Thursday, December 20, 2012

An Important New Year's Resolution

Christmas is just a few days away and with all the turmoil in the world, it couldn't be a better time than to celebrate the true reason for the season--Jesus Christ. His light shines brightest in the darkness and He gave up all the glories in heaven to come and be with us--Emmanuel. His gifts pour out in the midst of pain and difficult circumstances--peace, joy, comfort, and love. We can resolve to reflect that light and those gifts as we participate in all our holiday celebrations.
 
A good New Year's resolution to put in place is to learn more about human trafficking and the ways we can help prevent this travesty. So why am I telling you about that now, before Christmas? Because it's taking place right in our own neighborhoods, as well as around the world and children especially need our help. Many of them will spend this Christmas in bondage. In the midst of the holidays, we can enter their dark world and consider ways we might contribute to their well-being.

And, it takes so little effort to make a BIG difference. Each person that becomes more aware can tell others and that may prevent someone from being forced into modern-day slavery or could help a victim escape. So while you're thinking about what changes you want to make in the New Year, consider being involved in the abolitionist effort.

January is National Human Trafficking Prevention month. On January 25th, Cottonwood Church, 4505 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, CA will bring the community together by hosting "Free Them,"  a human trafficking awareness "art event with a cause." Many churches and nonprofits will be promoting anti-human trafficking efforts. KBRT 740 am radio has partnered with them to spotlight the free event that will feature food, dance, musicians, poets, artists and more. For more information, or if you're interested in promoting this to your church, email ocfreethem@gmail.com/.  A video announcement and flyers that can be passed out are available.

Other ways to learn more about anti-trafficking include watching a DVD, reading a book, or attending a conference. In addition, everyone reading this blog should put the National Trafficking Hotline number in your cell phone right now--1-888-3737-888. It operates 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.  If you suspect you've encountered a trafficking situation, get all the details you can and call to report it. They'll take it from there, no matter where you're located.

Please also consider subscribing to this blog, so you'll continue to grow in your awareness of abolitionist efforts in So. California throughout 2013. Then, you can pass on what you've learned. And, that will bring some light into the darkness, giving us all the more reason to rejoice!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Transform LA!



 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Good Gifts

Some of the people on my Christmas shopping list are almost impossible to buy for. They seem to have everything, and when I ask for ideas they say they don't need anything. But gift-giving is a major tradition in my family, so that leaves me trying to figure out what might make a meaningful gift.

This year I found some fabulous ideas. They're not only fun to receive, but have an a not-so-obvious component--they provide jobs for young women who are either survivors of modern-day slavery or who are at risk for being trafficked. Nonprofits right here in So. CA offer amazing goods made in Uganda, India, and Thailand among other places. 

International Princess Project advocates for women enslaved by prostitution in India, restores their broken lives, and empowers them to live free. One way they accomplish these goals is by selling PUNJAMMIES™.  These pajama pants are so cute, cool, and comfortable that they make a great gift for any woman. How much better that they add to the conversation about modern-day slavery. And, the gift's recipient will be delighted to find out that her present provided dignity for the former trafficking victim who made it. 

31 Bits also makes for gorgeous gift-giving. This nonprofit benefits women in Uganda, many of whom were once enslaved by the Lord's Resistance Army. 31 Bits not only gives these women jobs making paper beads that turn into beautiful high-fashion jewelry, but also provides life-skills training that changes lives forever. I wore one of their necklaces yesterday to lunch and when our server admired it, I was able to tell her of its purpose. This jewelry keeps on giving as it raises awareness.

Heavenly Treasures operates a retail store that sells quality handicrafts--bags, scarves, bowls, paper, kitchen items and more--from around the world. The proceeds benefit trafficking survivors in a variety of ways.

Other gift-giving ideas might include stocking stuffers that make people think beyond themselves. A free-trade chocolate bar from Trader Joe's or free-trade coffee can heighten awareness. So can a book or DVD on trafficking. 

Any other ideas?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The SuperHeroes Among Us


It's about 3:00 a.m. and Rob Myers sits in the Suburban, alone. Following a rave, masses of kids cross Target's parking lot in front of his vehicle. A group of young adults stop. One girl sticks her head in the open window.

"Are you a taxi?"

"No," Rob answers.

"Can we pay you to take us to our hotel?"

"No," Rob responds, "but I'll take you for free."

A boy named Mateo asks, "Really?" Why?"

"It's what we do," says Rob.

