Dear Modern Day Abolitionist

Dear Modern Day Abolitionist

It’s not about you. It’s not about you. Please know though that I say this with so much love and kindness. I am writing you to tell you that it’s not about you because if you joined this fight, if you became an abolitionist to make a difference, to end human trafficking to rescue people, to stop slavery- You Will Burn Out.

It makes sense for the above reasons to be why you became an abolitionist- you felt compelled to do something. But eventually that sheer determination will only fuel you for a couple of years and then you will become fatigued. Joining a cause to change the world is great but what will sustain you and fuel you is simply just to love people and respect their dignity.

I cannot tell the detriment that is made in counter trafficking when those in need of assistance or support are not given the dignity they are entitled. Understanding terminology, statistics, stories and reports are all well and good but if we are not careful they can stigmatize and dehumanize a particular group of people experiencing a social injustice. And then we forget that, that particular people group is made up of unique individuals. These individuals have their own independent experiences and stories.

If dignity for others is a core value that you adhere to in any kind of humanitarian service work, than you will already be combating the savior complex that can be so prevalent in service work.

I tell you all of this because I made these mistakes early on but never dreamed I was hurting more than I was helping. After all, everyone in the anti-trafficking movement was camped around the mission to stop it. And it is a good reason to fight but it cannot be the main reason we rally. We have to rally because we love people. Because we believe in their value and dignity because we see them as as EQUALS, as PEERS because we see them as FRIENDS. The anti trafficking world has often bonded over outrage and anger as a means to fuel people to fight to abolish and yet the numbers increase in exploitation as well as staff and volunteer burnout.

 I believe to fight against human trafficking the approach cannot be re-active but rather purposefully and sustainably approached.  I think there is a need for the conversation to change in how we discuss Human Trafficking or raise awareness in the anti- trafficking movement. While albeit well intentioned, the image or perception of what is happening and how to help has incidentally created an “us versus them” mentality, in which the practitioners, volunteers, NGOs, etc are on one side of the fight against slavery and the survivors are on the other. When in fact we are all on one side and are ending modern day slavery together. Avoid using statements that say, “we provide freedom or we rescue.” I caution this because I can tell you that I have seen that kind of language bring more harm than good across the globe.

 Over the years, I have sat across the table from women and men working in prostitution, women and men in prison, kids growing up in violent communities and later going on to steal to survive, young people trying to dodge gang life and young people succumbing to the pressure of gang life.

I have listened to the stories of formerly incarcerated men and women trying to rebuild their lives after serving their time but coming against a society that won’t let them rebuild.

I have sat across the table from people who never thought they would leave home and country and become a refugee dependent on another nation’s generosity. And ALL of these stories and relationships have changed my life.

Here’s the thing, there was a time that I didn’t know to think about human trafficking, exploitation in prostitution and pornography, mass incarceration, gang violence and recruitment, child marriage, etc as more than heartbreaking issues of our day.

That is, until I was introduced to people affected by it daily. As I came to know these people-they became my friends. I then not only cared but became passionate to fight against the things that placed my friends in these situations. It was not about a cause, my friends weren’t a social justice “issue” they were living, breathing human beings who at some point had their stories hijacked.

And at the end of the day, every single one of these people just needed someone to listen. They needed to be seen and known. The thing is, after every table moment, I walked away humbled, challenged and changed. It forced me to look at governments, politics, systems and institutions and navigate ways for change, real change.

 And it’s not easy but change can and does happen and one of those ways is to first sit across the table from the people whom you might normally have never met.

I made a promise to myself years ago that I would celebrate every win in a fun and memorable way.⁣⁣

When I got word that a refugee family we were assisting in relocating had finally made it safely out of their country and arrived to their destination without problem- I jumped on my bed! ⁣⁣

⁣⁣When the text arrived that a young woman who had been trafficked had made an escape and was finally safe- I ate cake at midnight!⁣⁣

⁣⁣When a survivor messaged me to let me know she is still safe and pursuing her dream of a degree in fine arts-I took the rest of the day off and walked at my favorite park!⁣⁣

⁣⁣There are plenty of times I don’t receive good news and my heart breaks but I have learned that I cannot camp in disappointment or setbacks in fighting modern day slavery. I take a moment to let the tough news sink in and I grieve.⁣⁣ Our whole team has also learned to celebrate failure, not because we failed but because we tried.⁣⁣

⁣⁣If you are helping to provide support to someone requiring assistance, learn their name and a fun fact or dream they have, not the horrible things that have happened to them. Figure out how to humanize them instead of turning them into a cause or part of a social problem you must solve. If you memorialize the horror of what they have been through in order to fuel you to do what you do, you really actually just dishonor what they have survived. And then if you share only their pain and suffering with the world as a way to spur people to donate or fight-you keep the freedom they have at arm’s length.

My fellow abolitionist, after almost ten years in anti-trafficking work, I am fully convinced that if we let a love for people, a value for their dignity and a view of their equality be what fuels our passion to fight modern day slavery, we just might end it.

