Hapsburg

For precisely seven hundred years, from 1216 to 1916, the Hapsburg Empire dominated the political world. At its peak it governed nearly all of Europe, much of the Mideast, Florida and the South West in America, a large part of Mexico and all of Central America. Its aristocracy included such notables as Katheryn of Aragon, Marie Antoinette and the Arch Duke Ferdinand. Its administrative decisions lent much to the stories of Martin Luther, Michael Cervantes and William Tell. In short, the Hapsburgs were among the most powerful people ever to walk the earth.

Despite this high standing the Hapsburg were well aware of the transit power of worldly titles. In a funeral procession typical for Hapsburg Emperors, Franz Joseph was laid to rest. The procession, led by the court High Chamberlin and knights in armor, marched to the gates of the burial priory to find the doors shut against them. The High Chamberlin knocked on the door. The abbot, who waited behind it with all his monks, asked, “Who seeks entry?” The High Chamberlin replied, “His majesty Franz Joseph I, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia, Duke of Tuscany and Illyria, King of Jerusalem, Duke of Lorraine, Grand Prince of Transylvania, Count of Hapsburg and Tyrol.”

To this the monk replied, “We do not know him. Who seeks entry?”

This time the High Chamberlin replied, “A poor sinner Franz Joseph, who begs God’s mercy.” At this point the monk commanded, “Enter” and the doors opened.

In Luke 7, John the Baptist, asked Jesus for assurance, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Think of the ways Jesus might have responded: “Tell him I am the son of God”; “say I am the Messiah”; or “I am the one known as redeemer to the prophets”. All were available replies for him. Instead he said simplify, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

More than one hundred years after the fall of the Hapsburgs, and more than two thousand years after the death of Jesus, we still seek titles: C.E.O., mega church pastor, bestselling author, wealthy entrepreneur. I wonder if we are seeking the right final resume. Perhaps we would be better served by an obituary that read, “A poor sinner, who begs God’s mercy, who helped the infirmed, and brought good news to the poor.”

Darkness

Leaving Los Angeles International Airport, the plane turned from the California coast heading for Cambodia. Whether due to cloud cover or accident of route, between the time we left the coast until breaking through the clouds a few hundred feet above the Phnom Penh airport, not a single light shown. I thought it was strange. It turned out to be a metaphor. Going back to Cambodia was a reacquaintance with darkness.

Human trafficking is the darkest of all human endeavors. A family is loaned money at a rate they cannot repay. Usury. To settle the debt, a child is given to trafficking. Slavery. To beak the child’s will, she is placed in a cage and shocked with electricity or locked in a pitch-black room with spiders and scorpions. Torture. She is sold for sexual exploitation. Rape. Aged or ill, she is put out on the street to die. Murder.

Seeing the girls on the street peering into every car hopefully, but sadly, changes one’s perspective, especially one’s perspective of the church. I was once part of the leadership that planned a large campus for a church. Included was a reflection lake which cost over one million dollars to build. I used to look into the lake with pride for the small part I had in bringing beauty to the church campus. Now when I look into it, I can’t help but see the reflection of the poor girls which the money could have saved. What brought some beauty to the well-off could have ended much ugliness for the poor.

Isaiah 58:6-9 says:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Dr. Martin Luther King once wrote; “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I think his statement may be rewritten for today’s church, “In the end it is not the shiny bright campuses we remember, but the silence of the church in the face of darkness.” This year we hope to purchase seven acres and build a recovery center, supported by the United Pastors of Cambodia, for girls rescued from trafficking. A small light in the darkness.

Concrete Walls

Before traveling to Sri Lanka I never thought that stark concrete walls, enclosing a cold concrete floor adorned with abutted mattresses, could be a place of sanctuary, a bastion of hope. But to the twenty young girls who live in the tiny structure behind Kithu Savana church in Colombo, Sri Lanka, it is all of that and more. It is safety, family, hope and rescue tightly wrapped within walls in need of repair, under a leaky roof. Each child sheltered there has fallen prey to unspeakable crimes.  They have been orphaned, abandoned and sold. Each has been exposed to the kind of abuses that no fourteen year old girl should know about, much less have to have to endure.  These are the unspoken hurts that echo off those concrete walls.  

Pastor Adrian and his staff have given these children more than shelter from abuse, but a family that embraces them, guides them, and teaches to overcome these secret hurts.  The cold walls had been warmed by prayer banners. The echoes of crying from the unspeakable injuries they had suffered were being replaced by the echoes of laughter that stream from the tiny rooms. Looking again I saw how this rickety structure was beautiful with seen from through the eyes of those it protects. 

 Along with that protection and each child receives vocational training, spiritual guidance and personal healing of hurts. Each child is strengthened to move out into the world and make room for the next occupant of the most beautiful building I have ever seen.

An Anniversary Story

I spent my 35th anniversary with my wife in a brothel in Phnom Penh. Cambodia. That’s something not a lot of people can say. We weren’t there for perverse recreation but to learn more about trafficking. We knew about trafficking in a dry, statistical, infomercial kind of way. But our Asian partner, Pastor Adrian DeVisser wanted us to know more.  The brothels in Cambodia masquerade as karaoke clubs. Arriving at a club a young women led us to an evaluator taking us to the second floor of the five story building. Leaving the elevator we passed a series of wooden doors designed to conceal small bedrooms. Each had a red light at its apex. The red was glowing over the closed doors and dark over the open ones.