Later when they tried again to offer him money, Rob said, "Please don't do that . . .  because this is a free gift, from me to you. . . .because you are precious. . . . and because God loves you so much."

That's the message PLUR Life Ministries gives. Two teams, led by Rob and Colleen Myers, attend raves and pass out kandi—beaded bracelets with the letters PLUR on them—to thousands of kids. At the same time they watch for the most vulnerable girls, who are searching in all the wrong places for Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect. Some find it for a few moments during drug-induced sex, while others increase their risk of becoming enslaved by pimps. Gang members watch and wait for a girl who may be isolated. Perhaps she bought a counterfeit ticket online. Perhaps she got kicked out due to an Ecstasy overdose. She may be alone and terrified in a dark parking lot.

At least until Rob and Colleen Myers or their team members appear. These genuine superheroes are fearless, determined, and, kind. Even when a girl is puking her guts out after overdosing on E—a woman on Plur Life's team holds her in loving arms, strokes her hair, and tells her, "You are precious."   

After the girl gets the drug out of her system, she may want to know more. The kandi on her wrist directs her to Plur's web site. When she visits, she'll see Rob (in a video) describing how to find the ongoing peace, love, unity, and respect offered by Jesus Christ. She'll also discover how to stay in touch with those who care so much.

Do you care enough to make kandi (they need thousands upon thousands of these beaded bracelets)? Or to volunteer or donate? It's one way you can fight against the travesty of modern-day slavery.

P.S. Rob recently said they are now seeing pimps trafficking girls into the rave to meet the demands of the many young men who attend. Please spread the word to young adults--prostitution is not a victimless crime. Most of these girls started in "the life," between 12 and 14 years of age. They are children unable to give consent for sex by law. They are victims of a terrible crime.


THANK YOU for making this team effort possible. We handed out around 2,000 kandi and so far we have shared the Gospel with 486 hits on our website from this outreach! 
 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thankful for Those Who Teach and Inspire

Yesterday, I finished a social justice class at my church. I've been around this issue for quite awhile and didn't really expect to learn much new. I attended the class mainly to support its leaders and because it seemed like the right thing to do. What I didn't realize was how much insight could be brought to the issue of modern-day slavery through a book study and interaction on the discussion questions.

Each week we read a chapter of In Our Backyard by Nita Belles. Then we brought our own unique perspectives to the issues. Those new to this travesty were astounded by the magnitude of the problems. They can be overwhelming even for the most ardent abolitionists.

The book reminded us of the importance of one human life by quoting Eleanor Roosevelt . 

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home--so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individiual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.

We treasure our human rights and many of us will give thanks for them this Thursday. But all around us are individuals whose human rights are being trampled. In some small way (or maybe even a bigger way) each of us can make a difference. 

Yesterday our group's leaders, Jeff Snawder and Tamiko Chacon, encouraged a discussion about how we might be involved. One person's heart breaks for the small children being trafficked, some as young as 3 & 4 years old. She's not sure what to do about it yet, but over time the answers will come. Another one has contributed through business means and may explore how to those in poverty keep from being at risk. A third wants to work with survivors. 

There was discussion about reaching out to pimps and Johns--and even more consideration of ways to help young men learn to respect women so that becoming a John will be unthinkable. A decrease in demand will decrease the need for a supply.

 As for me, I'm more motivated than ever to continue building awareness because every girl who recognizes a trafficker's lies will be one less girl subjected to this nightmare. (If you are so inclined, you can help with increasing awareness simply by cutting and pasting a link to  this blog along with a comment on Facebook.)

Every person can make a difference. The place to start is with learning, and there's no better way than to start with a book. In Our Backyard gives a great overview of various forms of slavery. I learned more than I'd expected, especially about the Stockholm syndrome and how that makes working with victims so difficult. And, I'm grateful. Our interactions on this book made me even more passionate about exposing the lies behind the evil.

One woman (who didn't attend our class) started a book study at her work. Are there people who might like to study the book with you? It's an easy read and the questions generate such good discussions, an eagerness to learn is all that's required. How might someone who's a modern-day slave be thankful you took the time to learn more?



Sunday, November 11, 2012

It's a Beautiful Day at Mt Sac

Yesterday dawned clear and bright, but the topic being discussed at Mt Sac was dark and gloomy. The evil of human trafficking is black as night. Still a few rays of light and hope bursts forth among the efforts of those fighting to abolish it. More than 400 students cared enough to get up early on a Saturday morning to learn about modern-day slavery--the dangers of it and what's being done to eradicate it. Teachers who gave extra credit for attendance deserve extra credit for the great turnout. There was an overflow crowd with people waiting to get in!

