Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Their Stories: The Voices Of Slavery

It is called the modern day slavery and it is all around us: human trafficking, sex trafficking, child exploitation. Its name doesn’t matter, it, “Is a dark stain on humankind that diminishes every moral human being” (Vision Abolition). Every day, “Women, children and even men are bought and sold within their own countries and across international borders. Human slavery is not a just a practice of the past. It is a poorly hidden, dirty little secret of today’s world” (Vision Abolition). Fortunately, people are starting to take notice. Thousands of studies are being conducted and published to get the facts “out there” and hundreds of organizations have made it their goal to make the injustice of sexual exploitation known to the world. But are facts enough to get people to act? Are they enough to get people to take a stand against today’s slavery? Sex trafficking is more than just a list of statistics; each and every one of those numbers is made from a story: the story of a small child from Africa, the story of a teenage girl from Phoenix, the story of a pimp giving in to fear. The world does need to know the facts about sexual exploitation, but it also needs to hear the personal stories of the victims and those that hold them.

New articles are being published about trafficking nearly every month. They seek to understand the magnitude of this problem and how to change it. These reports say that,
“The sad reality is that the creation of child pornography is largely driven by American citizens” (Vision Abolition). In fact, “55% of child pornography on the Internet comes from the U.S” (Vision Abolition). But it does not stop at pornography. Over 200 million women are missing in the world today due to trafficking and over one million children are forced into sex slavery each year, some of them as young as five years old. About 300,000 of those children are from the United States (Branded PXH). Each child is expected to perform for 100 to 1500 clients each year (Branded PXH), creating an industry that brings in $52 billion worldwide for their recruiters and sellers (Vision Abolition).

One million children are forced into sex slavery each year, (Branded PXH) that means there are one million stories of individuals, of real people, of real lives that need to be told and understood; they need to be shown as more than mere numbers. One little girl, Angie, made her livelihood off prostitution. Her “Shackles are brandings made from crude scalding irons and tattoos that claim her as property of her pimp” (Branded PXH). That is what slavery does: it dehumanizes, it reduces a person down to a piece of property, it makes children think that they have no other choice. When discussing one trafficking case police officer Greg Scheffer states, “She was subject to various abuses while in there. This is all part of the breaking down period where [he] gains complete control of this girl” (ABC News). The case he refers to involves a girl named Debbie, who had been kidnapped by a friend. In between clients she was, “Kept in a small dog crate for several days. Lying on her back in the tiny space, her whole body went numb.” (ABC News) and when the police finally found her, “She was tied up and crushed into a drawer under a bed” (ABC News). Another girl, named Miya, was not only physically abused but also psychologically abused by her captors. Her account says, “And then I heard him start messing with his gun. And he counted to three and then he pulled the trigger. And then I was still alive. I opened my eyes, and I just saw him laughing” (ABC News). Although the girls considered escape, they did not want to risk the threats of their captors to hurt their families so they remained in captivity as sex saves.

These are sad stories. There is a lot of pain and suffering. But there is more to these girls than defenselessness and captivity. Of Debbie Scheffer says, “She is a very strong, amazing girl. We ran into a few other girls that are like that. I don't know how they have the strength. They are very brave” (ABC News). One woman, after being saved from captivity, wrote this. “I was: dead inside, raped, deemed worthless, molested regularly since I was young, sold by my own mother, pregnant, rejected by my family, a single mother, an outcast in my community, lost without a place to go. I am: accepted, beautiful, healed and healthy…now helping other women to be free” (Vision Abolition). There is hope still for these women; they have such strength to get up everyday and live the nightmare they are in. Now it is the world’s turn to do something for them.

To be trafficked, first there has to be a trafficker. Who are they and what is their story? Many would see the trafficker’s life as one full of depravity and rightly so, for selling another human being for profit can never be morally justified. But there is more pain and hurt in the life of a pimp than most would think. There is a practice called “Happy Trafficking” which “Refers to victims-turned-traffickers’ practice of claiming to have had an ideal experience in legitimate jobs in the West or elsewhere, hiding the fact that they have been forced into prostitution themselves” (U.S. Department of State). It is a form of psychological coercion against the victim-turned-trafficker that “conveys the message that those who comply will be rewarded, while those who refuse to comply will be severely punished” (U.S. Department of State). In many circumstances, these woman are faced with having to bring more woman into prostitution or continue to live a life of prostituted slavery themselves. They must choose between their freedom or the freedom of a stranger. Even if these women can get out of slavery, many do not have any job skills to survive on their own. As a result, they are picked up by criminal organizations to be traffickers because, “Governments frequently exhibit leniency toward female criminals. In many countries in Eurasia, female traffickers are released from serving prison time when they are pregnant or mothers of young children” (ABC News). Slave traders do horrible “ruthless ploys designed to trick, coerce and win the confidence of potential victims,” (Vision Abolition) that often target defenseless woman and children. But many traffickers themselves are defenseless, alone, and hurting. Their stories can not also be ignored.

