Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Let's Thank the Guys Doing the Hard Stuff

A couple of weekends ago, a surprise meeting at the immigration office landed me in downtown San Jose with my husband for the evening. We stayed in a lovely old hotel and enjoyed a stroll through the downtown shopping area that afternoon. As evening set in, we strolled past an infamous "hotel/casino" in the heart of downtown that is widely known to be a front for a prostitution ring. You can find it listed in just about any tourist guide to Costa Rica and an image search of its name will give you an eyeful of what's really being marketed there. It is also widely known that most of the women (girls?) working the place are not Costa Rican. They are Columbian, Nicaraguan and who knows what else. Which of course led me to wonder how many of them got here by being trafficked here. And how many of them were under-aged and stolen and trapped.

For a quick moment, I wanted to tell my husband to march in there and have a look around, to scope it out and see if there were any girls who looked too young, who looked afraid, who looked like they had been hit or hurt, who looked like they were there against their will. I wanted to tell him to ask to see their boss. To ask if they were any girls for sale. To ask specifically for foreign girls and see what he said.
About a minute later, I realized, of course, that this was not an option.

We are not equipped for this, us two foreign missionaries. We proclaim the Gospel to an indigenous people. We build chapels in poor areas. We are working to provide meaningful work to women. We have committed ourselves to taking whatever action we can to fight modern slavery. I am humbled and feel a great privilege to be called to this work. God gave us the perfect job for who we are, what we know and  what we feel called to do.

We are not undercover investigators. We do not have the collective experience, the collaborative cooperation, the expensive equipment or the strong sense of purpose that sends us into the world's darkest corners to find, gain the trust of, record the stories of modern day slaves, then coordinate their rescue, the prosecution of their captors and the beginning of their journey to recovery.

But The Exodus Road does. They've got all that. And they're using to set captives free. 

And right now they're inviting those of us who care passionately about the fight to end slavery to offer our support and encouragement to the men on the front lines -- the men who strap themselves up with undercover surveillance equipment and spend their nights in brothels in Southeast Asia collecting the information they need to rescue the underage victims of sexual slavery. That's a hard job description to carry around day in and day out. I am certain there are days they'd rather not do it. I am certain there are nights it feels hopeless. And I am certain they often feel all alone in those dark places full of scum bags thinking not rescue but ruin.

Would you take a moment to write them and express your gratitude some time between now and January 10th. Hand-written notes would be greatly appreciated. They can be mailed to The Exodus Road |  PO Box 7591 |  Woodland Park, Colorado, 80863. 
If you are unable to get a hand-written note in the mail, you can submit a letter online here. 
Could it be any easier than that? For those of us who want with all our hearts to fight this atrocity but have been called to the front lines of a different kind of work, what better way could there be to offer our hope, our support, our encouragement to the guys doing the hard stuff for us. 
I'm taking away your excuse that you don't know what you to say too. Here's Laura's letter. She and her husband Matt founded this work. They lived it on the ground for two years. The lady knows what she's talking it. Let her teach you. And I am pasting mine below too. So there. No excuses. 
Make a little room in your inn this Christmas and shine a little warmth into a dark world. Because really, what better way is there to honor the light of heaven dawning on earth?
So go do it. Do what you can. Don't wait. Night will come quickly in Southeast Asia and these guys will hit the streets once again. Let them know they are not alone in the dark.


Dear Investigator,
I just wanted to take the time to tell you thank you for the work you do. I am a wife, mother and foreign missionary with a passion for the cause of ending human slavery and sexual exploitation. I want so badly to run right into all those places, wrap those little girls up in my arms and take them home. But that's not how it works, is it. You know that way better than I do.
The more I learn about what it takes to go nightly into the darkness of the world of human slavery, find and gain the trust of its victims, coordinate their rescue, prosecute their offenders, and put them on the road to recovery, the more I am humbled and grateful for your commitment, your sacrifice, your heroic passion.
I know there must be nights when you don't want to leave the comfort of your home and hang out with scum in dank corners of this broken world. I know there must be moments when you want to scrap the process and just punch someone square in the face, or grab a little girl up in your arms and just run. Yet you don't. You stay the course knowing what real rescue means. You do it night after night, fighting the discouragement and the hopelessness that hangs over these places for the ray of hope that is one person freed from captivity.
For this, I personally am so very grateful. I want to be part of the solution to human trafficking. I want to face the darkness of that reality and shine hope. I want to love enough not turn away from ugly situations. Often it seems that from where I am, there is little I can do. But I hope by letting you know that your work and your sacrifice are deeply appreciated by those of us who do not fight on the front lines, you will feel a little less like no one notices what you are doing,  a little less alone in the darkness, and a little more like you are a part of an army. Your back up might be far away, but we will not leave you alone. And we will not forget you. I will offer a prayer for your safety and the success of your work each night as the darkness creeps over my part of the world and hope it makes its way to you to be a small beacon of encouragement. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for being the one who does the hard thing.
Colleen Mitchell

Saturday, December 15, 2012

On Growing Up, Grief and Grace: Part 3, Grace

There's one last post to be written in this series about how growing upgrief and grace have changed me as a person, and as a missionary.