I represented Transform LA and Traffick Free Pomona. Other speakers included several representatives from LINK: Liberty for North Korea, Jocelyn White representing International Justice Mission and Karisma Kim representing Kids Making Change. There were a few discussions afterward about an ongoing relationship between Traffick Free Pomona and Mt Sac. Creating partnerships to abolish modern-day slavery makes for a beautiful day.

Students were promised the links to my two You-Tube videos. It was disappointing that we couldn't get them to play during my presentation. The first is the trailer for San Bernardino County's documentary.
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The second is from GEMS.

For anyone who wants to continue learning more about what's happening, please subscribe to this blog and we'll do our best to keep you informed. And, please keep us informed about what you're doing to make it a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

If you're a Mt Sac student (or attended the event), what was the most interesting thing you learned in the seminar?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ghosts and Goblins


Halloween will soon be over, but for some girls Traffick Free Pomona's (TFP) baking ministry gave them an extra special treat that could last a lifetime. 

Last Saturday, Jessica Figueroa and several others from Pomona First Baptist's TFP taught girls at risk, and perhaps some trafficking survivors, how to create these ghoulish cupcakes. The delectable goodies have probably already vanished, but in the process of baking, the relationships being built communicate a powerful message to the girls--they matter.

It takes more than professional skills to work with girls at risk of being trafficked. Those in foster care or group homes are especially vulnerable. But taking time to bake cupcakes tells these young ladies that someone cares enough about them to chat and listen while doing something fun. There's no place better for the warmth of  kindness than a kitchen. 

Several of these girls have already asked Jesus Christ to be their Savior and been baptized due to the regular visits of TFP's baking ministry. They participate in the youth service on Wednesday nights and that extends their social network to other healthy relationships and positive messages. Whatever skill someone has to offer--even baking--can produce a lasting legacy for girls at risk of being trafficked.





Thursday, October 25, 2012

Teenage $ex 4 Sale

 

The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office has been working on a project exposing the commercial sexual exploitation of children right in San Bernardino County. This 40-minute film will be released January 17, 2013.  

The trailer features many familiar faces of those who attend the monthly CASE meetings in San Bernardino and CADE (Christians Actively Demolishing Exploitation) meetings at River's Edge Church in Rancho Cucamonga. This will be a dramatic tool to show in churches and community groups to help people understand what's happening right here in So. California.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Trick or Treat!

Remember being a kid and all the excitement of Halloween? If my neighborhood is any example, the holiday is still going strong. In fact, it may have reached new depths of darkness. Skeletons, witches, and ghosts either entice or frighten young  children in many front yards lined with pumpkins and
ghoulish figures. I walked around the block last week and they were everywhere creating an eerie atmosphere. As a kid, I never liked that scary part, and I still don't. But I did love the candy.

And yet, in the past couple of years I've begun to realize that the candy may be the scariest part of all. Well, at least chocolate. Perhaps we've been tricked into thinking these treats are the best. I'll bet kids still figure out which houses distribute full-sized Hershey bars.

However most mass-marketed chocolate makers purchase their cocoa from companies that use slave labor on the Ivory Coast--slaves that are children.

Youngsters only 7- and 8-years old are being used to harvest cocoa beans in West Africa. They work long hours with little food and no pay. I first became aware of the problem shortly before Halloween two years ago when I attended   "Not for Sale's 2010 Global Forum on Human Trafficking."

 That's where I heard the Rev. Tim Costello, chief executive of World Vision Australia, talk about a trip he'd made to Ghana. 

Costello said:“What I saw still haunts me every time I unwrap a chocolate bar. “Trafficked children wielding sharp machetes; cutting off white, yellow, and red pods which contain the beans; losing fingers, [and] being burned by pesticides.”

According to Costello, U.S. companies that mass market chocolate continue doing business with those involved in modern-day slavery, despite knowing the despicable conditions--companies like Hershey's and Nestle's, who could make a difference if they'd adhere to fair-trade standards.

So what can we do? Do we permit our kids to remain oblivious to the problems and have their fun despite the harm being done to other young children--kids stolen from their parents with promises of better lives by slave traders who exploit them for monetary gain? 

