a request

(Warning: This is not a normal blog post!) Dear readers, as many of you know, I’m living now on the west side of Chicago, where Dave and I feel God has specifically led our family. Dave is teaching at a high school here that serves under-resourced students, and in early January I went on staff with Greenhouse Movement, a church-planting and partnering organization. I was specifically brought on staff to work with Bible Telling here on the west side of Chicago (I’m SO excited about this! I get to write and teach and connect with people–and all of it’s related to the story of God!).

Greenhouse is a missionary organization, so I am in the very faith-stretching process of finding my team of supporters. I know God already knows who they are, and He’s the one who will prompt them to join the team; my job is simply to share the vision of Greenhouse and the specifics of my ministry with as many people as possible! I decided to put this on my blog because I thought there might be some readers who would want to know more and who might, after talking with me, want to join my team. So if you’re reading this, and you would like to hear more about Greenhouse and what I will be doing, PLEASE email me at jenunderwood0629@gmail.com

I would love to talk with you!

Thanks!

~Jen~

 

 

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Scotland, days 8 and 9

in front of the beaches where the Chariots of Fire beach scenes were filmed

in front of the beaches where the Chariots of Fire beach scenes were filmed

In some ways our entire trip led up to these last few days. The students have prepared their stories of how Christ has transformed and rescued them; they’ve learned Scotland’s rich history of faith and its current low spiritual point through tours and speakers; and they’ve visited churches and youth groups whose members have expressed how very alone they sometimes feel.

Group in front of the "old course" at St. Andrews

Group in front of the “old course” at St. Andrews

group at St Andrews ruins

at the ruins of St. Andrews cathedral

Yesterday and today, our students were able to do their small part to step into that need. Yesterday morning we visited Deans Community High School here in Scotland. Rob Bell is the chaplain at Deans and meets with students each week. Both the administration and students know and respect him. Because they do, we are welcome to do assemblies and school visits there. In assembly we showed the video of our school (prepared by TJ Tyrrell) and then Grace and Jacklyn explained their cardboard testimonies. On one side of the cardboard testimony is a statement expressing a deep need, hurt, or struggle; on the other side is how Christ met that need and transformed the student in the process. After Grace and

This was a mine dug under the Saint Andrew Castle. We all crawled down into it.

This was a mine dug under the Saint Andrew Castle. We all crawled down into it.

Jacklyn explained and showed theirs, the other students then shared theirs silently. Here are a few:

“Before Christ, there was no meaning to my life/With Christ I have a purpose.”

“I used to think God would only love me if I was perfect/Now I know God loves me even with my imperfections.”

group in chapel at St. A's

group in chapel at St. Andrew’s

“I used to HATE how I looked/Now I know I am made beautifully in God’s image.”

“I felt worthless/Now I know God values me and made me for a purpose.”

“I used all my talents to make others notice and love me/When I use my talents for God, I feel His love.”

“I was controlled by fear/now I am made bold through Christ’s freedom”

“I used to feel unlovable/now I feel consumed by Christ’s love.”

The vulnerability of the students was bold

and beautiful, and the students at Deans responded. We left the school following the assembly yesterday, but today we
spent the entire day there. We did assembly for a different group of Deans students and then paired our students up with Deans students and sent them off to classes. They talked

following our day at Deans

following our day at Deans

about cultural differences and personal likes/dislikes but many of the Deans students also asked about our students’ belief in Christ. Some even went with their partners to Religious Education classes, where the teachers opened up the floor for the students to discuss
different aspects of the Christian faith. Dave and I were in Religious Education classes all day; in three of them the teacher invited us to the front of the class and allowed us to field questions from the students. Nearly every single question led to us sharing some aspect of the Gospel. They asked about our favorite parables, how we know the Bible is true; why the God of the Old Testament seems different from the God of the New Testament; how science and religion deal with origins; Scripture’s views on abortion, etc. In one of the classes, our students Abby and Jacklyn joined us and answered quite a few of the questions,

post host-family supper--all guests, including the piper in the middle

post host-family supper–all guests, including the piper in the middle

and in the final class, our students answered all the questions, and Dave and I just listened.

