Dr. Lin is a licensed psychologist and Clinical Director of LifeCare Centres in Ontario, Canada. In January she travelled to Bangladesh and India to visit several of our partner organizations operating within the region. After a period of reflection, she has written about her experience and how she has experienced God in new ways outside of Canada. Visit her website and blog at, “Ask Dr. Merry”: www.drmerrylin.com. Interested in learning about how to go on a future Discovery Trip? Visit our Discovery Trip page for more information.
It’s been three months since I travelled across the world to visit rural villages transformed by Partners International Canada’s Adopt-A-Village program in Bangladesh; three months since I visited an aftercare home in India for girls rescued from human trafficking.
It’s been three months since I immersed myself in an experience that was life-changing for me.
Yet in that short time, my vivid memories have slowly faded away: the vibrant colours of the saris are now muted in my mind’s eye; the pungent smells of the cow paddies mixed with the sharp spice of curry are now gone; the discordant music of the traffic no longer ring in my ear. In that short time, what was crystal clear in my mind’s eye has become like a chalk picture washing away in the rain. Replaced instead with the reality of my life here in Canada.
I look outside my office window and I see dreary, gray skies and a parking lot full of cars. I sit at my computer and smell the coffee percolating. I hear the ding of my cell phone as I receive a text. This is my reality right now. How can an experience so profound be so easily replaced by the mundane, by the routine of my life in Canada?
Yet even as the memories have faded, the stories I heard have not. They remain seared in my mind: the impoverished young man who told me excitedly of his dream to be a pastor; the young girl who kept hugging me and calling me her “best friend” as she practiced her broken English; the pastor who held back tears as he asked for prayer on behalf of his son suffering from mental illness; the “auntie” at the rescue home dancing with me because she wanted to make her girls laugh. I remember seeing exhaustion etched in the eyes of the pastor’s wife as she asked me how to help a suicidal villager. I remember each and every person I met, and I remember their stories. I will never forget them.
Every single one of us has a story. Every single one of us matters. God has not forgotten a single soul. He knows each one of the stories of the people I met and somehow, I think he sees them as far more than just victims. Yes, he sees their pain and suffering and I know he hurts with them. But he also sees them as beautiful and precious and worthy of being redeemed.
All too often, in our compassionate desire to help, we lose sight of this truth. We see sufferers of human trafficking as casualties, and that becomes their label. We see impoverished children as victims, and that becomes their banner. We raise money and we send teams of helpers and then we feel better for having aided these victims. And then we move on with our busy lives and we forget. But when we take the time to hear their stories, when we pause long enough to see the fullness of the story that God is still writing in their lives, we don’t forget.
The people I met are more than just villagers in need. More than just pastors with a calling. The girls I met in the rescue home are far more than just victims of abuse or trauma survivors. They are not charity cases to be pitied. Each one of them have remarkable stories that go beyond their trauma, stories that are rich with themes of God’s redemption and love. Let’s give them compassion and grace for their suffering, but let’s also celebrate their unique value in God’s eyes for who they are, not in what happened to them. Otherwise, they become nameless victims amongst the thousands of other victims. And we become overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness that we could ever put an end to human trafficking or poverty or illness.
And we become afraid. We turn away from seeing their pain and immerse ourselves in the busyness of our lives. We say we aren’t equipped to help them. It’s too much for us.
As I was preparing for my trip, one of the most difficult things for me to hear was the number of people who told me they could never work with children who’ve been abused because they couldn’t handle the pain of seeing their suffering. I get that. True compassion breaks our heart, sometimes beyond measure. Seeing the depravity of mankind and our capacity to cause untold pain to one another feels like a sucker punch to the gut each time.
But can we have the courage to sit with others and hear the pain of their stories? Can we trust enough in our God’s ability to heal and redeem that we can bear to hear the horror of their trauma? Our human experiences are made bearable when there are others willing to walk with us, caring souls choosing to carry hope for us when we have none left. The grace and acceptance we offer one another is one of the most powerful ways that God heals the brokenness in our stories. It is when we help people see their value in God’s eyes. To see beyond their pain and trauma. To see their identity in how God sees them, not in how the world has treated them. Your presence in the lives of those who are suffering matters, and it is part of God’s plan of redemption. Choose to be present wherever God places you. Choose to go wherever God sends you.
I will tell you one thing that makes all of this worthwhile. Do you know the biggest surprise for me from this trip? That the predominant emotion I experienced was joy. And hope. And you know why? Because our God is able, more than able to bring beauty out of ashes, to bring healing out of brokenness – to transform one life at a time. When you choose to face the darkness armed with God’s grace, you WILL see his light radiating through. You WILL experience joy and hope. And you will be a bearer of that joy and hope in a world that desperately needs it.