Perhaps it's time we start educating our children that not all kids have it as good as they do. If young children grow up aware of the problems in this world and learn at a young age how each person can make a difference--maybe things would start to change. Instead of cultivating a sense of entitlement, we'd be cultivating a heart of compassion. 

We can start by getting educated ourselves, then we could choose what is age-appropriate for them to learn.

Attendees at that 2010 global forum saw the premiere of "The "Dark Side of Chocolate," by award-winning Danish journalist, Miki Mistrati. Perhaps churches might show it to the adults in our neighborhoods and ask them to join us in boycotting any producer of chocolate that does not adhere to Fair Trade standards. More on that in a future post.

Though ignorance may be bliss,being informed and acting on that information could make neighborhoods around the world, a more beautiful place to live.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Neighborhood News Flash

Want a Traffick Free Community?
 Oasis is putting on a special event that will be a great opportunity to find out more.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Safe Place to Play

In the tree-lined neighborhood where I grew up--the same area where I still live--kids ran all over the place with very little supervision. During the summer, friends came from a few blocks away to play hide-in-go seek after dark. Once in awhile, we even slept outdoors in our backyard. There was never any concern that children might be snatched off the street. Modern-day slavery didn't even seem to exist. At least, I'd never heard of it.

Things are different now. On this morning's news, I heard of yet another little girl who disappeared. Parents have to remain constantly vigilant even in their own front yards. Many in the U.S. call sex trafficking "an epidemic." Traffickers reportedly infiltrate high schools, church youth groups, and malls. Wherever vulnerable victims  might be found, the potential for perpetrators exists. 

The other night I wondered if I saw the "grooming" process taking place at my gym. During a step class, a well-built nice-looking African-American man was assisting a young Hispanic woman, who probably weighed 300 lbs. Most class attendees use one or two steps, her's was flat on the floor, signifying that this may have been her first visit.
 
Perhaps I've become paranoid but there was something odd in the way this guy kept calling her "Baby," and encouraging her with "Beautiful, you can do it." That part might have been endearing if I hadn't noticed him glaring at her whenever she stopped to take a drink of water. I began to wonder if her long-sleeved shirt and sweat pants were his idea or what his intentions were for her after she loses the weight. 

It well could be that I was way off base. I'm still wondering if perhaps I projected my concerns about modern-day slavery onto a perfectly innocent situation.

Regardless, Oasis USA gives me hope that one day if enough people get involved, we'll have traffick-free communities. This organization helps activists identify the types of trafficking taking place in a particular area. In Pomona, we thought the problem was massage parlors, until Oasis helped us figure out that street prostitution was much more prevalent. They came alongside Pomona First Baptist's abolitionist group in the beginning to show us the steps we could take to start making a difference in our own neighborhood. The next post will feature an effort that relates to Halloween. Don't buy your candy yet!

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Confession

My neighbors and I have many differing views, but living in the same area gives us the strength of common bonds. Regardless of our political views, we do our best to look after one another's homes to prevent crime. One day some of my neighbors called the police when they saw my adult son roaming around the house and his friend climbing over our fence. The cops came with guns drawn, but thankfully my neighbors and I can laugh about it now. Not so funny are the two different times I left one neighbor's German Shepherd outside a few minutes too long while dog-sitting. She was so unhappy, she ate her way through the doggie door--not just once, but twice! Yet, despite our flaws, all our neighbors believe the best about each other and do what we can to help out in a multitude of ways. It's a great place to live.

God's eternal realm is even better. The beauty of common ground is that we share a risen-Savior, who called His body (the Church, made up of many different components), to work together in harmony. And, that's TLA's goal--to be a catalyst to bring together believers in Jesus Christ starting with personal transformation that leads to changes in our society. Within this neighborhood, there is room for many different denominations, ethnic groups, and political views.

No doubt, those who hold a biblical worldview value the lives of trafficking victims. That's common ground. In addition, we want the traffickers to be dealt with. Yet the outworking of justice and mercy leaves room for a wide variety of ideas and concerns. So, with that said, I have a confession to make.

The perspective set forth in the previous post--on putting campaign signs in my front yard--was my view, not TLA's. Transform LA has no opinion on Prop 35 or any other political issue. What's most important to us is that long after the voting in this campaign is over, we still want to be drawing together the Body of Christ in a way that will bring the Lord glory and honor. Rather than giving the media opportunities to flaunt our differences, we want to focus on our love for one another, believing the best about each other, and working together.

