Today in Thailand there is a teenage boy who is one step away from entering the sex industry. Right now in the Philippines, there is a woman who is one choice away from being prostituted. They may be sitting on the street, begging for change, driven to desperation but hanging on by one last thread. If we saw them, if we knew they were just one choice away, would we be able to prevent it?
Many of us choose to avert our eyes when we see someone helpless or begging on the streets. Because something happens when we look. When we make eye contact with someone, we experience a connection. Looking (really looking) at the person in need causes us to enter into their situation. It forces us to feel something for them. It compels us to act because we become part of their story.
I wrote a newsletter a year ago talking about the Zulu tribe of South Africa, who understand this concept of seeing people. In their native greetings, they say “Sawubona“, meaning “I see you,” and the other person responds “Ngihkona,” literally, “I am here to be seen.”
The inherent meaning in the Zulu response is “by recognizing me, you brought me into existence.” When they see a person and greet them they are looking deep into them and acknowledging their humanity, their personality, their dignity.
Everyone has a story. In Acts 3, Peter and John encountered a beggar and chose to enter his situation. Verse 4 says, “Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, ‘Look at us!'” They saw him. Not only that, they made sure the man saw them also. They entered his story, and invited him to enter theirs. In that moment the Kingdom of Heaven invaded earth. A man who couldn’t take a step could now leap and run!
He’d expected to receive silver and gold. But he received something more priceless than that. He was seen, he was healed, and because he looked at Peter and John he entered the Story of Jesus.
We can’t prevent people from being trafficked and exploited unless we are willing to enter into their stories. We can’t bring physical and spiritual healing unless we are willing to enter into their stories. And we aren’t really setting them free unless we also invite them to enter into the greatest Story of all.