“Shelly, could you get the American Embassy in Russia on the phone and see what is holding up the visas for our guests?” Thus began a typical day as an intern at The Protection Project — only nothing was typical, as I never knew what to expect. But every day I learned to find hope in the hopeless and light in the darkness.
The Protection Project is a five-year research project directed by Laura J. Lederer. The purpose is to gather and distribute information regarding national and international legislation protecting women and children from commercial sexual exploitation, or forced prostitution, abuse and abduction. While no official numbers exist on the extent of this problem, estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands are caught up in this growing trade each year.
My personal responsibilities included extensive research using a variety of sources to determine the scope of the problem. Some of this work required a trip to the United Nations in New York.
This issue is becoming important in national legislation, so I helped prepare for a Senate hearing by getting materials ready and ensuring that survivors arrived safely. During my final week, I was asked to prepare a side-by-side analysis of three pending bills in Congress for a meeting. These were the kind of duties I accomplished while working at The Protection Project.
The very nature of the issue provoked deep questions in me. The most essential was, “How can I read about such awful crimes every day and not fall into despair?” Doctrinally, I have always believed that humans are basically evil; but it was more of an abstract belief than something concrete. At my internship, I was forced to stare the ugliness and cruelty of people in the face each day. I will admit that during my first few weeks, I wondered how I would avoid becoming depressed, cynical, or numb to the horror.
As I continued to research the problem, I did not become overwhelmed or perpetually mournful. Instead, I found myself becoming a person of hope. I realized that as the world became darker and more fallen in my eyes, God’s truth shone brighter. I understood that He never calls me to live apart from the world in my own personal circles, but to immerse myself in the pain and sorrow of His people. His calling plunges me head-first into a broken world that needs good news.
Listening to testimonies of kidnapping, rape, and forced prostitution by women who were sitting in the same room did not make me numb to these crimes. On the contrary, these testimonies moved me to action and inspired me to continue in the work I was doing. Their tremendous courage gave me hope and the will to continue the fight.
Reflecting on my experience, I know I have gained much more than I could ever offer. I was forced to face the ugliness of the world, and yet my faith in the God of hope deepened rather than crumbled. “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” (Lamentations 3:21-22)