As He often does, God is using this situation to challenge me to be more careful in thinking through my views and not to assume everyone agrees. In addition, I need to  show respect for the views of my brothers and sisters in Christ and learn all I can before forming an opinion. So, I'm listing some links that will help us all make a more informed decision about how to vote.
  • http://www.caseact.org/case/factsheet/
  • http://sanleandro.patch.com/blog_posts/vote-yes-on-prop-35-to-stop-human-trafficking-in-california-wwwvoteyeson35com
  • http://churchimpact.org/2012/08/29/proposition-35-human-trafficking-penalties-sex-offender-registration-initiative-statute-oppose/
  •  https://noonprop35.wordpress.com/
  •  http://www.polarisproject.org/what-we-do/policy-advocacy/current-laws

On this blog, we're not going to debate politics, we'll simply do our best to provide good information. I'm thankful for the thought-provoking discussion that ensued because someone took the time to bring additional information to light.

I hope you'll join me in paying close attention to Prop 35 and learning all we can about the pros and cons. Then make the most informed choice we know how and pray for God's will to be done, His kingdom to come in and through this process. That should help us stay focused on the common ground that keeps our neighborhood beautiful.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

We the People in the Neighborhood


"Would you put a sign in your front yard for Sam," my former neighbor asked.  "He's running for re-election to the school board."

"Sure," I told her, even though I'm not real crazy about campaign signs. I already had one for Prop 35. The one for Sam could prove equally important in the fight against modern-day slavery.

Opal Singleton, director of development for Million Kids, has written a curriculum called "The Love Trap" that educates teens to recognize the tricks traffickers use to enslave their victims. She's presenting it in schools and churches in Riverside and the message needs to spread. If teens learn to recognize the lies of traffickers and understand the consequences of believing them, they'll be a lot less susceptible to a life-altering reality.

As I talked about the need to educate students with Sam's wife, she understood. A sweet young girl who had once lived nearby and played with their little granddaughter had become involved in prostitution. That reality for a 12-year-old who might have been a teacher is tragic. So is the potential for someone like her to now assist pimps by enticing younger girls.

Developing relationships with our school board members and cheering on those who are trustworthy could open doors once the election is over. I hope Sam wins, but if he doesn't, I intend to seek his advice on how to present "The Love Trap," to the school board in a way that will get it adopted by the district.

Come to think of it, Sue's running for office with a different district. Maybe I'll ask her if she'd like to put a sign in my yard too.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Girl Next Door

Kanthi saw the sunrise every day for more than two years. That's because her employer forced her to rise at 4:00 a.m. and work until 11:00 p.m. or sometimes even longer--until the following afternoon. Seven days a week with no days off. And, no pay. Kanthi was a victim of human trafficking.

For the thousands of slaves, like Kanthi, brought into the U.S. each year from around the globe for forced labor and sexual exploitation, a sunrise should bring the hope of a new day--the day when we live in a world where the slavery of a human being is unthinkable. Even more, it should bring the hope of Jesus Christ. 

American young people need that hope too. Desperate for love, they don't often experience biblical principles being lived out in the lives of those around them. They are a field ripe for harvest--will that harvest be for traffickers eager to exploit them for monetary gain with no regard for life? Or will the Church rise up and offer the love and relationships that add value to life and give it meaning and purpose?

Only changed hearts and minds can abolish slavery. Slaves and their traffickers are a mission field. Many individuals care enough to be involved. These people come from every sphere of society--education, government, entertainment, nonprofits, churches, healthcare, and more. But only the Christians among them can offer the freedom found in Christ alone. Every slave and every trafficker, as well as every abolitionist needs that type of freedom most of all. The eradication of the travesty of human trafficking brings down the walls and provides common ground. It's a place where the light of Christ can shine the brightest--regardless of one's position, denomination, age, or ethnicity.

Recently abolitionists gathered at the 2012 Slavery No More Global Conference. To learn more about who's doing what to make a difference in a modern-day slave's life, check out "The South Asian Girl Next Door: Slavery in Southern California," a journal article posted on Transform LA's web site. There you'll learn more about Kanthi's story  and see how some Christians are making a powerful difference.

For more ideas on what you or your organization might do to make a difference, subscribe to this blog. About once a week, we'll highlight best practices and offer resources. And, we'll tell about events and volunteer opportunities. Best of all, we'll tell the stories and celebrate the victories of Christians living out the love of Jesus, and that should inspire us all to keep going.