“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” John 10:10-11
Over a decade ago, on the dark streets of our night outreach I met a talkative, friendly, lonely “sheep” who’s life had known nothing but neglect, abuse, captivity, and disease. Behind the smile and the silliness was a precious lady who would, over the course of a decade, come to know deeply the meaning of these tender words, life abundantly and the tender embrace of being found by our good shepherd. I am honored, humbled and challenged as I bring a voice to Lori’s life, well, Jesus’ life through Lori as I like to put it.
For many years each Friday night I would look forward to visiting with my friend Lori during our night outreach. She taught me just about everything I know on topics I thought I never thought I would learn. Things like human trafficking, forced drug use and the daily horrors that attack the girls and women who each and every night would line up waiting for “customers”, smiling on the outside and utterly destroyed on the inside. Lori’s story was nothing but abandonment as a young child which landed her all around the Philippines in the human trafficking circuit as a minor. Time after time people would come into her life promising the hope of schooling, the hope of work, the hope of belonging and time and time again these glimmers of hope proved to be traps into greater suffering. Many nights I found myself sitting in a toddler sized chair next to her on the dark, wet street of the red light district as she smokes while waiting for “customers” to pick her up just listening to her story.
What do you say to someone who was abandoned as a baby? What do you say to someone who was then adopted into a family of abuse and neglect? How do you respond when they tell you they ran away as a very young teenager to find a new life? How do you grieve the loss of innocence when the life of abuse that they escape from now looks better than the sexual exploitation they unknowingly walked into. How do you help someone who for over 20 years has known nothing except the violence of being owned by traffickers and pimps? How do you accept someone with a lifelong disease? How do you provide hope for someone so hopeless?
I found myself week after week telling her the only truths that I knew to say, “Jesus loves you!” “Jesus sees your life”. “Jesus can help you”. “I want to help you.” These powerful words seemed like empty promises to Lori. Honestly some nights they felt like empty promises in the contrast to the utter pain and disease that wrecked her life on a minute by minute basis day after day, year after year. But Jesus says….
“I AM the good shepherd”. This is a truth. It is a fact. Not a sometimes but an ALWAYS!
The weeks of conversations on this dark street each Friday turned into years and my friendship with Lori continued to grow. Eventually Lori, after all these years decided to take us up on the offer of help! She left her life in the streets and entered into a center that cares for trafficked women. A HUGE step of trust! Nearly 30 years of the “thief” stealing, killing, destroying her hope, her future, her life and it was about to end!
Lori received a lot of much appreciated recovery and skill training and ultimately love and acceptance from this incredible house of ministry. Lori was being transformed! So much so that one Friday night the very same Lori that years before I would sit next to, wiping the tears from her eyes, praying for a breakthrough was now sitting next to me as an “outreach worker” sharing that there is help available to the other girls in the same situation. I remember walking with my hand around her down that same dark, wet, hot street saying to her, “I’m so proud of you Lori!” Jesus promises,“…I have come that they may have life…”
Life was good for Lori. For the first time ever she was overcoming her disease and winning! She had purpose! And then tragedy came. The founder of the women’s home, a precious nun, was seriously ill. Lori and I went together to visit her in the hospital. As we were leaving this Sister called me to stay behind. She asked me to look after Lori after she passed for Lori had become a precious daughter to her. What an honor! What a task! So a few nights later, there in a hospital lobby Lori and I (together with our social worker) sat in tears as the Sister had been called to her eternal home. I found myself saying those same words again, “Jesus will help us”. “I will help you”. As we prayed Lori accepted Jesus into her life. Jesus promises… “That they may have life abundantly”.
Through difficult times and good times Lori became closer than a friend, she was now part of our Glory Reborn family. She helped in outreach, in the clinic, as well as with other local organizations. She was a gypsy, a nomad, coming in and out and always eager to help and to sing as loudly as she could! Lori helped in numerous Christmas parties for the street outreach sites, helped organize support group members and activities, and continued in her journey to knowing the love of Jesus. Over the many years Lori’s hug, usually with a joke on the side, was always one that I looked forward to!
For the last several months Lori had been living (unofficially) in the clinic. She was an “officer” in our support group and an outreach partner to our staff, always eager to go do check ups and visit the poor. Lori came to know Jesus on a deeper level as we gladly took the opportunity to pour into her life. She attended our staff Bible study every morning and sang (as loudly and off key*) as possible raising her song of praise to the Lord. Everyone was sure to smile!
How do I put over a decade of watching a life transform into a few words and a lot of tears? What keeps coming to me this past month is, “I AM the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for his sheep. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
In our most recent staff retreat, which Lori was an active part of, we spoke a lot of the parable of the lost sheep. Lori shared with the group how much this parable meant to her, how she recognized herself as a lost sheep for her whole life. How she finally found where she belonged in Glory Reborn’s family but more importantly in Jesus’ family. Lori knew first hand the love of the good shepherd. The good shepherd who gave His life for each and every moment of abuse she experienced, he bore it too. For each and every moment of loneliness, he bore it too. For each and every deception that trapped her into endless exploitation, he bore it too. For the disease that wrecked her body, he bore it too. But this is not a sad story, for our good shepherd gave his life, taking all of this, and exchanging it with life abundantly! He gave Lori a family at Glory Reborn. He gave Lori hope. He gave Lori purpose. He gave Lori songs of joy. He gave Lori laughter and joy. Most importantly he gave Lori life eternal.
Just a short time after this retreat Lori, our once lost sheep, made it home! From glory to glory! I can still close my eyes and hear her loud voice singing, “Jesus Christ, my living hope”, one of her favorite songs. At her very humble memorial service I realized what a big impact Lori’s love of the Lord had on so many lives. What we thought would be a short sharing time turned into almost over 20 of our staff sharing how Lori’s life taught them something about the Lord. Followed by such beautiful worship that you could almost imagine she and Jesus singing right along with us!
Lori changed my life in more ways that I know. She taught me how to connect to women being trafficked. She taught me how to end the stigma a lot of vulnerable women face today and show love. Lori taught me that you don’t need an education to be a part of helping in God’s kingdom at the clinic. Lori taught me patience and fervent prayer. Lori taught me that what the enemy tried to destroy, God will call life forth from! Lori taught me how to journey with someone through the very challenging times of life to the very joyous times of life. Lori taught me to keep investing in the one.
While I (and our team) grieve the loss of her smile each morning welcoming us in the clinic and the sweetness of telling her goodnight while she cuddled her teddy bear I know more fully this powerful, beautiful truth, “I AM the good shepherd”! No one is forgotten by our shepherd. Not one! Lori, you are FOUND and you are HOME!
Thank you to everyone who has helped Glory Reborn care for the “sheep” of Cebu. Thank you for providing for our ministry that we might be able to go out and sit alongside the broken. Thank you for praying for us and with us for glory to be reborn on earth as it is in heaven. Thank you for bearing witness and testimony with us of how great our Good Shepherd is. Together we are living, experiencing, grieving and rejoicing as a family of God. My deepest, heartfelt thanks. A decade of investment has most certainly been worth it for the one!
View the Lost & Found video here: