A Message of Hope, a Call to Action

GolfUmbrellaDo what you can, where you are.

That was the key message that Mary Francis, Founder and Executive Director of Wellspring Living, shared at the White Umbrella Night of Worship at NCC Barracks Row this past Tuesday night.

Mary Francis was in Washington, DC as a part of the campaign for her new book, The White Umbrella. While centered around the trauma and horror of sexual abuse and exploitation, the book is primarily a story of hope.

The statistics are deplorable: 1 in 4 girls experience sexual abuse by the age of 18, the average age of a child first used in prostitution is 12, and there are over 300,000 prostituted children in the U.S., most of whom are girls. Mary Francis and her team at Wellspring Living face this reality every day. Yet despite the darkness and hopelessness that these numbers represent, Mary has found reason for hope in working with girls through the healing process. She has seen shattered lives restored, she has seen hate dissipate from the most wounded places, and she has seen forgiveness poured out freely from once-broken hearts. She has seen girls transformed through the power of love.

Located near Atlanta, Georgia, Wellspring Living is at the epicenter of sex trafficking in the United States. The organization “fights childhood sexual abuse and exploitation through awareness, training, and treatment programs for women and girls.” Started in 2001, Wellspring Living has grown to operate two residential restorative programs, an assessment center, a community counseling center, two independent living programs and four upscale resale stores that contribute to the operating costs of the organization. Mary’s first-hand experience leading this effort has given her remarkable insight into both the causes and cures of sexual exploitation.

The White Umbrella. Have you ever been caught in a storm without the protection of an umbrella? If the answer is yes, then you understand why that’s such an accurate representation of what sex trafficking victims face. The winds blow, the thunder claps, the rain pours. Girls who are forced into sex trafficking find themselves in the worst storm of their lives — physically, emotionally, psychologically — and what they need more than anything else is an umbrella. An umbrella offers a respite from the elements. And when it’s offered in love, we the umbrella holders, must draw near. We must hold the umbrella over the girl soaking wet, for she cannot hold it herself. The umbrella has many panels, representing the roles that different people in the community play in combating sexual exploitation. Whether we are educators, health professionals, police officers, advocates, or simply concerned citizens, we can contribute. If one panel is missing from an umbrella, the girl is not fully protected from the rain, and in this way, we must all play our part. Finally, the umbrella is white, the color of purity. For girls who have been forced into sex trafficking, their purity has been stolen from them. A white umbrella not only protects from further harm, but restores purity.

NCC  ASE would love to help you find your place in the effort to fight slavery and exploitation. Organizations like Courtney’s House, Fair Girls, and Restoration Ministries are doing amazing work, and are looking for volunteers to help them meet the needs of victims in your community. If you’d like to get involved, or just want to learn more about trafficking here in DC, send us an email: ncc.againstslavery@gmail.com.

The storm continues to rage in the lives of girls (and women and men and boys). So, what about you? Where’s your white umbrella?

Nicole Tosh

ncc.againstslavery@gmail.com

@NCC_ASE

Facebook.com/nccase

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This is Why We Engage in Social Justice

This past weekend NCC ASE leaders embarked on a trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in order to participate in the 2013 Justice Conference. We were excited to grow in knowledge, spirit and in community with one another and with Christ.

Thousands of like-minded individuals were gathered in attendance with thousands more joining via web. Great leaders in the field of social justice poured into us with their wisdom and experience. We heard from renowned speakers such as Gary Haugen and Eugene Cho, among others. We learned about the importance of inter-agency and inter-NGO collaboration. We were entreated to consider social justice as an issue not just for the moment or for its sex appeal, but for the long haul.

Redemption is the byproduct of long and tedious obedience.” (sic) Gary Haugen

We also learned about the theology of justice. The theme of justice is found repeatedly in the Bible. Justice is incredibly near to the heart of God, but the key thing to remember is that it does not exist without grace and love. Following in the way that Christ loves us, we correct but do not condemn (Romans 8).

We learned about buying repurposed materials such as old guns in order to support reconciliation. We had the opportunity to meet and network with other organizations with similar objectives as us. The meaning of collaboration in Christ’s work became very real.

There are too many takes-away from this weekend to capture in a blog post. However, perhaps the most important was the power of stories told. Hearing from world leaders on the subject of social justice from a social and biblical perspective is amazing and useful.

Yet nothing will substitute for the power of stories told.