Even with all the media that has surrounded sex trading recently, the subject still seems far away, a problem for somewhere else. But that is what mere statistics does: it removes the individual stories from the injustice. If people start listening to the voices of these children who are sex slaves and the voices of these women who are forced into trafficking, the problem will become more real. It is happening all around us, in our own country, our own city, our own backyard. The “slavery of human trafficking and sexual exploitation buries its ugly tentacles deep into humanity’s heart.” (Branded PXH). Yes the problem looks daunting. But “While there are millions of children …victimized everyday, let us not forget the one. The one girl deceived, the one woman afflicted with AIDS, the one child needing a rescuer. To succumb to the enormity of the problem is to fail the one” (Branded PXH).

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Faith in action

Faith and action seem inseparable: without faith there is no action, but without action faith doesn’t do any good. The past couple years of my life have felt more like tripping and stumbling down an unknown road than gracefully gliding along. But what takes more faith: gliding along on a nice solid path or not letting scraped knees keep you from pressing on?
When I was six years old I told people that I wanted to grow up to be a martyr. I was too young to understand what that fully encompassed, but something about the martyrs’ stories entranced me. They lived completely in faith, unafraid to do anything to serve the God they loved; fear was replaced with incredible passion. As a result, God used them to change lives, countries, even eternity. That is what I want my faith in action to look like each and every day…although I think it’s more like God doing the action and me holding on as tightly as I can. But then again, isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

unworthiness in the midst of glory

Isaiah 6 is an account of the Prophet Isaiah’s calling from God. He is given a rare glimpse into the majestic throne room of God and his descriptions are breathtaking. But Isaiah becomes overwhelmed by his own failures and falls on his face, unworthy, before God’s splendor. But God does not see Isaiah’s shortcomings. Instead, He forgives him and asks who He should send as a messenger. Isaiah, without question, hesitation, or doubt, strongly declares that he will go. This passage has been close to my heart for many years. So many times I have fallen on my face and cried out to God; I have wept because of my unworthiness in the presence of His glory. But each and every time, my Lord bends down to wrap His arms around me and whisper comforting words in my ear, showering me with His undying love. How can I not, then, after what He has done, stand like Isaiah and declare, “Here am I, send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

Let the children come

I have not had a lot of experience working in cross cultural environments which has been hard because it is something that I have wanted to do for so much of my life. I did go to Mexico City for a couple weeks with my church when I was in high school. We helped at an inner city church and ran a kids’ club for disadvantaged children. Everything was new to me but I loved it. I tried to learn everything that I could when I was there. Since then, I have had several opportunities to go overseas, to Ireland and Kenya, but God always said to wait. It was frustrating but I’m glad I did. Instead of going on those trips, I was able to work at a kids’ camp for a couple years. All summer and every weekend during the school year I would drive to Youth Haven Ranch to be a team leader. The camp served children who were in need, many being from abusing families and broken homes. For every camp, I would get a new set of girls to spend the entire time with. I would teach Bible verses and lead chapel messages, but my most important job was to show these kids God by loving them and letting them have fun. I knew that they treasured every gift, every hug, every minute of time that was given to them which made me want to give them that much more. These kids had been through things that I could never have imagined, but even though I could not empathize, I could listen and love. That is what made all the difference. So many of those kids accepted Christ and it was a miracle for me each and every time I got to pray with one of them. At that camp, I learned that healing kids physically is not enough; they must be healed emotionally and spiritually to be whole.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Serving in the Philippines

My dear friends,

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!”
I pray you are having a beautiful and blessed week. God is so good! He has bestowed the great privilege and honor upon me to serve His people this summer. From June 8th to August 5th, I will be interning with a mission’s agency called Food for the Hungry. This is an amazing organization that strives to meet the spiritual and physical hungers of people in over 23 countries around the world; it’s about saving the dying, one at a time.

This summer I will be working at Food for the Hungry headquarters in Phoenix, AZ to find ways to improve the child sponsorship program. Through Child Sponsorship, the world’s poorest children are able to have their spiritual, educational, physical, and emotional needs met while at the same time blessing the people who sponsor them. I sponsor a little girl and have felt such joy from writing and praying for her. Knowing that I have the opportunity to work with the entire sponsorship program, I know God will bless and teach me so much!

As part of my internship I will also be traveling to the Philippines. While there I will be building wells, repairing houses, conducting basic health training, and running a camp for children. Not only will this give me the opportunity to serve God and those in extreme poverty, but to also experience first hand how work in the Phoenix office directly affects work in the mission’s field and how vital both aspects are to missions.

God has been so faithful in supplying all of my financial support but there is still a need for much prayer! For the Philippines, I ask you pray against the effects of poverty, for revival in the church and a turn from animism, and for the children. Often they are the most vulnerable and hurt in all aspects of poverty. For myself, please pray for the strength to continue to say “Whatever You want God” throughout this entire summer. I ask you to pray for safety, both spiritually and physically, and I especially ask that you pray for magnification; that God would magnify every action I do, to touch more people and bring Him more glory than I can even fathom. I thank God in advance for what He is going to do this summer! And I thank you for being a part of it. I know its going to be big! And I know its going to be life changing!

Love in Christ,