The first week of October, I visited Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines with Love146, an organization dedicated to the end of child trafficking and exploitation. This is the final of three posts this week about that trip. Here’s a link to the first, and to the second.
There’s this picture from the last night of our trip. I’m holding a bandurria, a short-necked guitar with fourteen strings, reminiscent of a mandolin. I’ve never held one before, but it’s close enough to a guitar that I’m finding my way around. In the picture my head is down, eyes focused on what my thick fingers are doing on this fragile instrument. Facing me is a young girl, probably six or seven years old, the one whose smile lights me up inside. In the picture, her small, delicate hand is on mine, showing me where to place my fingers, teaching me “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” In a few moments, I’ve got it down and we play together, laughing and smiling. A friend sent me the picture a couple days ago, and when I see it, it brings back the tears I held back that entire night.
The last night of the trip was spent in Manila visiting the White and Round Homes. When Love146 first started, they worked with International Justice Mission and asked, “what can we do to help children?” And the answer from IJM was, “we need aftercare.” So, in response, Love146 started the Round Home, a home for rescued girls, staffed with therapists. In time, a home for boys – the White Home – was added as well.
I don’t know exactly what I expected, but I didn’t expect to be near tears the entire evening. After we briefly visited the White Home, all the boys and girls gathered at the Round Home to show us the gardens, goats, quail, chickens and catfish pond. And then they sang for us, played the instruments they are learning and ate with us. At the end of the evening a spontaneous dance party broke out and even the staff joined in.
I’m still struggling to put into words what was so magical about that night, but I’ll do my best. After spending the previous week seeing people in the trenches trying to help boys and girls find a better life and after walking through the “entertainment” districts of Bangkok, this was the first time where we witnessed what redemption looks like. Sometimes, in our desire to help, we can be so serious, so focused on the evils in the world and what needs to be done, that we miss out on celebration. But that night at the Round Home, a celebration erupted.
[Theological Aside: The Bible is full of imagery that at the Redemption of all Things, there is joyous celebration and feasting. Even in the Hebrew Scriptures, a part of the tithe was set aside to but whatever one desired – strong drink included – and to celebrate!]
Throughout the night I’d have these moments where I would ask myself, “what hells and horrors have these children been witness to?” and then, I would get swept away again by their laughter, their joy in song and dance and the beauty of being alive. And no, their abuse can never be undone, but because of the work of Love146, because of the generosity of many donors, because of the work of the staff at the Round Home, these girls are on the pathway of redemption – their future is brighter.
Before I left on this trip, people would ask me, “what do you hope to get out your trip?” and my truest answer was, “I don’t know. I’m going because the opportunity arose and I want to say ‘yes’ to the universe when it comes calling.”
I still don’t know all the words to say in answer to the question. It was an intense experience. I carried a book of poetry by Brian Andreas with me on the trip and this poem, called “Veteran Traveller,” says it so well:
carries a lot of suitcases
but all of them are empty
because she’s expecting
to completely fill them
with life by the end of
& then she’ll come home
& sort everything out
& do it all over again
I experienced a lot of life by the end of this trip. (I haven’t even talked about my 24 hours of severe food poisoning in Cambodia!) And I’m still sorting it out, still trying to figure out my place in all of this. I wish I had gobs of money that I could give. That last night at the Round Home, I could have given anything that was asked of me. For right now, I know that I can give my voice and my energy to this.
So, one last time, I’m asking you consider giving to Love146. After seeing, up close and personal, what they do, who they are and what they’re about, I can vouch for them. I believe in what they do.
If you have any questions, or want to know more about my trip, I’d love to sit with you over a coffee or a beer and tell you more, or, if you live farther away, send me an email, I’ll respond in a timely manner.If you liked this post, please share it!