Gnarly (adjective)/ difficult, dangerous, or challenging.

So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do I’m bankrupt without love. (1 Corinthians 3-4/themessage)

I’m in the middle of dissertation-research write up.

How’s it going? Well, yeah, it’s going fine.

But honestly?

It’s a bit gnarly.

Gnarly.

Last week I wrote the transcript up for a talk in which Shihoko Fujiwara (who has directed a Japanese anti-trafficking agency for the last 8 years) estimated that there were approximately 54,000 victims of human trafficking presently in Japan. Mostly women, young people and children.

54,000.

On Monday I was reading some recent Japanese ‘Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare’ Statistics. Which note that in 2011 approximately 41,000 children and young people were in the care system. Over 70% of these children are housed in large scale children’s homes of between 20 and 150. That’s approximately 30,000 children and young people.

30,000.

But yesterday I hit this statistic in a PhD paper by Goldfarb.

It could be argued that the Japanese legal system doesn’t support the welfare system. Of 40,639 cases of abuse reported to CGCs in 2007, the CGCs took four to court and parental rights were cut once (Goldfarb 2012: 26).

And if that highlights anything, it is that actually, the known statistics, as alarming to me as they sometimes are, do not really give an accurate picture of the reality here. Because in over 40,000 cases of reported abuse, parental rights were cut once. Once.

And the statistics and the papers and the facts and figures continue. Child pornography. Homelessness. Unemployment.

All acknowledging that there are vulnerable groups of young people here who do not succeed in education, transitions to adulthood and employment. The bullied, the abused, the abandoned, and those who’ve sometimes just made one mistake too many. And all acknowledging that if you don’t succeed here in this traditional route, it is so incredibly and brutally hard to find a way back, a second chance or hope for the future.

And so that’s a bit gnarly.

It gets a bit real.

I genuinely believe that in intercession we are to, as the quote says, ‘daily consider the pain of the world’.

And everyday right now these issues drive me to my knees.

But you want to know what gets really gnarly?

I was talking to one of my good friends about this stuff recently. I wasn’t expecting this conversation. I had my friend hat, rather than researcher hat, supremely planted on my head. I’m changing some of this detail for her privacy, but she was basically telling me that when life got super tough for her, she seriously considered prostitution. It was a valid option for her, and without soliciting herself too far or feeling like she was in any danger, she would have known a handful of male friends who would have been more than happy to pay for her services. She wouldn’t have wanted to do this, she wanted to have a higher viewpoint of sex, but in the absence of feeling like there was any other choice or any other support, it was something that she told me, many young adults saw as not-something-out-of-the-ordinary.

And so I sat there, not researching, present in an over-tea conversation, having worked with or been in contact young people who have been abused or exploited for many years in the UK, having worked for an NPO that seriously campaigns against sexual exploitation of all kinds, feeling suddenly very impacted. Afresh. By the scope of the darkness here.

Which makes me so supremely thankful that the Light, who is Jesus, shines brightly in the darkness, and the darkness has not, can not and will not ever overcome Him.

I was so struck by 1 Corinthians 13 this morning. By that verse that I started this blog with. That I could right a great dissertation or start a great NPO or speak articulate words, but if I am not fully planted, driven and purposed by love, which is from Love, then I am bankrupt. It is nothing. You burn out and give up and get overwhelmed.

But this Love is not passive, it is passion. And although loving deeply makes us vulnerable. It means we carry deep burdens and pray raw prayers and cry real tears, it also means that He can use our weak words, and our weak hands and our weak feet to bring all the healing in the cosmos.

Today, as every day, there is hope.

Because He is hope.

And as much as I wish I could hold, and whisper words of reassurance and healing to every face behind every statistic, I know that His arms are big enough to carry that burden.

So as I did after some time in Tokyo’s red light district last summer, I invite you to pray with me today. And I invite you to use this poem, by Hosanna Wong, which I think offers both the intercession and the answer with beautiful accuracy.

What makes someone beautiful?

What makes someone valuable?

