Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2006-03-17

Do not be afraid of silence, because ultimately God's love will speak and His work will result, an international specialist in the exploitation of women and children said at Samford University Thursday (MARCH 16).

"Sometimes God does show up in the wind and earthquake. This is God speaking obviously and getting our attention dramatically. And sometimes, God speaks in the sheer silence," said Rev. Lauran Bethell, a consultant with the American Baptist Churches/USA Board of International Ministries.

Bethell shared experiences from her decades of work with exploited and abused women and children during a visit to Samford as this year's Marie NeSmith Fowler Lecturer in Christianity, Women and Leadership Studies.

Based at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, Czech Republic, Bethell is recipient of the 2005 Human Rights Award given by the Baptist World Alliance.

When she gets to know prostitutes, prayer is their most frequent request, said Bethell, citing an experience in Prague, where she shared God's love with a prostitute one night on a brightly lit street. The woman immediately sobbed and shared her concerns about her sick husband and two children in her home country, asking Bethell for prayer that her husband would be well, and her children safe.

"This was not the scenario I had anticipated when I first saw her, just a few minutes before," recalled Bethell, who with some seminary students, prayed that the woman's family would be healthy and safe, and soon together again.

That same night, she spoke with 15 other women from the same country and ethnic group, and almost every one asked for the same thing: prayer.

It was stunning, she noted, that the first request of a population of women in prostitution would be prayer.

What drives women to do what they call "this dirty work," with its attendant violence and disease, said Bethell, is the possibility that they can provide food, education, medical care and a home for their children.

In 1987, Bethell founded the New Life Center in Chiang Mai, north Thailand, to offer young women vocational training as an alternative to prostitution and to provide rehabilitation for those who have come out of prostitution and abusive situations.

While Bethell and others are initiating steps toward better economic development, the focus that she feels most profoundly called to now, she said, is to pray with, and to pray for, the women.

"We don't have to be in control or to have all the answers in order to do what God wants us to do. Sometimes, God just wants us to show up and shut up," said Bethell.

To those who feel a call to ministry with victims of trafficking and prostitution, she advises first researching "who is doing what, and why and how they are doing it," and then identifying the victim's greatest immediate need, whether prevention, economic development or education.

"And then be silent," she suggests. "Listen, really listen, with open mind and heart. Listen to the women, men or children. Listen for God's voice." The answer, she said, is often surprising.

In the red-light district of one large town she visited, the women were considered outcast citizens outside of their immediate area. After Bethell got to know them and really listened to their needs, she learned that their biggest desire was a better education for their youngsters who couldn't attend school with other children because of their mothers' work.

The result was the founding of a Christian school for the children.

"At that time and in that place, my greatest gift was my presence and my silence. I know that God showed up that day. And God is continuing to work in that community."

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.