#Giving Tuesday

It’s “Giving Tuesday,” did you know? The link is to a cute Youtube video about this day that follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I thought today would be a great day to post what I hope to make an annual tradition on this blog: the “gifts that give back” post. I wrestle a lot with our consumer society in general and our “I have to buy everyone a gift” attitude toward Christmas, BUT more and more we have the opportunity to give gifts that give twice: to the recipient AND to a ministry that practices Biblical generosity. If you have already completed all your Christmas shopping, then this post isn’t for you, but if you’re just starting to think about it (I’m in this camp!), then I hope to give you some good ideas in this post.

GENERAL GIVING

You can use Amazon.com’s Smile program and choose a charity to receive a portion of your purchase price. (Mine is locked in at Compassion International currently, but there are thousands on Amazon’s list.) The link above gives more info, and this program is not just for the holiday season but operates all year.

IF YOU’RE SHOPPING FOR PRETEENS/TEENS

Check out www.mudlove.com. This company, based in Winona Lake, Indiana (home of my wonderful in-laws and my alma mater, Grace College), sells made-on-site clay bracelets and necklaces. The most popular version is stamped with a word or phrase, and you can even custom order a word or phrase that has particular meaning to you. Twenty percent of each purchase goes to provide clean water in Africa, and $5 spent provides an African with clean drinking water for a year. My girls (ages 10, 14, 15, and 17) ALL love them. (Honestly, I do, too!)

BIG-TICKET BEAUTY

Hand and Cloth sells gorgeous, one-of-a-kind blankets made from used saris by women rescued from the slave trade in Bangladesh. I’ve featured this ministry before on my blog (https://journeytojen.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/blankets-handmade-by-women-women-handmade-by-god/).  These are perfect buys for the person who appreciates beautiful, handmade artisan items (hmm—maybe that describes you yourself!). They start at $98 dollars and go up to around $200. Check out the blankets at the website—which itself is beautiful—and read their story while you are there. “Blankets handmade by women. Women handmade by God.” Wonderful work! (They also have stockings–each one unique! So cool!)

Renew Project is an incredible ministry. Based in my area (Chicago’s western suburbs), it trains and employs refugee women to make beautiful items from recycled textiles. Bags, baby items, tablecloths, etc., and their work is incredible (these women are artisans!). Best of all, each purchase helps a refugee woman thrive in her new home.

THREE FOR WOMEN AT RISK

If you want something other than blankets made by women rescued from the slave trade, visit WAR International. The acronym WAR, standing for Women at Risk, was started in 2006. You can find jewelry, accessories, home décor, and children’s items made by women in 13 countries, including the United States. AND, during the month of December, if you shop either online or at the Naperville, IL, store and mention New Name as you’re checking out, then 10% of your purchase supports New Name (the link takes you to a past post about New Name).

Narimon employs women rescued out of the sex industry in Bangkok, Thailand. the woman make beautiful jewelry, handbags, and some clothing at The Well, where the women not only work but are ministered to. Narimon is the products division of Servantworks. Seriously, their work is beautiful (I just bought a pair of Treble clef earrings for my daughter’s piano teacher from Narimon).

www.stoptraffickfashion.com has t-shirts, jewelry, and totes/bags made from recycled materials. Many of their t-shirts express the heart of the women who run this website. One with a barcode also has the logo “People are not products” and several sport the logo “free.loved.radiant.”

LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING

Need to shop for kids, men, women—want to spend a little for this one, more for that one? Go to www.tenthousandvillages.com. Gorgeous jewelry, decorative items, and woven/knitted items for women; toys and games for children; even things like chess sets, bookends, and bicycle-chain frames for men. Their website is very easy to navigate and has some very helpful tools. If you click on the “gift ideas” tab at the top of the page, you can shop for holiday items, for men, women, or children, or by type of item.  You can spend a little (items as low as $4) or a lot. They also have shops (there is one in Glen Ellyn, IL) across the U.S. You can find a shop locater on the website.

FOR THE COFFEE LOVERS

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Company has “Drink Coffee. Do Good” as its motto. It started with farmers in Rwanda (the founder saw the effects of the genocide and had to do SOMETHING) and now works with farmers in Haiti and Thailand as well. They sell 100% Arabica, fairly traded, fresh roasted coffee. They sell ground, whole bean, and decaf, teas, and coffee accessories.

