And Jesus responds: "Your brother will rise again. I am the RESURRECTION and the LIFE. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall He live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"
Martha was the assertive one, running to Jesus, accusing Him, crying unashamedly with Him, yet also proclaiming that she believed He had the power to raise her brother. Mary was the solemn one, hiding away in her sorrow, unable to come out until Jesus called for her- then she quickly went to Him. We all process our trials, our mourning, our pain in different ways, but in the end, what matters is that we respond to Jesus, and even in our tears, pleading, and struggle-that we offer up words of faith. As He is coming for us, we must go to meet Him to find the answers.
Jesus reminded them, "Did I not tell you, that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" And thus He called Lazarus out of the tomb. The dead man came out in obedience to the Master's voice. He was bound with linen, his hands and feet tied. Jesus declared, "Unbind him and let him go!"
Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. What incredible truth is stored up in this one verse, 44. We who are bound by the entanglements of the world (abuse, fear, neglect, sickness, shame, loneliness, poverty, insecurity, sin, addiction, pride, the list goes on...) Jesus is calling us out of our dark tombs. We must hear the Lord's voice calling and walk to meet Him. And He declares over our lives: "UNBIND HIM/HER! LET MY BELOVED GO FREE!" And the grave clothes fall off, and we are free indeed, because the God-Man Who is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE sets us free by Words of Life He speaks over our hearts- promises written in the book of eternity, yet to unfold in our lives. What grave clothes are you walking in today? Are you in despair and darkness, my friend? Do you hear the loving, all-powerful voice of Jesus, calling you to come out of the grave and walk in the abundant life of freedom He has promised? Are you allowing Him to strip away your grave clothes that have bound your wrists and ankles for too long?
And so this morning I saw first-hand what
it looks like for those grave clothes to have come off, and for women who were once bound, now walking in freedom and life. Michelle and I took a taxi to another part of Manila, seeing more of the urban poverty that is so heart-wrenching on our drive. We passed by the local bars (really just slum shacks with Christmas lights strung inside for an exciting night glow). These bars are where missionaries, Michelle and Krys, and three servant leaders (rescued women who now work to release other women from chains of human trafficking) go every Friday night to do outreach. They literally risk their lives in these dangerous zones, where violence, corruption, and abuse take place, to go into these bars and build relationships with the women. Confronted by the threat of floor managers (pimps who are "servicing out" these women in extreme poverty, exposing them to cheap sex and risk of violence/gang rape), these missionaries are bold like lions ("The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion." Proverbs 28:1). It is still hard for me to wrap my mind around this kind of ministry that walks right into the darkest places of evil, and brings the burning light of Christ to set souls free. Their bravery is uncommon in this world.
Then a few miles down the road, in a safer community, we arrived at Samaritana, (www.samaritana.org) the home for the rescued women, where they are healed, discipled, taught life skills, have literacy programs, learn to cook and clean, and have sustainable income opportunities through crafts. I cannot describe the feeling when we walked in. I closed my umbrella, walked through the gate, into this peace-filled SANCTUARY of hope. We walked through the open air rock garden toward steps leading downstairs where the women were having morning devotions. About three dozen pairs of flip-flops were at the door, and I knew in that instant, as we removed our shoes, that I would be stepping into a holy moment. I felt like Moses before the burning bush. God called out to him as he removed his shoes, "Moses, you are going to free my people!" Am I also called to free your people, Lord? But I have no experience, no knowledge, and so many excuses. My little heart calls out in wonder, might this holy moment be leading to something greater...some chance to be a liberator of life?
We walk down the steps and I can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. The women in the program are leading the devotions, taking ownership of their faith and declaring the promises of God in their beautiful Tagalog dialect. We pray with palms lifted toward heaven. Their lovely faces filled with exquisite joy in simple worship. Then we close our eyes and I hear the most glorious sound I've heard in the longest time...every one of their voices in unison begin to sing a prayer. I know not what the words are, but find out later it is "Our Father" -the Filipino version. I honestly felt in that moment that I was hearing what heaven will one day sound like. I am sure angels' voices could not be sweeter. Here I sat in awe- voices of hope, in a sanctuary of peace, where lives are transformed, and souls are set free. The grave clothes have been taken off. Light has come and reached the darkest places. Beauty is allowed to shine in once battered and bruised lives.
The rest of our morning was joyous. I had the opportunity to sing for these sisters in Christ, exchange lots of hugs, see them making their arts and crafts (their lovely hand-made cards are sold at www.sanctuaryspring.com), smell their delicious Filipino cooking, and laugh with them. A funny thing happened, too. As women, we all have our insecurities and hang-ups. We all want to be beautiful, and let me tell you, these women are so very beautiful! But they were quite taken by my white skin, touching my arms...AND mesmerized by my nose, of all things! I had to laugh, because the two things about my appearance that I struggled with growing up was my light skin and my nose, which endured a break or maybe a few, and two painful surgeries to try to control chronic nosebleeds. They all asked me what I do to keep my skin so light, ha! One of the girls, as I hugged her goodbye, inquired with the sweetest grin, "May I please touch your nose?" I said yes, of course, and she had so much fun as she lightly put her thumb and forefinger on my nose a few times. We all giggled like children. And I look at these women thinking, "Their small rounded Asian noses are adorable! The nose I always wanted! And every American girl would pay to have their dark, lovely skin!" Oh the ironies of life...what were created with, we're dissatisfied in. What we take for granted, another treasures and desires! I have to say, tonight, I've never felt more content with who I was made to be...somehow this funny exchange with the women reminded me how much we are all created individually, uniquely beautiful. Krys, one of the incredible & lovely missionaries reminded me today from The Velveteen Rabbit: "But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." (Margery Williams)
And so I learned what coming alive is. What beauty is. Oh, did I mention?...I experienced an earthquake this evening on the third floor of a massive mall in Manila, as I was praying aloud over dinner, "Lord, protect us on our journey this week..." Michelle grabbed my arm, her instinct to cover me from the glass walls & doors right behind me! Well...the Lord protected us! Flooding...earthquake...as they say here to attract tourists: "Everything is more fun in the Philippines!"
P.S. To find out more about the ministry here with the women and how you can be involved, visit www.madeinhope.org!