Ask Rachel Davis (May 20-24, 2019)

Hello, friends! (@Interested_In_Ask_RZIM)
This week on the Ask RZIM hot seat is @rachel_davis the Operations Manager and Senior Project Analyst for Wellspring International, the humanitarian arm of RZIM. Wellspring exists to empower you to impact the lives of women and children in need around the world. In other words, it’s ‘practical apologetics’.

Rachel travels around the world to personally visit the projects WI support, to learn from their staff what the needs and opportunities are, and to encourage their partners. You can learn more about Wellspring at wellspringinternational.org

Ask away, friends! :slight_smile:

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Hi Rachel,

What encouragement or advice do you have as we seek to do good in places that have systemic obstacles to sustainable development? It seems to me that so much of the opportunities or approaches that are highlighted in the United States have to do with helping an individual or what an individual can do to help. For many projects and needs, this makes sense.

However, for instance, these reports from the New York Times were quite challenging to absorb:

In Honduras, warring gang factions have plunged the country into a state of crisis. Groups like the Mara Salvatrucha — or MS-13 — and the 18th Street Gang, which both originated in the United States, have laid siege to communities. They govern much of daily life for residents living in their areas of control, stand-ins for a corrupt and ineffectual government.

I wanted to capture just how inescapable the violence was — to show readers what it really felt like.

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All three had been members of the 18th Street gang, but were sickened by the cadence of murder, extortion and robbery of their neighbors, the people they had known all their lives. Seeking redemption, they kicked the gang out of the neighborhood, vowing never to allow another back in.

Now, they were being hunted — by their former comrades in 18th Street, and by MS-13, which wanted their territory.

And so the young men doubled down for their own protection, transforming back into the thing they hated most: a gang.

These stories bring to mind Proverbs 13:23, “The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.”

What does it look like to seek to do good in a place where any gains or developments will, in all likelihood, be absorbed by a gang or corrupt government officials?

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Carson,

Thank you for your thoughtful question. I read through both stories you sent and found the stories gripping. As I read them, I was drawn in by the story of the Pastor who the journalist was staying with who was risking his life to work for peace. He was getting to know these young men and entering into places where others wouldn’t go. That to me in the middle of this heart-wrenching situation is the hope in these stories. That is where we find Christ.

I think we are so drawn to humanitarian stories that have powerful impact and redemption. And yet anyone who has worked in this field knows that the death, violence, bad decisions, turning back to drugs, prostitution, domestic violence, etc. is often the norm more than the exception.

I remember when I was working daily in a safehouse for women in the sex industry, the heaviness was tangible. A therapist came and did a group session with our staff. She asked if we had still had hope for the women. Could we hold hope for them even when it all felt hopeless. Could we hold hope for them when they couldn’t see it for themselves? Those words have stuck with me for years. I think that is what we have to do in situations like the stories you shared-find and hold the hope even when it looks hopeless.

Father Greg Boyle is a priest I deeply respect who has worked with gangs in LA since the 1980s. He is the founder of Homeboy Industries (homeboyindustries.org), the largest gang-intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world. In his book “Tattoos on the heart: the power of boundless compassion”(which I highly recommend), he talks a lot about compassion. He has several quotes that I find fitting to your question:

“Success and failure, ultimately, have little to do with living the gospel. Jesus just stood with the outcasts until they were welcomed or until he was crucified — whichever came first.”

“Can we stay faithful and persistent in our fidelity even when things seem not to succeed? I suppose Jesus could have chosen a strategy that worked better (evidence-based outcomes) — that didn’t end in the Cross — but he couldn’t find a strategy more soaked with fidelity that the one he embraced”

In his words, I see that we have to redefine success. We have to be okay with stories that don’t have happy endings. We have to sit with people in their suffering and be with them.

I do strongly believe that change does need to happen on both the micro and macro level: each individual life matters, but systems and structures matter too. In the examples you gave, I think the long-term approach for humanitarian work is needed from the macro level, but in the meantime, we cannot lose sight of the one. We cannot walk away from a situation because it all feels hopeless.

What I see in the story you shared is pastor is standing with people. That gives me hope-that is where we find Christ. As a partner of an organization that Wellspring supports often says, “we may not see the full redemption on this side of eternity, but one day we will.” And in the meantime, we will hold the hope.

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On a Wellspring Interntional visit, it sounds as if you often encounter two groups of people: Christian’s showing Christ’s love and hurting individuals who may have never heard the Gospel. How do you encourage those two group? What are key verses and questions you start with?

