Dear Church

Munich HBF early morning at the train station

Munich HBF early morning at the train station

Dear Church,

I’m not sure if you are listening. I’m not sure what you do behind your walls. I’ve never been there, you know? Never sure who was invited, or what to wear, or how to talk. And, I’m sure that I don’t look like someone who would ever wander into your building. But I’ve heard that sometimes you speak, sometimes you protect. I’ve heard that you could speak to God for me. I’m sure he wouldn’t listen to someone like me, but maybe you could … Maybe you could speak to him for me?

Could you ask him to stop the traffick?

Please.

Dear John – the caged bird sings

 

walking through the quaint streets of Sighisoara, they were setting up to shoot a fantasy scene


 Dear John,

You never saw the chains. Maybe you just assumed that they never existed. Maybe you just didn’t care. There were chains, John. There still are.

You see, no little girl or boy grows up wanting to be someone else’s merchandise. This isn’t about a fantasy, an escape, relaxation, or good old manly sex. It’s about business, John, plain old supply and demand. You were the demand and I was the supply. I was a commodity, John. A thing with a price tag on display for your purchase. Do you think any good business man will let his supply just wander away? Oh, there were chains. 

Chains. Beatings. Rape. Is it hard to wrap your head around that, John? How does a prostituted woman become raped? I was a little girl, once. Do you think a 15 year old wants to have sex with a man twice her age just to get a little cash? 

I fought, John. I fought and I cried and they drugged me and that is how it goes. Over and over and over again. Sometimes 20 times a day. Somebody has to bring home the money, right? It would be so much easier to be a bag of flour. Once you are used, you are done. Not so with a human. Not so with me. I can be used and reused until my body or my soul just gives out and dies. Supply and demand.

You probably think that now that I have been rescued, the chains are gone. But, who can escape the chains? They  are wrapped around my insides and padlocked to my memories. Who has that key? That’s how it goes, you know, who would want me and my used up body? I cannot even imagine my worth past a price tag. That’s crazy right? I have no idea how to view my value beyond what you would pay for me. 

Chains, John. 

Can you see them now? 

dear john – no trespassing

 

Jewelry sold to support Bulgarian women who have been trafficked

 

Dear John.

I arrived at the rescue house last night and it was full of girls, like me. Some older. Some younger. But, all of them wear the ‘for sale’ sign in their eyes. We don’t shed our price tags easily. 

You never asked me how old I am. 15. Do you remember 15? 

I was just like every other girl that loves makeup and music and friends and dreaming of summer break without school. I suppose it was your dream to go to the Black Sea for sex tourism?

Did you know that I was a seasonal special? That as summer gets closer, they anticipate a great sea of tourists on the coast and begin to recruit girls to fill your black desires. 

My boyfriend became my pimp. I thought that we were in love. He told me that I was beautiful and that he was taking me away to a beautiful place where we could work and make money for our families and build a big house where we would live. He told me that he loved me. He didn’t tell me that I would forget how to hope.

I feel so stupid.

Now, I am a woman in a girl’s body with a grandmother’s soul. My heart aches, my body hurts, and my dreams no longer belong to a little girl. 

You cannot imagine the nightmares that I have lived in the dark night.

Today, the for sale sign has been replaced with another. It says, ‘no trespassing’.  This means you, John.

Dear John: Let My People Go

 

  

 “We are prophets of a future that is not our own.”

I wish that I had said that. It was penned by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw upon the death of an Archbishop. 

I had a heavy moment last week as I taught an anti-trafficking workshop at church. In the midst of teaching, I found myself wondering if this is just a waste of time. The issue of slavery is so big. The network is so vast. The long march toward freedom is long and dirty and sometimes dangerous. 

And then?

And then words like that walk across my path and I am reminded of what I already know. I do not see the future. I do not know how God writes tomorow’s history, yet faith is being sure of the things that I do not see. 

We are called to be prophets, you and I. Called to speak of a kingdom that we know lies beyond us and called to live that kingdom into reality today. Like Moses who rattled the framework of Pharoah’s foundation, today we stand and we speak of a  ‘Once upon a time’ tomorrow. 