Hearing personal stories from people like Chai Ling and Sheryl WuDunn about the tragedies facing our brothers and sisters does more than show us that justice makes theological, economic, and emotional sense. It galvanizes us to act because the spirit of Christ that lives within us cannot reconcile with complacency. As Gary Haugen stated “compassion is not a feeling – it something that takes a hold of your gut and doesn’t let go.” (sic)

On the car ride home, we began to share our stories. Why are we here? What has galvanized our efforts toward ending slavery? How did we get to know Christ?

Everybody’s story is different. We all have different upbringings, struggles, and spiritual awakenings. However, inasmuch as we are different we are all the same. Everybody has been born into sin, and everybody who accepts Christ has been redeemed by grace. It is as simple as that.

This is why we engage in social justice. It is because everybody deserves the opportunity to be redeemed by Christ.

And we want to be the window through which they see Him.

Amen.

Brooke M. Birkey

Ncc.againstslavery@gmail.com

@Ncc_ase

Facebook.com/nccase

A Call to Action

Last week, when I walked through the door, my roommate grabbed my arm excitedly and said “Brooke – you would not believe the discussion in our small group tonight!” Obviously, I was intrigued and encouraged her to go on. She told me about how the screening of Nefarious – Merchant of Souls the evening prior had sparked a conversation among the people in the small group that she leads. She explained that some were aghast at the atrocities going on around the world with respect to human trafficking. She told me how some people in her group had no idea that the issue even existed and wanted to learn more about it. She asked me if she could get a copy of Nefarious so that they could watch the film together and discuss it further.

On Tuesday, September 18th National Community Church Against Slavery and Exploitation (NCC ASE) in partnership with Exodus Cry  hosted a screening of hard-hitting documentary on human trafficking at the Barrack’s Row historic theater on 8th street. Though the heavy thunderstorms, tornado watches and back-ups on I-395 would dictate that everybody stay inside, over 200 people were in attendance. Exodus Cry, which is an organization and prayer movement that travels all over the United States showing the film, opened up the evening with a short introduction about the genesis of the documentary as well as a bit of warning about the nature of the film.

Nefarious is a true portrayal of the sex-trafficking industry from a world perspective, whether it be from Moldova, the epicenter of the problem in Eastern Europe, to Las Vegas, where flash and flair promise that prostitution will bring about a better life, to Bangkok, where girls and boys flock to gain financial stability for themselves and their families back in the rural provinces.

The prayer in the deepest part of my heart leading up to and following the event is that God would bring new insight on the issue to the lives of the people viewing the film. Human trafficking is such a myriad of emotional, spiritual, economic and educational brokenness that it is difficult to grasp. Prior to viewing it in a more comprehensive way, it is often easy to dismiss the sex industry as a choice, or a life practice that can be abandoned at any time. I prayed that the complexities of this issue would seep into the core of the individuals and call them to action.

Since then I have had several conversations with individuals about sex trafficking. We have discussed the prevalence of the abuse that paves the way for prostitution and the vulnerability to exploitation. We have discussed the ubiquitous nature of human trafficking, so much so that it exists here in Washington, D.C. in epic proportions; right in the financial district, Columbia Heights, and on Capitol Hill. We have discussed the way that prostitution is perceived and how unfair and untrue those perceptions tend to be at face value.

I am incredibly grateful for these conversations. Awareness is absolutely the first step. However, awareness does not do a whole lot without action. So, here is a call to action: get involved.

You might wonder how you can get involved. True, human trafficking is an enormous issue and at times it seems overwhelming. Yet it only takes one step at a time.

Step one. Pray. The first step to any meaningful action is to pray.

Step two. Get more Information. Sign up for more information. There is a plethora of information out there. You can sign up for the NCC ASE updates.  You can sign up for DC Stop Modern Slavery updates. Or you can sign up for materials from End Slavery Now. There are about 100 local causes with which you can get involved.

Step three. Do something. This Saturday, September 29th, is the Stop Modern Slavery Walk. $25.00 to support DC Stop Modern Slavery in their local efforts and raise awareness. Join the NCC Team!

If you can’t do that, do something else. Check in with NCC ASE, or Stop Modern Slavery, or any other organization. You can go on a mission trip and see if God wants to spark a vision in your heart for a marginalized group. There is always something that can be done.

Luke 12:48

But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Brooke M. Birkey

The Power of Stories

On Thursday, Washington DC’s Stop Modern Slavery (SMS) hosted an event with Bethany and the Guitar to promote the annual Stop Modern Slavery Walk and feature a panel of survivors speaking about the role of the justice system and the role of the media in human trafficking.

Bethany and the Guitar is a local favorite that plays uplifting music and regularly advocates for the cessation of human trafficking by partnering with organizations like SMS and Nomi Network. Their sweet acoustic sound proved to be a light break to the otherwise heavy evening.

