HUMAN TRAFFICKING AWARENESS MONTH

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. It's heartbreaking that such a month has to exist. But, when human trafficking is occurring in almost every country on the planet and every single one of our lives is affected by it, whether we realize it or not, this month has a reason to exist. The current estimates show 35.8 million people1 live in some form of slavery today. Whether it's bonded labor, forced labor, sexual exploitation, child marriages, child soldiers, organ trafficking, or some other form, people all over the globe are being exploited for profit. 

For me, what started out as a passion to end an injustice has resulted in a passion to fight for the dignity, purpose, and life of each individual behind the injustice. So often, we see a number like 35.8 million and think of it as just a number. In reality, it's 35.8 million individuals with a name, face, story, and unique purpose. We must make it less about the injustice itself and more about the people affected. This means living selflessly, loving excellently, and fighting relentlessly. 

I've shared this before, but here are the ABC's of fighting human trafficking. These are easy, doable, tangible steps we all can take to end this atrocity. 

1) ADVOCATE

Use your voice and influence to create change. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, live in the USA or don't, we can all educate ourselves and those around us. I'm sure we all know 2 people who know little to nothing about human trafficking. Start by educating and equipping those two then expand your efforts as time goes on. Or host a prayer gathering to educate your friends and stand on the front lines of this fight. Just use your voice!

Resources: 

A21 CampaignPrayer Guide
End It Movement
Global Slavery Index

2) BUY

Once you're educated about the basics of trafficking, start learning about the goods and industries that are most affected. For instance, "68% of raw materials, such as cotton, cocoa and coffee, contain forced or child labor (U.S. DOL). U.S. brands including Forever 21, Gap Inc., PepsiCo, Nestle, Hershey’s, Nintendo, and Disney source some raw materials from factories and farms that employ slave labor."2 What we purchase, matters. Shop ethically as much as possible. And I realize you might not be able to afford certain things, but you CAN tell corporations you don't agree with exploitative labor practices and slavery. Buying products made locally, by survivors, or that are Fair Trade certified is a great place to start! Visit the Lifestyle page for more information.

Resources: 

Slavery Footprint
Made in a Free World
Free2Work

3) COMBAT

Whether you're using your talents and abilities to directly benefit an organization or you donate to one you believe in, it's important to support those who are combatting this issue everyday. Also, take out your phone and put in the National Human Trafficking Hotline number (1-888-373-7888). Use this to report a suspicious situation, share it with your friends, or give it to someone who you believe is at-risk or currently being trafficked. 

Organizations to consider supporting: 

Not For Sale
Nomi Network
As Our Own
Restore NYC
International Justice Mission
Polaris Project

_______________________________

(1) via Global Slavery Index
(2) Info provided by Nomi Network

 

AMSTERDAM RLD

She was on the second floor, not one of the lucky ones on the street-level. I could see smudges on the window left behind from her attempts to capture the attention of men below. I could hear her knocking on the glass. I could see her dancing in the window. But I couldn’t see her eyes because she wouldn’t make eye contact with me. I stood and watched this particular woman for quite some time. I think there was something about the fact she wasn’t down with the others. She was a little more isolated and the men didn’t seem to respond to her attempts to lure them upstairs. She intrigued me because she had to work harder than the rest.

She was like hundreds of other women we saw. They were provocatively posed behind glass doors. Some looking more interested in this whole gig than others, but all working hard to get a client.

Thousands of men were carelessly “window shopping” for a woman to pleasure them. There were men of all ages, shapes, sizes, and races. You could tell the majority were nervous, slightly unsure, but ready to give it a whirl as soon as they found the perfect woman.

Live porn shows, sex shops, “coffee shops” (aka weed cafes), bars, and strip clubs - everything imaginable lined these streets. Everything one would need to fill a desire or to make he or she brave enough to act on it was in sight.

And then there were the churches.

Nestled in the heart of the red light district, closed. Now a tourist attraction or some sort of business, but the beautiful, old buildings were in sight and a reminder of what once was. These beautiful, old buildings are in the women’s direct line of sight. It’s what they see when they look out their glass doors – a closed church. A beautiful, old building representing what once was.

I want to know where the people went? Where did the church go? Why did they abandon an area like this?

