Editor's Note: Last month we ran the first of some profiles we want to share with you of folks out there doing amazing work, some of whom seem to have some wild connection to us. This month’s story began with an email we received last year that started with a photo of a permit caught on a fly in Belize.
That got our attention. Do you know how hard it is to catch permit with a fly rod? We have several bad stories.
Then we read on in the email: “Sometimes I may not want to thank you. Your books, along with the Spirit, propelled me from a safe corporate career as an engineer to a wild adventure in Guatemala—rescuing broken girls and seeking justice for them. In just a few minutes I will play the defense attorney and ‘cross examine’ a 10-year-old victim of sexual abuse, a girl who just an hour or so ago sat with me at lunch and was just a little girl. Tomorrow I will be her legal guardian in the real trial. Earlier today I was with prosecutors who are taking the declaration of a 12-year-old…and so it goes. We have 60 girls here, and our team is transforming the system in Guatemala as they heal, redeem, and seek justice for these girls.”
We forgot all about the permit. And began a dialog with an amazing man doing beautiful and tragic work in Guatemala.
And Sons: Let's start with just some data on Oasis—when did you get started? How many girls live there? What kind of help do you have?
Corbey Dukes [his real name]: Construction for Oasis was started in 2000 as a general home for girls. The first girls were there in 2005. I came as director in 2009, and we soon after transitioned to a ministry focused on sexually abused girls. Being a victim of sexual crimes is the price of admission to Oasis now, and that has driven us to become a very deep ministry—residential, intense therapy, legal support, and a focused spiritual message. We have a staff of 29 Guatemalans and 11 missionaries from the U.S. and U.K. There are 56 girls in residence, with five babies, seven in independence transition, and 23 in our reunited families, for 91 total.
AS: Holy cow. We have spent time in Guatemala and we know how brutal it can be down there. How did you get pulled into this work? What's your story?
CD: I distinctly remember sitting in a dead church when I was 12 years old, with the preacher droning on about Matthew 25—the sheep and goats. It occurred to me that to the best of my knowledge no one in that church was particularly concerned with actually feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. So this must all be crap. I checked out on the whole God/church thing. For 21 years I drank, used, chased women with extraordinary gusto—even into my first nine years of marriage. At 33, I had a daughter, and marriage about to end. We attended a Christian marriage conference (I’m still not sure how) and became Christians—saying the prayer and actually having the emotional experience. A couple of job changes later and I have my hand on the brass ring of corporate life when Jesus starts telling me there is more to Him.
AS: We can already feel where this is headed. He has a way of radical disruption.
CD: I remember having a feeling that is perfectly illustrated in The Fellowship of the Ring—that scene where Gandalf is about to reach down to the floor and pick up the ring. There is a sudden flash of danger and a recognition that “You don't really want that.” So I let it go and went on staff at my church as administrative manager. Then came, “What have I done?!” To go from multi-million dollar budgets, high-pressure projects, and first-class corporate travel to the minutiae of a medium-sized church was BORING.
AS: No need to convince us of that. How did Guatemala get into your blood?
CD: My pastors asked me to take on leadership of our missions program and I leapt at it, mostly to have something to do. And Jesus destroyed me. Remember that 12-year-old who walked out on God because no one was interested in “the least of these”? Jesus now ruined me with the least of these. In addition to a lot of local stuff, we started short-term trips to Oasis in Guatemala. I became highly invested. I helped former Oasis directors with leadership issues and emotional support. While there with my daughter’s youth team, the director at the time asked to speak with me. I thought I was in trouble because we had absolutely trashed the Oasis girls with games that involved chocolate, water, whipped cream, etc.
AS: We zone out for a moment trying to recall a game from our youth ministry days involving chocolate, water and whipped cream…
CD: She told me that she wanted to let me know that she was done and was resigning that day. I immediately heard God say, “You are next.” My wife, Janie, and I prayed very hard not to be sent. Guatemala is not the coast of South Carolina and we had a daughter starting her junior year of high school and another in middle school—not ideal ages to move to Guatemala. We kept hoping it was an Abraham-and-Isaac deal and God would pull a more qualified person (someone who at least spoke Spanish) out of the bush. He did not, and six months later we left South Carolina for Guatemala.
