Most of you will remember a couple of months ago I asked my old friend Robin Jones, from my conservative evangelical days (classmate at Moody Bible Institute!), to write some guest posts for the blog. Robin is active in and knowledgeable about the kinds of social work some evangelical organizations and the evangelical Christians connected with them engage in. Most of us are blithely ignorant of such things, knowing evangelicals only by reputation and bad press (understandably). But in fact some are doing a world of good in a world of suffering, reaching out in ways others of us simply don’t or can’t, helping those we ourselves may desperately wish we too could help.
Robin’s first post was very moving, and can be found here: https://ehrmanblog.org/evangelicals-who-make-the-world-a-better-place-guest-post-by-robin-jones/ . Here now is a second.
This Little Light of Mine
A Christian and an atheist walk into a bar…
Actually, as we all know, a Christian wouldn’t be caught dead in a bar (unless, of course, no one from church was around, and they were really, really thirsty)!
Ok, that isn’t exactly true either, but it does make for a good opening to a story about two vastly different worldviews brought together to do something important…change lives.
While Christians and atheists differ on many significant issues there are some basic values that we most likely all agree on, among them that all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity, and that abuse and exploitation in any form is abhorrent.
And we probably also agree that life has a strange way of taking random twists and turns, although Christians may have somewhat different interpretations as to why. Atheists, I would guess, sees these random events as, well… random. While Christians view them as being overseen by God for a specific and eternal purpose.
Living in the unfolding drama of seemingly random events was the experience of several people from Oklahoma City. In a city with a population of more than a million, their lives weren’t likely to intersect. But then some random things began to happen.
Lori Basey, a trauma occupational therapist and her friend Sandy Orchard, a registered nurse, often found themselves discussing their mutual desire to use their skills and training to make a bigger impact, perhaps with people in developing countries. People who, like many of their patients in the U.S., were struggling with physical, psychological, and emotional issues yet had no access to professional assistance.
After much prayer, conversation and “throwing ideas against the wall,” these two quiet, unheralded women began No Boundaries, an organization specifically focused on bringing education, counseling, health assistance, and the hope of the gospel to those in physical and psychological crisis. By coming alongside people in need their organization was committed to following the example of Christ and simply love people by offering physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual support and healing. With that goal, they began traveling to several African countries with a team of volunteers and unpaid professionals to strategically provide assistance.
While in Africa, several years into their efforts, Lori had a life-threatening bout of malaria and returned home to hospitalization and weeks of recuperation. This became a time of reflection and stillness for both she and Sandy, after which they felt it was time to not only return to their mission but, in fact, broaden its reach. They just were not certain where or how.
And then their paths crossed with Tom.
Tom was a regular guy, living in a regular apartment, with a regular job. Tom also happened to be an atheist.
Through a random series of conversations, he had heard about the efforts of No Boundaries and sought out Lori and Sandy with a challenge.
Tom’s concern was that he kept seeing prostitution brazenly displayed on the streets of his neighborhood; it was becoming a “red light” district. And it bothered him. A lot. Knowing that these women were being used and discarded sickened him and he was determined to do something about it. So, he began publicly focusing negative attention on these activities. Ultimately, however, his efforts were not enough to bring about significant change.
So, when he heard about No Boundaries and its work among neglected people in other countries, he decided to introduce Lori and Sandy to the needs in their very own backyard. And that is how they came to learn about the nefarious underbelly of prostitution and sex trafficking in middle America.
Thanks to Tom’s challenge, and with a new awareness of the needs at home, Lori and Sandy now knew where they needed to expand… the streets of Oklahoma City. Although Tom certainly would not have considered their connection to have been divinely orchestrated, Lori and Sandy could definitely see the fingerprints of God all over it.
No Boundaries stateside strategy would be simple, engage with prostitutes as Christ did. Over and over in the gospels we see Christ intentionally seeking out women (also a discarded, invisible people group in his day), including prostitutes, to have conversations with them, really see them, and ultimately allow His love to change their lives.
