Monday, September 15, 2014

Time and Relationships: Cultivating Traffic-free Communities Here and Abroad

Last month I had the privilege of traveling to the Dominican Republic with International Justice Mission as part of a team of people looking to better connect youth with the work of IJM and issues of justice. As someone who has spent the last couple years building an anti-trafficking task force in my own small corner of the world, this experience was such an encouragement. While I have seen IJM from a distance as a powerhouse in the fight against trafficking, this trip proved that anything worthwhile is built through the same principles of time and relationship. I think we have a tendency to miss this stateside, which leads to movements that start with compassion but often end in paralysis, as we are overwhelmed by the enormity of the issue.

Yet God’s not yet kingdom is so ready to burst forth here and now. 

But, it takes cultivation through the slow and steady movement of faithful people like those I met working in the Dominican Republic. The IJM office in the DR is relatively new; they’ve only been there about a year. While some of their locations around the world operate like well-oiled machines, this one is still working out their kinks, which is such a beautiful thing. They did not set up as the American know-it-all NGO, but their diverse staff approach their work with a spirit of humility. They are putting in the hard, time-consuming steps of establishing relationships and proving themselves team players alongside those already involved in anti-trafficking work and encouraging those whose voices are needed.

The team is working in a society with complex systemic issues that lead to apathetic attitudes toward trafficking. According to the Trafficking in Person (TIP) Report, large numbers of street children, working children, and undocumented Haitians are particularly vulnerable. While the government has made significant efforts to eliminate trafficking, they still do not comply with minimum standards (U.S. Department of State, 2014). Changing cultural attitudes and empowering women and children toward better lives takes years of hard work and education. For organizations such as IJM, it takes the faithfulness of God’s people showing up day after day, even when it seems little progress is being made.

Nothing worthwhile or sustainable happens overnight. Sometimes we want microwave justice, but a quick fix that helps us feel better is not justice at all. This was such an important reminder. It is always a matter of small steps forward, creating pockets of hope in a world where all sometimes seems lost.

For all of us in the middle of what feels like small, insignificant work on matters that are big and overwhelming, we are not alone. We may be scattered, but we are not alone.

We ache for God’s grace shown in tangible ways. We want those empty spaces to be filled with something, and hope that that something could really be God’s love.

So we wait.
We hope.
We work.
And we wait some more. 
In joyful expectation.
Because no matter how hard it gets, or how futile our efforts appear, we know that Jesus is already reigning. He defeated the powers of darkness.

He defeated the powers.

However, we still live in this tension of a world gone mad.
This is the beauty of organizations like IJM. They are living well in that tension. They are faithfully stepping into that space between darkness and hope, making a bridge for those who have been traumatized to find healing. It’s slow. It sometimes feels fruitless. But it is worth it.

It is worth putting forth the effort when you want to give up.
It is worth continuing difficult relationships when you want to shut down.
It is worth the time when you would rather do something easier.

Being a part of God’s work in this world, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is always worth it.


* United States Department of State, 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report - Dominican Republic, 20 June 2014, available at: [accessed 8 September 2014]

Thursday, August 21, 2014


A couple weeks ago I traveled to the Dominican Republic with IJM to witness their work towards justice in our world. I’ve sat down several times in the past week to write about this experience but every time I sit, I can’t write. It’s hard to write about the work of justice being done through God’s people in other parts of the world when there’s such a big moment for the church to respond right before our eyes.

And yes, I’m talking about Ferguson.

I’m a white, stay-at-home mom. I realize the fact that my husband and I are in a position where this lifestyle is even an option shows the privilege that we live. And that’s okay. I’m beyond grateful for the environment in which I grew up in and for the life I get to have with my husband and children.

I also realize that my blonde, milky-skinned children will never have to learn the lessons that my dark-skinned brothers and sisters have to learn.  They will have their own battles, to be sure, but their skin color will not be one of them.

We could probably live full, splendid lives celebrating the fruits of our birth right’s labor and never have to acknowledge those for which this is not the case.

And to be honest, a lot of days I’m not sure what to do with this.
I mean, really, what does some dude in Missouri have to do with Lakeland, FL?
What does some little girl in the streets of Cambodia or the Dominican Republic have to do with my family, my community? You know, beyond the whole shared humanity, created in the image of God stuff?

But still.

If I could say that none of these things were related, maybe I could just move on and leave it to other people to figure out.

But I’ve met Jesus.
And we say this changes everything.
So days like this we have to act like this is true. Even when we’re not quite sure exactly what the action is. Maybe the first step is just stepping back and looking toward Jesus, believing his words are true.