I've had a hard time wrapping my head around how to write about grace. It's not like God suddenly invented a new grace that has made this leg of my missionary journey easier. It's also not like I've suddenly become a saint and I don't want to write in such a way that anyone would ever think that. In fact, I've stalled on writing this post, because I've been struggling to keep up the discipline of the very practices I want to write about.

It comes down to this. I have always known that living the life of grace, both the sacramental grace offered by the Church and the grace of turning our daily walk into something sacred, was the both battleground and the victor's circle of the spiritual life. It is where we fight to stay strong and to persevere, it is where we get up again when the knock-out punch rings loud in our ears, it is where we dance with joy in our victorious moments and where we wipe away the tears of our failures. It is where we learn to walk in the light and where we learn to keep walking when there is no light.

But in my young faith life, this was all pretty much theory. I got the grace thing. But whatever the ups and downs of life were at the time, my hopes and dreams and boot straps were still enough to pull me and keep me going day to day. Then there was all that growing up and grieving. And those little bits of self weren't enough any more. I wasn't enough for me any more. I was really utterly dependent on God to sustain me for the first time in my life. And I learned what grace really was. 

I think back to the days after Bryce's death, of the cloud of grace that carried me through to the other side of the darkest days of my life, and I am humbled to the point of tears. I think of coming home from a D & C to a cleared out house and mound of suit cases and departure for the mission field looming four days ahead, and the grace that carried me forward to the hospitality of waiting friends, the love of people who wrapped my babies in their arms and held them for me so I could grieve once again, and the grace that made my feet go when my head could not think straight.

These memories, when I think back on them, feel like a dream. I know they are real experiences, but the memories is not sharp and painful like some memories. They are soft and wispy. Bittersweet. But sweet. They are surrounded in a cloudiness. It is grace.

And that cloud has surrounded this whole first year here in this mission post. It has not been easy. Neither were those things I just described above. It has not been without its ugliness, mistakes, and failures. I have battled self long and hard here. I have been disappointed and hurt. My husband lost his mother. My brother fights a terrible disease daily and I am not there. And yet, the walk through all of that has been made possible each and every day. And I have found peace and consolation in being where I am each and every day. This is grace.

I can point to three things that have kept me living in that cloud of grace over the last year. Habits that have been formed in the years of growing up and grief and learning to live dependent on grace. Habits that have become a focus and cornerstone of our life over the last year because of the strong leadership of my husband and the faithful spiritual direction of a holy priest. Habits that dear sisters mentored me to form. All gifts. Gifts given to me by someone else's love, sacrifice, sharing.

Because isn't that the essence of grace? It is the redemptive work of mercy in action. Sacramental grace is won for us by Christ's ultimate sacrifice and administered to us by the shared faith of our Church. And the actual grace that comes into our lives too most often comes my the love and service and sharing of another.

The first gift is the gift of speaking grace. I am user of words. Lots of words. Verbally. Written. Read. I like words.  I have learned from some of the loveliest women the power that encouraging, building-up words have to transform those around us. And to transform our own perspective. When we make a commitment to speak of our daily walk in a way that highlights the beauty and the grace we find in it, the world is made better by it. So I have worked hard to cultivate the habit of using my love of words to communicate all that I see as good and lovely and noble and true about the journey we have been on for the last year. And it has transformed the way I look at the journey. Shrouded it all in that cloud of grace that makes both the hard and the bitter sweet. Progress on the verbal end of this habit is still faulty and flawed. I have that punched in the gut feeling when I relive my own words in my head way more than I would like. But imperfect progress is still progress and I am going to keep honing this habit of speaking grace.

The second is gift if finding grace. I used to think that grace was something that appeared miraculously in over lives, happy moments that were sure signs that God loved us and was with us. And then there were the days of little wooden coffins and still ultrasound screens and miracles that flitted into our lives and faded out before they were real. And if I was going to continue to call myself a believer, grace needed redefining. And there was this voice in my life. This melodious gift of words that told me that grace is found where we look for it. That we can count the ways He loves in the lovely but we can count it in the ugly dark too. This voice that told me that to walk in grace is to realize that eucharisteo is about brokenness, not the warm smell of fresh bread, that the fragrance of the hurting and wounded heart who seeks His presence right there in the hard places is a perfume for the spirit. A voice that said, " Don't just look casual. Don't stumble upon grace accidentally. Don't hurry through the hurt and the chaos and the confusion. Live it. Look it in the face. See that He is there. Over and over again. In myriad ways. And count them. One by one. Count them. Until there are a hundred then a thousand, then more. Until you are forever changed." And I did. And I have been.

