An SP staff member in Vancouver, BC, Canada, shares of her hopes for life and ministry in the slums of South Asia.
When I imagine my future in a Muslim community, I picture Priya. My memory leads me to one particular moment when she urged, “Come dance with me!”—or at least, that is what I was able to interpret through her dramatic movements. Soon enough, I was mirroring her whimsical hand motions and careful footsteps. This girl is all whirlwind energy and curiosity. Her eyes are beautiful black holes of awe, wonder, and inspiration that pull you in and compel you to search deeper within yourself for your own dreams and exuberance for life.
My relationship with Priya has grown over the course of the last few visits to her city, earning me the title of older sister. I feel honored to have this established relationship, which is one reason why I was deeply unsettled by an incident I experienced with her on my last visit. I noticed this time that Priya was a little less enthralled by visitors and more wrapped up in the latest conversation she was having with a boy on Facebook. (She is a teenager, after all.) Throughout my visit, she was glued to her phone, thumbs dancing across her screen and scrolling through her messages like they were candy.
One day my teammate Claire and I asked her about her latest drama. She informed us in a very matter of fact way that she was meeting a boy at the next train stop, her eyes immediately darting back to her phone. With as much gentle prodding as we could muster, we discovered that the boy that she was planning to meet was a complete stranger. I exchanged a worried glance with Claire, and we telepathically agreed that we would accompany Priya to the station. By the end of an awkward three-wheeling escapade, in which the boy saw us for a few minutes then blustered away, we attempted to explain the importance of safety and boundaries when it comes to guys, especially ones you do not even know. Claire and I carried the heavy weight of this situation on the train ride home while reflecting on sobering information we had just recently learned about the sex industry.
Although every teenage girl struggles with body image and self-esteem—longing for affirmation, acceptance and love—vulnerability at this age in this context is compounded by the ease through which one girl can be coerced into the sex industry. So many girls like Priya are one Facebook message away from a trajectory that can kill, steal, and destroy their passion and purpose.
My heart breaks.
When I picture my team’s future in a Muslim community, I picture Priya’s eyes and I don’t want to turn away, especially when I consider the term “unreached.” The love and pursuit of Jesus reaches far beyond what I may expect or be comfortable with. If we truly let that reality stare us in the face, we can start to recognize the deeper parts within us that are unreached--the parts of our souls that rear back in mistrust of God again and again, the parts that cling tightly to our biases (despite our best intentions), and the parts that vie for power and avoidance over mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation. At the end of the day, we are embarking on a journey that is motivated by our love for her and thousands of others like her. But we are also going for us, knowing that our own healing and freedom is interwoven with hers.
It is with this hope that our team will live contextually in a Muslim community while learning language and investigating strategic partnerships with locals. In the process, we will develop a specific vision which will harness our own creative gifts and skills with young people. Our desire is to create spaces for young Muslims like Priya to encounter Jesus, cultivate community, and grow in leadership specifically through the arts, pursuing Servant Partners’ ninth sign: increased access to creative and artistic education and expression.
Young women like Priya can embrace her passions through the lens of a Creator who calls her beloved and applauds her from a front row seat. Priya is not only whirlwind of energy and curiosity, but potential. While there are many things that we can’t yet see or understand about the Muslim experience, what we can undoubtedly see are the embers of truth, justice, and passion deep within the hearts of Muslim youth that are waiting for the empowering breath of God to spark creative gifts that transform their city. Jesus asks us to come dance with him and discover the joyful partnership that awaits us within Muslim communities. We have said yes—for her, for us, and for him.