“You are my hiding place …” Psalm 32:7a
Safe spaces are important for all of us, and especially for the poor and vulnerable in our communities. I (Ann) saw how important the ministry of safe spaces is to our witness as Jesus followers on a recent trip to work with Baptist partners in two SE Asian countries.
In the first country, I met with women refugee leaders in a large city to offer leadership training and brainstorm where to locate the “Safe Space Learning Center” they run. Whenever I work with refugees in this country their situation shakes me to the core. Do you feel afraid every time you’re on your way to work or school? How many times has your taxi driver threatened to drop you off at the police station unless you pay him a big bribe?
Like refugees in many countries, these sisters and brothers in Christ experience this kind of uncertainty and anxiety every day. They fled violence and oppression in their home country only to encounter fear and exploitation in their country of exile. The majority have lived in exile for five years, some for more than 25 years. According to the United Nations, there are an estimated 71 million refugees like them around the world.
Many refugees we work with in SE Asia long for a safe space to seek wise counsel from trusted elders, acquire employment skills, get help on legal and medical questions, meet with other parents, or have a heart-to-heart chat with a friend. That’s what the “Safe Space Learning Center” is for, but rents are extremely high, space is limited, and the average monthly income is around US$238. Finding a rental hall would not be easy. Then God gave us an unexpected gift – two rooms just “happened” to become available in the same building where we were meeting! (see photo) The Center can ‘borrow’ tables and chairs plus two fans, repair a couple of broken windows, replace the cracked linoleum and voila! classes can resume. Now it’s time to look for books and toys for the lending library that is part of the Center.
In the second country, I was on the training team that prepared regional coordinators to help local Baptist churches set up a mentoring program for at-risk children. Poverty, drugs and fracturing social systems are leaving these kids without a safe space to learn and grow, and churches are stepping into the gap. The program provides healthy fun, positive role models and life lessons based on solid Biblical truths. These coordinators, churches, and mentors are especially courageous because Christianity is a minority religion in this country and their own safety isn’t a given.
Colleagues and friends in both countries know the truth of Psalm 18:2 – The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
Do you have family members or friends who need to know they have a safe space in the God who loves them? Are there poor and vulnerable members in your community who need a spiritual and physical safe space? We’d love to hear how your church is providing safe spaces to people in your community. Drop us a note or send us a link to your church’s website.
Together with you in ministry
Ann and Bruce