By the end of the day, our students were exhausted. Most were really encouraged, though a few felt that their conversations with their new friends hadn’t gone as deeply as they’d hoped they would. But that gave Dave and I the opportunity to remind them of God’s timing and the Holy Spirit’s ability to use even the things we consider very, very small.

serving at host supperWe had our host family dinner tonight at Rob and Louise’s church, eating the traditional Scottish meal of haggis, neeps, and tatties (turnips and potatoes) and celebrating a Burns supper a bit early (it’s celebrated on January 25th) with a bagpiper and a recitation of Burns’ poem “To a Haggis.” We are very, very thankful for these families who have welcomed completely unknown teens into their homes and cared so well for them.

I need to backtrack to yesterday. Following assembly at Deans, we headed up with Billy the bus driver to Saint Andrews. We enjoyed a fairly sunny day (the first since we’ve arrived) in this small town with its legendary golf course, beautiful university (where Prince William and Kate both attended and met), lovely cathedral and castle ruins (our kids acted like they were on a playground!); and quaint streets (lots of bookshops!). On the way back to Livingston we got Anstruther’s famous fish and chips (so very good, but I almost couldn’t believe I was putting that much grease in my stomach!) and then enjoyed a game and snack night back at Rob and Louise’s house (they are incredibly hospitable).

Please pray for tomorrow. In the morning we will hold our last assembly at Deans (for yet another group of students), and because many of the Deans kids met our students yesterday, the cardboard testimonies have the potential to be even more powerful and impacting. Please pray that the seeds sown—some of them unknown—will take root.

#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.

Local opportunity to learn more about anti-trafficking

Click on the link at the bottom of the post to visit Naomi's House website.

Click on the link at the bottom of the post to visit Naomi’s House website.

Tuesday, September 30

6:30 – 7:45 pm

Missions Place by TEAM

370 W. Front Street, Wheaton, IL 

 

Schedule of Monthly Meetings: 

6:30 pm — All are welcome to a time of prayer as we focus on those suffering and those fighting modern day slavery in our communities and around the world. 

7:00 pm — Intros, check in and sharing. All are welcome to introduce themselves and their church or organization and log for the Coalition what they or their communities are doing in the fight against human trafficking. These will be compiled in ongoing lists to facilitate engagement and involvement opportunities for all coalition participants and our community. 
 
7:20 pm — Each meeting one individual, project, initiative, organization, etc, will present to the group. This is a time of giving information, receiving feedback, and open discussion with the purpose of deepening our understanding of the issue and how it impacts our community. 
 
7:45 pm — Meeting ends promptly at 7:45 pm. 
 
This Month: Naomi’s House  

This ministry of Moody Church will offer a safe, nurturing home and comprehensive care in our area for sexual trauma survivors in Chicagoland. Learn more and watch the video at the Moody Church website.

 

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.

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

The REAL battle this weekend

NOTE: The topic and the links I’m sharing are not comfortable.

A year and a half ago I wrote an article (it’s on page four of the link) about two American women who provide dignified employment for at-risk women in Bangladesh, a country known for its sex slave industry. At the same time my husband, Dave, was teaching a new class at Wheaton Academy titled Culture and Theology. One of the units in the class was modern-day slavery, so we were both researching the issue and how it impacts every single country, including the U.S., where we live. I read a book titled The White Umbrella about the sex slave trade in the U.S. and about one specific ministry in the Atlanta, Georgia-area that reaches out to girls rescued from it. Dave discovered ministries like End It Movement and Love 146, which fight against human trafficking. At some point in our research, Dave discovered that the Super Bowl creates a huge market for trafficking.

That’s the reason for this particular post at this particular time.

“In 2010, the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children reported that 10,000 women were sold for sex at the Miami Super Bowl.” That quote is from an article published today that calls the Super Bowl a “sex-trafficking magnet.” Here’s a link to the several articles The Huffington Post has recently published on this topic.

Please pray.

Thanks for reading,

Jen