The third gift is the gift of the greatest grace. When my husband told me that our spiritual director was suggesting that we make an hour of prayer in front of the Eucharist a daily habit for our family in mission, I chuckled. A cynical chuckle. A chuckle that said, " Clearly, he's a good guy and a smart guy and holy guy and doesn't have a clue." Because getting myself to holy hour once a week for silence I relished and savored was already a bewildering conundrum and getting my boys through 15 or 20 minutes every now and then was enough to rob me of the grace earned in that hour.

But they were stalwart these two men. Stalwart in the face of my I-know-so-much-better-than-you pride and stubborn will. And we arrived in this mission post and we put feet to dusty road and we went. Every morning we went. Just us. Sometimes silent, sometimes begging repentance and conversion, sometimes singing praise. Some days boys slept and some days they sneaked outside and climbed high in the limbs of trees before we noticed. It was not perfect. But there before Christ, there was more than enough grace for all those imperfections. Grace to cover loneliness and loss and worry and fear and pain. Grace to keep us near to Him and remind us to stay out of His way. Grace to remind me that the miracle is not in the big Hollywood action scene life but in the daily walk on the dusty roads that says to others, "I am still here", just like His quiet presence in the silence of our Churches says to us.

These last few weeks have been a bit off kilter for us. Our schedule has been flipped on its side and spilled into chaos by sickness and surprise runs to immigration office and a million other things. I have failed to live the greatest grace--the going to Him there fully present, divine and real, and drinking of the fullness that fills and drowns out all that is broken and ugly in me. And in the midst of it, I feel myself creeping in, getting in the way, wanting it my way, seeing the ugly and not counting the grace, speaking the ugly and not the lovely.

But the good news? I recognize the way out. I know where to find the cork that will plug my grace leak. It's in heading back to the greatest grace, breathing in the fullness of Christ present in the Eucharist, breathing in the air of perfection, the light of hope, listening to quiet whisper of His voice that says, "Don't run so fast next time, and maybe you won't fall as hard." That says, "You know, breathing is good. When was the last time you checked to see if you were still breathing. Be quiet. Breathe with purpose. Breathe grace. That is where you will find strength. I am the Breath of Life."

And in a great mercy, I see it now. When I start to feel the shoulders tighten and the jaw clench. When the thoughts flow ugly and mean long before the words ever do. When there is so much me I am too heavy to carry, I want to run to Him. Sit under the protection of grace. Be called back into a life of grace by forgiveness of my sins, wiped clean by the grace of confession, my emptiness filled by the bread broken and blessed, the Eucharistic body of Christ.

Sometimes, I'll feel the weight of brokenness heavy in my heart and think, "Wait. I'm getting all in the way again. How long has it been since we went to adoration? To Mass?" And to my surprise I will realize it has been a day. And when I see how much of mess I can make of His lovely work in just one day without Him, I wonder how I ever lived, breathed, survived before this. I count the blessing of the greatest gift -- the fullness of His love and mercy made present to me every day so that it is not my boot straps that pull me back up when ugliness and brokenness and hurt knock me down but the river of mercy that flows from Him. 

And so I receive the greatest grace. And I seek it. And I count it. And I speak it. And I walk out of the brokenness and the darkness and into the light once again.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Let's Take Advantage of An Opportunity

This has got to be the easiest way of taking action against human slavery I have posted yet in this series. And it's lovely too. And full of joy and HOPE. Sweet, sweet Hope.

So here's what you do.

  1. You go read over at Ann's blog. You read about Hope. And you read about Ashoka. And you read about Mary and Jesus and Ann and her Mama. And you be moved to your core by the faces and the beauty amidst the ugly and the truth born into the middle of it all.
  2. Then you click on over to this amazing story. Don't just click to buy straightaway. Pay the women of Freeset a visit. Get to know them. Get to know their work. Learn how you can fight trafficking with them.
  3. Then you can scoop yourself up one of these awesome bags. Buy the message. Buy it and be all in. you are blessed and you can bless. Because He was born and broken for you and turns it all beautiful. Buy a big bag full of hope. For you. For Ashoka. For Hope herself.
  4. Then live it. Live the message. Be the message. Be broken and beautiful and blessed. And bless. Bless everyone you meet by leaking the grace given right out of you and into their hands, their lives. 
See, easy. Now, what are you waiting for? Go. The time draws near. He comes. Do you not want to be about His Father's business when the heavens open to announce His presence and sing 1,000 "Hosannas"? Do you not want to already have sung His goodness with your life? I do.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sharing My Heart In a New Place

I have often written about how one of my greatest struggles in living life as a missionary is a battle with loneliness. After nearly a year in our current mission, I find that some hard growing up over the last couple of years has helped me to accept the burden of loneliness that comes with this life. But I’m facing a new struggle this time around, one that pains my heart worse than my own loneliness ever did. It is watching my teenage son adjust to the reality of life in this place, battle the unavoidable loneliness it brings.....