There were two survivors on the panel and they spoke about their experience and how it colored their perspective on media and the justice system, respectively, and how they were inspired to take action as a result of what they had endured. We learned about how far the (justice) system has to go in making provisions for children who are being trafficked. We learned that Safe Harbor laws do not always have enough ‘legal teeth’ and we also learned that anti-trafficking legislation (TVPA), which is up for reauthorization, is relatively new and was not available to those who were trafficked prior to the year 2000.

In addition, we learned that the role that media plays in creating bias can cause even the most compassionate heart to look at a victim with a hardened heart. With the glory that the media gives to pimps and the emphasis that is placed on the domination of women in some subcultures, it is no wonder that the stereotypes of ‘choice in prostitution’ are perpetuated.

As a woman who can identify with a lot of the shame and the anger that these women expressed, I sat listening to the panel with just a pinch of ‘been there, done that’ attitude. I have heard it all before. I know how the story ends. I am familiar with the TVPA. I know that the Safe Harbor Laws are not enough. I know that the media sucks. I was almost, almost keeping myself from being penetrated from the horror of their stories.

But then one of the women decided to share a spoken word.

She told us how she ran from her emotions for a long time, and refused to look at them. She told us how she was a long-time veteran of the arts and though she had written many, many pieces of spoken word and poetry, she had not written a piece about being trafficked. Not until last year.

You see, when you have shame and rage and pain it’s almost unbearable to look in the mirror.

However, she was brave and she wrote a piece about her experience, and shared it with us. She was emotive. She was vibrant. She was transparent. She moved me to tears.

You see, it is stories that connect hearts. I am not saying that informative panels and topical discussions are not important. They absolutely are. I need to hear about what is going on with the TVPA and Safe Harbor Laws and the media. It will serve me and my journey with advocacy. However, part of what will fuel me is my connection with stories.

I’m so grateful that she took out her heart and handed it to me and handed it to every other person in that room.

The next time an opportunity arises for you to give away your heart, I truly hope you will take it. There are few things in life more powerful than stories.

Brooke M. Birkey

Men Are Part of The Solution

“Men are not the problem. Men are the solution.”

 So often we love to wrap complicated issues in simple paradigms and leave it at that. Identify a problem. Who is causing the problem? Who is receiving the hurt? How do we solve the problem? Figure it out – done deal. It is the DC way, not to mention the human condition.

  However- many of the social justice issues around which we try to wrap our brains are far more complicated and cannot be simplified in such terms. Such is the case with human trafficking – particularly with Men in the Sex Trade, or MST.

 Yesterday we had the privilege of hearing from Chris Lenty, who relayed the mission that he shares with a small staff at the MST Project in Bangkok, Thailand. Their mission is to reach out to the consumers in the sex industry – men who buy sex.

 “What is your perception of men who buy sex?” Chris asked the group of 50 or so who showed up in the basement of Ebenezers Coffee House to hear his presentation. Some said broken people, others said dirty old men, still others said that consumers of sex are complicated. 

 Chris spoke about grace, and about the reach of the Holy Spirit. He challenged us to refuse to put limits on God. There is no man that God can’t reach. There is no case too big for God, and there is no hurt too deep for God to reach.

 With a brusque tone and a rather off-hand demeanor, Chris shared his love for the men in Bangkok. He said that he sees himself in them and cannot imagine judging them for their actions when there is a larger picture at hand. All people who use coping mechanisms like sex on a regular basis have pain and hurt. Chris shared that he is called to reach out to the hearts of these men and see them the way that God sees them.

 Chris also spoke about the sex trade and how men are not the problem but part of the solution. He said that he had been challenged by the enormity of the industry and rather than focus on the outcome, he decided to focus on the relationships. He learned that men are part of the solution.

 It is so easy to focus on men as the villains but they are only one part of a very broken system. The other parts include government corruption, broken family systems, broken economic systems, among other things. He said that in the long vision, men who have been touched by God go back to their families and become better husbands and better members of their communities. It may not happen quickly, but it is worthy of the investment.

 This is the second time I have heard Chris speak and his message speaks to me on many levels. I may not be able to say that I see myself in men who buy sex, but I can say that I see myself in various other things that are painful – and this is an excellent reminder of the value of staying humble and engaging in relationships. There is incredible merit in being aware of the extent to which I have been saved by Christ and approaching my relationships that way. It puts us all on the same playing field – sinners, saved by grace.

 And it also allows us all to say: we are part of the solution.