Sunday, January 24, 2016

22: Myanmar - New horizons

So.  Myanmar.

I am not sure if I even know where to begin.  I feel as if I had the opportunity to watch a divine tapestry being woven.

On the first night of the trip we attended a grand opening of a multi-national church plant in Myanmar.  As part of the service, a lovely group of young women shared a dance they had learned together.  One of these young women shared through a translator that she did not deserve to be worshipping in that place, but that she celebrated the fact that Jesus had covered her sins.  She rejoiced that because He was worthy, and she was His, she was free.  I later found out that these women were all living and working together in the process of being restored from the trauma of being trafficked.

The term "trafficked"actually sounds too clinical to me, even though it is the correct term.  In the case of the women we met in Myanmar, being trafficked means being tricked, taken against their will, often times drugged and beaten, and even locked in a room, a shed, or chained to a bed until the captive demonstrated that she would be obedient.  This abuse can happen both in brothel communities and in cases in which young women are purchased as wives for men in China.  One shy and beautiful young woman we met walked with a limp from having her hip crushed in an escape attempt.

Later in the week, we visited the workshop where these young women heal and learn job and financial skills and adjust to a life with a regular routine.  The founder of the ministry, who engages regularly with workers in the red-light districts, explained that girls in Myanmar are lacking in the street smarts and awareness that could help them avoid being trafficked.  She told us that there is a dire need in Myanmar to provide awareness prevention tactics to pre-teen and teen girls who are most at risk.

Now, get this.

The remarkable woman who is investing her time, money and talent into reaching workers in the sex industry is a She is Safe partner in China.  She is also married to a man whom God has called to do humanitarian work with impoverished children in developing countries through mentorship and strategic partnerships.   He is currently serving as an advisor to an organization in Myanmar that is establishing programs for young children in the slums of Myanmar.  The programs seek to improve opportunities for children through education, relationship and training.

However, as they went around to the five different communities where they work, the leader of the program noticed something.  Although the program was intended for younger children, a surprising number of teenage girls were showing up each week, wanting to participate and interact.  In the process of working with younger children, the children's outreach staff was also building relationships with the teenagers, many of whom were no longer in school because of family relocation to the city or failure to pass exams.

Circumstances--poverty, innocence and halted education--put these teen girls at high risk for abuse and exploitation.   Fortunately, their circumstances also put them in relationship with people who knew the importance of awareness training and education.  The team began discussing the possibility of adding a program exclusively for teen girls in each of the communities where they worked.

Enter She is Safe.

Last May, She is Safe began exploring a partnership with the Myanmar organization to support their work with children and assist them in starting a program for teen girls.  Together they sought God's direction, set goals, and began raising funds to begin the teen program.

The trip I joined this December was a follow-up trip to the May meeting.  During our first meeting, my friend Katy introduced the concept of Transformation Groups, and what the ministry might look like in the context of Myanmar.  Her explanation generated great enthusiasm in our partners, as they could see the potential for impacting the communities where they are already engaged.

The next day we saw why.  As we accompanied the Myanmar workers on their rounds to the different communities, we noticed in a few of them that not only were teenagers coming to participate, the mothers returning from work often stopped to watch as well.

Right there, in those five communities, relationships are being built with children, teens and mothers. These relationships are critical, because the culture is intensely relational; nothing happens without first establishing relationship.  Because of the initial efforts of the She is Safe partner, these five communities are now ripe for  multi-pronged prevention efforts based on the relationships that have been nurtured over the past year.  With proper resources and staffing, She is Safe partners are poised to empower children with education and hope, equip teenage girls with preventive awareness and opportunities, and mothers with self-governing Transformation Groups that can enrich their communities on many levels.

She is Safe and their partners are ready to begin the work.  Are you ready to help?


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