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What great questions! Love the ministry of wellspring international. The questions that you pondered in this situation are so applicable for so many anecdotal examples when sharing the gospel. Your examples are substantially different but I think of sharing the gospel with my son and others in my workplace. I sometimes resort to hopelessness. But we can not do it. Great reminder.

Query: what illustrations do you give the victims of traffickers when they ask about fatherly care and try to imagine a father or mother for that matter who is so very different than their own experiences?

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@Rachel_Davis I’m always so encouraged by your posts about the great work being done to help the least of these in Jesus’ name :slight_smile: A few questions of interest to me are:

  • what is the #1 way we can pray for these ministries?
  • do you generally work through the local Church?
  • what are the main obstacles you face when trying to help those in need (bureaucracy, laws, stigma)?

Thanks!

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Hi Sean,

Thank you for your encouragement! It truly means a lot.

Prayer: I appreciate you asking how you can pray for the ministries. I think sometimes, especially in overwhelming situations like where Wellspring works, we can think of prayer as a secondary thing. We say we’ll pray for someone passively, but in cases like these we want to actually DO something. But of course, that is exactly what prayer is-it is doing something. It is a powerful tool to engage with the heart of the Lord.

One of the biggest needs many of the ministries need prayer covering for is the well-being of their staff. They are truly in the trenches day in and day out. Burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary trauma are common for them. When one walks closely with others who are hurting it affects them and they carry it into their personal lives. Wellspring is aware of this and has made staff care a priority, providing counseling and staff outings when possible, but the need is vast.

Pray for the protection over their hearts, their relationships with their families, their relationship with the Lord. Pray for wisdom on how best to serve, pray for the vulnerability to reach out for help and guidance when it is needed, pray for the resources to do their work. Of course, another prayer need is the actual individuals they work with: women caught in the sex industry, refugees, burn victims, children who have been abandoned, and more.

Local church: As far as the local church, we do not necessarily work through them. Each organization we support is a little different in how they operate. When an existing organization applies for funding with Wellspring, we have an extensive due diligence process to determine which organizations to financially support, but we do not oversee the running of the organizations. Therefore, their engagement with the local church is at their discretion. Some of the organizations are tied really closely to one church. Others have staff members involved with a variety of churches. Others are not connected to the church at all. While we do believe in the value of a local church and encourage that especially for support and community, this ultimately falls back on the organizations themselves to decide the level at which to engage with the church.

Obstacles: As far as obstacles we face, the ones you listed are definitely a reality. Each organization in their specific cultural context may answer that question differently. But on the whole, I think bureaucracy is a big one. Many of the leaders have strong stances on not paying bribes and following a legal process. While in our cultural setting here in the US that may not seem like a big obstacle, in many of the countries where we work paying bribes or finding shortcuts is the norm. To have a strong stance against this can be not only unusual but also dangerous.

As you mentioned, stigma is another obstacle. I think of the project we support in Romania. They work with Romanians who have been trafficked both inside and outside of the country. They assist with the repatriation of those individuals back to Romania and the after-care for them. Their work is viewed in a negative light by much of the culture. Generally speaking, in that culture, victims of trafficking are not seen as victims. The assumption is that she must have done something to end up in this situation. She must have ‘asked’ for it. Additionally, trafficking is tied to prostitution, which is looked at as a one of the lowest disgraces to their society. So not only do the individuals who have been trafficked carry a stigma, but the staff who chooses to work with them does as well.

Thank you again, Sean, for your heart and your prayers!

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@Rachel_Davis Thanks so much - that is really helpful information. Will be praying :slight_smile:

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Thank you, Sean!

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Hi Keldon,

Thank you for your encouragement and your question. I will be praying for you as you share the gospel with your son and in your workplace. My prayer will be specifically that you can hold on to the hope for them.

You are absolutely correct that for many of the victims the image of a Heavenly Father stirs up a lot of negativity. The word ‘father’ brings back painful memories that may have played a huge role in placing them on their current path.

It is interesting that with the issue of prostitution, there is often an assumption that the women ‘chose’ this profession. And because of that ‘choice’ there seems to be a distinction at times between prostitution and trafficking. The reality though is that at the core for both of these categories is often a little girl who was molested by a father/uncle/brother/family friend. Her sense of boundaries and self-respect were violated at such a young age that when she grew up, she believed that a life in the sex industry was all she was worth and that left her with little choice at all. She carries a deep shame, trauma scars that have manifested in a variety of different ways (often addiction), and as you mentioned, negative views of men in general, but especially fathers.