If you’re in Chicago’s western suburbs, drop in at River City Roasters in Wheaton and pick up a few bags of their Venture blend, which supports Venture Corp (www.entertheventure.com), a small nonprofit started by some young friends of ours. Each bag purchased helps support two wonderful ministries in Africa. (I am privileged to have met both Mary and Ronnie, the leaders of the two ministries Venture supports.)

LOOKING FOR HANDCRAFTED CROCHETED ITEMS?

My husband just told me about this one, and I checked it out and love their website. What a great story! A group of high school guys learned to crochet simply because they wanted unique ski hats on the local slopes. Others dubbed them the Krochet Kids. Long story short (if you want to know the whole thing, visit the website), they taught these skills to women in northern Africa and then Peru, and they sell these handmade items at www.krochetkids.org. Each item carries with it the signature of the woman who crocheted it, and you can visit the website to learn her story.

AND, FINALLY, FOR THE PERSON WHO HAS EVERYTHING

Buy them a goat—bet they don’t have that. Seriously, go to World Vision or Compassion (the links take you directly to their online gift catalogs). They have items like school supplies, ducks, and clean-water wells. You can honor someone with your gift, and that person will receive a card telling about your gift and what it will accomplish. If you want to keep the idea of giving in front of you this season, request that a print gift catalog from either World Vision or Compassion be sent to you. It’s a fantastic tool to use with kids during this season when they are constantly faced with advertisements that fool them into thinking that their “wants” are actually “needs.”

ANY OTHER IDEAS???

If you have other ideas, please leave a comment and share! I’d love to hear and share other opportunities to give gifts that give back.

Thanks for reading! I sure enjoyed pulling the list together.

Sharing a post about Ebola

Please read this very well-written, challenging, and helpful post by two American doctors living in Kenya who have actually lived through an Ebola crisis. They also have links to an article by Dr. Paul Farmer, who has his own words of wisdom to share on the subject. (Click on his name to read an earlier post I wrote about Farmer.)

Dave, running for a reason on October 12

In four weeks, on October 12, my husband, Dave, will run the Chicago Marathon as a Run for a Reason participant.

His reason? To raise funds for a Refuge for Women safe house to be opened in the western suburbs.

What’s that? Refuge for Women, based in Kentucky, is an after-care home for women rescued from the sex trade industry, and it works with New Name, a ministry right here in the western suburbs that reaches out to women—right here in the western suburbs—who are trapped in the sex trade. New Name sends teams of women into strip clubs, massage parlors, and adult bars to form relationships with the women working or trapped in them; it also has a call center that contacts women—and even pimps—and offers to pray for them; and it bathes everything in prayer with both weekly meetings and teams that pray during the visitation and call center hours.

How did Dave find out about Refuge for Women? This is a long story that actually starts with me. I could skip it and cut to the chase, but I am always amazed at how God interweaves our stories and connects us with others, and then we can look back and see His hand in all of it.

So I’m telling the long version.

Two years ago Moody Radio kept running a promo bit on The White Umbrella, a book about the booming sex trade industry in Atlanta, Georgia, and an after-care home there named Wellspring Living. I read the book and thought, “I have to do something, but what?” Everything in the book was focused on the problem in Atlanta, but when I researched the issue in Chicago, I found it was alive and rampant here as well. I contacted the publisher (Moody) and said, “What do I do?” An editor at Moody invited me to a symposium Moody was hosting on this topic, and I listened to the leader of the Salvation Army’s Promise program (Partnership to Rescue Our Minors from Sexual Exploitation) as he shared how bad the issue is in Chicago and what Promise is doing about it.

I still felt helpless, but one of the messages I kept hearing at the symposium was that people needed to spread the word about this issue. I could blog on it, I thought.

So I did, enough that, a year later, when I joined the Redbud Writers Guild and met with Terri Kraus, one of its leaders, we talked about the topic of human trafficking as something I often wrote on.

“Well,” said Terri, “did you know that I’m one of the co-founders of the West Chicagoland Anti-Trafficking Coalition?”

I didn’t know such a thing even existed, but I began going to meetings and getting involved in a small way, and through the WCATC, I found out about New Name and got connected with Anne, its director.

When Dave wanted someone to speak to his Culture and Theology class last spring about sex trafficking in this area, I contacted Anne, and she agreed to come in.

She blew away any misconceptions the students may have had about women choosing to stay in the lifestyle of prostitution. “Almost all of these girls have horrific backgrounds,” she said, “with the kinds of sexual/physical/emotional abuse that makes you wonder how anyone even thought of it—really evil and horrific.”