Read the rest of this post at A Life Overseas where I am honored to be guest posting today. A new community where we discuss and share on the realities of life as a missionary or overseas worker. It is a lovely space filled with the collective wisdom of truly generous hearts. Come visit!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Let's Stand With Those Who Set Captives Free

Early on in this series of posts, I encouraged us to really listen to stories of the victims of trafficking and slavery that we are hoping to help. Of the course of these couple of months that I have been reading, researching and speaking out about trafficking, I have spent a lot of time connecting with those of the front lines of the fight in different ways, visiting their web sites and really getting to know and understand their work, communicating via e-mail, reading their blogs, and even talking to some over the phone. I hope to add a face to face meeting to that list soon with a trip to the Salvando Corazones facility some time this month.

I want to join them in their fight and am passionate about keeping the reality of trafficking and sex slavery in front of people's eyes. But in reality, my mission is not on the front lines, and because of that I lacked the opportunity to give voice to the real stories of this battle. The more I read and connect with this issue, the more strongly I feel we need to be careful how we talk about it. We cannot use these stories to create drama, to sensationalize a situation or to break people's hearts just for the sake of seeing their "oh, how sad" reactions. We have to speak and give voice to the reality behind the "issue" in a way that creates community of soldiers armed to fight, that draws real and committed support to those actually called to do the work, and that catalyzes action in individual hearts and organizational structure. It is important that we know and share the stories of trafficking and slavery, but it is equally important that we know that the source of those stories is first-hand, is trustworthy and has broad knowledge and understanding of the scope of this issue based on collective field experience.

I don't have that. But I do have a voice and a passion to use it to tell those stories. For this reason, I am humbled to begin helping the amazing team at Exodus Road as a part of a team of bloggers that is helping them share the stories of their work, their rescues and the lives they save. In this season we prepare to welcome Him who came to bring glad tidings to the lowly and to set the captives free, what better good news is there to share but that He is still doing it? Still reaching into the ugly dark places of our world, taking the captives and slaves by the hand and bringing them to freedom?

The team at Exodus Road is on the ground in Southeast Asia fighting trafficking with targeted interventions. They have formed a coalition of undercover investigators with years of experience and a broad field of knowledge in this area. These brave souls who enter some of the darkest places of our world and collect invaluable evidence using covert recording equipment. That evidence becomes the key that can unlock the prison doors for one, two, or many modern day slaves being held and sold within the sex industry.

Like a 15 year old girl named Sarah, whom a member of the Exodus Road investigative team met in a brothel in Cambodia three days after her mother sold her for $600 USD to pay off a debt. She was being marketed as "fresh" by the brothel owner, her virginity a prize to purchased. On the investigator's first visit, with Sarah, even though he had been able to record her sale and put her in communication with a social worker who spoke her language and could help her understand that he was there to rescue her, not hurt her, he was not able to gain her trust, make her understand that he could help her escape.

But he went back. Because setting the captives free is unrelenting work. And when he did, Sarah was ready. She slipped him on a note on piece of paper begging, "Please rescue me."

Read the story of Sarah's rescue here.

This is the story of one of the 27 million modern day slaves who do not know, cannot believe, or even imagine that their deliver is coming. But He is. He will come. He will come when we stop turning away and begin to stand beside those who can fight the true fight, like Exodus Road's 15 investigators and their respective support organizations.

Knowing the stories of the faces of slavery, true stories, not sensationalized scenarios, opens our eyes and makes it impossible to dismiss this reality. “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” -William Wilberforce

If you don't want to be one to look the other way, if you want to be one who walks beside those who set the captives free, take the time to follow Exodus Road on Facebook today. Subscribe to the Exodus Road newsletter here. Watch this video on how Exodus Road began: 

The Exodus Road: Fighting to End Child Slavery from Justin Lukasavige on Vimeo.

This is a fight no one can win fighting alone. After all these weeks blogging and learning and trying to action, I am honored to stand beside those at Exodus Road and fight together. The captives are waiting. Let's sing to them in one voice that their Deliver is coming. He is standing by. And He is waiting on us to go.