Becoming God’s Safe People in an Unsafe World
One Saturday I sat at a picnic table with 4 nine-year old girls and played a few friendly games of UNO. We were in the open space in the center of the community where a lot of children play and young boys practice soccer. While we were hanging out, a bearded white man I had never seen before walked into the open space, at least 100-200 meters deep into the community, then he turned around and left the same way he came in, as if he were lost.
I asked the girls, “Did you see that man?” “Do you know who he is?”
They saw him but didn’t know him. It was strange, because while we are in the middle of the tourist area, it’s not likely that someone would mistake the entrance to this slum community as a tourist attraction or a short-cut to somewhere else. I was curious. Actually I was suspicious, so I kept pursuing the conversation.
“Do you see a lot of strangers come in here?” I asked.
“Yes,” they replied.
“Why, are they lost?” I asked as I tried to feed them the answer I was hoping they would give.
“No,” they quickly replied and added very matter-of-factly, “they come in to catch children and sell them.” My stomach dropped.
One of the reasons we chose to establish Friends of the City in this district was because of its proximity to Bangkok’s oldest and most notorious red light district. And the particular community I was in that day was about a 5-minute walk from that red light district. We knew these young girls were vulnerable and we knew these young boys needed strong role models. So while the conversation I suddenly found myself in wasn’t exactly surprising, for some reason I just wasn’t quite emotionally prepared for it.
“Has that ever happened before in this community?” I was hoping for a negative response. I didn’t get one.
These nine-year olds knew they were to run and find a safe adult at the sight of a stranger in their community, but they explained the “little” children were in more danger. As one of the young girls’ four-year old sister came to the table, I asked who would look out for her in a situation like this. As it turns out, her nine-year old sister is in charge of that. I was glad these girls are aware of the danger and on guard against it. I was sad that they live in a world where they have to be.
I tried to turn the conversation a little lighter when I asked in a playful tone, “When I first came in here 2 years ago, what did you think of me?” The smiles on their faces made my day after such a heavy conversation. They giggled and talked about our first meeting and our first English class. They explained that the community leader had already told them who I was and why I was there. They even explained that the reason they didn’t run and hide at the sight of the strange white man that had just walked by was because they were with me, and I’m a designated “safe adult.”
Building relationships of trust takes time, but it sure pays off. When I reflect on the threats and challenges these kids face it can feel intense. I pray for their safety from those who would come in to “steal, kill and destroy.” And while the danger is real, so is the protection. We have a God who loves these children and wants to keep them safe. I feel humbled and honored that He has put me in their lives to be a safe person for them.