AS: Now we are silent because we are pretty much blown away by his courage…
CD: Once I got here, I found out that in the 16 years the ministry has existed in Guatemala, there have been seven directors; no one lasted more than three years, most far less. It is frankly brutal.
AS: Umm…so how long have you been there?
CD: Seven years. Just today, I was talking with our social worker about an 11-year-old we just received. It seems every year I think it cannot get worse, and then a girl who has experienced worse comes. I have faith that Jesus will overcome the darkness, but man, it looks like there is absolutely no limit to how far evil will go. Your books are part of the reason Janie and I have been able to not only persevere, but take on ever greater challenges. We have not just hung on but grown.
AS: What's changed in your view of Jesus and his Gospel since you got involved in this?
CD: Like a lot of people, the Gospel I was presented was based on avoiding hell. Don’t get me wrong—I think not going to hell is a good thing. But I can’t recall a single time I have shared that message with these girls. They have already been there. I share the Gospel Jesus seems to focus on, “The time has come. The kingdom of heaven is near. Repent and believe the Good News.” Change your thinking about yourself, God, and His heart; believe that God cleanses and restores, and live like a citizen of His kingdom. I think the Gospel is about the restoration of the heart now and living as if you believe your heart is being restored, living like a citizen of His kingdom now.
CD: Just be sure you are ready. In seven years I have seen lots of people come and go in other ministries. You, your wife, and family have to be tight and willing to follow Jesus, together, over the wall. Then read Jeremiah chapter 20 and know that your life will be more like Jeremiah’s prayer than pop Christian radio. “You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me” (20:7). That pretty much sums it up. Jesus is leading you into HARDER, not easier, and you will cry out, “WTF?” a lot as you deal with emotional pain, budgets, and living in a place that is not the Mall of America. You will feel He has left you dangling and people are laughing at you for taking His stuff so seriously while they live the Facebook life.
AS: Seems like you are speaking out of some pain here.
CD: “Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long” (20:8). The majority of people will have a glazed look in their eyes once you move past talking about what the food is like. They don’t want to know what you know. After a few years you will find yourself with your wife alone in the corner of the dinner held in your honor, because you don’t relate to most of the conversations. You realize that you are suffering from PTSD. “But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (20:9).
AS: We see it. We get it. Preach on.
CD: That is my prayer and thought life more often than victory dances. If you feel it is a Jeremiah-sized call, meaning, "I will do it no matter how much I get my butt kicked", then you may be ready. But even then, theory is a lot different from reality. There have been many days—MANY DAYS—when my wife and I have felt that is all there is to the story. Let’s go back to the USA. But then Janie will say, “So how do we pretend we don’t know.” We’ll share a bottle of wine, make love, fall asleep, and head back in the next day.
AS: What is bringing you hope?
CD: It is not all a bummer. I have a drawer full of notes from the very girls I am here for, encouraging me, “No te rindas.” Don’t give up. I have also been stunned by Jesus, by the courage of little girls and by the bond I have with my wife and daughters. I love my wife more than ever and am in awe of her bravery and trust. I am thrilled every time a girl fist-bumps me before she goes into court, and I love leading this staff, following Jesus over the wall. I understand what it is to have a fire in my bones and I love that. I love trusting that Jesus will rescue me, and if not, then knowing He will say, “Man that was awesome. Crazy, but awesome.”
AS: If someone wanted to help, what can they do?
CD: Come take me fly-fishing. Short of that, pray for our courage, perseverance, and physical protection. We work to send people to jail, and they don’t like that. We work with severely hurt girls, and they can hurt you out of their pain. We work with a judicial system that can make some bizarre decisions. If someone is moved to help materially, then contact Kids Alive (www.kidsalive.org)—we can host teams and we can use any giftedness or gift.