By Jeff Vines
Her work with abused and suffering women worldwide has spread hope and helped her experience healing herself.
Naomi Zacharias blew into the foyer of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) 10 minutes late. She had been caught in a typical Atlanta, Georgia, traffic snarl. With a large drink and a half-eaten sandwich in her hands, she was on the move.
She greeted me and then escorted me to her office, making sure the door was left open to remove any question of impropriety. I was immediately impressed. I wondered if Naomi, the daughter of perhaps one of the most gifted apologists of our time, had inherited both the brains and the wit of her New Delhi-born father. It didn’t take long to notice the miniscule distance the apple had fallen from the tree.
Slowly panning her office wall, I noticed photo after photo of women and children who had been rescued by this humanitarian organization founded some 13 years ago. From sex trafficking to abject poverty and even slavery, her ministry, Wellspring International, has been rescuing young girls in more than 24 countries since 2004 and is relentless in its benevolence efforts.
I listened intently to Naomi describing her work since her days as an intern in the White House during the George W. Bush administration. In that role, she served as a liaison between foreign-aid agencies in desperate need of international intervention and U.S. organizations with the power and position to deliver.
In one instance, Naomi met a group of Afghan women the Bush administration had brought to the United States to educate and encourage. When President Bush walked into the room, these 25 underprivileged, undernourished, and undereducated Afghan women simultaneously dropped to their knees and began kissing his feet.
Naomi watched from the back of the room as the president, embarrassed by all the attention, urged the women to stand and cease their gratuitous activity. Of course, these women would have none of that. Exhibiting a response of humility, kindness, and respect toward those who bring compassion and care is a nonnegotiable among the Afghan people.
The Start of a Journey
Naomi had seen such things before, but something happened to her that day. Determined to discover more about these gracious people, she began a journey that led to the discovery of all kinds of atrocities happening to women every single day all around the world. Her heart ached for those in such horrific and dire circumstances. Out of her inability to live apathetically, as if such injustices were not the problem of everyday Americans, Wellspring International was born.
During the 2016 North American Christian Convention, I was privileged to interview Naomi Zacharias during the closing session. She opened our eyes to a world most of us will never see. She told us about the sex slave trade, where young girls are sold for a bowl of rice and young women are kidnapped and forced into prostitution. We were compelled to look into a world we would rather not see. We felt so helpless. What can we do? How can we help?
This is what makes Wellspring International so special. Wellspring refrains from starting new projects. Instead, it empowers and resources organizations already “on the ground” with proven track records of success.
In some respects, Naomi is a headhunter, always on the lookout. Where compassion is defeating injustice, she brings in the troops to energize and catapult these freedom fighters to accomplish much more than they ever thought they could. Wellspring is the due diligence of the compassion community. It has been successful in finding these grassroots organizations that are literally changing the world one life at a time.
As we conversed in Naomi’s office, she teared up as she told me story after story of young women rescued out of slavery and prostitution and young children saved from poverty and death. Her stories prompted me to spend several hours on the Wellspring International website reading about things like Bombay Teen Challenge, Scarlet Cord, and other endeavors designed to help at-risk women and children around the world. Reading about the 10,000 prostitutes enslaved in Amsterdam alone was enough to make me look away from the computer screen and think about my own daughter’s well-being.
As Naomi continued to talk about the hellholes where she finds herself serving, I could not help but wonder, What makes such a gifted, intelligent, attractive young woman decide to forsake the glamour and power of the White House to pursue a life of travel that would take her into places most of us would really rather forget?
Through our conversation, I got my answers.
Naomi had also experienced great loss. Her life had not turned out the way she had planned or hoped. She had suffered through a divorce. When her divorce was made public, she felt alienated from many of her Evangelical friends and experienced what she calls a type of death where you no longer know who you are or what you are supposed to do. She felt lost and alone, separated from the moorings of her family, unsure how to navigate her way back home.
It was during this dark and tumultuous season that she met the Afghan women in the White House. Something clicked. Rather than pitying her own situation, maybe she could improve the lives of those who had very little chance of rescue. Perhaps she could do for them what she seemed unable to do for herself.
Sure enough, little by little, as she lost herself in the world of the less fortunate and ill-treated, she found herself coming out of the shadows and into the light of an incomprehensible grace. The more grace she poured out on others, the more grace she seemed to experience in her own life. Feelings of alienation, betrayal, and mediocrity began to dissipate under the weight of love, sacrifice, and compassion.
I could not help but think of Jesus’ words in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (emphasis added). When we give out the very thing we so desperately need, we often find that what has been given away comes back to us a hundredfold.
As I left Naomi’s office that day, I thought of all the women I’ve met who possessed incredible gifts and compelling visions, yet, due to some unfortunate set of circumstances, had been alienated and even ostracized by the very community they once trusted. I thought of how far we have come in the past 20 years. I thought of how far we still must go.
But mostly, I thought of Naomi Zacharias and Wellspring International and how one broken woman decided to mend the wounds of others, and somewhere along the way, had discovered the healing her heart needed as well.
Jeff Vines serves as lead pastor with Christ’s Church of the Valley, San Dimas, California.
Learn more about Naomi Zacharias at www.wellspringinternational.org.