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.

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.