Courage is the word on the tongue of God, almost like he is whispering it in our ears and suddenly we find ourselves emboldened with our hearts pounding and our tongues tied doing something we never thought we could do.
I used to think courage had a lot more to do with big physical actions, like jumping off planes or climbing mountains. But that definition pales in comparison to the true meaning of courage I have learned from dozens of brave people around me the last couple of months.
True courage isn’t manifested only in the physical, it’s something that happens in your heart first. It’s a whisper saying you can do better, you can grow, you can change, and you have the power to do it all right now.
I’ve seen this courage in women who shared their deepest secrets with a group of women they have just met, I have seen it in men who keep a commitment they have made even though the easiest thing would be to just give in and most recently I saw it in a woman whose valor nearly brought me to my knees in awe.
On our first full night in the Philippines my teammates and I went out to Walking Street in Angeles City. The streets are lined with bars, flashing lights and blaring music. Vendors with boxes of cigarettes pedal their product as beautiful girls engage passerby’s and entice them to walk through the door where more “fun” awaits.
Once through the doors the first thing you see is girls, dozens of them, in some bars, hundreds of them, dancing, serving, flirting. They work in the bars all night and then during they day they live together in a dorm. The bar and its scene becomes everything they know, the women who they work with become their sisters, the bar managers their moms, and the men who frequent them some twisted version of a husband.
For many, once they get in it’s next to impossible to get the courage to leave. Most of the women have children and families to support with the bar and their clients being the only way to provide for them. They want out, but getting out means walking away from everything they know and all they know of security.
After going to the bars for two months in Thailand we were extremely fortunate to see one woman come out. My expectations for the Philippines were honestly much the same.
So Friday we went to the bars I didn’t get my hopes up. I expected laughter and surface level conversation, nothing too substantial. So when two girls who worked there had the courage to leave right then and there, I was floored.
One of them in particular, we will call her Sally*, is a beautiful girl. She has long black hair, perfect almond eyes and a long elegant slender body. She doesn’t talk a lot but when she smiles it lights up a room. I am confident she doesn’t have any idea how beautiful she is and any beauty she sees in herself is tainted by the way men have treated her.
She’s not one that I would peg for bravery by looking at her, yet she’s the one whose fearlessness astounds me the most. In quiet confidence on Friday night she decided to leave everything she knew in the hope of something better.
She left with people she didn’t know, Christians, who by the way are notorious for judgement and condemnation for girls in her position. But at the same time people who offered the rare and elusive gift of hope. And hope, my friends, is a dangerous thing. Indeed it was hope that caused her to pack up her life in a single duffel bag and say goodbye to all she knew.
We moved into the Faith house at the same time, both of us quietly inspecting our new home. Somewhat cautiously we walked around the bedrooms and the kitchen and found it to be a cute little house albeit just a little crowded with up to eight women sleeping in each room. As I decided which bunk to choose she quietly unpacked her duffle bag and I stopped what I was doing to watch.
I don’t know what exactly it was about that moment, I think it was the courage that captivated me. She was familiar with no one and nothing. It had to be like the first day of school, with the uneasy stomach and the racing mind, times a million. Because this wasn’t just school, it was everything. It was her new family, her new home, her new food, her new city, her new life. Nothing was familiar or safe and in her mind she must have been thinking about everything that could have gone wrong— but still she left. Risking it all for a new beginning, risking it all for a bit of hope.
If that is not courage in its purest and truest form, then I don’t know what is. She’s a woman whose bravery I admire and it’s her actions I will remember when I feel tempted to take the easy way out. Because I have found real courage is not found by jumping off cliffs or climbing mountains, it’s found in heroic fresh starts and valiant new beginnings.