When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In a world where beauty is often synonymous with perfection, voices of the oppressed go unheard. Issues of sexual abuse, domestic violence, starvation and inequity are far too prevalent—tempting us to deafen our ears with ignorance, rather than to listen with compassion.
We are often suffocated by the reality of injustice concerning matters of black lives, we don’t want to believe that the trafficked slaves of today could look exactly like our daughters, and we are petrified at the images of Syrian refugees migrating across borders only to be rejected by a place we call home.
Perhaps many of us choose not to hear these stories, afraid to identify with a broken reality in attempts to conceal the brokenness in our own lives.
That was me.
I too was overwhelmed by the brokenness of our world but more so, I refused to acknowledge the brokenness on the inside. I felt that I had to mask all fears and to never reveal this brokenness because that would be a symbol of weakness. I hid behind a mask—desperately trying to conceal the pain within.
And so telling stories through photography and film became my outlet—and hiding behind the camera was a way of engaging in other peoples stories while neglecting my own.
But in entering into the sacred space of one’s story, I learned to identify in the similarities that make us all human. The brokenness that arise out of all of us—guilt, shame, self-hatred and loss of worth—are universal points of identification.
It was in this journey as a storyteller that I found my story in the process. There, I was invited into freedom.
Six years ago, I started an organization called Freely in Hope, which exists to end the cycle of sexual violence. Daily, I delve into the hellish reality of unimaginable experiences of gross injustice. Neither words nor images can fully convey the emotional crises, psychological torment, and heart-wrenching pain that my friends in these places have been forced to endure.
Through the years of hearing story after story of trauma upon trauma, I began to identify more and more with their stories filled with utter grief yet marked with a tremendous sense of hope.
These stories have transcended into my being—they have unlocked my angry and bitter heart which held onto everything but hope for something more. There, I realized that this image of my broken self was in need of a healer—one who would free me from the captivity of myself, who would bring the healing light into the dark corners of my heart, and release me into freedom.
I was a witness to their stories of transformation from victims into survivors, and oppression into liberation, pain into hope, desperation into redemption.
The broken have healed, and the healed have become healers for the broken.
In this work of advocating together with survivors, it became very clear to me that is the oppressed who will lead us into liberation. Their stories of transformation are actually invitations for us to experience a greater sense of healing within ourselves.
There, in community with survivors of sexual violence, I began to see the fulfillment of a prophecy.
In Luke 4:18-19 Jesus makes his first public appearance saying,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
We see this prophecy come into fruition when he delivered little slave girls from emotional turmoil and psychological torment,
when he advocated against the execution of a woman guilty of prostitution,
when he painted a picture of love through the example of a mixed race outcast,
when he replaced shame with honor by calling a bleeding woman “Daughter,”
when he invited two sisters to learn at his feet when a sexist culture said otherwise,
when he first revealed his resurrected body to of all people, a woman.
This is what Liberation looks like.
The Spirit gives us power to do the same—bringing truth of the good news, healing for the brokenhearted, platforms for the silenced, and liberation for the oppressed. We are, therefore, reflections of his image—equipped to fight for the hope of Thy Kingdom Come.
I began to see evidence of Christ’s liberation through Clair’s story:
Beneath Clair’s sassy attitude and radiant smile is a story of Liberation emerging from a place of oppression.
Clair lives in a slum in Nairobi with her ailing mother and two nieces who had been orphaned by HIV. Behind tin sheaths and faded sheets made into curtains, is the home that she has lived in since she was 2. A room, rather, complete with two beds, a couch, a chair, a coffee table, a jerry can of water and a television strategically configured like Tetris pieces.
Six years ago, this is where Claire and I found each other. She was 18 and a senior in high school—hoping to find financial support for her last year. As we sat together, I would ask questions about her hopes and dreams for the future—but she wouldn’t say a word. Enclosing herself in, she refused to look me in the eye, hiding her heart in a protective stance for she had been violently wounded too many times before.
Without any understanding of who she was, uncertain if she met the requirements of our programs, I was hesitant. But after Claire had left, the Lord spoke to me saying, “There is something about this girl—invest in her. Her story will bring liberation and healing to the world.” And so it is.
Years later, she found courage to share her story.
When Clair was 13 years old, she was tricked by a friend and raped—initiating her into a lifestyle she feared most.
She became pregnant and was forced to have an abortion to hide the pain of dreams lost.
In experiencing the death of her own flesh and blood, she lost a piece of broken body, her broken soul that day.
This not only shattered her sense of worth, but it shattered her dreams as well. Culture shamed her—blaming her for crimes she did not commit. The shame continued to whisper lies, causing her to believe that selling her body was the only option she had in order to provide for her education and her family.
There was no other way, but to work the streets in prostitution during the night earning on average $2 per customer. Some of them would pay as much as $4—if she was lucky. But luck is unfair because when morning came, half of her earnings would go to the brothel owner. With the leftover earnings, she would bring food home for her family in the morning and attend her High School classes during the day. At night, she would return to the brothel to do it all over again.
There she hid—working the nightlife to singlehandedly pay for her mother’s medications, her nieces school fees, and her own High School education.
We accepted her into our scholarship program where she graduated from High School. She went onto college at Daystar University, the top university in Nairobi for journalism. After her first semester of college, she was at the top of her class.
