My mother was the chair of the Black History Month Committee, which meant I was enlisted in the school's program. One year, we had a wonderful play which highlighted major figures in African-American history. I put a scarf on my head and a long skirt, a blouse, and an old sweater and became Harriet Tubman. I transitioned back in time to become a powerful, fearless slavery abolitionist, humanitarian, and suffragist. I marveled at her determination to escape slavery. I was inspired by the sacrifice she made to free others.
I can only imagine how Tubman felt when she first tasted freedom. She stated, "When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven."
If this is true—if Harriet Tubman had a piece of heaven right here on Earth—why would she risk losing it by going back to rescue others from slavery? Tubman believed that because she was free, her family should also be free, so she decided that she must go back to get them.
Today, Harriet Tubman is considered a hero. In fact, her heroism has landed her on the forthcoming 20-dollar bill. She not only led over 300 people to freedom, but she did as a woman. Frederick Douglass, a slave abolitionist, wrote to Tubman, "The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day—you in the night. ... The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism . . . I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have."
My beloved sisters, I encourage all of us to follow the lead of this spiritual giant. We must never forget to go back. Just as Tubman went back to help others, we must also "go back" and help those still enslaved by sin, those who are struggling with hardships, and those who need to be mentored.
Going Back to Help Others
I have several friends and partners in ministry who by the grace of God have been delivered from a lifestyle of substance abuse and violence. They now spend their time going "out into the highways and along the hedges” compelling others to know Jesus (Luke 14:23). They go to the jails, prisons, homeless shelters, and streets telling people about a God who loves them. They share their personal story, and they choose to walk alongside them constantly sharing the message of hope. When they fall down, my friends are there to pick them up, dust them off, and tell them about the forgiveness of God. They are not complacent sitting in a church pew, thankful that they know Jesus. They go back. They sacrifice. They go to places no one else wants to go so that others like them might find Jesus as well.
I once heard a woman preaching at a televised conference. She confessed that she had experienced great difficulty in her life. She would often ask God why she was facing such hardship. But she had come to realize that everything she had experienced had been used by God to help other women. She reminded her audience that sometimes we feel that we are the only ones who have experienced such pain, but we’re not really alone. She explained, "Have you been raped? Me too. Let's talk. Have you been divorced? I have, too. Let's talk. Depressed? Let's talk. Addicted to drugs and alcohol? Let me tell you about the God I serve." I could see tears rolling down the faces of the women in attendance. It was clear the speaker felt our pain. She could relate, and she was reaching down to pull us out of the pit from which she had been pulled.
This reminds me of the demon possessed man in Mark 5. He was consumed with so many demons that he cried out night and day and cut himself with stones. Then Jesus cast out the demons and healed him, and he immediately wants to follow Jesus. He wants to get in the boat and leave his past behind. Jesus implores him, however, to go back to his home and testify to the great things the Lord has done.
I read this passage and I lament for the people who are tormented day and night by their own demons—drug and alcohol, depression, eating disorders. I want them to run and fall on their knees at the foot of Jesus. I want my Savior to deliver them. And I believe he can. But Jesus is not physically walking the streets anymore. He uses us to walk the streets in his place. In the words of St. Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on Earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.
My sisters, let us go out to the world and reach back to help those who need us. Will you go back to pull people from the pits you’ve escaped? You may simply share your story of hardship so that others who are in the midst of struggle may be encouraged. You may go back to help people at the life stage you found most difficult. You may come alongside women who are just beginning in ministry to mentor and encourage them.
Women Helping Women
In my experience, it can be really difficult to find women mentors. Who can we go to for words of wisdom? Who can we turn to for help in avoiding pitfalls? Who can help us open doors that historically have been closed to us? But we can do this for each other. Are we willing to allow someone else to stand on our shoulders?
We may not be traveling the Underground Railroad to help slaves run to freedom like Harriet Tubman, but we can go back to help the women around us. Who is in your sphere of influence? Who can you reach back to help? Who can you lead to the path of freedom?
At the beginning of each year, we often set New Year’s resolutions. We resolve to lose weight, exercise more, get organized, or read the bible in a year. While all of those goals can be good, I challenge all of us to consider how we might intentionally influence the life of another woman this year.
Do you have a testimony that needs to be heard? Do you have a platform that can be used to help women on the margins of society? Can you use your position to open the door to a deserving candidate? Are you willing to use your background and experiences to help another woman grow professionally or in her spiritual life?
This year, let’s all commit to going back by pouring out our lives to help other women.