I remember vividly one young woman telling me her story of living on the streets, caught in a life of addiction and prostitution. As she concluded, she looked up at me and gave me an empty smile and said, ‘maybe my life would have been different if I had a different father’. I have never forgotten those chilling words. The role of a father truly cannot be underestimated.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 68:6a, “God sets the lonely in families”. I referenced that verse a lot during my work with women as I walked with them through their pain while also encouraging them to embrace the new family the Lord was giving them. In my own personal life, several years ago I went through a devastating divorce. At the time, everything felt completely hopeless. When my life was unraveling, I remember feeling painfully alone. I was living in Missouri at the time, and I did not have any family nearby. I was at church on Mother’s Day, sitting in a pew by myself while quietly crying when I felt a warm hand on my back. This woman who I had never met prayed with me. Afterwards she asked my name. When I told her it was Rachel, she smiled and said she had a daughter named Rachel. She then told me her name, and it was Linda. My mom’s name is Linda. It was Mother’s Day and her daughter and my parents were all living out of state. She asked if she could take me out for lunch. It was the beginning of what I believe was a divinely appointed relationship. In that deep, dark season of my life, she became another mother to me. She was someone that held me as I cried when my own mother was so far away.

While in many ways, my situation was very different from the women I worked with, that experience showed me how personal God is and His Father heart for me. When I felt truly alone, He saw that need and met me there through Linda. It is a trait of the Lord I found so deeply true in that season: He was near to me, and He placed me in a family.

While that personal illustration is not one I always share, it has etched deep within my heart the faithfulness and trustworthiness of the Lord. Things that I believed beforehand held a new meaning as I experienced God’s father heart toward me. Years later when I sat and held another hurting woman, I was able to pray and believe for her that she was not forgotten or alone. Her image of father or mother may be tainted with deeply painful memories and that holds its own heaviness. Yet, my firm belief that the Lord sees her and knows her needs gave me the strength to encourage her and to believe that in time he will bring healthy people into her life to help demonstrate His unending love and father’s heart towards her.

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HI Brittany,

Thank you for your question! You are correct that I often encounter both groups. With the nature of a Wellspring visit, it is priority that there be time to do both. I spend time with the staff of the organization getting to discuss what is on their hearts and what issues they might be facing. I also ensure that I spend time with the individuals they are working with and see the work in action.

For example, one of the organizations we support is a burn treatment center in India. The staff identifies burn victims through outreach in targeted underprivileged areas and treats anyone who has been burned through a free open clinic. The patients they see are primarily women and children who were burned by accident, suicide attempts or victims of domestic violence. Many are young girls who are victims of bride burning. Through the services provided by the staff, they have the opportunity to benefit from reconstructive surgeries, physical therapy, psychosocial rehabilitation, spiritual care, trauma treatment, microfinance loans and job training for a meaningful approach to healing and recovery.

When I visit this organization, I accompany the staff on their home visits to change dressings, participate in the open clinic, and have even had the opportunity to observe a reconstructive surgery. Through this, I am not only able to see the incredible work they are doing, but I also have the opportunity to talk with the individuals receiving those services, many of whom who are not believers.

As far as an approach, for me over the years, I have learned the value of not going in with an agenda, but rather listening to people. I do not necessarily start with any particular verses or questions. Rather, I try to allow them to lead the conversation and offer the gift of listening and being present. For both groups: the believers leading the organizations and the beneficiaries who may not know the Lord, approaching it with an open heart is crucial. I pray a lot on these visits-that my eyes would be open to truly see people and that my ears would be tuned to the words that ultimately lead to an individual’s heart. In my experience, the Holy Spirit is faithful to lead and guide my time and words when I am open to it.

The last time I was with this organization, I went with one of their incredible staff members to change burn dressings in a slum area. A young woman had acid poured on her by her father. She was covered in burns and had become an outcast in her community. Neighborhood children threw food at her like an animal. It was a heavy and dark scene to walk into. She sat in a dark, one room shelter. We carried in water to clean the burns. I remember sitting with her and holding her hand while her dressings were being changed. I looked her straight in the eye and talked to her. It was my hope that this small gesture, as someone who is carrying shame and isolation, would offer her dignity. Someone saw her and found her valuable enough to sit and talk with. From my experience, these seemingly small things can validate something so deep within someone. It can be an avenue to their heart and soul. For me, it is an honor that I have the opportunity to do so.

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