It wouldn’t be long after going to China I would find myself in the Philippines. A couple of the members of the group I went to China with were moving there to work with a ministry that helps women coming out of the sex trade and they invited me to come along. The end of May 2014, I moved out there, jumping in with both feet and having no clue what I was about to get myself into.
The first month was probably the most difficult. I had never been to a place like the PI and it was going to take some getting used to. I didn’t speak the language, know the culture, or even how to use the public transportation. Thankfully, my friends had been there before me, so they were there to help me or I might have lost my mind! I was also learning the ins and outs of the sex trade in the Philippines. There were new sisters coming almost daily to live in the safe houses and go to college. It was a lot to take in but what a beautiful time it was!
Several months into my time there, I had come to rely deeply, not only on my team, but more so on the Father. Time with Him daily became essential, but I soon learned that time with Him could look different from day to day. I learned so much from my teammates at that time, watching as they communed with the Lord and longing to have what they had. I began trying different methods, things I’d learned in the past I had forgotten or trying new things I saw my teammates and leaders doing. One of the greatest methods I used for spending time communing with God came through Listening Prayer, something I learned from a book written by Seth Barnes, Sr. (click here to learn more about him and his incredible mission to reach a generation and the world with the Gospel).
The method is simple. Ask God a question, then quiet your mind and wait to hear a response. Write down what you believe God said and then later (especially in the early stages of learning to hear His voice), take what you heard to a mentor or fellow believer and ask for confirmation. Also, take it to scripture and make sure it lines up there.
I began using this method almost daily to commune with God. I was hearing from Him more and more as I practiced hearing His voice. My teammates and I would bring things we felt we were hearing from the Lord to one another and we grew together in our relationships to Him and to each other.
If there was anything I wanted, it was to love well. I felt I was failing in the way of love but my heart’s cry was “Teach me to love You and others well!” I wanted to love my teammates well, the girls in the safe houses, the men on Walking Street, the bar owners, and my God, better. Every day, I read 1 Corinthians 13, soaking in each word and asking Holy Spirit to teach me how to love. I read 1 Corinthians 14:1, the first part of which says, “Let love be your highest goal!” I repeated that to myself day after day, “Let love be my highest goal, let love be my highest goal….”
As I grew in hearing God’s voice, the way I’d hear Him began to shift, to develop and grow into different things. I was constantly on my toes, asking how He would speak to me each day. It was fun and exciting. Growing in relationship with God is an ever-evolving adventure. One particular way He speaks to me is through pictures, visions if you will. Not open, vivid visions, but more like a memory or thought. I am a visual person, so this seemed to be the most effective form of communication between Him and me.
In one of these “visions,” I saw a table with three people in scrubs and surgical masks standing around it. There was a body on the table, but I could not see who it was. It was covered with a sheet and one of the three was clearly performing surgery. He had a scalpel in His hand and He reached into the chest of the body and carefully pulled out the heart. I watched as He began to take the scalpel to the heart and carve something into it.
“What is that?” I asked.
“I am carving love into your heart.” The surgeon replied.
I opened my eyes and realized I was crying. I couldn’t explain with words what had happened, but my heart had been transformed. I shared my vision with my friend and we prayed together in thankfulness for what God was doing in me.
The next months would teach me what it meant to love in deeper and more tangible ways. I didn’t know that following the ways of love meant healing within myself. I went through intense forgiveness and healing, turning from lies and turning to truth. There was a lot of being honest with myself, taking real, hard looks at myself and choosing to let go of anything that did not lead me in the way of love. My definition of love: Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7 NLT)
There was vulnerability unlike anything I had experienced before. I don’t mean being honest about where I’d come from and my past, but being honest about where I was in that present moment and allowing the people around me in so they could help me walk out this healing. I soon discovered how truly guarded I’d become and letting the walls down was a painful and sometimes scary process. But, little by little, I began to love in ways I hadn’t known was possible.
I learned to love my teammates with a sacrificial love, giving of myself for them and to them. I learned to love the girls in our safe houses with a love that was not my own, but from the Father. As I listened to their stories of heartache and tragedy, of joy in the overcoming, I learned to mourn with those who mourn and to laugh with those who laugh. I learned to love those who wronged me and treated me with contempt as I watched the Lord defend me.
I learned to love the men who were buying the girls I loved so desperately.
One night, a group of young American military men were walking down the same street I walked and prayed on night after night. I saw them and was immediately angry. I wanted to yell at them, to tell them they should be ashamed of themselves, and to go home. I was wrestling with my anger towards them as they fondled the girls on their laps when I heard a familiar, soft voice, asked me a personal and difficult question:
“What if your brother was sitting over there with them? Would you still love him?”
“Of course I would, Father! Nothing could change the love I have for my brother.”
“Those men over there are your brothers Chelsea. Love them like you love your own brother.”
It was as if scales fell from my eyes in that moment as anger subsided and I felt the pain of their emptiness. They were here because they were hurting. I began to look around the bar and I began to see the same emptiness on the faces of every man. My heart broke. These were sons of God, mighty men of valor, meant to protect the purity of my sisters. I began loving them that night.
Following the way of love is not easy. Humility will shatter any notions you might have of your own innate goodness outside of Jesus as He begins to show you the you without Him. You begin to realize that if it wasn’t for His grace, you’d be on the other side of the one you’re judging right then. Because we’re not better than anyone else. We’re not above anyone. If Jesus could go low to wash His disciple’s feet and write in the dirt to defend an adulteress, I can get low and love the ones around me in need of it most.
I would get the tattoo that reminds me to keep love as my highest goal in Thailand. It was there I was pushed to love and make sacrifices to an even greater extent than I had before. To be there had meant giving up the vacation I’d saved up for. Staying an additional two weeks to help a group of ladies come out of the bars after I had just recovered from Dengue Fever was not an easy choice. But, following the way of love meant saying yes to uncomfortable situations.
I don’t tell you any of this to prove just how great or “holy” I am. On the contrary, I hope you see I am just like you. I can be selfish and self-serving. Saying we will pursue love sounds romantic and pleasant, as if we might prance through a meadow of flowers hand-in-hand singing kumbaya. I can assure you, to live for love is not always rainbows and butterflies, though there are beautiful moments you will treasure. But, to live for love is also sacrifice, pain, humiliation, death. A cross.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the cross, to me, is that Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Living in the way of love will lead us into all of those things I mentioned above, but we will go through them with joy because we know the hope with which we have been called! We get to go forward in joy, always.
I knew I would need to remember what I had devoted myself to until the day I die, so a placed love on me foot, to remind me to point my feet towards love, always.
*If you are interested in learning more about the incredible ministry serving those caught in the sex trade in the Philippines, visit wipeeverytear.org