Seeing Life Through the Eyes of the Oppressed

Quote

Seeing life through the eyes of the oppressed
Tick tock time moves but I am standing still
No matter what I feel partially dressed
Unprepared for that city on a hill

Does God call me to live outside my soul?
To see your pain and engage
What chance do you have to be made whole
Pitted against the world and all its rage

Justice is bigger than you and me
More than ideals and dreams
To really reach out…touch feel see
Is much harder than it seems.

I’ll never be a savior but perhaps a friend
To live according to purpose divine
To say “Here I am God–please send”
To live attached to The Vine

To surrender my life to the way of Him
To carry the torch for someone else’s vision
Serving Christ you cant help but win
Today make a direct decision.

May He light my way and dream my dreams
May He be the light of my heart
I may not know what any of this means
And I think that is a great place to start.

Brooke Birkey

Moldova: I Need A Hero

734592_10152407056320618_705715408_n

Serge and Peter exude confidence. They are young, smart, funny, and good-looking. They are men’s men. And they spend their days modeling exemplary behavior to the youth of Moldova. Together, Serge and Peter teach at 19 of the 40 Russian public schools in Chisinau; they are positive male influences in a female-dominated educational system. Making small-talk with Serge three days ago, I asked him how long he had worked for Beginning of Life (BOL) as a prevention trainer. He responded, “Three years–it is good for me to do what I am passionate about.” Love that.

Three times a week, with the permission of the Ministry of Education, Serge and Peter go into schools to teach about domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual abuse, and other societal problems. More important than telling students what they shouldn’t do is modeling what they should do. Serge and Peter place equal emphasis on empowering students to respect themselves, respect each other, and work hard to pursue their dreams.

serge

Their intentionality has made a huge impact.

Hopeless teens have realized that suicide is not the only option, girls have empowered their mothers to seek help in abusive situations, and boys are stating that their pride in life will come from being good husbands and fathers. This did not happen overnight. BOL has been in schools for over 10 years now. These youth look up to Serge and Peter–they are heroes.

What would our world look like if each person intentionally pursued something for God’s Kingdom for 10 years or more? This world needs heroes–will you be one?

Helen Wong

ncc.againstslavery@gmail.com

@NCC_ASE

Facebook.com/nccase

Giving Hope Space to Breathe

This post is written by a friend/teammate of mine, Makeda, an executive pastor at a church in North Carolina.

Our team was split into four smaller groups and we went to visit families who are being helped by the programs being offered by Beginning of Life (BoL). As we learned from the founder yesterday, BoL started out counseling pregnant women and aiming to prevent abortion among teenagers. When they started, only 1 out of 5 pregnancies in Moldova resulted in a live birth. More times than not pregnancies ended in abortion with many using abortion as a form of birth control. I and two other members of our team had the privilege of visiting two single moms who are doing what they can to beat the odds.

T was one of many social orphans in Moldova; her grandmother raised her after her parents abandoned her. When she was 18 years old she fell in love with a boy but when she got pregnant he gave her an ultimatum, him or the baby. T chose her baby because she would not abandon her child like she was abandoned. T lives with her grandparents in a house barely large enough to hold them. Her daughter is now a little over a year and a half and has a smile that will light up any room.

DSC_0014

We then went to visit V, a single mom of two. V lost custody of her oldest child when she went to prison. After she got out, she fought really hard to get her daughter back but it took many years and it has been really hard for them to re-establish a mother/daughter relationship. A couple years ago V met a man and fell in love. But when she got pregnant, he also gave her an ultimatum. V decided to have an abortion. She was in the OR and already about to go under from the anesthesia when she remembered what her grandmother had told her about abortion being a sin–she changed her mind. Using only her eyes she tried to tell the doctor she didn’t want to go through with it. Normally the doctors don’t listen because they assume the moms are just having cold feet about the procedure, plus it is costly to have to go through setting everything up again. This time, however, the doctor decided to wait until the anesthesia wore off to find out what she really wanted. V calls her son her “little miracle” and she has such hope for his future. His birth has also helped restore V’s relationship with her older daughter.DSC_0032

What struck me with both of these moms was the hope they had for their children’s futures. Both women want their kids to know love, to feel cared for and to have success in the future. Neither woman had much hope for themselves but had so much for their children. Like any parent, they want better for their kids than they had. But they are fighting an uphill battle as hopelessness seems to hover over this city like a dark cloud.

Hope struggles to find a place to breathe in this city. But BOL is bringing light and hope to Moldova.

In the afternoon we got to spend time with the girls at the Rehab and Restoration House. Prudy, Amanda and I taught the girls how to art journal. Y was one of the girls who really got a hold of the process. In her book she put the below picture and she explained that she wants to be a chef one day. She said “that’s me”. I LOVED that because most of the young people here are not taught to dream.

IMG_2658

The reality of their day-to-day lives makes dreaming feel like a luxury. It’s the despair of being here that puts the young people at such high risks for being trafficked. But BOL is teaching these girls how to dream again, how to hope against hope that they can have something different. They are helping them find opportunities to make money and giving them other life skills they need to try to make it out there. They are helping them breathe in hope again. Y’s eyes danced when she looked at that picture and you could tell she believed it was possible.

