I saw what I saw and I can’t forget it.
I heard what I heard and I can’t go back.
– Sara Groves
When God invites us to follow Him into the hard places to love on the vulnerable and marginalized, He also invites us to sit with them and embrace brokenness. It is messy. It is complex. It is painful. It is hard. But it is worth it, and the process changes the way we see the world.
Bangkok, Thailand has one of the best public transportation systems in Asia. A large percentage of the city uses the Skytrain, a metro located above the streets. It gets you to where you want to go quickly, efficiently, and with limited obstacles. At most stops, you can exit the train and go directly into an air-conditioned mall. It is quite convenient, especially in hot season, but during my internship, I was on a very limited budget that didn’t leave much room for taking the train. Instead, I walked or took the free bus to most of my destinations.
Walking the streets of Bangkok allows for a special yet darker perspective of the city. People who beg: children, physically handicapped, elderly, mentally handicapped. Tourists: Middle Eastern, European, Australian, American, African, families, couples, old men, young men, backpackers. Vendors selling: T-shirts, shoes, ceramics, books, DVDs, swim suits, pants, bags, electronics, drugs, sex toys, condoms. It is overwhelming and often enough to make you a little nauseated. I walked by this twice a day going to and from language school, and after a while it wore on me; it left me asking God how to handle it: What am I supposed to do with all of this? Where are You in all of it? How should I respond? I sensed Him telling me, “Just keep your eyes open.”
So that is what I did – I kept my eyes open. Soon, each of the individuals who beg on thesidewalk became a familiar face. I began making eye contact and acknowledging them as individual souls with a story. God started to widen my view, allowing me to see Him in the midst of so much chaos.
One of those souls was a cute little boy who would beg under a walking bridge on my route to language school every day. One day I saw him standing on the stairs of the bridge blowing bubbles down onto the passersby. As he and everyone around him were engulfed in a shower of bubbles, he was elated and in his own little world. It was beautiful to see this little guy, for a brief moment, get to be a kid playing with bubbles. A few feet ahead was a juice vendor where I bought a couple of orange juices and sat with him for a little bit, chatting in my limited Thai and teaching him some tricks for blowing bubbles. To this day that is one of my favorite Bangkok moments. The brief interactions with the people along that broken stretch of sidewalk quickly became the most joyful parts of my day.
Now as a staff member, my budget has gone up, and I take the Skytrain more often. There is a stark contrast in the way you see the city from above the street; the view from the Skytrain includes flashy billboards, skyscrapers, and fancy condo buildings. If I had not been so immersed in it before, I would hardly know of the brokenness that exists below. Riding the rail above the city, I can avoid that twist in my stomach as I pass mothers on the dirty street with sleeping babies in their laps, disabled men who beg, or the scantily clad women standing on the side of the road. While taking the train might offer temporary relief from grappling with the hard questions of why, at the same time, the brokenness below had become dear to me. My love for this city sprouted from that brokenness. “I saw what I saw, and I can’t forget it.” I had looked the despair of this city in the eye, and from that grew a connection I could not forget or ignore.
Once you have been exposed to the brokenness, there is no going back. Once God breaks your heart for the despair of a city, He is the only one who can mend it. When we venture into the hard places to sit with and love those who are poor, vulnerable, and marginalized, we are confronted with the brokenness of the world we live in – the tangible implications of the Fall. It leads us to further understand our need for a Redeemer. We need someone to restore, rebuild, and renew. It is gut-wrenchingly difficult to hear the stories, to see the harsh realities, and to walk the streets with a mind full of questions asking why. But when we look despair in the eye, that is where God meets us – right where we need Him, reminding us that, “In the world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
So we enter in and we embrace brokenness; we boldly walk the streets with our eyes wide open and choose to love furiously. It is a messy process full of beauty mixed with pain, mixed with hope, and mixed with despair. It is hard and exhausting and most times leaves us wondering if there really is hope. It is in that brokenness, pain, and despair that Jesus shows up, and so does hope. It is a hope that blossoms into beauty and allows us to witness a transformation for which we can take no credit except that we have followed Jesus into the hard places with our eyes wide open.
Molly grew up in Flagstaff, Ariz. and has lived in Asia for nearly nine years. She is a lover of coffee and a karaoke enthusiast, and she considers marshmallows a staple. She recently completed her three-year commitment as a staff member in Bangkok, Thailand where she helped build the Creative Life Education Program. firstname.lastname@example.org