One girl, Darcy*, was raped and then trafficked by her own mother. Another girl’s mother is a drug addict who began selling her daughter when she was young to pay for her drugs. Now the girl is trapped in the lifestyle. She doesn’t know any other.

New Name has connections with the Chicago FBI and calls the Bureau when a girl wants to leave the industry or simply is frightened. But the FBI doesn’t provide places for the girls following their rescue, so New Name partnered with Refuge for Women in Kentucky. Four girls rescued by New Name, including Darcy, have now gone to Refuge for Women and been involved in its 12-month, 24/7 program where sobriety, healing from trauma, rebuilding trust, and developing a relationship with Jesus are all essential elements.

Not long after Anne spoke in Dave’s class, I learned that Refuge for Women was raising funds for an after-care home here in the western suburbs, and then I learned it was part of the Run for a Reason program at the Chicago Marathon. When I told Dave, he signed up to be a Refuge runner.

So, my part was to do all the connecting.

Dave’s part is to run 26.2 miles (I like my part better).

Do you want to have a part?

Would you be willing to join us in this effort to bring healing to women?

First, please pray, for the ministries of New Name and Refuge for Women, for the fundraising for a local after-care home, and for Dave as he trains and runs the marathon on October 12.

Second, if you feel led to give to a Refuge for Women safe house in this area, you can do so in a couple of ways:

  1. You can donate online at refugeforwomen.org. Click on the “take action” button at the top of the home page and then choose “Donate-Chicago” at the bottom of the page that opens. When you review your donation, type “I am donating this in support of Team Refuge runner Dave Underwood” in the “add special instructions to the seller” box.
  1. You can write a check and send it to the address below. Please write “Dave Underwood” on the memo line of the check so they can keep track of his fundraising amount.

Refuge for Women

Attn: Run for a Reason

342 Waller Ave, Ste D

Lexington, KY 40504

Thanks so much for reading this. If you have any questions, please feel to leave a comment, and I’ll respond. I’ve also put lots of links in the post, so be sure to follow them to find out more about these ministries.

Jen

*I think Anne was already using a pseudonym, but I’m changing it again just to be completely safe.

 

Justice in Mountains Beyond Mountains

I just finished Mountains Beyond Mountains, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder’s true account of the life of Dr. Paul Farmer, an infectious disease (ID) specialist. Here’s part of the inside-the-front-cover blurb:

“In medical school, Paul Farmer found his life’s calling: to cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. Kidder’s magnificent account takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that ‘the only real nation is humanity.’”

Though I found the accounts of worldwide medical politics fascinating, what gripped me most was Farmer’s dedication to the patients right in front of him. Many accounts reminded me of the stories my family-doctor father told at the dinner table. He, like Farmer, saw every person as a patient, someone to be helped. What also grabbed both my attention and my heart was Farmer’s insistence that we must treat the poor as if they are our own sister or brother, child or mother.

This insistence has often put Farmer at odds with medicine on a grand scale. The World Health Organization and other international medical entities, understandably so, want to impact the greatest number of lives with the limited funds they have, which means that those who suffer with resistant strains of a disease often get ignored. Dr. Farmer disagrees with this practice, in part because of his theory (which has been proven time and again through his and other’s clinical studies) that resistant strains, when untreated, eventually enter the general population, and the problem then multiplies. Better, though more expensive in the short-term, to make great efforts to find every person in a region who suffers from the disease, treat every case, no matter how complicated, and systematically eradicate the disease in that area in all its forms.

But the greater reason Farmer treats every patient he encounters is because of this belief: “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.” If you visit the Web page of Partners in Health, the organization Farmer, with others, founded, that quote of his is at the bottom of nearly every page.

This belief means Farmer is holistic in his approach to patient care. Well-fed people, living in decent housing, are less susceptible to infectious diseases, he argues. Therefore, in the process of administering medical treatment, he works to improve the nutrition and living conditions of his patients. He has poured out his life in order to accomplish this level of individual and community healthcare in some of the poorest places around the world.

The book is a good read. It’s also convicting. The title Mountains Beyond Mountains refers to a Haitian proverb: “Beyond mountains there are mountains,” and means that as you solve one problem, another presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one, too.