When he stood up in his hometown and announced his mission, he was talking to us,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In Psalms it says, “He holds up the cause of the oppressed,” and he “secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.” Scripture drips of justice for the oppressed, which we are comfortable saying when it comes to those on the other side of the world, but God also calls us to examine what is right within our reach, which is often more difficult to see.

Just as being wrecked by the little girl in Cambodia being sold for sex teaches compassion for the twenty year old selling herself in my own community, so must a black boy in Ferguson remind me that systemic racism is a part of my own community. The kingdom of God breaks through when each of us recognize these things in their own context, where we can do something about it right where we are, allowing us to be better listeners. Teachers. Advocates that call out injustice wherever it may be and say that is is not okay and work towards change. We must raise children with Jesus ideas- not just personal piety or fire insurance but standing with those with whom he stands, as the God who gave up his God-rights and put on skin.

It’s not that he doesn’t stand for the rest of us, its just that the rest of us already have so many standing in our favor.

What the people of Ferguson are asking for is not a high demand.
They want answers. They want justice. They want leaders to listen without asserting violent power over them.

I'm not saying that the cop involved wasn't threatened. I have no idea what went down. I have close family members and friends who are cops. They put their lives on the line daily and have witnessed horrific evil. They have comforted the most vulnerable victims and have to live with the memories of being first responders to the stuff we only read about in the paper.  

Regardless, we mourn the death of a man. We mourn that his life was taken violently, whether by a cop or someone else. I couldn't help but think back to an article I read last winter about Iceland's response to the first death of a citizen by the armed police force since becoming an independent republic in 1944. They grieved.

You approach vigils with tear gas and tanks, you send a message.

This summer I was in a part of town where I don’t usually frequent and walked in a store to hear an announcement that I am being monitored by security cameras. Every time the door opened this message would play. I know what this triggered in me, and it wasn't thankfulness for the warning. But it was only five minutes of my life. I can’t imagine if this was the message engrained in me over and over and over again.

Posture can speak life into dark situations. It can also incite rage. 

Blessed are the peacemakers.
Yes, there are people stirring up violence on all sides during protests.
But there are so many more working for peace, in and beyond the protests.

This is exactly where the people of God of every color belong. Those in Ferguson belong in the middle of it, linking arms in solidarity, fighting for their community. And those of us outside of Ferguson belong working in our own community for racial reconciliation.


Not letting silence speak for us. Acknowledging that racial inequality exists in our country and broken systems benefit the majority to the detriment of the minority. Ferguson reminds us to look at what's right in front of us with fresh, new eyes and motivation to act in our own neighborhoods.

It’s small, intentional steps, just as with anything else. It’s relational. It's being okay with discomfort and intentionally entering into it with another human being that does not look or act like you. It’s celebrating the small victories of God’s kingdom breaking through generational cycles of oppression, radically shaking up the ways of this world. It's what God has called us into every single day, for those willing to risk saying yes.

So what are some ways we can work towards racial reconciliation in our own communities?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Waking up in the same home where I spent all eighteen years of my childhood brings with it an elusive longing that I’ve never been able to name. But it’s always there when I return, especially now as a parent. Maybe part of it comes with the desire to connect my children to the best parts of me.

Maybe it's that I want them to know no matter where they land in life, they will always be connected to something bigger than just their individual story.

The familiarity of place triggers so many emotions. It’s like randomly hearing a song on the radio from ninth grade or smelling mulch when you’re landscaping, bringing you back to summer camp. You may not even have a specific memory associated with the trigger, but there’s just something that reminds your senses that these were precious times.

This is what returning home is like.
A series of those moments.
Connecting me to the past as I lean into how it’s shaping my future.

I was built with a sense of adventure by spending weekends sleeping on a boat and learning to water ski in the Thousand Islands. I experienced the itch for freedom in the open ocean jumping waves in a dingy with my brothers and two family friends during summer trips to Cape Cod. I learned that nine people and two dogs sleeping on a 27-foot Sea Ray have just as much fun in Nantucket as those who flew on their private jets to get there.

I learned from my parents that taking spiritual leaps from the traditions you grew up in is difficult and painful for both you and those who love you. It’s a free fall of trusting God and finding grace. And in the end, those that love you will still love you because that is the beauty of a God-built family.

While church culture later awakened a cynicism in me that I can still struggle with, those first years of my life stirred a longing to know God that has never changed, even through faith shifts.

