Learning to Feel Sorrow

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By Christina Bacino

M_ChristinaI’ve spent five of the last six years of my life doing counter-human trafficking work in Cape Town, South Africa. I was involved in everything from online investigation via pornographic material, to raiding brothels with law enforcement to the repatriation of victims. It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of the freedom process!

But five fast years later and I began to realize that maybe all of the researching, rescuing, problem solving, brothel raiding, and overall crisis intervention was actually taking a toll on me. I had ignored the warning signs for years: headaches, nausea, insomnia, anxiety, irritability.

I was fatigued in every sense of the word, and it wasn’t until my job was finished that it finally hit me. I had lost hope and all motivation. Surprisingly, I didn’t care about anything.

Those who knew the details of my work often asked how it all affected me; I never really knew how to respond. I felt fine. Regularly, I would return home from raids or hours of looking at online sex ads, and just get on with life as usual. I thought that God had “wired” me for this kind of work because, seemingly, I was unaffected. Or so I thought.

Encouraged by a few leaders and friends, I found someone trained in debriefing and unloaded my story. While debriefing I was shown a diagram of a healthy grief process. Looking at that process, I realized where I went terribly wrong.

I had put a tremendous amount of time and effort into protecting my heart, out of a lack of trust in the Lord. I was terrified that if I let my heart feel all that it should, I would be completely overcome by sorrow and possibly never recover. I was on high alert for negative emotions, rejecting the first sign of them with busyness.

Here I was, a taskmaster in the name of justice, all the while denying love and emotion for fear that it would cripple me. Yet how could I truly be a part of delivering others from the powers of darkness, when I was afraid of them myself? How could I possibly tell anyone that Jesus could reach into the depths of their despair and pull them out, when I didn’t even trust Him to do it for me?

It took me an entire week of counselling to debrief those years. Finally I allowed the hurts, the failures, the sadness and the unanswered questions to surface. All of the suppressed stress and emotion I had carried for years came tumbling out. They had been buried deep for years, causing my whole being to decay.

I liken that week to cleaning a wound—it never feels nice in the moment but is so necessary to prevent infection and ultimately bring healing.

The story of the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35 is a great example of this process. The two disciples walking together debrief the incredibly traumatic event of witnessing their beloved friend Jesus being crucified. Jesus then opens up scriptures to them, brings their perspective back to Him, and their hearts begin to burn within them once again. He reveals Himself and restores their hope, also beautifully reminding us that He is with us even when we don’t see Him.

Cape Town, a city where both beauty and brokenness reside side by side, is still my home. Most of my days are spent debriefing trauma victims at a local police station. I also recently spent time in Northern Iraq working with Syrian refugees.

Now, when sitting across from a rape victim who just contracted HIV, or hearing the stories of countless refugees who lost loved ones escaping a violent war, I am no longer afraid to let my heart feel what it should. In reflecting on those years, I realized that truly flourishing in my calling looks like having the courage to face whatever hardship or suffering I come into contact with, because I trust all the while that the Lord will not leave my heart to be overcome by it.

He has yet to abandon me in sorrow, as I feared. Instead, He has filled my heart with more peace, more courage, and more love for His people than I ever thought possible. I now understand what it looks like to be strong in Christ, as He lovingly promises, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

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About Christina:

Christina BacinoChristina lives in Cape Town, South Africa, where for the past five years she’s been involved in counter human trafficking work, first as a volunteer and later as a staff member with Not For Sale. She’s currently working as a victim support staff worker in a local township police station, debriefing individuals who have been traumatised. She (very occasionally!) blogs at her website about the things she experiences in her work.

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Image credit: Andy Carter

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