Today, prostitutes mostly live hidden away in the shadows of a dark world, unknown and uncared for by much of society. No Boundaries sees them. And then meets them on their terms, on their streets, and in their lives. That may look like a friendly conversation at 2 a.m., an offer of a cup of coffee, a blanket on a cold evening, or a backpack filled with things like soap, toothbrush, toothpaste and a new pair of socks. But by meeting tangible needs with genuine concern they are, as the saying goes, “being Jesus with skin on.”
Which brings us to the next random encounter, Gwyneth.
Like Lori and Sandy, Gwyneth grew up in the suburbs of Oklahoma City playing sports, taking ballet lessons and living the life of an average American kid. Although her father was an alcoholic, her mother did her best to provide a loving home. Some of her earliest memories were of baking Christmas cookies with her mom. Cookies they would leave for Santa and then, while Gwyneth slept, her mom would secretly sprinkle glitter around the room, and take a few cookies off the plate so that her little girl would wake up believing she lived in a world of magic.
Unfortunately, the magic disappeared when at the age of 11 her mother died of brain cancer and her life changed forever. Old enough to know she didn’t want to live with her father, she moved in with an aunt and uncle. But as she entered her teenage years she began to rebel and sneak out of the house looking for fun. One evening at a party when she was 14, she met a 27-year-old man who made her believe she was special. Ignoring her aunt and uncle’s objections she began sneaking out to see him.
In the early days of their relationship he would do all the right things to make her feel he really loved and understood her. In reality, true to the nature of a predator, he was grooming her for a role she had no idea she would soon play.
Eventually their exclusive sexual relationship turned into more when he said, “if you really love me you will have sex with my friends too.” Believing this was love, she did.
Her childhood gone, and her boyfriend now her pimp, she became a prostitute. For the next 14 years she was the property of this man whose intentions were no longer focused on her personality and companionship, but only on the money she brought in.
Then, at 28 the trajectory of her life changed when she and her pimp were arrested.
While he remained jailed, she was released which was the big break she needed. Faced suddenly with an opportunity to be free she remembered the chance encounter she had a year or so earlier with the No Boundaries team and a backpack she received with a small business card tucked inside. She found a phone and called.
After years of prostitution Gwyneth’s needs were many. One of the first appointments No Boundaries arranged for her was with Dr. Michelle Kenzie. In their initial consultation, Gwyneth immediately recognized Dr. Kenzie as her childhood pediatrician. As a Christian Dr. Kenzie believed every child was important to God and so, she had a practice of pinning pictures of her little patients on her office bulletin board as a reminder to pray for them. Gwyneth’s picture was still there. Unbeknownst to her, far from being forgotten, she had been the recipient of years of quietly spoken, faithful prayers.
With a relationship based on real care and concern Gwyneth was able to hear Dr. Kenzie’s words of hope, encouragement, and possibility. Believing she had value and worth to God she made the bold decision to walk out of the shadows and into a new life.
Gwyneth has come a long way since those days. She became a drug rehabilitation honor student, received job skills training, got a job, and found housing for her and her young son. She is doing well. Although her healing process will be lifelong, she now has tools, truth and real friends to guide her.
Hers is just one of many stories.
Today, No Boundaries is a lot more than just two friends trying to help people. It is a team of trained and dedicated volunteers, as well as a staff of professionals. Every year these individuals engage with about 350 women enslaved in prostitution, offering an outstretched hand and the tools for transformative healing. Each one of their 15 staff members serve full-time, in an unpaid capacity. Instead of receiving the lucrative salaries their professional status could earn them, they have chosen to simply trust that God will care for them just as they are caring for these women.
So, while a Christian and an atheist may not have actually walked into a bar, what for all outward appearances looked to be just a random encounter and challenge to work in the city’s “red light” district, actually was the unmistakably loving hand of God orchestrating events between the strangest of bedfellows so that the “light of the world” would shine in a very dark place.