) Those two years opened my eyes to something that I previously had no idea was going on in this great big world. I could not walk one block down the streets of Tongduchon without recognizing that all around me, women were living in slavery. I began to build relationships with girls from the Philippines who were promised the world by a woman or man who brought them to Korea and held their passports while forcing them into prostitution. My friends and I did what we could to help the girls make money outside of “the clubs” and we successfully raised money to buy the freedom of a few who were able to return home to their families. What we did never felt like enough.
While living in Korea we vacationed in Thailand. If my eyes had not been opened to the sex-trade in Korea, they had no choice but to acknowledge its ugliness in Thailand. Everywhere we went we saw older white men walking around with young Thai children that they had purchased for their time in the country. While shopping we would have flyers thrust at us by children with price lists of the sexual acts they were willing to perform. Thailand was one of my most beautiful and disgusting life experiences all rolled into one package. At the time I was five months pregnant with Seth and I cried myself to sleep on several occasions over the thought of bringing another life into a world that contained such ugliness. My heart ached for those children. Where were their mothers? I could not imagine anything I could do that would ever be enough.
In the last few months of our time in Korea we noticed a change happening in the business of sexual slavery. When we first arrived the girls were mostly Filipino. By the time we left, they were mostly Russian and Eastern European. It was a very strange phenomena to be in a place where you rarely saw anyone who looked like you and then come across someone who did and not be able to communicate with them. The Filipino girls always spoke English. The new girls did not.
A pimp rented out the apartment above us and filled it with seven or eight of these girls. My heart ached. I watched them come and go. I watched the Johns (mostly American soldiers) come and go. I heard screaming and crying through our ceiling. I smiled at them and took them cookies and brownies and ached for a conversation. Once again, I felt overwhelmed. What could I ever do that would be enough to erase the ugliness of what these girls were experiencing?
Something else happened while we lived in Korea. Several of our friends adopted children. A dialogue on the possibility of us adopting in the future began. A dialogue that eventually led us to the home of the girls who lived on the other side of my ceiling in Korea. A dialogue that led us to Sofija.
If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time you know it began as a way of documenting our adoption process. Throughout our adoption journey I never took the time to document all that took place in our lives leading up to the day Sofija found us. I find it so entertaining that we just knew she was meant to be ours when we learned about her even though we had no clue where in the world she lived. When we did find out that she was in Serbia we actually had to look at a map to see exactly where that was. And… it wasn’t until we were in Serbia (hearing the spoken language) that I began to realize that the girls living in slavery in Korea, the girls whose floor was our ceiling, must’ve come from there.
The day we met Sofija we were asked if we planned to prostitute her. It had never crossed my mind that someone might suspect we had bad intentions for her. But for the people who loved her in Serbia, such a fate was a very real possibility. We spent three weeks in Serbia seeing things through gray-cloudy lenses. The food was great. The people were beautiful. The oppression was heavy and real. There was this feeling I got anytime I was close to the girls living in slavery in Korea. The air around me would thicken. It took an extra effort just to walk or breathe or speak. It was like being under water. I felt the same thing when I saw the children in Thailand. For the entire three weeks that we were in Serbia, that feeling never lifted. I felt the yoke of slavery.
I also felt the disgrace of discrimination. People looked at us everywhere we went. Not because we looked different or spoke a different language. But because we had two children with us who are autistic. They make noises. They jump around and rock and spin and flap their arms and tap things and sniff things. People stared with disgust. We looked and looked and looked some more, but we never once saw another person in public that had any special needs. They were hidden.
Last year I returned to Serbia and had the honor of getting to know people who have dedicated their lives to breaking the yokes of slavery and discrimination in Serbia. I met parents who were forced to choose between keeping their child born with special needs and maintaining relationships with their extended family. Those same parents have dedicated their lives to educating their children and taking part in changing laws regarding special needs citizens. And… God gave me the honor of building relationships with people who have a heart to bring His message to their nation.
Which leads me to gathering stones.
While we were in Korea and Thailand and Serbia, I did often feel like I was under water. But you know what? I wasn’t. I was camped out in the middle of a river bed with the waters held back on every side of me. I could feel the pressure and the moisture, but it never consumed me. And now I have an opportunity to gather stones and take them back to that place where God held the waters back.
Those people I met who have a heart to bring God’s message of salvation and hope to Serbia have taken on something BIG. Have you ever seen the movie Faith Like Potatoes? If not, watch it on Netflix NOW! My friends have taken a ‘faith like potatoes’ leap. They have reserved two venues in Serbia for September 21st and 22nd and they have Nick Vujicic coming to speak. If you don’t know about Nick, click on his name above and read his story. He’s AMAZING! Nick was born with no limbs and he’s proven that we are not defined by what the world says we are. He’s proven that there is no special need that God cannot use. He is a bringer of hope. Oh. Did I mention that his parents are Serbian? And… we’re gonna see him at Creation Fest in June!
On May 2nd, 2011, I wrote a post called ‘set up’. Sleep evaded me that night. My heart was aching for the people of Serbia. I was there and I could see a lack of hope, a lack of God’s love, in the eyes of people everywhere I went. It was that night that I begin to beg God for opportunities to bring hope and to bring His love to the people of Serbia. Even if it’s never enough, I want to end this life saying that I gave it my all.
So… will you help me as I pick up a stone and carry it on my shoulder back to Serbia?
We’ve set up a fundraiser through wepay. I’m working this week to transform my blog to accept widgets, but for now the link will have to suffice.
I have spent a year questioning why God stopped Paul (repeatedly) from going through Serbia. Why he made him turn back south from Macedonia and didn’t let him cross the Adriatic Sea to reach Italy will be one of my first ‘Heaven questions’. Whatever God’s reasoning, I do know that he has provided a voice and a time for Serbia to hear His message. The voice is Nick Vujicic and the time is this September.