We All Must Do Something

Her name is Nicole, and I met her.

She traveled all the way from California to my house. I wish I could say I’d invited her. She walked right up to my front door and knocked. “I can’t let you in,” I said. “I have so much going on, you know, with work, my husband, kids. I’m a mom; you understand.”

There was no response. She knocked again. “I guess you didn’t hear me; I can’t let you in. I have to send these emails and plan dinner. The house is a mess. Sorry! Not a good time.” Nothing. Then came more knocking, soft and polite. “Wow, you again.” I was getting annoyed. “Honestly? I haven’t worked out yet today, or had my quiet time, or showered for that matter,” I said. “Can you please come back when I’ve met all their needs plus my own, wrapped up these projects, gotten myself organized, and my kids are in school all day?”

I opened the door a crack and walked away because I thought she’d left. Then she was standing in my living room. “My name is Nicole,” she said. She had long brown hair and was extremely attractive—she looked like she could have been about my age but was probably younger. Her look was on trend, and she had a welcoming smile. “Hi, Nicole,” I said, and I resumed working.

“When I was 18 years old, I was addicted to drugs and dancing at a club to make ends meet,” she began. “I met a guy, and he offered to help me get clean.”

That was the beginning of her nightmare, as that man would eventually enslave and traffic her across the United States, forcing her to pick up other women off the street as they went.

I stopped what I was doing and listened as Nicole shared details I couldn’t even repeat about her seven-year ordeal, which included constant abuse, threats of violence, and two forced abortions. As she talked, I could hear my two daughters shrieking with laughter from their attic playroom, and I broke down and wept.

Because her name is Nicole, and I met her. And my world was rocked forever.

A Call to Action

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. There are more people in slavery today than at any other time in human history:

The U.S. State Department last put the number of victims worldwide at an estimated 27 million, but according to its most recent report, it’s likely in the tens of millions.

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, generating more than $150 billion USD every year, according to the International Labour Organization.

In 2016, an estimated 1 out of 6 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims. Of those, 86% were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran away.

While there is no official estimate of the total number of human trafficking victims in the United States, it probably reaches into the hundreds of thousands.

And here’s the kicker:

Only 1 percent of human trafficking victims are ever rescued.

That these statistics are overwhelming and disheartening is an understatement.

Impossible might be the best way to describe the prospect of even slowing the momentum of this massive, powerful, runaway freight train of darkness—let alone stopping it in its tracks.

Except for one thing.

As Christians, we serve the God who created every single man, woman, and child enslaved in trafficking today—who sees, and knows, and loves each and every one of them. The God for whom nothing is impossible, and who wants to remind us that what is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:27, Matthew 19:26). The God who might be calling you to action. Just like he called Christine.

We Can’t Do it All, But We Can All Do Something

In 2007, Christine Caine—today an internationally known teacher, evangelist, activist, author, and speaker—was walking through the airport in Thessaloniki, Greece, when she noticed that littering the walls were handmade posters showing the faces of girls and women who had disappeared. She wondered how there could be so many people missing at the same time, until someone told her they were all victims of human trafficking.

Caine was incredulous. “I thought ‘Human trafficking? That doesn’t happen, that’s ridiculous.’ Then I went online and did some research, and I was stunned.” [“Abolishing Sex Slavery by Helping One Girl at a Time”]

Or as she would later put it: “My. World. Was. Rocked. Forever. … Life as I knew it before seeing the missing posters was over.” [“A Dream Come True”]

A year later in 2008, she and her husband, Nick, founded The A21 Campaign, an anti-human trafficking organization dedicated to abolishing injustice in the 21st century. A21’s comprehensive approach includes raising awareness, preventing future trafficking, taking legal action, and providing rehabilitation services to survivors.

With a stated mission to abolish slavery everywhere forever, A21 has 12 offices in 11 countries—all focused on aspects of its three-pronged solution: Reach, Rescue, Restore.

REACH THE VULNERABLE AND DISRUPT THE DEMAND.
RESCUE VICTIMS AND SEEK JUSTICE AGAINST THEIR CAPTORS.
RESTORE SURVIVORS AND EQUIP THEM TO LIVE INDEPENDENTLY.

That first one, Reach. That’s where you and I come in: “Prevent slavery from ever happening by engaging people through events, student presentations, and education programs.”

Because chances are you’re feeling pretty unqualified right about now, seeing as how you’re not ready to go off and found an entire antislavery organization. Chances are you’re thinking something along the lines of

I’m too busy.
It’s too big an issue.
I can’t do it all.

But we can all do something.

“Often, I think, because we think, ‘I can’t do it all,’ we end up being paralyzed. So we do nothing,” says Caine. “But if we understand we can’t do everything but we all must do something, and we all find the one thing that we can do, then we’ll find that together we will all make such a huge difference and we’ll be able to put a stop to this.”

Putting a Stop to This: The Walk for Freedom

Remember my earlier encounter with Nicole? It was imagined, but her story isn’t, and it was what showed up in my living room that day. A few years later, on a warm May night at a church in suburban Pittsburgh, I was there as Nicole stood next to Christine Caine and shared her story live in front of an audience for the first time. You see, Nicole is alive, well, and free today because of A21. And now, she’s part of the fight.

You can be too.

On October 14, 2017, you can join me, Nicole, and tens of thousands of other 21st-century abolitionists in 600 cities and 50 countries around the world by participating in the fourth annual Walk For Freedom, A21’s global fundraising and awareness campaign. Designed to reflect A21’s heart for freedom and justice, it is ultimately designed to turn awareness into action.

Register now at a21.org/pittsburgh, or find the event closest to you by visiting walkforfreedom.org and entering your location. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram by searching “Walk for Freedom Pittsburgh 2017,” and invite others to walk with you.