There is darkness here and evil is present everywhere in this city. But BOL is striving to be a light in the midst of the darkness. Together with their partnership with Children’s Hope Chest, they are working to breathe hope and life back into their city one rescued or at-risk girl at a time. Their work is not easy but they believe God is with them and they are determined to see the evil in their city eradicated.

Would you pray for them with me? The work they are doing is important and our prayers are needed as they work to push back the darkness in this city.

Makeda Pennycooke

Moldova: A Tale of Two Girls

DSC02947

“IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” Charles Dickens.

Let me tell you a tale about two girls: L and E.

L is from a family of five children. After her parents divorced, her mother had a tough time raising the family. L tried to help as much as she could and held a job at the local market. When a friend told her about an opportunity to work in a store in Turkey where she would earn $2,000 a month, L accepted. After arriving in Turkey, she was forced into sexual slavery. Not long after, she was trafficked to Russia where the nightmare repeated. L had no way of getting in touch with her family–they heard nothing from her for two years.

One day, L was standing with a group of sex workers in Moscow when a car drove into the women. L was hospitalized for a serious head trauma that resulted in schizophrenia. L ran away from the hospital, was picked up by the Russian police, and put in jail for not having a passport. Eventually, her story came out and she was repatriated back to Moldova where Beginning of Life (BOL) received her.

Olga, a BOL social worker, took me to L’s house to show the conditions that many of the girls grow up in. The windows and doors were broken, the indoors were filthy, and there was no electricity or gas.

DSC02940While there, Olga explained that L’s sister, E, had also been trafficked. 2 girls in the same family. Trafficked.

L cannot live at BOL because her schizophrenia requires full-time care. However, E is currently living at the BOL shelter with her beautiful baby girl. Last year, E made her peace with God and was baptized. Today, she is stable and on her way to independence thanks to the incredible workers at Beginning of Life. E is still not where she wants to be–but she’s not where she was.

And that’s worth celebrating.

DSC02959

 

Helen Wong

Ncc.againstslavery@gmail.com

@NCC_ASE

Facebook.com/nccase

Moldova: 1 in 10

A few months ago, my sister called to ask if I woud be interested in joining a team of women from across the US for a mission trip to Moldova to work with Beginning of Life, a local Moldovan organization working to prevent trafficking and rehabilitate victims of slavery.

For the past two years, I asked God if I should join the NCC Greece Mission Trip to support A21 Campaign, but never felt the green light to go.  I was surprised when I prayed about Moldova and felt a different response.

Moldova is one of the top source countries for victims of human trafficking (despite being one of the smallest countries in Europe), but here’s the thing: no one wants to go to Moldova. Three months ago, I barely knew where Moldova was! This isn’t a sexy destination for a mission trip. It’s expensive to get to and there isn’t a relaxing safari/beach/historical site day (note: there is nothing wrong with those days–I love them)! The frigid winter weather is just the icing on the cake.

Here’s what Moldova does have: a population where 1 in 10 people are trafficked. The Holy Spirit kept whispering that statistic into my heart and it was enough reason to come.

I am so thankful for the Holy Spirit.

I will be posting observations from myself and my team members throughout the rest of the week (Internet permitting). Check back every day for updates and thank you for joining me on this journey!

Helen Wong

ncc.againstslavery@gmail.com

@NCC_ASE

Facebook.com/nccase

The Focus of the Story

It has been a very interesting Christmas season this year. I’m not sure exactly what has made it so different. Perhaps it is because this is the first year that I am actively engaged in the anti-trafficking community and have been trying to figure out what this season looks like for others. Perhaps it is because I am preparing to move to Bangkok and I am trying to imagine what Christmas might be like without all of the commercialization. Perhaps it is the lasting impact of Heather Zempel’s message on the Covenant.

Whatever the reason, this year everything feels different. I’m not really excited about the Christmas tree. Presents I could really take or leave. Outside of the 714 band’s remakes, the music is kind of…..eh. I prefer pretty much every other creation of a singer/songwriter.

I’m sure it has always been this way, but this year I sharply feel a disconnect between the actual reason for celebrating and most of the rest of what is going on in anticipation of the Holiday.

I recognize that my attitude kind of rivals Dr. Seuss for the characterization of The Grinch. However, the disconnect I feel from the “Christmasy” stuff has caused me to go back to Luke and try to figure out what it is about Christmas that I really want to connect with. What is it about the Christmas story that wants to seep deep into my heart?

I’m not sure how it has taken me almost 29 years to ask this question.

So often I view Jesus simply as a welcome addition to my life. He is so convenient, so wonderful, so helpful. I don’t even always view Him that way. Sometimes I view His ‘imposition’ on my life as obnoxious, and as getting in the way of my plans. This is so far away….not even remotely close to the way that Jesus views me. The Christmas story reflects how much His focus is on my best and how His interest in me is not ancillary; it is absolute.

christmasstory

One of the things that strikes me first in reading the Christmas story is that this series of events did not just come out of nowhere. People had been talking about this for a very long time. God laid the coming of the Messiah on the hearts of prophets way back in the time of Isaiah.

