I recently came across a news story about a group of 1,100 nuns who are helping trafficking victims in a very unique way. They’re dressing up as prostitutes and discreetly infiltrating brothels, in search of victims who need help. They’re also working alongside labourers in other sectors, for as little as 2 cents US a day, with the goal of unveiling human rights abuses.
Their network currently spans across 80 countries, and some companies are even hiring them to investigate exploitation in their supply chains.
These are not easy places to be, and there are of course so many risks to take into account – for both sisters as well as the victims they try to help. Dealing with exploited people in such a personal way inevitably requires dealing with traffickers as well, and this is a delicate dance with potentially fatal consequences.
But these sisters have realized that there’s something profoundly powerful about being present.
I’ve experienced this many times in my own life. When I was grieving the sudden loss of a best friend, the simple, intentional presence of family and friends – even if they didn’t say anything – was like a soothing balm to my weary soul. When I was living in Namibia, far away from the comforts and and familiarities of home, the presence of new friends who were also homesick gave me strength to do the work I’d come there to do. Whenever I was sick as a child, the presence of one of my parents gave me peace of mind, even though there was little they could do to make me feel better physically.
I am always amazed when people sacrifice their own convenience, safety, or comfort in order to be present in the life of another. I have the privilege of knowing several people who have intentionally moved into areas of town with high crime rates or poverty, with the goal of being present in the community – whether it’s building relationships with at-risk kids who lack role models, offering help to immigrants and refugees, or reaching out to gang members and other perpetrators of violence.
While not everyone is called to infiltrate brothels and expose supply chains, we can all give the gift of our presence right where we are. Let’s think of creative ways to do that.