Soon after entering a reception room several thirteen or fourteen year old girls arrived. They were dressed as our daughters would be before attending a high school prom. Overly made-up faces shined above prom dresses adorned with numbers. The girls smiled and flirted with us. We asked for a song and were greeted with confused faces. A song. Well this is a karaoke club right? A manager was called. Puzzled, he found a microphone and some background music, but none of the girls could think of a song to sing. Finally one girl reluctantly and haltingly worked her way through a song. We thanked them, left money for the use of the room and left.

On our way back to the hotel our partner told us that each floor of the building held increasingly younger girls. I sat in the hotel lobby for some time after we arrived. I thought of those teenage girls in their prom dresses and how much their nights varied from the excitement and pageantry of our own daughters’ proms. I couldn’t shake the images from my mind. For the first time in my life I wanted to kill someone. I wanted to return to the brothel and wreak havoc on everyone who ran it. As fulfilling as that would have been, it wouldn’t have changed much, and change is needed.

For the past two years we have sponsored conferences with local pastors and NGO leaders. Our partner developed a five part long term plan to combat trafficking: (1) a school education program teaching children their rights (2) a media campaign designed to change the Cambodians worldview on child abuse (3) coordination of church and NGO attacks on trafficking (4) establishing rescue and rehabilitation sanctuaries for children (5) political activity designed to gain government support for anti-trafficking measures.

 Now we are ready to build a rescue home supported by coordinated partnership efforts. Through this plan my prayer is that someday no one else will have an anniversary story like mine.

(For more information about trafficking in Cambodia please view the adjoining video.)

Cambodia Trafficking

 

A Permenent Presence

Dr. Gail Lawrence surveyed the seemingly endless line. Although there had been little advertising, the word that an American doctor would be leading a free medical clinic found its way throughout the island. Despite the number of patients Gail stayed until each was treated. Still she had concerns. Who would do the follow-up? What would happen when the prescriptions ran out? The treatments were helpful, sometimes critical, but a permanent presence was needed.

Because on this need, several year later we opened a medical clinic in Sri Lanka’s Free Trade Zone, a district filled with sweat-shops that employ thousands of young village girls. The Trade Zone sees over 200 medical calls per day but its employees cannon afford private care and cannot benefit from the woeful public care. At the Trade Zone Medical Center the patients pay, if they can, what they can. Otherwise treatment is free. The medical care is a match for any private medical facility on the island. A permanent presence at last.

A Monks Tale

One day after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, a monk moved frantically through the debris field of his ruined temple. Scouring among broken furniture, ruined computers and soggy religious artifacts he stacked the salvageable items in the middle of his land. “Can we help you brother?” The monk turned to see three young men gathered at the edge of his property. “Please, please”, the monk called out.

And so they helped, and continued to help for the next three days, until everything that could be restored, was restored. “I haven’t seen you before, why were you so caring of me?” the monk asked. One of the three replied. “We are Christians from the church just south of town. We helped because you needed it and that is what we believe in.” The monk got very quiet, mumbled a final thanks and turned away.

Three days later the three helpers were at their church when they noticed the monk slowly, reluctantly moving towards then. Looking down he stammered, “You remember you church was burned down three months ago. That was my doing. I am so sorry and will make sure no one bothers you again.” So far he has been true to his word.

Acts of grace change thing, they change minds, even among those with different beliefs, with different gods.

Picking up an Education

The children of Phnom Penh’s Jesus school live in a dump. Literally. Each day they leave homes cobbled together from discarded material, walk a dirt street hard-packed by tut-tuts and trucks dropping off refuse, pass random fires and a small pond that screams pollution and, ignoring the penetrating smell, make their way to the Jesus School. So, why aren’t they miserable?

The school boasts a few classrooms divided among two hundred children. The classrooms can be crowded, but they’re good enough to house the children. The whiteboards have holes in them, but they’re good enough to hold the lessons. The chairs and desks are worn, but they’re good enough to support the kids. A single fan shoulders the burden of cooling each twenty by twenty classroom. It barely stirs the air, but it is good enough.

The children here are very good at good enough. Each day they leave for school at seven. At eleven they begin a three-hour break. They adjourn school and return to the dump heap, searching for something that was discarded by the poor people in a poor country, something which still holds enough value to sell or trade for a day’s worth of food. Then they return and study until five when, once again, they search the dump for something good enough to bring them food. Good enough keeps them alive.

They don’t see the Jesus School through western eyes. They see the excellent teachers, the care given by those who serve there, and the free tuition. They don’t focus on the parts of the school that are just good enough, they see the treasure that hides behind. We see that garbage strewn street as leading from the school back to their homes at the dump. They see that same street leading from their homes to the future. They see the whiteboards, stifling rooms and rickety desks, as sight flaws in a diamond.

Smart kids.

(Grace Opens Doors and Salt Church were honored to send $9000.00 USD to the Jesus School. Three thousand was used to care for the families after a recent community fire. Six thousand will be used to provide a covering for the school’s play area, new white boards, shelves for books and four new computers.)