God's Brave Women - Michelle's Story
I recently attended a training for a new program we are starting that will help seventy-five children of our trafficking survivors. I get so excited with the thought that these children will have the opportunity to break the cycle of abuse, exploitation and prostitution in their families of origin. Our team dove into this new program with high hopes and planned accordingly all the systems, strategies and structures. Now we are all set! We are good to go!
Part of the training session was devoted to personal and organizational vision. The facilitator asked, ”Where do you see yourself five years from now?” If I were to be honest, my answer is I don’t know. Most people think of me as a visionary leader since I was one of the co-founders of Made in Hope, a non-profit organization that provides educational and work opportunities for women and children survivors of modern day slavery of human-trafficking and prostitution. But truth be told, my vision is limited and mostly obscured by my own perspective. As I’ve led the organization these past eight years, I have learned that relying on God’s vision for our lives and ministries is our greatest guide for every step of the way.
"As I’ve led the organization these past eight years, I have learned that relying on God’s vision for our lives and ministries is our greatest guide for every step of the way."
Growing up, I had great dreams and vision for my life, even in the midst of a challenging childhood living in an urban poor community in Manila, Philippines. I grabbed every opportunity that was given to me, tried to work hard and be the best that I could be. My tendency, though, was to control everything, to make sure I was secure and certain in order for me to achieve my goals and plans. After all, I am a number 3 in the Enneagram. : )
The journey of letting go became real for me in 2007 when I felt God calling me to leave my flourishing and fulfilling career in a Christian theater company in the Philippines so I could study Spiritual Formation at Moody Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL, where I met Becky. Initially, my plan was just to finish the program for two and half years and then go back to Manila to continue my passion for theater. That was my plan!
But God had another plan. In my last year at Moody, I was writing a paper in one of our missions classes, and I felt the Lord speak to me through the words of Luke 14, when Jesus said: “You cannot be my disciple, if you do not carry your cross and follow me.” I knew in my heart that one of the crosses that I was asked to bear was to be an advocate and come alongside women and children-at-risk.
During that time, I thought, this will be the death of all my dreams. But now I’ve come to realize that the death of my dreams is, in reality, the birthplace of real hope, healing and joy, which is God’s dream for me. As I let go and emptied myself of my own plans, I returned to the Philippines in 2011 and started working with trafficking survivors. God surprised me with the beautiful gifts of His love, joy, healing and hope, as seen in the lives of the women survivors that I live in community with. In the words of a Puritan prayer, ‘My cross has become my crown.’
"God surprised me with the beautiful gifts of His love, joy, healing and hope, as seen in the lives of the women survivors that I live in community with. In the words of a Puritan prayer, ‘My cross has become my crown.’"
God is always inviting us to a life of surrender, a life of letting go and a life of self-emptying.
The word ‘Kenosis’ comes to mind. In Greek, the verb kenosein means “to let go” or “to empty oneself,” and this is the word Paul chooses to describe the mind of Christ in Philippians 2:5-8:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
So dear Sister, be brave and surrender! Let go! Be empty! God knows where we will be five years from now. It is only in our emptiness and letting go that God can fill us with our lives’ greatest treasure—Himself.
Michelle Sheba Tolentino is Catalyst for Children-at-Risk of the Lausanne Movement. She is Co-founder and Executive Director of Made in Hope, a non-profit organization that provides educational and work opportunities to women who have been exploited in modern-day slavery (human trafficking and prostitution) and prevention of child sex-trafficking in the Philippines. Michelle also serves a broadcaster and producer for a weekly radio program for children and youth (Far East Broadcasting Company, Philippines) that reaches 500,000 listeners. It was awarded the 23rd and 26th KBP Golden Dove Award in 2015 and 2018 by the Broadcasters Association of the Philippines as “Best Children’s Radio Program." She also travels internationally to speak as an advocate for women and children-at-risk. Feel free to contact her through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their Facebook page HERE.
Make sure to check back next week as another courageous Sister shares her story!
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