As we walked through the narrow streets, I could only utter “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” for the longest time. These women looked like my friends and people I know, which was a little shocking. As we walked by and time passed, I began to find the words to speak to God. I also took my hand and ran it across their doors because even if they wouldn’t look at me, I wanted them to know I saw them.

They were so beautiful and I wanted nothing more than to cup their face in my hands and tell them how much they’re worth. I wanted to speak life and value over their hearts and their souls. I knew I couldn’t so I asked God to do that as we walked by. I don’t know their stories. I’m not sure if they are there by force or by choice, but I know one thing: they were created for more.  

These women of the night were created to be women of The Light.

I’d love to go back to this quaint little city where beauty abounds and the darkness overshadows. I know Jesus is there. He’s working. He’s moving. He’s redeeming. He’s restoring. I want to partner with Him in it all.  

I can’t get this city off my heart. I can’t get these beautiful women out of my mind - especially the one on the second floor who was working harder than the rest. So, I’m praying and waiting with a longing heart and curious mind, asking God to give me direction and open doors to be involved. 

They need to know how valuable they are. They have to know. 

THE LOVE WITHIN

I used to be a people pleaser (and it can still be a struggle!). It’s a downside of my personality. Because of this, I also used to try to please God. I did all the “right things.” I read my Bible, went to church, prayed, and was involved in many small groups and mission trips, but it seemed like I was constantly dealing with the ups and downs of life. One day, I finally hit rock bottom. I became angry and bitter towards God and basically gave him an ultimatum: prove to me you exist or I’ll walk away. And I did. I walked away for several months. During that time, my life fell apart. I became even more angry and believed I had nothing left to live for. My life was at an all time low and God had forsaken me. He was nowhere to be found. 

But then, on the day I ended my marriage, God came to my rescue. I had pretty much destroyed myself and many relationships at this point. My life consisted of nothing but brokenness. On one of the most lonely, painful nights etched in my memory - for whatever reason (GOD!) - I picked up the book, Crazy Love. My soon-to-be ex-husband had dropped it off earlier with some of my belongings. I read it in a matter of hours and I was wrecked… in the best way possible. The way it talked about God’s love for me cut me to the core. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was worthy to be loved. 

I knew that if I was loved with an unconditional love, I should love others in the same way. If I could be found worthy of love - even after all the terrible things I had done - anyone else certainly could be to. I knew the first person that deserved to be loved by me, the person who was worth fighting for, was my husband. I picked up the phone and texted him. The next morning, we met for brunch and while it was still very rocky, it was my first step towards healing. 

Over time, with lots of counseling and healing delivered to me by the grace of Jesus, I recovered. We both did. Through this process, Jesus showed me His unconditional love and made it known that I was worthy to receive it. He showed me that I was in bondage, being held in captivity by lies. He pointed out my chains and helped me to break them. He showed me that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. He showed me that He has always walked with me and has never once forsaken me like I believed he had. He showed me that He is perfect and His timing is perfect. He showed me that He is trustworthy. 

He deserves my love and devotion. He deserves my life. 

And so, 3 ½  years later, I look nothing like that old person. A new life was given to me that night and a new person has been born. The funny thing is that He answered my “ultimatum.” He proved He existed, but it looked nothing like I wanted it to. He allowed me to be broken to the point of having nothing left. He allowed me to come to the end of myself so I could see who He is and who I am not. 

He is the Lord, master, ruler of my life. He is Adonai. 
I am His child. His daughter. 

Now, I joyfully surrender my life to Him. I want to fulfill my purpose and calling here on earth. My calling is to help others discover their true identity in Christ. As a result, my passion is ending human trafficking because no other injustice affects identity the way human trafficking does. It is this injustice that allows one person to own another. It’s this injustice that strips away a person’s name and replaces it with a number, wiping out who they are as a human being. 

That leaves me here, starting this blog and advocating on behalf of others. It’s been a process full of twists, turns, and unexpected bumps in the road to get here, but He has been the constant. As best I have known how, I’ve tried to be obedient to Him and His Word. I’m trying to glorify Him with my life because I’ve discovered life lived without Him isn’t really a life at all. He is the giver of life and fulfiller of our desires.