The proverb is so very true, and it should impact all of us, not just those who, like Farmer, are on the front line of the battle against poverty, disease, and injustice/oppression. The rest of us, though, can feel like we have no ability to impact the battle. What is the point, then, of thinking of it at all, of reading books like this? Kidder wrote: “The world is full of miserable places. One way of living comfortably is not to think about them or, when you do, to send money.”

Yet for those of us following Christ, “not thinking about them”—even if we do send money—is not an option. Paul Farmer is quoted as saying, “[Many people] think all the world’s problems can be fixed without any cost to themselves. We (Partners in Health) don’t believe that. There’s a lot to be said for sacrifice, remorse, even pity. It’s what separates us from roaches.”

We Christians don’t believe that either. We are called to think and pray and care to the point that our own comfort eventually becomes secondary.

Still, it can sometimes feel like an abdication to simply send money or even to pray.

As long as the prayer and the giving impact our hearts, it’s not.

At a different point in the book, Kidder said of Farmer, “Lives of service depend on lives of support. He’d gotten help from many people.”

I tell my kids all the time that we are richer than 98% of the world’s population. (They often finish my quote and say, “We know, Mom. We know.” By the way, you can check your own ranking out at the Global Rich List). It helps our perspective to remember that fact so we don’t simply compare ourselves with the other middle-classers surrounding us and see our wealth as being a means for keeping up.

Kidder spoke on this truth: “How could a just God permit great misery? The Haitian peasants answered with a proverb: ‘Bondye konn bay, men li pa konn separe,’ in literal translation, ‘God gives but doesn’t share.’ This meant… God gives us humans everything we need to flourish, but he’s not the one who’s supposed to divvy up the loot. That charge was laid upon us.”

Yes.

 

NOTE: I’ve been through enough vague guilt trips that I certainly don’t want to lay one on anyone else. So what do we do when we don’t know what to do?

We start with prayer. God knows the resources He’s provided us with and the purpose He has for each one (whether they be time, money, or expertise). God directs us to (or directs to us) the neighbor next door, the local homeless shelter, orphans across the world, persecuted believers, resettled refugees from Syria or the Congo, or the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

Is it easier, perhaps, not to be burdened? Absolutely! But we’re missing so, so much if we stay aloof. We must be bold to pray even when we know it will push us to know God’s heart better—the heart that cares for the entire world and knows each injustice and sorrow.

We can’t know His heart if we don’t pray.

 

LINKS: Here are a few links to U.S. and international organizations that are concerned with justice and health for all:

World Vision

Compassion International

International Justice Mission

Food for the Hungry

Samaritan’s Purse

Feed My Starving Children

Mercy Ships

For smaller organizations, please see the “What I’m passionate about” column on the right side of my blog.

FURTHER READING: To read more about the subject of Biblical justice, follow this link to “A Justice Manifesto,” written by Kelli Trujillo for the July/August 2013 issue of Relevant Magazine. It’s a great big-picture article with excellent sidebars on specific issues and/or ways to get involved.

In the same issue of Relevant, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson wrote “Why You Can’t Save the World.” It’s excellent and a good reminder of the truth that we aren’t called to save the world, just to trust and follow Christ. Saving the world is His job.

PRAYER: Father, as Christ taught us, we, too, pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Our hearts long for heaven, Lord, for Your goodness and justice to be the living reality for all. We pray against oppression, inequality, and persecution. Teach us Your justice and how to live justly where we have been placed. Teach us and then so soften and burden our hearts with Your grace that we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with You.

In Christ we pray this. Amen.

They shall know we are His…

Can I see God in pain?
In the eye-closing brilliance of a warm sun, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the sound of a child’s laughter: symbols of what is “well” in this world, I see God. His goodness, beauty, sweetness.
But in pain?
Do I see God when I contemplate—or actually see—those trapped in poverty or sex slavery or sweatshops or starvation?
Do I see God in someone struggling with mental illness, addiction, or great physical pain?
What about in grief? When a family loses a beloved child, a woman her spouse?
In natural disasters, birth defects, and broken relationships?
Do I see God then?
I know—He says it plain—that suffering was not part of His design for us. The garden was replete with purpose, goodness, wholeness.
But that is not the world we live in. So, does His beauty shine in pain? In the brokenness of this world and its people?
Or could it shine through?
When we look into heartache, what bears the most beauty is when those outside the deepest circle of pain enter in it. They open their hearts and arms; they give of their time and money, and they step into the trouble, into the mess, into the nitty-gritty.
We smile through our tears when we see this happen, or, in the deepest of grief, we nod in gratitude—that the brokenness is not reigning supreme, that an unselfish choice (or, more likely, a whole series of them) is beating back the insistent darkness. Selfishness is innate to all of us, so we know that to choose discomfort over comfort—when comfort is an option—is not natural.
It must come from above.
It must, just as it did when Christ did this for us, “stepping in” for us, bearing the full force of God’s justice.
His beauty shone through pain on the cross.
And when we follow Him in this act, bearing others’ “crosses,” stepping into the trouble of others, His beauty shines forth again.
How shall they know we are His?
By love.
His love.

