I feel like I need to explain my statement in a previous post that God did not use me in Myanmar. It doesn't mean that God had no purpose for sending me. It's just that I suspect that the primary purpose for this trip was not so much for me to be used by God to save others, but rather for God to teach me. I hope that in sharing what I've learned, however, the trip will have value beyond just my personal enrichment.
This trip felt like a bringing together of several strands of knowledge that I've been learning since a trip to Haiti in 2010, but the short version is this: There is a right and a wrong way to engage internationally to foster justice and fight oppression, and She is Safe does it right.
I saw the results of "aid gone wrong" on a post-earthquake trip to Haiti. Although I couldn't have put my finger on it at the time, I was troubled by a rather dependent mind-set on the part of many (but by no means all) Haitians whose answer to difficult times was to request money or rescue from their wealthier non-Haitian contacts. In hindsight, I believe the attitude is one WE created over decades of well-intentioned but poorly designed efforts to help the struggling nation.
In their book Helping Without Hurting, Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert suggest that "helping" can actually hurt the recipient because it too often fails to address the roots of the problem. For example, many programs by churches and humanitarian organizations have the goal of poverty alleviation. However, the programs have an incomplete and unbiblical view of poverty as a lack of material goods or financial opportunity. In this view, the "solution" is too often simply to give the needy the material goods that are lacking.
In reality, this approach is merely treating a symptom of the much deeper and more complex psychological and social roots that lead to poverty. As a result, our well-intentioned handouts have the unintended side effects of creating dependency, undermining the dignity of the materially poor, and perpetuating the underlying causes of poverty.
Corbett and Fikkert prescribe a more biblical and holistic view of poverty as "rooted in broken relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation." Using the Bible as their guide, the authors propose modeling development efforts after God's mission of what they call "comprehensive reconciliation" in ways that restore not just material possessions, but opportunity, dignity, and an appreciation of one's identity as a divine image-bearer.
Applying the perspectives offered by Corbett and Fikkert to the important anti-trafficking work that is much more in the spotlight these days, I can see how I have made similar errors in thinking. When I first learned of the extent of human-trafficking in the world--and particularly sex-trafficking--my response was what I hope most people's would be: "We have got to stop this! We have to rescue the women and children enduring such horrors!"
It's not wrong thinking, but it is incomplete. Yes, we must have programs that work directly to rescue people from slavery and exploitation. However, until we address the underlying systems of thought and culture that foster the treatment of humans as property, until we attack thinking that elevates personal gratification over all else, trafficking will continue to flourish.
Such an approach is a daunting undertaking: It is slow, complicated, messy, and definitely not for the faint of heart. On my trip to Myanmar, I had the privilege of seeing such efforts walked out by She is Safe staff members and their partners in Myanmar. Seeing all of my book-learning walked out in practice in a context that is so ripe with opportunity is why I can say with confidence that my trip was a success despite the fact that I rescued no one.
If I were a real blogger, here's how things would have gone down:
After my initial posts about my invitation to travel with She is Safe, I would have shared regular updates chronicling my thoughts and the process of preparing to go halfway around the world. Instead, what I will offer (I hope) is an after-the-fact processing of the journey.
Since I'm still waiting for my brain to get home from Myanmar, this will likely come in scattered snippets (mostly because that's how it's coming to me).
After reading my last post about the trip, I recognize a major shift that has occurred in my thinking and my "justification" for going. As you can imagine, it's not cheap to travel more than halfway around the globe, and most of my turmoil while preparing for the trip was using the generous contributions of other people to fund a trip on which I had no clear role. It's incredibly awkward to be asked, "So what will you be doing in Myanmar?" when the only honest answer is, "I don't really know."
After reading Helping Without Hurting, I was able to have a certain degree of peace, but that was mainly because I felt that even if I didn't know what my job was on this trip, God did. I felt a sense of anticipation about seeing how God would use me.
Now I'm back, and do you know what? He didn't. I can probably kiss any future fundraising for trips goodbye with this statement, but God had no use for me on this trip--and I am completely okay with it.
Here's what I've discovered: Sometimes God puts a fire in a person's heart and gives a vision, a purpose, a passion, and a commission to carry out a task. In fact, on this trip I was privileged to travel with two such people and meet several more.
In my case, however, I don't know that this was a commissioning event or an issuing of a grand task--at least not right now. Rather, I had the very humbling yet liberating sense in Myanmar that He was just inviting me along to learn and gain some understanding of how He's working there.
He didn't want to use me, He wanted to show me.
I'm not sure if I can articulate what a gift it was during a spiritually lonely and frustrating season to feel that the God of the Universe just wanted me with Him, as a child and a friend, to watch Him work and feel His love for all people.
So, I guess my first take-away is for all of us goal-oriented Americans with a hidden hero complex and a need to perform:
It's okay--vital even--just to be the sidekick sometimes.