Since 2012, the United Nations marks 11 October as the ‘International Day of the Girl Child’. It is a day to promote girls' human rights, and addresses the various forms of discrimination and abuse suffered by girls around the world. It seems like today is an appropriate day to give voice to the silent stories of my girls in Dominican Republic; to proclaim that in the midst of the injustice of poverty, abandonment, and abuse; THERE IS A REDEEMER.
And this is just one story.
It is one story, with a hopeful ending. It doesn't end all beautiful and perfect but it there is hope. And in the midst of the story, I still have questions, and I still worry about the future, but I still have hope. So I offer this one story of one girl. one Pastora. and One AMAZING Redeemer.
She was just 8 years old when I met her.
Grandma was her primary caregiver, and had been sentenced to 7 years in prison for drug trafficking. Every Wednesday, the ladies of our local AG church in Santo Domingo join Pastora Ketty (my ministry partner) to minister at the local woman's penitentiary. So when the Pastora met Grandma, she begged Pastora Ketty to go and find Sonali, who was all alone living in one of the most dangerous barrios of our metropolitan city. We found her and brought her to the girls home and Sonali grew up going to church, going to school, and her life was on a totally different trajectory. She would not be vulnerable to the drugs, prostitution, and abuse that infested her former neighborhood.
And then everything changed.
Grandma completed her sentence, was released from prison, and returned to the barrio. She asked that Sonali be permitted to come home with her. So we had to let beautiful Sonali leave the safety of our cocoon. It felt too soon, too harsh. We worried that she wouldn't go to school. We worried about how she would eat. We worried about how she would adapt after so many years in the home.
Our worries weren't unrealistic.
As an ex convict, it was impossible for Grandma to find a job to support them, to put food on the table, or to put a roof over their heads. There is only one possible solution in the barrio for a woman in this situation. If they were going to eat; prostitution was the only answer. Grandma, however was old, her body was hardly marketable. This left Sonali at 15 years old, to sell her body on the street, so that they could eat. For eight months, she suffered horrible abuse by the johns who paid her less that $5 a trick for a couple hours of narcissistic pleasure.
She would go to the church in that barrio seeking Jesus, looking for an escape from the condemnation that swirled in her mind and heart. No one knew what she was suffering, how could she tell them? She was all alone. Her whole world was on the other side of the city and there was no way to go back to Bethesda, not now after selling her body.
One day the john took her to the other side of the city.
She knew she was so close to Bethesda. And she knew that she had to escape. She asked God to help her. She told me that she knew that if only I can just get back to the home, there will be hope. There will be food. There will be a real future.
And she returned.
Ketty took her in, gave her food to eat, clothes and shoes. She took her to the doctor. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief to know that she did not have AIDS after all that she had been through. Still there was a long road ahead.
She was pregnant.
I sat with Sonali on the bed and she told me her story. She left our home a little girl and came back to us as a woman that had her childhood stolen from her. An orphan herself, she cannot imagine what it means to be a mother, and yet that reality is confronting her everyday. My heart grieves that little girls can be stolen from cocoons before they are ready to fly. I don't understand why there are places in this world in which the only way a girl child can eat is by selling her body. I cannot fathom this injustice.
I WANT TO SCREAM HOW THIS ISN'T FAIR.
Still in the mess of this sad story, hope is blooming. Sonali can feel the hope that protects her, feeds her, and redeems her sadness. It is the presence of the Redeemer in the middle of our story, in the middle of the stuff we cannot understand, or even explain, and yet He has not abandoned Sonali. Maybe her mother left her, maybe her father left her, maybe Grandma exploited her, and society used her BUT Jesus came in the middle of her story and redeemed her.
I know that my Redeemer lives in the midst of injustice.
If anyone understood injustice it was Job of the Old Testament. Job wanted to scream too and yet in the midst of his messy, he said these words. "But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last." I think the key for Job is that our hope is certain because we know how the story ends. We may not be sure of the middle, we may even be disappointed in the middle, but our middle is being redeemed. We can be sure of it. Because our Redeemer lives. WE know it. Not that we feel it, not even that we understand it, we just know it.
And still I ache because I have walked in the barrios and brothels of Santo Domingo and looked in the eyes of too many girls that have yet to encounter the hope of redemption and experience the presence of the Redeemer.
Job goes on to say: "And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!"
This is the kind of hope that helps us in the middle.
*names have been changed.