Cousin Seth giving Maddie a ride on their tree swing--always a huge hit!

Cousin Seth giving Maddie a ride on their tree swing–always a huge hit!

The piece above was started a year ago, just after I returned from a trip to Africa. I begin a new journal every school year (a new Word document), and that piece has greeted me every time I opened my journal for the past twelve months. I’ve tinkered with it throughout the year, and it bears the influence of the events of those months.

My kids with cousin Michael and Uncle Dan (back left) and one of their friends just after the five kids went zip-lining.

My kids with cousin Michael and Uncle Dan (back left) and one of their friends just after the five kids went zip-lining.

I’ve just returned from another trip, this time a journey by car to family in the Southeast, East Coast, and the Midwest. It’s been a wonderful trip, completely worth the 40 hours we spent in the car. Yesterday, when I opened my journal and looked at the piece above yet again, I realized that I saw evidence of that very kind of love in each of the homes I’ve visited on this trip. Each one does have interests in other countries, with the poorest of the poor, with those unreached by the Gospel. They give; they go; they send; they serve.

My four kids with cousins Michael and Lucy and my sister Lynda

My four kids with cousins Michael and Lucy and my sister Lynda

But the testimony that stood out most to me is the way they have allowed their very homes to be used. Each has set aside the American dream of the home being a castle: undisturbed, controlled, and, most importantly, “MINE and for my comfort.” The pattern of their lives and their homes are often in states of disruption because they’ve set aside this dream. The invasion of our family of six was only a minor blip of disturbance to them because they’ve had singles/couples/families settle in for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. And they do it over and over, whenever God brings a need to their attention and puts it on their hearts.

PJ and cousin Grace giving a stirring performance during a karaoke afternoon.

PJ and cousin Grace giving a stirring performance during a karaoke afternoon.

I was talking with one of them about this, and she said, “I’m learning that disruption is good for me. Discomfort is good. It shakes me up. It makes me come face to face with my own issues and shortcomings and brings me to the end of myself. Stagnation and holding tight to what is ‘mine’ does no good for my soul.”
This kind of hospitality can be downright sticky. The outcomes often aren’t smooth-edged and wrapped with a bow. They’ve sometimes turned their lives—

my kids with cousins Sarah, Grace, and Anna

my kids with cousins Sarah, Grace, and Anna

and the lives of their families—upside down.
But they’ve stepped in and loved.
And it’s so very clear they are His.

Morning Prayer for the Congo

I get up early to work on an article I’m writing about two brothers who lived as young children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). I simply google the country name to make certain I am using it accurately.

Of course, a Wikipedia article on the DRC is at the top of Google’s search results.

But a news piece on sexual slavery in the Congo is just below it.

“Sexual Slavery Rife in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, says MSF” (Médicins sans Frontières [Doctors without Borders])

Reading it is not an encouraging way to start the day.

But after a moment of wondering about my privilege in this very moment: good work to do, hot chai steaming in a mug at my side, my children safe in their beds on the floor above me…

When so many others are suffering such terrible abuse…

I set my questions aside and pray.

Please join me.

Dear Father, I am overwhelmed by what I just read. I know that right now, this very minute, people are committing horrific acts against others in every nation in the world, in my very own community, and I feel helpless. But You, Lord, are not helpless. You know all, You see all, and You care. You revealed the depth of Your compassion on the cross, and it has not lessened. Your mercies never, ever cease.

I pray that Your will may be done today on earth–as it is in heaven, where right is always done, where goodness reigns. I pray for strength for those who fight this battle on the front lines. I pray for the doctors, nurses, and psychologists who work with Doctors without Borders. I pray for the International Justice Mission and the many, many others who fight this evil in Your Name, in Your justice. 

I pray for those of us who are in places of relative safety. Deepen our passion for justice. Enlarge our hearts for those who suffer. Move us to pray and grieve. Push us to care more about the needs of others than about our own comfort so that we seek out and embrace opportunities to help. Mobilize us to engage in the battle against the powers of darkness.

