When Benedictine monks enter the monastery, they make five vows at the time of their entry. One is the vow of stability. Unless the monk is told to go elsewhere by his superiors or by Rome, he must remain in the same monastery for the rest of his life. According to Thomas Merton, the monk gives up the freedom to wander off to find the ‘perfect monastery.’
I’ve always been imbued with a natural sense of wanderlust, so a monk’s willing decision to stay in one place intrigues me. But I’ve realized that, in my own way, I’ve also adopted the vow of stability.
For me, it has meant choosing to grow roots in community, choosing to show up and stay in the midst of suffering, and choosing to hold on rather than take the easy road. It has meant not running away when things get messy, as they often do.
I see my IJM colleagues take this approach too. They simply don’t go away. Year after year, they have chosen to show up on behalf of those suffering from violence.
When IJM first started working in Uganda to protect widows and orphans, one of our clients was told by her abuser that he simply needed to wait us out. Then, he would come back to take her land. He had seen countless other NGOs set up shop for a few years but then leave soon after and he assumed this would be no different. He assumed wrong.
Today we’re still working hard to protect widows and orphans in Uganda. We haven’t left yet and we’re seeing more and more poor and vulnerable people protected each year.
After years of staying put, guess what happens? Change.
It’s the flywheel: “[the] overall accumulation of effort applied in a consistent direction.”
We’ve seen it happen in Cambodia.
In the early 2000s, research reported by the Cambodian government estimated the prevalence of minors exploited in the commercial sex industry was as high as 30% in the city of Phnom Penh. Globally, Cambodia was viewed as the poster child for the commercial sexual exploitation of children, especially minors under age 15.
But after years of collaborative efforts by numerous organizations, including IJM, amazing progress happened. After years of individuals and international and Cambodian government leaders committing to seeing change take place, it did.
A 2015 prevalence study by IJM found that the prevalence of minors in the three largest commercial sex markets in the country dropped to 2.2%. Minors 15 years old and younger make up just 0.1% of the sex industry.
Today, children in Cambodia are safer than they’ve ever been. That’s the fantastic outcome of choosing to stay put.
PS – If IJM’s work inspires you and you want to get involved, I’d like to invite you to become a Freedom Partner. Freedom Partners give $31 or more every month. The dedicated, long-term support of Freedom Partners like you makes immediate rescue and long-term transformation possible. Learn more at IJM.ca/Freedom-Partner
As Director of Marketing and Public Relations for IJM Canada, Petra Kooman manages the organization’s communications initiatives, including media, public and government relations.