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

I know this part we Churchies have heard a million times….about how God took on human form so that He could come and be with us. But, seriously. God took on human form so that He could come and be with us! I’m not sure how theologically sound my phrasing of this concept is, but the crux of the matter is that Heaven is better than earth. Jesus came to earth from Heaven for thirty years for our benefit! If it wasn’t enough for Him to do that, He did so in the most humble way possible – via human birth, delivered to a regular human couple in a freaking barn. This was not an exalted event. Nobody even knew except a few designated people; some shepherds and some wise men.

What is the point, and what is the application for today? I’m not sure about trees and presents and music and food. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with these things – traditions can be super fun. What I DO know is that the Christmas story happened in a certain way for a certain reason. Jesus practiced outward focus, grace and humility His entire life. He set things up so that I could seek His best for my life for my entire life.

So, this Christmas season, I am going to ask myself how I can live my life like Jesus. Christmas is an extremely painful time for a lot of people. In the midst of celebration and togetherness, there is also the presence of loneliness and jabbing memories. Perhaps being like Jesus means spending time with people who would otherwise be alone. Or, taking some money that would have gone to that awesome thing you wanted to buy and buying a gift for somebody who wouldn’t get a Christmas gift. Or, simply asking God to show you how you can be more outward-focused this season.

He will let you know. I promise.

See below for a list of ways that you can help Survivors this season.

International Justice Mission (local and abroad):https://secure3.convio.net/ijm/site/SPageNavigator/HGC_Home.html

Fair Girls (local):  @FAIR_Girls
More shopping to get done this weekend? Visit us 12/14-12/24 at the @TysonsGalleria gift wrap! http://ow.ly/i/1f2r6

Brooke M. Birkey
Ncc.againstslavery@gmail.com
@ncc_ase
Facebook.com/NCCASE

Might It Be You?

Exploitation is a broad term that can take on many forms.  We see it every day, whether it be in the blatant form of child and adult prostitution that we discuss as a part of the anti human-trafficking campaign, or manifested in emotional manipulation that takes place among human beings. Exploitation of others is a part of our lives, through and through.

It is so ubiquitous that we may not even notice when we come across it. We may not even be able to identify it.

I recently came across almost-nude photos of a well-known and well-celebrated celebrity.  This woman was pictured posing for a magazine marketed to men. The photos, I noticed, were focused almost entirely on the elements of her body and her lingerie. Very little creative license was taken with her hair and makeup. It was almost as if the photographer had assumed that nobody would be looking at her face. Perhaps he or she was right, for the majority. However, I was looking at her face, and I felt deeply sad.

I remember a similar feeling when I was in the red light district of Bangkok, Thailand. I remember talking to a woman in particular. For the sake of this entry, her name is Hollywood because that was the name of the bar she was keeping.

I remember talking to Hollywood about her life. She spoke in extremely broken English but she was excited to practice with me. She told me about all of her experiences traveling with her ‘boyfriend.’ She told me about how he sends her money and she buys things. She told me about how she travels with him. What she didn’t have to tell me is what I already knew. I knew that her boyfriend was a Westerner that came into town only periodically and paid her for sex and took her on vacation. I knew that he bought her gifts and made her feel special, and sent her money that she in turn sent back to her family in the rural province. I knew that she called herself ‘girlfriend’ but in reality she was a paid employee. I knew this because I had heard other stories like hers.

Hollywood’s face was beautiful. She was delicate and smiling and effusive. However, when she thought I wasn’t looking her eyes became shifty and the smile faltered. I could see that the smile did not reach her eyes.

I could see the same look in the eyes of the celebrity posing naked for all the world to see. The exploitation that pays millions of dollars in American pop culture is the same haunting exploitation that causes girls like Hollywood to try to smile through desperate circumstances.

Society tempts us to use a very narrow definition of exploitation — we assume it only exists in the context of those who have been kidnapped or forced into performing sex acts. In my experience, the heart of it in America lies within the people who feel like they are so worthless that their body can be traded for a few dollars. For a few compliments. For a few photographs. These are the throwaway children. The lost and forgotten teenagers. The brokenhearted twenty-somethings. Yes, even the troubled celebrities.

Matthew 25:37-40

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

It is imperative to remember, as we continue in the fight against slavery and exploitation, that the least of these does refer only to those who are in need of food and shelter. The heart of God calls out to those who are hurting. Hurt manifests in all kinds of ways and affects all kinds of people – from the exploited child to the affluent celebrity.

When the heart of God calls out to those who are hurting, who will be there to answer?

Might it be you?

Brooke M. Birkey

Ncc.againstslavery@gmail.com

http://www.facebook.com/NCCASE

@ncc_ase

www.aoneeight.org – A Mission is a Movement