What makes someone worthy of being free?

What about the women stripped down of all dignity? What about created-to-be-daughters-of-the-King topless in store fronts, their value being tallied by the times their body is brought hourly?

What about the women strapped down to the backs of vans, the only time they’re touched is by buyers and sellers hands, passing them along like packages. The only time they’re kissed is being tasted upon by savages?

What about the women whose personalities must be split part, like their legs when someone is done purchasing them?

Because I can hear the women in captivity whispering, ‘I just don’t feel beautiful to me’.

But what makes someone beautiful?

What makes someone valuable?

What makes someone worthy of being free?

What about the women who weren’t stolen, but who were lured into this worldwide phenomenon? They thought it would be glamorous, but misplaced trust has led them into the hands of slavery.

What about the women whose Fathers, brothers and cousins took advantage of them, so now, their whole life they’re looking for other Father figures who’ll love them similarly?

What about the children whose Mothers would rather live a life of luxury than protect their daughter’s virginity, or save their daughter’s purity, or defend their daughter’s chance of ever not hating their sexuality?

What about the sons and daughters, the innocent people who really don’t even think it’s evil, they genuinely just want to help their family?

Because you can hear the children in capacity whispering, ‘I just don’t feel valuable to me’.

But what makes someone beautiful?

What makes someone valuable?

What makes someone worthy of being free?

Because I’m wondering what God sees in the corners of Cambodia where Mothers are hoping they’ll have daughters so that they can sell them and live frivolously.

I’m wondering what God sees on the stages of Amsterdam where if no one wants to purchase them, the employers deem these women unworthy.

I’m wondering what God sees when this sick, disgusting sex industry so waters down that even modern day fashion makes it seem cute to dress sleazy. Where more skin is more trendy. Where provocative images on teen magazines is what’s selling.

I’m wondering when God sees our world in captivity, who does He think is worthy of being free?

Who does He think is beautiful?

Who does He think is valuable?

Who does He think is worthy of being saved from a worthless exterior, that satan has captured and relabelled ‘true identity’?

I’m wondering, was His blood just spilt selectively?

Was His blood just shed for those who we deem beautiful?

Who we deem valuable?

Who we deem worthy of being free?

Or when Christ said to love our neighbour, does that also mean the prostitute down the street? Does that also include the captured soul, stripped down and destroyed teenagers overseas? Does that also include the victims of this modern day slavery business just blocks from me?

Does that means that they are my neighbour and that now I know they exist here I have a responsibility?

Because underneath all these stories, no matter how they started, no matter how they ended, underlying is the same lie. The same enemy.

Creating trash out of what God created for beauty.

Creating lust out of what God created to be lovely.

Creating sin out of what God created to represent Him perfectly.

And the enemy is not just the institution. The enemy is not just the pornographic advertisement. The enemy is not just the misconstrued affection, used and abused, capitalisation of confused women.

No, the voice is also the enemy inside of us, telling us it’s alright if we do nothing

But Egypt your time is done!

Your chains have been overcome.

For Jesus Christ has come, to redeem our thinking.

For if we had hands like God’s, and arms like Christ, we’d reach far, we’d take every scar, and we’d never measure the length. We’d never hesitate. We’d never take the time to just think about it and wait.

We’d stretch so far we’d have stretch marks of faith.

Because some people only know the comfort of their chains. Some people think that God only looks like their abusive Father’s face. Some people don’t even know there’s a possibility of being saved.

Because they don’t know what we know.

That love isn’t something you pay for. Lust isn’t something you pay for. Sex isn’t something you pay for.

Sin is something you pay for and that price has already been paid with the blood of a Saviour.

Whose arms stretch so far they strength through time with limitless, relentless, restoring grace.

Who in our world needs to hear that today? Who right beside you needs to hear that today? Who is your neighbour, beat up and bleeding, ignored and needing on the side of the way? Who is broken and in bondage, on that side of the world, or on this side of our street?

Because they are someone beautiful.

They are someone valuable.

Blood was shed because they were meant to be someone free.

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