Monday, September 26, 2016

Ready to Run

Sorting through my favorite photos from the previous Run to Rescue Virtual Runs.  Although most of my posts the past year have been about Myanmar, the work of She is Safe extends into places throughout the world where women and girls are most at risk for exploitation and abuse.  Their work is so much more than rescue.  They prevent, empower, and restore. 

Two more weeks to sign up for the Run to Rescue Virtual Run!  Won't you join me?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

22: Myanmar - New horizons

So.  Myanmar.

I am not sure if I even know where to begin.  I feel as if I had the opportunity to watch a divine tapestry being woven.

On the first night of the trip we attended a grand opening of a multi-national church plant in Myanmar.  As part of the service, a lovely group of young women shared a dance they had learned together.  One of these young women shared through a translator that she did not deserve to be worshipping in that place, but that she celebrated the fact that Jesus had covered her sins.  She rejoiced that because He was worthy, and she was His, she was free.  I later found out that these women were all living and working together in the process of being restored from the trauma of being trafficked.

The term "trafficked"actually sounds too clinical to me, even though it is the correct term.  In the case of the women we met in Myanmar, being trafficked means being tricked, taken against their will, often times drugged and beaten, and even locked in a room, a shed, or chained to a bed until the captive demonstrated that she would be obedient.  This abuse can happen both in brothel communities and in cases in which young women are purchased as wives for men in China.  One shy and beautiful young woman we met walked with a limp from having her hip crushed in an escape attempt.

Later in the week, we visited the workshop where these young women heal and learn job and financial skills and adjust to a life with a regular routine.  The founder of the ministry, who engages regularly with workers in the red-light districts, explained that girls in Myanmar are lacking in the street smarts and awareness that could help them avoid being trafficked.  She told us that there is a dire need in Myanmar to provide awareness prevention tactics to pre-teen and teen girls who are most at risk.

Now, get this.

The remarkable woman who is investing her time, money and talent into reaching workers in the sex industry is a She is Safe partner in China.  She is also married to a man whom God has called to do humanitarian work with impoverished children in developing countries through mentorship and strategic partnerships.   He is currently serving as an advisor to an organization in Myanmar that is establishing programs for young children in the slums of Myanmar.  The programs seek to improve opportunities for children through education, relationship and training.

However, as they went around to the five different communities where they work, the leader of the program noticed something.  Although the program was intended for younger children, a surprising number of teenage girls were showing up each week, wanting to participate and interact.  In the process of working with younger children, the children's outreach staff was also building relationships with the teenagers, many of whom were no longer in school because of family relocation to the city or failure to pass exams.

Circumstances--poverty, innocence and halted education--put these teen girls at high risk for abuse and exploitation.   Fortunately, their circumstances also put them in relationship with people who knew the importance of awareness training and education.  The team began discussing the possibility of adding a program exclusively for teen girls in each of the communities where they worked.

Enter She is Safe.

Last May, She is Safe began exploring a partnership with the Myanmar organization to support their work with children and assist them in starting a program for teen girls.  Together they sought God's direction, set goals, and began raising funds to begin the teen program.

The trip I joined this December was a follow-up trip to the May meeting.  During our first meeting, my friend Katy introduced the concept of Transformation Groups, and what the ministry might look like in the context of Myanmar.  Her explanation generated great enthusiasm in our partners, as they could see the potential for impacting the communities where they are already engaged.

The next day we saw why.  As we accompanied the Myanmar workers on their rounds to the different communities, we noticed in a few of them that not only were teenagers coming to participate, the mothers returning from work often stopped to watch as well.

Right there, in those five communities, relationships are being built with children, teens and mothers. These relationships are critical, because the culture is intensely relational; nothing happens without first establishing relationship.  Because of the initial efforts of the She is Safe partner, these five communities are now ripe for  multi-pronged prevention efforts based on the relationships that have been nurtured over the past year.  With proper resources and staffing, She is Safe partners are poised to empower children with education and hope, equip teenage girls with preventive awareness and opportunities, and mothers with self-governing Transformation Groups that can enrich their communities on many levels.