I pray this, trusting in Your goodness and in Your power.

I pray this in the name of Christ Jesus, who conquered the powers of sin and darkness.

Amen 

In honor of my son on St. Patrick’s Day

Patrick and Maddie chasing down a ball during a fierce game of soccer at my sister's house last fall.

Patrick and Maddie chasing down a ball during a fierce game of soccer at my sister’s house last fall.

St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal in Chicagoland–but that’s not why Patrick, our son, was named that. He was tiny, nameless, and very sick when he was rescued by Mercy Childcare in the spring of 2007 (the link takes you to the webpage, but on the page is a link to Mercy’s Facebook page, which is updated often with great pics). In a phone conversation between the dear people at Mercy and Sarah, one of their staunchest supporters here in west Chicagoland, Sarah’s daughter suggested they name him “Patrick” after of one of her friends at school.

Wilfred Rugumba, the vibrant young director of Mercy Childcare, with his wonderful wife, Vena, and their two sons. They're still rescuing!

Wilfred Rugumba, the vibrant young director of Mercy Childcare, with his wonderful wife, Vena, and their two sons. They’re still rescuing!

Not quite two years later Patrick officially became an Underwood–though he was in our hearts long before that. We pray that he, like the saint he shares a name with, will love the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind and will use his incredible talents and gifts to love his neighbors as himself.

So, in honor of both Patricks, I share this prayer of the bold Englishman who returned to the land where he once lived as a slave to share the power and love of Christ.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

 

They have given me much

They murmur, “Thank you,” as they leave the classroom. But instead of saying, “You’re welcome,” I tell them, “Thank you,” back.

I mean it. They have given me far more than I have given them.

Mondays I serve as an aide at the local World Relief ESL program, supporting Krista, who teaches the Job Class. The refugees in her class are recently arrived (some as “recently” as a week ago) and have only six weeks of preparation before joining the American workforce. Job Class, therefore, doesn’t mess with non-essentials.

Today we are learning the “doctor appointment” conversation:

A: This is Dr. ________’s office. How can I help you?

B. I need to make an appointment. My ________ hurts.

A. I’m sorry. How about _________ at ____:_____?

B. _______ at ____:_____? Yes. Thank you.

A. See you soon.

B. See you.

I teach the dialogue to the majority of the class while Krista works on travel directions with three students who’ve already learned the conversation. Then she and I switch groups. As Krista leads the large group in a fun practice session, I show the small group how to use Google Maps. I zoom in on the map of the world until northern Illinois covers the entire screen. “Where would you like to go?” I ask them. “The grocery? I can show you how to get directions from your apartment to the closest store.”

One of the women—she’s a “take-charge” gal!—has a different idea. She pulls a flyer out of her folder. “Free Computer and Literacy Classes,” it boldly proclaims. She reads the address to me. I type in her apartment address as the starting point and the other as the end point. “Do you have a car?” I ask her. She shakes her head. The two others, who live in the same apartment building as she, shake theirs, too.

I switch the default icon from “car” to “pedestrian,” and the time jumps from six minutes to forty. They laugh.

Soon it is time to work on applications. We fill out applications galore in this class—since, after all, getting hired is the ultimate point. The app they start with has two blanks: one for “name,” one for “country.” It simply determines if they can actually recognize those words. The final one, number 12, is a standard three-page application, with blanks for items like their social security number, their full address (including zip code), and work history.

Job counselors at World Relief help each refugee create a résumé. We use these to fill in addresses and former jobs on the application templates. I help a gentleman write “Family farmer” in the blank for his earliest job and then, in the space for his latest, we write “Kitchen worker,” the job he was able to get when he had to flee home and find temporary shelter in a neighboring country. It is the same for nearly all the refugees from his home. They began as farmers and now live far, far from their land.

I explain to another man that he does not have a maiden name, but his wife does—or perhaps not—names are cultural things, after all.

Back and forth they come and go from the table where I have organized all the applications. “Excuse me, I need help.” “Excuse me, I am finished.” I check their work. I remind some that Americans write on top of the blank line rather than across the middle of it. I refer to their intake sheets to check birthdates—months and days can be tricky. One man and I have the same birth year. We smile at each other with the commonality of age. Another man has circled “yes” next to “children?” and “no” next to “married?” Beneath the “no,” he has penciled in “widow.” I do not change it to “widower.” Should I have? Surely no one will point that out to him.