I was gifted with life-giving friendships with people that I still love dearly. They are the rare kind that stick with you beyond each life season. I’m well-aware that friendships can be seasonal, and making forever friends that strive to continue to “get you” through all the changes are invaluable.

These were the years when I was fearless. Whether it was speaking random thoughts in youth group, leading worship as a girl that probably shouldn’t be singing in front of others or giving testimony on missions trips that were translated into Chinese, I just knew that God was moving and I wanted to move with him regardless of whether I looked silly doing it.

My childhood taught me an awful lot about what it means to love and walk beside others. There was so much safety in that space. It wasn't free from hardships, but the type of security that comes with the knowledge that no matter what happened, I was loved. By God. By those whose stories were weaved in with my own. I was knitted into something bigger than myself. I had a role to play and was acquiring the tools I needed to play it well.

We all were.
I love seeing what those from my past are becoming, how our stories are still building upon each other. We are who we are today because of all these yesterdays we had together and all the people who have walked alongside us.

Now there’s new people in our lives enriching the histories being made, grafted in with all the others, connecting us to new stories. Shaping us still. Helping us shake off the dust that sometimes settles when we can’t find our way forward. Homeward. Toward the best parts of who God created us to be. Together. As it was always intended. Journeying towards home with brothers and sisters who are rooted in the same love. Who experience the same longings. Knowing the hope of someday. The hope of home.

Image by Darwin Bell

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Life After Easter

There is a holy mystery in recognizing that pain births joy. How our pain can be transformed into something beautiful is beyond me, but the signs are all around. Pressure makes diamonds. Labor brings babies. Good Friday leads to Resurrection Sunday. 

Pain awakens joy.
This is the reality of Easter.

We know God turns worlds upside down in the most unexpected ways, and I often wonder if I would have recognized this had I walked those dusty roads, laying my palm branches before the man who came into town on a donkey who was crucified days later.

My heart can be so practical.
And life always moves beyond that first moment of knowing resurrection.

We are so forgetful. Even when we’ve been the recipient of his grace, time and again, we still struggle, clinging to the hope of the joy set before us.

I can only imagine how Mary’s heart must have burst with joy as she met the risen Jesus, with all her uncertainty fading away when she heard him say her name.

He changed everything for her, but I doubt it was how she would have planned it. Did she envision years of following him, helping provide for his needs with the other women? Had she any idea that her time with him would be so short and the rest of her days would be lived without his earthly presence?

I wonder if he ever defended her to the twelve, advocating her worth as one who was once wild and possessed. Having your demons cast out is one thing, living among other human beings who know your scars is quite another.

I’m sure she never would have imagined being baptized by Spirit indwelling power, an internal Advocate before God and man.

But even still…

Did she struggle with the process of being transformed? Did she ache in the long years following Christ’s ascension, never again physically sitting at the feet of her friend and Lord, as one fully loved as a woman created in His image and freed from such slavery?

Did her heart ache in those days after Easter, as she went about the business of life? While the resurrection changed everything, daily living in this reality still had its trials, as it does today. When the gender barriers Jesus fought to break down were again erected, did she remember how he called her name when she was at the tomb? Did her heart skip when she thought of being the first one he showed himself to?

Did brokenness ever define her again? Did her flesh do battle with the Spirit, causing her to forget her belovedness until she returned to his scars, in awe of a God who would sit with her, letting her touch them, as the marks of his humanity remained in his resurrected body, reminding her that by his wounds she was healed? She must have returned to the memory of his scars often. I’m sure they brought her comfort when she dealt with her own wounds, remembering her past and fearing what lied ahead. 

Because even after resurrection, we still stumble around in the dark. We still wrestle with being redeemed as we fail to recognize it happening all around us. We see life through such a veil.

But he is at work, moving tirelessly through our world, inviting us to be a part of it. Inviting us to see with new eyes, hear with new ears, noticing all around there are signs pointing to his goodness. That life itself is such a good gift. The sweat and tears that water our lives bring forth such joy.

We celebrate Christ conquering death and rising to bring new life on Easter Sunday. And then Monday comes with all the same battles as the week before. But somehow we face them. We play the Story over and over again in our minds until it’s so engrained in who we are that it does become who we are. No matter how often we forget, we are resurrection people. This is our reality, no matter what circumstances temporarily suppress it. We are people that rise with him, in him, and through him. Until the pain of this world is finally lifted and our joy is complete in seeing him face to face. This is the drama we enact in the days following Easter.