Last month I attended the Global Leadership Summit hosted by Willow Creek. They had quite a lineup of speakers, from Jim Collins to Condoleezea Rice, but I was especially taken by a woman with a small voice and a big story.
When Pranitha Timothy was getting ready to graduate with her master’s degree in social work, she felt like God gave her a vision for life, straight from the words of Scripture. As she read these words from Isaiah 42, she sensed that God was speaking them afresh for her.
Look at my servant, whom I strengthen.
He is my chosen one, who pleases me.
I have put my Spirit upon him.
He will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout
or raise his voice in public.
He will not crush the weakest reed
or put out a flickering candle.
He will bring justice to all who have been wronged.
He will not falter or lose heart
until justice prevails throughout the earth.
Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction.
But shortly after she sensed this call, tragedy struck: Pranitha was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Thankfully, the doctors were able to remove the tumor, and it turned out to be benign. But in the process, she lost movement in 60 percent of her face and she no longer had feeling in her shoulder and neck. Worst of all, she could no longer speak. This woman with a dream for justice suddenly found herself mute.
Shattered, Pranitha returned to the Isaiah passage, asking God why he would give her this vision only to snatch it away before she could even begin. But upon closer reading, she was struck anew by certain parts of the passage: God’s servant “will not shout or raise his voice….He will not falter or lose heart.” Pranitha hardly dared to believe it, but what if God hadn’t revoked his call after all? What if it would just take a different form than she’d ever envisioned?
And so, after a period of recovery, Pranitha joined International Justice Mission and devoted her life to setting slaves free in her homeland of India. Over the years she has gradually regained some range of movement in her body and face. And God has given her a voice—a thin, feeble voice, but a voice nonetheless.
To date, Pranitha has led more than 50 slave rescue operations with IJM. She serves as a legal witness, representing these individuals in court, and she has also developed an aftercare strategy to help freed slaves find healing and integrate back into society.
To Pranitha’s surprise, in God’s hands her weakness has become one of her greatest strengths. Her trials provide a kind of common ground with the slaves she seeks to help. When they see the struggles she herself has faced, an immediate connection is formed—a level of trust that is usually hard won from people whose lives have been consistently marked by fear and distrust. She can speak from firsthand experience about what it means to rely on God on a daily basis, from a place of desperate need. “This pain constantly reminds me every day that I need God,” she says.
As I sat enraptured by Pranitha’s stories of risking her life to set slaves free, I was reminded of God’s heart for captives. I, too, was a slave to sin, trapped and full of fear. Christ risked everything to come to my rescue and break me out of my chains. He defended me before my accusers, and he continues to take care of me after I’ve been set free.
It is because of grace that I’ve been set free. And it’s because of grace that he calls me to set other captives free too.