This was her point of transformation—
Through her academic success, she began to see herself as a reflection of something beautiful, something extravagantly more than her brokenness. God met her there—opening her eyes to her beauty, speaking words of worthiness into her spirit. She left that brothel for good and committed her vocation to providing freedom for her community still trapped in violent oppression.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
In Jesus’s missional proclamation, he was quoting a prophecy of himself from Isaiah.
In Chapter 61, Isaiah reveals Christ’s nature as Healer affirming:
That he will comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
Only those who have acknowledged their terrifying brokenness can expect an abundance of divine healing—otherwise, what would we it need for?
Because of the brokenness within our lives, our spirit is desperately crying out for a healer—the one who takes our brokenness and makes it into something beautiful again.
As Christ transforms all brokenness, he ignites in us a new spirit—a spirit of healing.
He not only provides the gift of healing for those who mourn, but for those who grieve in holy sympathy with God’s people in oppression. God’s spirit of healing transfers across human connection.
In partnering with young women, like Claire, who are survivors of sexual violence, we’ve seen that they are not defined by their past of trauma, but they are thriving through their rewritten stories—stories that are filled with incredible courage, hope, and audacious dreams. There, they realize that dignity cannot be taken away by violence, poverty, or oppression but that dignity is an inherent gift from God.
The paradox is this—It is in these seemingly broken places that I’ve been a witness to hope—from death to life, dreams are birthed and lives, reborn.
Through their examples, I have learned from their authentic voices that speak truth into dark places. It is the voices arising from places of oppression that provide a sense of hope for redemption, for liberation, for me.
While I was working hard to heal their wounds I found that their courageous lives were actually healing mine.
When at times the stories of trauma become too overwhelming for me to bear, I remember Claire. And in remembering her liberation, I am also freed from single-mindedness, ignorance, selfishness, feelings of unworthiness.
I find healing as well.
One of the goals in our programs is equip survivors to lead and share their stories of hope.
I have the privilege of speaking together with Clair at numerous events around Nairobi. We speak with groups of children who are survivors of defilement, and mothers who are survivors of domestic violence, teenagers caught in the cycle of prostitution, and fathers who are fighting for justice to come for their daughters.
One of the hardest moments we’ve experienced together was with young school girls, ages 7-14, who are survivors of female genital mutilation—a common practice in Kenya where female circumcision symbolizes readiness for marriage. The results, however, are often deadly—where girls bleed to death or die in childbirth. If the girls are lucky enough to survive “the cut,” they are soon betrothed to much older men where child rape is an initiation for marriage. These girls stayed in school during the school holiday because they were afraid to go back home.
We were devastated, knowing of the situations that these young girls should have never endured.
But as we entered into the school auditorium, we felt that it was a sacred space.
There, I saw Clair come alive as she shared her story in a way that exemplified the freedom culture—the culture of the Kingdom among us. She shared her story with these children as if she was speaking to herself when she was 13 years old—telling her younger self what she needed to hear.
Though people you once trusted have stolen your innocence, though they may try to break your tenacious spirit, and kill your dreams, don’t let them—reclaim your story for your healing is here.
Every schoolgirl in the room was able to identify with Clair’s story. They, born as little girls, have been given names of shame. But in their faces were reflections of beauty—they possessed determination to rise in hope.
Clair is a powerful example that exhibits freedom through healing—the freedom that Jesus bestows on every little girl present in that room.
For he is our Jehovah Rapha, the Lord who heals.
In Isaiah 61, after the prophecy of Jesus proclaiming liberation for the oppressed, the next portion goes on to say that it is the oppressed who:
“will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.”
To those who are living in violent oppression, scripture tells us that they will be the ones to rebuild, restore, and renew—they will bring liberation to their generation devastated by violence.
Just as we are looking at the splendor of these majestic trees in this sanctuary, so we will also look upon the oppressed in awe and wonder.
The fruit of their healing is an outpouring of justice which will rebuild, restore, and renew places of oppression and violence.
This is what the embodiment of the Spirit looks like—empowering
the restored to restore,
the rebuilt to rebuild,
the renewed to renew,
the liberated to liberate
This is what it looks like for the healed to bring healing to the world around them.
This is what we’re experiencing in Freely in Hope—we are witnessing that God is raising up survivors to lead us all toward hope, liberation, and healing. Their invitation to us is that we experience this together-partnering together in their audacious dreams.
In two days, Claire is taking her very last final exam of her last semester of university. She graduates next month. Her dream is to provide holistic healing for children of women in prostitution and end the cycle of mother to daughter prostitution. Her hope is that in providing support for these children, we can prevent the further sexual exploitation of children.
Claire is a powerful voice of liberation for her community.
As many girls and women, like Claire, have been in suffering, in despair, struggling to find freedom in places of unspeakable violence—she realizes that her Liberator is near, that her Liberator is here.
The Spirit of the Lord is on them, is on us, anointing them, anointing us… to liberate and to heal, to become liberators and healers.
At that school of rescued girls, one 8-year old told me, “When Clair shared her story, it made me feel better that I am not alone. Like her, I can move on and do great things. I can go to school and achieve my dreams. There is hope for me.”
As we collaboratively allow the outpouring of the Spirit to manifest in our lives, let us listen to the voices of the oppressed.
Let us identify in the brokenness of our world so that we can be healed through their stories.
And let us respond—by partnering in the dreams of the oppressed, allowing them to lead us toward freedom.
May we remember that there is hope for us too—hope for liberation and healing to come. Hope that we—may learn from the stories of the oppressed and to also become liberators and healers for our wounded world.