She is Safe and their partners are ready to begin the work.  Are you ready to help?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

21: It Takes a Team

I mentioned before that upon learning about the extent of modern-day slavery (27 million slaves worldwide today) and human trafficking in the world, my gut-level response was a passion for rescuing slaves and those enduring the horrors of human trafficking.

Then I learned about the work She is Safe does training women in the work of Transformation Groups.  This work captured my attention because of the potential to attack the problem of human trafficking by empowering women to slowly and pervasively alter the oppressive aspects of their culture by benefitting their communities.  The change brought about through an effective Transformation Group could actually keep trafficking from happening in the first place.

Think about it--as exciting as it is to hear stories of women and girls being rescued from horrific situations, I can guarantee you that every one of them would say that it would have been even better if they had never been trafficked.

Looking back now, I can see that my enthusiasm for Transformation Groups and prevention work made me a little frustrated with what seemed like a focus on the work of rescue over prevention.

Here's the thing:  It all matters.

As we were preparing to travel to Myanmar, my friend Katy mentioned a video she had seen that painted a great picture of the comprehensive work of anti-trafficking.

This is not my word picture, but it was a powerful image for me in gaining understanding about the scope of anti-trafficking.

Imagine you are on the side of a river and notice there is a child in the water flailing about, drowning.   Of course, you must save that child!  The right thing to do at that moment is jump into the river, pull the child to safety, and begin working to revive him.

Even as you are attending to the gasping child, you notice another child coming downstream, in trouble and struggling to survive.  Again, you jump in.  This cycle repeats itself until it seems there is a never-ending crisis as child after child floats down river.

The sheer number of victims and relentlessness of the flow cause you to think: What is going on up river that all these children are drowning?  Do they not have boats?  Have they never learned to swim?  

It would be useful to run upstream and find out what is causing the crisis at hand, except that if you leave your spot to find out, the children currently in the river where you are would be lost.  You need to stay where you are, but someone needs to go find out what's going on upstream and work to solve the problem there.

What is needed is someone up river, identifying the sources of the problem and doing the work to prevent children from falling in.

Do you see?  BOTH locations are critical in stopping the crisis.

That is the idea in anti-trafficking work; it takes a team of workers, working together at different points in the trafficking process to solve the crisis.

Rescue IS important.  When I was in Myanmar, I met several women who had been rescued through a brothel outreach.  Many of them had previously been trafficked to China and escaped, only to begin working in the brothels of Myanmar because they believed the lie that they were ruined in China and that the sex-industry was now the only place they had value.  However, through the friendship of some rather remarkable people, these young women were able to realize that they were not damaged goods, and that there were options open to them besides prostitution.  In a shelter in Myanmar, they were healing their minds and spirits, and re-learning "normal life" things like keeping a routine, working predictable hours, and caring for themselves and their surroundings.  Seeing these lovely, shy faces, who were obviously healing and growing in confidence, I could never again say that prevention is more important than rescue.

Still, on my visit to Myanmar, my fervor for prevention work only deepened.  Not only did I meet young women who had been victims of human-trafficking, I also had the joy of meeting many children and teen girls who moved from rural areas with their families because the best jobs available to their parents were to collect trash in the city.  Because of life circumstances like poverty and lack of education, too many of them are at high risk for being trafficked.  Looking at the still innocent faces of the children and teens we visited and knowing the deep emotional and spiritual scars that result from trafficking, I am even more desperate that prevention work should be happening.

The beauty of the illustration of the river is the understanding it gives me of the work of She is Safe. They also grasp the idea that a team is needed.  They do not prioritize one branch of work over another.  Instead, they are like a person who assists the people working all along the river who cannot leave their posts.  They form partnerships in high-risk areas, providing assistance, resources, and encouragement to the leaders in the area who are already doing prevention, rescue and restoration.

In later posts I will write more about what this partnership approach looks like in Myanmar.   In the meantime, I encourage you to go to the She is Safe website and learn more about their partnerships and the countries where they are involved.


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