Fighting Losing Battles

Over the years,  I have experienced the feeling of defeat wage war on my heart and taunt my mind. This type of ministry is hard, very hard. One day you can be making progress, the type of progress you didn’t dream possible and then, the next day, you are starting back at square one.  It can be a roller coaster of emotions and disappointments that are challenging you to quit.  There have been days where we fought hard to see a girl rescued or a child receive justice and we won. Then there are days where we fought hard, prayed hard and we lost. I have wept on the days where defeat screamed and smirked in my face begging me to throw in the towel.
 I had only been working in anti-trafficking for a short time when I came across a battle story in Judges 20 after hearing it in a sermon. The story jumped out at me as I realized that the fight for justice in the midst of losing battles had been going on for centuries.
In Judges, the tribes of Israel are about to fight their fellow tribes of Benjamin because of sin and crimes committed by the men in Gibeah and Benjamin’s refusal to address the crimes.
The Israelites were fighting for justice. A woman had been brutally raped and beaten. She died as a result of the abuse. A horrible crime had been committed by their brothers in Gibeah, a Benjamite town. The Israelites expected those guilty to pay for the crimes and demanded that the tribes of Benjamin hand over the guilty men. To everyone’s dismay, the Benjamites refuse. Something had to be done, war was inevitable, so all the men of Israel (with the exception of Benjamin) came together and prayed.
Here is that passage:
 Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered four hundred thousand swordsmen, all of them fit for battle.  The Israelites went up to Bethel and inquired of God. They said, “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Benjamites?” The LORD replied, “Judah shall go first.”

 The next morning the Israelites got up and pitched camp near Gibeah. The Israelites went out to fight the Benjamites and took up battle positions against them at Gibeah.  The Benjamites came out of Gibeah and cut down twenty-two thousand Israelites on the battlefield that day. But the Israelites encouraged one another and again took up their positions where they had stationed themselves the first day. The Israelites went up and wept before the LORD until evening, and they inquired of the LORD. They said, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites?”The LORD answered, “Go up against them.”

Then the Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day.  This time, when the Benjamites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords.

 Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the LORD. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the LORD. And the Israelites inquired of the LORD. (In those days the ark of the covenant of God was there,  with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, ministering before it.) They asked, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites, or not?”
The LORD responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands.”
Then Israel set an ambush around Gibeah.

Two lost battles, so many dead and all for a good cause. Yet, they pray, fast and seek God if they should still fight? What encourages me so much is not that the Israelites eventually win, but that they are willing to keep fighting even after great loss. God rewards their perseverance for justice and tells them they will win the final battle.

Could God ask me to fight losing battles at times to teach me how to win the war? I  asked myself this question many times in the beginning of our work. Maybe my definition of victory looked different than God’s definition. After all, I have seen that God is about the journey more than the destination and every battle has contained a powerful lesson. Whether we win or lose a battle, I know we will win the war and it is through that confidence in God that I am learning not to fear losing sometimes.

Broken Has a Face

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Broken- reduced to fragments; fragmented.ruptured; torn; fractured.infringed or violated

Broken is an interesting word. What do you think of when you read or hear that word? When I was a little girl when I thought of the word broken, I thought of toys. When my toys or accessories were broken, I took them to my dad and usually he was able to fix or mend them. When I was a teenager, broken was a bone in my body or a part in my car. Once again, I would call my dad and he would come to my rescue. When I entered into the medical field and worked for General/Vascular Surgeons, broken was usually a Gallbladder, Appendix or Vein. Finally when I left and moved to Central America, the word broken took on a whole new meaning. Broken no longer was a toy or accessory; a bone or a car; a gallbladder or appendix. Broken had a face. Broken was men and women, boys and girls all hungry and hurting for more than just food. One day, I learned of broken little girls and forgotten older women living and working in prostitution. They were suffering with broken brains and broken hearts. This time, the one I ran to, was God and He reminded me that His son Jesus died on the cross so that whatever was broken could be fixed.

It wasn’t the fact that modern day slavery still existed. It wasn’t the harsh reality that over 20 million people on the planet were slaves that compelled me to be an abolitionist. It was the continual trips to the red light districts of Costa Rica that compelled my heart to abolish slavery. As I learned stories from those working in prostitution and became their friend, love grew in my heart. As their friend, I wanted answers. I wanted solutions. I wanted human trafficking to stop. I wanted it all to end. I purposed in my heart to fight for them. I wanted to look evil in the face and show that love could win.

For so long I avoided the title of abolitionist. It had become something trendy. While I was grateful for all of the awareness that had come with the trend, my heart sometimes hurt that the focus would be on the cause and not the people. In Costa Rica, fighting modern day slavery was not trendy. It was hard for me every time I came home to the US to understand the language of the fight against slavery. Over time, I worked hard to network with other organizations and see what was happening across the globe. I finally found and came to accept that I was among so many others that God was rallying to become abolitionists. Hearts around the world were being united to see God’s cry for justice be made known.

I am proud to be a modern day abolitionist and part of the great justice movement that God has ignited. While my focus has been predominantly in seeing justice take place in sex trafficking, I long to see justice for all areas of social injustice.

I have seen the face of evil rage against children wanting to rob them of a childhood.     I have watched, lonely men pay someone to “love” them for a night. From borders to brothels, to street corners and park benches, I have heard stories of the deep brokenness that comes from those affected by the commercial sex industry.

The journey of coming to understand this type of brokenness has changed my life forever. Now and always, broken has a face to me. Broken has a name and a dream. Broken cries on my shoulder. Broken smiles at me as I hand out coffee. Broken has become my family.

I have loved living among the broken and hungry. I have been humbled and privileged to partner with Jesus these last 6 years to fill hungry bellies, mend wounded knees and love on hurting hearts.

To any of you that think you could not change a hurting, ugly world, I have good news, you can. Decide to relentlessly love the broken person that is placed in your path, because I promise that when you do, you’ll see the face of Jesus and you will change the world for that one. Love never fails.