Monday, June 20, 2011

How Jesus Has Liberated Women: My Story

Alana Hiha, from the YWAM tribe, reaching out and
befriending a Lahu (?) child that day in 1984.
Art Sandborn told us, before we visited this village in northern Thailand, about another visit a team he led had paid to it the year before. 

 The Christian outreach team, which was doing evangelism and various good works, had to spend the night in the village.  Villagers told the men to say in one house, and the women in another.  The men were then asked, "How about a girl for the night?"  Villagers were willing to sell their daughters, and no doubt in the past had sold their daughters, for a pathetically low price. 

They didn't know that AIDS was just around the bend. 

These colorfully-dressed girls
were playing a game with nuts where we drove
into the village.  
I had heard about the problems hills tribes in the Golden Triangle were facing while we were in Hong Kong preparing for the trip.  Much of the territory was disputed between a patchwork of states, tribes, and drug warlords. Nationalists from China were well-armed, and the Burmese government was trying (and is still sometimes trying) to snuff out resistance among hill tribes, at any cost. Opium and heroin were staples of the economy, and girls were trafficked across porous borders for the enormous sex trade that had grown up in Thailand.
Theoretically, there seems little reason why any of this should have bothered me.  "No man is an island," John Donne pointed out.  But according to John Hartung, cited by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, evolution cannot easily explain why we should care about those who belong to different tribes from ourselves.  Furthermore, both Dawkins and Hartung believe that the God of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, exacerbates the tendency towards tribal myopia that evolution already programs into us. 

In fact, many Westerners and Japanese who visited Thailand seemed to welcome such attitudes, and the cheap sex and drugs that came with them.  What is more natural?  Whatever feeble instinct we might have towards universal compassion, surely history shows that the male instinct for getting laid is far stronger!

But while in Hong Kong, I had taken to reading the prophet Isaiah. It almost seemed as if he were touched by the plight of such pitiful hill tribes:

“How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness . . . ’”

Isaiah’s searing denunciation of oppression also caught my eye:

“But this is a people plundered and despoiled; all of them are trapped in caves, or are hidden away in prisons; they have become a prey with none to deliver them, and a spoil, with none to say, ‘Give them back!’” (42:22)

Girls were, in fact, sometimes chained to beds. The police having been bribed, indeed, no one did seem to stand up and say, "Give them back!" I underlined the last lines of a passage from Isaiah 61 in red, where he seemed to offer hope, though:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners.”

And sketched in an arrow to link the human acts which Isaiah said in Chapter 58 would lead to a divine response: 

“Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free . . . Then your light will break out like the dawn . . . “ (58:6)

And now here we were, and here was the terrible darkness that Isaiah had seemed to be writing about in passages that had struck me so forcibly back in Hong Kong.  There were the girls who were being bound, hidden away in prisons, despoiled, a prey with none to say "Give them back!"

While the rest of the team set up to put on a dramatic show about the life and death of Jesus, I went behind the hut to pray. 
Snake Alley, Taiwan; I took
this picture on the sly, thus
the weird angle.

I had been praying, as an evangelical, since I was a boy, but this time, something out of the ordinary seemed to happen.  I suddenly seemed to see this village as if it were in itself and entire planet.  I seemed to hear (not verbally) a voice saying,

"Just as my Son entered the world, so my children also need to enter into this little world, and give their lives for it." 

I began to weep for these girls.   

I never returned to that village.  But years later, while living in Taiwan and encountering horrible forms of sexual exploitation (see picture above right), I began crusading against the sex trade there, and for the young women who were exploited by it.  I wrote articles for a local newspaper, preached in churches, and sent out letters to alert churches in tribal villages. 

Along the way, I met others who seemed to have heard the same call.  I visited an American-Taiwanese couple who had a dramatic conversion experience from the drug culture (he was a Vietnam vet), and ran a rehab center for drug addicts, also taking in prostitutes rescued by the police.  I met Baptists and Presbyterians who ran centers for such girls, and a YWAM group in the Philippines who helped 150 women a year out of the sex trade. I visited Jackie Pullinger, the charismatic English woman who tells her story in Chasing the Dragon.  The woman who served us water had spent a lifetime as a prostitute. 

Studying world history, I came to the conclusion that this reaction of Christian compassion to those "hidden away" in brothels, while on far too small a scale still, was no fluke.  The Gospel of Jesus, I came to believe, has done more to liberate more women, than any other force in human history. 

And there is evidence that the teachings not just of Isaiah, but the teachings and example of Jesus even more, have had such a dramatic effect.  Let us move, now, from the intimate scale of "personal testimony," to the broadest scale of planetary sociological research.

In the following section, I will offer an overview from a UN study that describes the status of women in 99 countries around the world, and show how Christian influence generally correlates to a higher status for women. Then I'll argue historically that the Gospel itself is responsible for elevating billions of women around the world, even in "non-Christian" countries like Thailand and Taiwan.  After that, I'll consider every passage in the gospels related to women, and show where that power originated.


John W. Loftus said...

I applaud you David, for trying to end the sex trafficking you saw. I am appalled at the human race for this kind of stuff in the modern world, not only for the traffickers but those who pay for it.

David B Marshall said...

Amen! Cool tie, BTW.