“What would you do if you weren't afraid?” Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, asks this question as she advocates for women leaders. If we were to ask certain groups of people this question their answers would vary greatly according to where each person is in his or her life.
Consider the recent story of a Lancaster City woman arrested on a prostitution charge. What if someone had asked her that question when she was a young girl? What might her answer be today? Most of us know that little girls don’t dream of growing up and becoming prostitutes. Statistics prove that too many of them were child victims of sexual abuse, assault, or trafficking, and are now labeled and convicted as prostitutes.
I recently finished reading Trafficked, a book written by Sophie Hayes, a victim of sex trafficking. During this horrific time in her life, she was too afraid to escape, which is what she really wanted to do. She suffered much trauma at the hands of a man hungry for power, control and money.
The title of Sheryl’s book, Lean In, resonates with me at this time. It’s a good reminder for each of us that this is what we need to do when interacting with others: simply lean in and listen. And if you ask good questions, get ready to lean in and listen for unspoken answers. Lean in and listen to understand where someone might be at this time in their life before you judge them or write them off.
Through our outreach efforts, our visiting team went into six strip clubs this past week and delivered meals for about 75 employees. During these visits, eight of us had opportunities to lean in and listen – which can sometimes be hard to do above the loud music that is part of the club atmosphere.
It’s interesting to note that we’re getting a reputation among the patrons as ‘those church ladies’ which is kind of cool because our team actually represents several different churches from surrounding counties!
And so as we served delicious, warm meals (generously prepared and donated by our food teams and various individuals), and as we listened to comments, questions, and stories, we noticed a common theme this Good Friday evening: the oppression and needs in each club were great, as long as we were willing to lean in and listen.
For you see, it’s hard to hear an owner’s greeting as genuine when he looks at the floor instead of you and avoids eye contact.
It’s hard to hear the pain of past rejection and abuse behind the hollow laughter over a careless joke.
It’s hard to hear someone say ‘I don’t know if I want you in here’ followed up with the words ‘I feel like a sinner in your presence.’
It’s hard to hear a girl’s story pour out along with tears that almost drown out her words as she shares that she knows she’s far away from God right now.
It’s hard to hear the real need of the moment when a girl’s mouth is saying “I’m fine” but her eyes are asking ‘can I trust you enough to tell you that I’m living in my car right now?’
In Trafficked, Sophie needed her mom and the nurses who eventually helped her to lean in and hear what she wasn’t saying and respond when she finally indicated that she needed help.
The woman in Lancaster City needs someone to lean in and listen to her story – a story that began in childhood yet continues to affect her life choices today; and not ‘choices’ in the stereotypical way most people define the word choice. Her choices haven’t yet risen above the cloud of oppression.
Our team went home from visits this time more somber than other times. One of our team members shared that she thought it was appropriate considering it is Easter Weekend. She’s right; it does seem appropriate this time.
Meeting some of the basic physical needs we’ve been made aware of is the first step before getting to the deeper answer to Sheryl’s question: “What would you do if you weren't afraid?” Once you know what the heart really needs, you just keep showing up and leaning in to listen.
May you and yours have a blessed Easter weekend.