Finally, join me at Imagine Conference! Learn directly from those who are on the front lines in the fight against human trafficking, and find out how to support and partner with local and national organizations like A21.

Together, as followers of Jesus, we can do something. Together, we can answer His call to live out love.

“It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life… Use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom.” GALATIANS 5:14

Check out Nicole’s Fully Story

 


Written by Kelly Sjol

When she’s not being wife to a great guy, mom to two silly girls, or marketing consultant to universities and has free time (which is almost never), Kelly Sjol blogs at wearemadefree.com.

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A Walk Through Systemic Racism

Walking along North Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Central North Side and Mexican War Streets neighborhoods, I am surrounded by humanity. The beauty of God’s handiwork passes me on the left and the right on the wide sidewalk. Skin of every shade meets my eyes as a half dozen languages are picked up by my ears. The playground is filled with dozens of children from every background and socioeconomic group running around and giggling. Kids in boutique dresses play next to those in worn hand-me-downs while parents sit on the sidelines. Some are black, some are white. Some wear hijab, some wear yarmulkes. Some push expensive strollers. One has a shopping cart with all of their worldly belongings in it.

At first glance this scene encompasses everything about humanity Jesus calls us to hold dear. It sounds like the description of heaven.

“I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9)

Yet, Jesus also calls us to sometimes look beyond the surface and dig deeper. He calls us to challenge our thinking and break free of our safety zones.

Further observation of this neighborhood reveals that not everything is as it seems at first glance. The line for dinner outside of the Light of Life Rescue Mission is made up nearly entirely of black men. Just a few short blocks away, in sight of the line of homeless black men, is another place to eat a warm dinner. The patio of diners at Casellula, a fantastic- but pricey- new restaurant is nearly entirely a white crowd. This is not intentional on the part of either establishment. Both organizations are wonderful additions to this neighborhood. Light of Life is open to those of all races and backgrounds who are homeless and seeking a meal. Casellula is partnered with City of Asylum bookstore, which strives to elevate the voices of refugees, asylum seekers, and marginalized voices around the world. Segregation, especially in Pittsburgh, is rarely intentional. Yet it is ever present.

If we begin to reflect on this dinner scene, one looming question emerges that followers of Jesus must wrestle with. If these establishments are not actively segregating themselves, then what causes this visual divide?

Why are so many white adults able to afford dinner at Casellula, and so many black adults need to eat dinner at the rescue mission for free? We must ask ourselves a fundamental question as we analyze this evening meal. Do we believe that people of color do not work as hard, are not as smart, and are not as able to earn a living than their white brothers and sisters? Knowing that God created all of us in His image, we must reject this idea as false. Coded messages in society, in politics, and in this very neighborhood lead many to draw that conclusion. Those messages lead us to draw the conclusion that there must be something fundamentally “wrong” with the actions or inherent qualities of the individuals waiting for dinner at the mission that prevents them from being seated at the Casellula table.

Through reflection, then, we realize that if it is not an inherent character trait that makes one group less able to thrive, then it must be a systemic or societal reason. Once we conclude there is a societal injustice at play, we are called as followers of Jesus to stand against that. We are called to be on the side of justice, and of truth.

Pittsburgh has a long history with racial inequality, one that is often hidden and brushed aside. We did not have the public vestiges of Jim Crow nailed up around our city, but we had de facto segregation and inequality just the same. Even today, Black citizens of Pittsburgh who work for the city earn eighty-three cents on the dollar for every white employee, and this trend spills out into nearly every field in the region. So, even if the men outside of Light of Life work through the program with their mentors at Light of Life, they will be making less than their white counterparts.

Then we can examine the housing market in our city. Pittsburgh has a long history of discriminatory lending from days past, and the present. Today’s low income neighborhoods align nearly perfectly with the “redlining” map two generations ago. Those in a red neighborhood could not get a mortgage, and thus those communities remained largely renters and subsidized housing. Owning homes builds familial wealth. The people eating at Casellula- their parents probably owned their homes. The people eating at Light of Life- their parents likely did not own a home. Only four generations removed from slavery, black families have much less inherited wealth and stability than white families. The wealth of a child’s family is the single most accurate predictor of a child’s success in life (Dalton Conley, Princeton University sociologist). By the time these diners were a year old, one could likely predict what table they would be eating dinner at tonight.

So, as believers called to wade into the messy waters of racial reconciliation, what do we do? The first step is naming injustice when we see it. We don’t make excuses or shame the person in poverty with our idea of what they “should” do to overcome their circumstances.

We sit down and share a table with them. Maybe we ask them to join us at Casellula. Maybe we join them at Light of Life, or maybe we meet somewhere in the figurative middle. God calls us as believers to function on a potluck mentality, more than a soup kitchen line. He is most honored when his children sit down as brothers and sisters and break bread together across the societal lines imposed on them.

The next thing we do is lay our guilt and defenses down. God has freed us from the sin of guilt. He has set us free. Feeling guilty for the path our life has taken does nothing for reconciliation. Feeling defensive about our successes also hinders conversation. We must pray for open transparency as we hear the stories of our brothers and sisters in Christ in their pain.

And lastly, we speak up and work for change in whatever arena we are in. Banking, human resources, church leadership. Real estate agents, teachers, stay-at-home moms planning playdates. Decades, and generations of silence has led to this disparity in our society. We educate ourselves so that we can work for God’s justice in all areas of our life.

Some resources:

Waking up White by Debbie Irving

Why are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum

Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew I. G. Hart

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Meg McKivigan, M. Ed., Freelance Writer

www.megstesprit.com

Twitter: @megstesprit

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