Am I my sisters keeper?

We arrived into Las Vegas after a very long day of driving, my friend and I doing a cross country road trip of the USA just this past summer. The woman who was checking us in to our hotel was sweet enough but my friend and I had reached the end of ourselves. We were hungry and the chaos of the city started to cause chaos in our communication and responses to each other. We slowly got the situation of mis-booked rooms and the evenings schedule sorted and in the midst of it all I saw the woman’s named badge who had been helping us. It read, “Olga” and underneath it said “My sisters keeper”. For whatever reason it stayed with me and would be a defining moment of my summer.

It was like a light atom went off in my belly. Ugh. Even here, in the midst of chaos and well, darkness, light, that you actually experience and start to respond to. Her name badge turned to a question and it is this question which started to change the trajectory of my life this past few months.

Am I my sisters keeper?

I had never really thought about the question of being my sisters keeper. So often I have studied the story of Cain and Abel in the biblical text, which spins around an acceptable offering to God. In the midst of Cain’s anger and rage God speaks to him. Yeah, I did just say that, by God speaking He is seeking relationship with the one in so much distress. I mean, isn’t it understood that those in the biggest rage are most unlikely to hear anyone, let alone the divine. But there God goes, asking him the question, “why are you so angry?” and Cain responds; “Am I my brothers keeper?” The word for “keeper” in biblical hebrew (sh’mar) means to guard, watch, preserve. The question Cain asks goes on to be the hauntingly deeper subject matter of the whole book of Genesis.

There is so much we could say but this scriptural theme of brothers and anger and questions and loving our neighbour. We see the river flow into the story of Joseph and his brothers and the answering of the question asked by Cain to God starts to be answered. Jacob, Joseph’s father, instructs him to go and see to the shalom/peace/wholeness of his brothers and their flocks and for anyone who has read the story you will know that this process took many tears and many years,I would suggest we really are still answering the question.

So, why am I telling you all this?

Here’s the thing. I was very busy trying to offer to God all of my life in a way that still had me holding on to the action and outcome at the same time. I had wanted to live in the USA for a while and saw a beautiful creative community of scripture lovers and fun in Minneapolis and I started to try and figure it all out. I would go to college and that would kill two birds with one stone. I could get a visa and show the world that I had a brain to carry out things I was passionate about, like teaching scripture. I would also be able to live in a city where the creative process is nurtured and where there were many peers I could share the process with.

But now, back to Las Vegas.

It was chaos and that name badge struck a chord so deeply in me that its vibrations didn’t leave. We left the “city of sin” and travelled into the desert. The first place we stopped on our way out of chaos, a gas station connected to a brothel. Yes, a legal brothel. We then chose to travel through death valley and on route there I received a call from the college I was trying to attend….the line broke and we never spoke again. To cut a long story short the doors started to close on college but in the background an email lingered from a new friend I had met in the summer.

The email was from Maria and she is the director of anti-trafficking for Source MN. We met at a church new to us both and discovered that we were connected to the same charity in Asia and that we had mutual friends in Shanghai. She had sent me an email about the need for residential volunteers to live alongside women who have come out of the life of prostitution at an annex which is part of Source.

By the time my friend and I had reached California on our epic road trip I was ready to make the call and ask a few more questions about this work. You see, when I had first received it I had pondered it in my prayers for a good ten minutes and thought my conclusive response of “no”, was accurate. It wasn’t, and slowly the question, the phone call, and the “no never”, turned to a yes, here I am.

What happened next?

Well after a long process of time back in the UK and getting a volunteer visa organised, I am now in Minneapolis living as a residential volunteer with Source who have been working in the city for the last 30 years. I have joined the team working in anti-trafficking and am part of outreach teams and the social media and PR work for the non-profit. I live in one of the annex apartments where we can host up to three women coming out of the life of prostitution, so I will be living alongside and being present to the women too. The residents enter a faith based program here at Source and over the course of a year to eighteen months these women transition through healing to a space in which they can start to dream again and live a very different life.

So, there’s the story. There is the yes without even an ounce of assumption that I might know the outcome or what I might receive from being involved in this work. All I do know is that real life will unfold as I live the response in real time to the question, am I my sisters keeper?

I worked with Source for a year and a half. I now work and serve in full time ministry and continue my passion in working with women in need. (2019)

Sally Cranham