By walking closely with Jesus and trusting Him with all I’ve got, He has revealed a beautiful truth in my life: 

When passion and calling collide, life happens. 

Life is beautiful when Jesus is in the middle of it. Your identity is found in Christ alone so claim it for yourself and live in freedom. Walk confidently in who you are. You are His beloved.

If my story can tell you anything, I hope it's that the Love within is where life begins.

 

 

LESSONS FROM THAILAND

It’s been almost two years since I took my trip to Thailand to minister to women in the red light districts and learn more about human trafficking. That trip served as a launching pad for my ministry efforts around the world so thank you to all of you who contributed years ago. Being exposed firsthand to the injustice helped me to work through many realities these women face and also misconceptions I had going into it.

There are a couple of things I don’t think I’ll ever forget from that trip. I remember walking through the red light district mid-morning. The night market was no longer set-up and the street was quiet. We were walking through to simply pray and acknowledge the magnitude of work that goes into making it the flashy, tourist trap it becomes at night. Something caught my eye while we were walking through it though and I haven’t been able to shake it since. 

As we walked, I looked across the street at a bar that was closed. I noticed the most precious little girl standing in front of the door. She was probably around 5 years old - wearing a pretty dress and tightly squeezing a teddy bear. She watched us as we walked by, intrigued. And then she was pulled inside of the bar by a woman, presumably her mother. 

My heart ached. I wanted to go pull her from the bar and take her home with me. In that moment, all I wanted her to know is how loved and valuable she truly is. I wanted her to know that dancing in bars isn’t the norm and it’s not a life she has to live. It breaks my heart to think it very well could be her reality one day.

I’m not suggesting anything bad happened to her, but the innocence she portrayed in such a dark place was the reality I was seeing all around me. Young girls, older men. Beautiful faces with numbers attached to their bikinis. Innocence was being ignored, disrespected, and stolen. 

Oh, how I wish these women and girls weren’t in that situation. 

But, to my surprise, the biggest lesson I learned while walking those streets was how to have compassion for the men. Many were white. They looked like the men in my life. They were of all ages, but one thing was true of all of them: there was a void in their eyes. And that caused tension in my heart. I suddenly wanted to rescue everyone I saw - men and women alike. 

I tried to make eye contact with them. While many would quickly look away, it only took a split second for me to recognize the emptiness in their eyes. They were dark and expressionless. After the first night of being there, I had to control myself from running up to them and asking them why they were there, in the midst of such darkness. Not to scold, but to understand what brokenness in their lives had led them to such a place. 

As I looked at the men, my heart broke more and more. I began to wonder if they had lost a loved one, had recently gone through a divorce, were abused themselves, and or something else entirely. As these scenarios filled my heart and mind, Jesus filled my heart and mind with an overwhelming amount of love and compassion for them. Because the truth is that whether it’s the abused or the abuser, the trafficker or the victim, the “john” or the woman dancing in the bar - we all need the love of Jesus Christ. We need the renewal He brings to our lives. 

And today, two years later,  I still have compassion for the men who are painfully entangled in the injustice of sex trafficking. While they create the majority of the demand for the sex trade, they too are often victimized. It’s easy to demonize “the men” and not love them well. After all, they’re causing the pain. But, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. To love all people as we love ourselves. And if there’s something I know from personal experience, it’s that no one is too far gone or too messed up to receive the transformational love and grace of Jesus Christ.

I pray we won’t victimize men, but play a role in the redemption of manhood. I pray we won’t demonize them, but love them well. I pray that the men of the church will come alongside the men in the darkest places on earth so they can be rescued from the ploys of the enemy.

At the end of the day, we’re all sinners in need of a Savior. Let’s not deny this gift to those who desperately need it because we’re too busy pointing the finger at their faults. Don’t get me wrong, it’s terrible what men (and women) are doing to one another worldwide. I hate it, actually. But there’s only One Solution to overcoming the sin in their lives so let’s start engaging the hurting men of this world instead of adding insult to injury because it’s this deep love - which makes absolutely no sense - that allows men to shift from taking innocence to protecting it. 

May we be a people who dare to love so deeply that no one, no matter what they've done or who they are, goes without knowing the powerful, life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. It's the only hope dark places like the red light districts in Bangkok, and the people in them, have.