I find myself noticing their shoes—actually, their socks. It’s been a cold winter, and Monday after Monday I’ve shivered when I noticed women in plastic slides—no socks—and men in dress shoes—no socks. It’s not that World Relief doesn’t provide them with socks. They have them, but many come from homelands where they never before had to wear anything but sandals on their feet.

It must feel strange.

This day, though, I see lots of socks, and, oddly, it makes me glad.

Near the end of class, Krista assigns the homework. A few still linger at my table, wanting me to check their corrections, wanting—ultimately—to learn, to understand, to “make it” in this new, strange country.

Please, God, smooth their paths, I pray. They’ve already traveled such hard, treacherous roads. Bring kind people to them when they need aid. Protect them from prejudice and hate. Let them meet You in gentle eyes, in helping hands, in mouths that share Your Name gracefully, truthfully.

I slide the blank applications into the correct folders, ready for another day of practice, and leave with a strange mix of sorrow and joy and great gratitude.

“Thank you,” I say again to a few who are still waiting in the vestibule for their ride to arrive.

For they have given me much.

The Real Battle: followup post

Dear Readers,

I have gotten so much response and information related to the last post that I’m writing a followup post mostly comprised of all the links/books/info I’ve been given through Facebook/blog comments.

First off, some continued reading:

I found an article, “The Super Bowl Could Never Not Be Breeding Grounds for Sexual Exploitation,” written by the Chief of Policy and Planning for NYS’ Unified Court System, Judy Kluger. She is also the Executive Director at Sanctuary for Families, the leading nonprofit in New York State dedicated exclusively to serving domestic violence victims, sex trafficking victims, and their children. She wrote in response to several articles which said the hype about the Super Bowl being a “trafficking magnet” was not only overblown but was also potentially harmful to trafficking victims.

Then a friend suggested reading Half the Sky (the link is to its Amazon page) Without having read it yet (though it is now in my shopping cart at Amazon.com–my friend offered to let me borrow her copy, but I’m thinking I will probably want to mark it all up!), I can tell you that Amazon.com calls it “a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world” AND, only moments after my one friend posted the suggestion on Facebook, another friend called the book a “must read.” This friend should know, as she, with several of her friends, started the West Chicagoland Anti-Trafficking Coalition to inform and activate people about the issue right here in our area. While I’m on this topic, here is a link to the Coalition’s Facebook page and another to an article written about it.

And, on that note, more about this issue in my local area, the western suburbs of Chicago:

Over the weekend my husband forwarded to me a prayer email from New Name, a ministry of Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, (that’s my area) that “partners with local churches to reach out to and help walk along side the women who are caught up in these industries.” I prayed my way through the message (heartbreaking stories) and then emailed its sender, asking to be added to the list of people who regularly receive it. I mentioned New Name to my Anti-Trafficking Coalition friend, and she wrote back: “New Name is awesome!” She’s used its videos when she has spoken about trafficking in the West Chicagoland area. If you go to the “New Name” link above, you’ll find more information about it as well as a contact email.

Another friend mentioned A21, which is an official coalition partner with End It, an organization I mentioned in the last post. Both these sites have great information.

I’m also sharing the blog site One Small Voice–which I found through New Name’s prayer email. The blogger says this about the site: “My goal is to post information about global human trafficking issues as well what’s happening right here in the Chicagoland area including strides that are being made by the government regarding this issue.” Right at the top of the site is information about a forum being held this Saturday on this topic.

Lastly, I just want to remind all of us why we should care.

Many years ago, when I was a very young middle-school teacher with no children of my own, I sat in a meeting that involved a student, her father, and our team of teachers. The father was overbearing and belittling to his daughter, and we left the meeting feeling discouraged. One of our team members, the lone male on the team, father to a young daughter himself, was more than discouraged. He was angry. “Any man can be a sperm donor,” he said, “but it takes a real man to be a father, and that girl doesn’t have one.”

Most of the girls involved in trafficking have never had a true father, one who protected them, cherished them, and honored them. God longs to be their Father. He’s angry and sad they’ve never experienced true love, and He’s called us to have His heart for them. He says He “will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed, so mere people can no longer terrify them” (Psalm 10:18), and He’s called us to enact that justice in the here and now.

Let’s pray for some genuine religion, friends.

And then let’s do it.

Thanks for reading,

Jen