Say it with me. ‘Let my people go.’ 

As I sit in this shelter and tap away in a corner of a city that is known for the girls that it sells, I see hope. Beyond the sex. Beyond the trade. Beyond the industry. Beyond the lives that never had a chance to be fairytale beautiful, I am learning the names and the smiles of the people that God is setting free. 

Can I tell you a little secret? Freedom is only beautiful on the other side. When the heirloom stories are stitched together from the tattered pieces, after the heroes have gone gray and the fireside is warm and the grandchildren are gathered to hear what can only then sound like a grand adventure in a once upon a time land. There, in that place, freedom’s story takes your breathe away and taps a little dance.

Freedom in the making is so far from the fairytale that sometimes we can not even recognize it: heartbreaking, discouraging, unsure, terrifying. Full of sacrifice and sleepless nights.

I watch two of the girls here with their bellies bulging in motherhood. Not yet 18 but already sold and returned like broken merchandise at customer service. 

We are prophets of a future that is not our own. Indeed. This is true. Prophets for those babies that are yet unborn and already rescued from the shelf of a trade that would market them like a sack of potatoes for consumption.

Follow us this week as we bring you a series of ‘Dear John’ letters, as we report from a place in this world where exploitation is available like Coca Cola, as we claim this future that is not our own, and join our voices with Moses. 

‘Let my people go.’

dear john

 

 Dear John,

I don’t imagine that you will ever read this letter. Maybe that makes it easier to write. Funny, you are just as much of a nameless face to me as I was to you. I was just a body. You were just a John, one of many men who paid to use me. Nothing about you stands out to me, except that you were my last. My last customer. My last user. My last human that saw me as nothing but an object to be purchased because you had the money and I had a need. A need to eat. A need to sleep. A need to be loved and valued. Somehow, this crazy, messed up world threw us together. And, since you were last, you rise from a plethora of faces and interactions, to become the one who was my last john.

So, it is to you that I write my letter of freedom. 

I had mashed potatoes and pork today. It was delicious. I ate it at a table with other girls who have been rescued. And we sat down, and we prayed, and we ate – just like human beings, just like people do. And I had no fear that someone would hit me. And I didn’t pay for it with my body. I just sat down and I ate and I was full. 

It was beautiful.

You might be surprised to know that I made that meal. You didn’t know that I could cook. Actually, I didn’t it either, until I moved into the house and was required to take my turn in the kitchen. I cooked for twenty people today. I fed twenty people. I did it with joy. I felt free and powerful and valuable because I could provide for someone else’s needs.

You told me once that what you made me do was meeting needs. That was a lie. The acts that I did for you fed your lust and created a hunger in you that will never be satisfied. 

Tomorrow, I begin a cooking course. If I can finish, I will have a future. I will have a way to provide for myself and for the baby.

Yes, the baby. When I got to the shelter, the first thing that they did was give me a pregnancy test. It was positive. I don’t imagine that you are the father, but as I said, as my last, you have a place of distinction. 

I face my future with fear but hope. I wonder how you feel about yours?

The house here is warm, and clean, and safe. There is a light that I have never known and it shines both day and night. 

Sleep well, John.

Anna

IMG_0002

six ways your church can make a difference in anti-trafficking

The Blue Bird Cafe

The Blue Bird Cafe

coffee anyone?

coffee anyone?

The Blue Bird Cafe is tucked into Budapest’s historic Jewish Quarter. It is Euro-whimsical with spirally staircases and bird-infused wallpaper percolating caffeinated warmth. Tourists like its vibe. Locals like its roast.  The beat of old school music can almost erase the memory of the 1940’s when the place of this cafe was a hell-hole of dying. Almost, but not quite.

Evil tapped a victory dance and the Nazi war machine devoured people. Thousands. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Here where the Blue Bird sings today. I used to say that if I had lived then, I would have raised my bony fist and screamed down the gates of tyranny.

But, I no longer voice that sentiment not since a Christian friend working for a secular, cross-governmental, anti-trafficking organization mentioned that he meets a lot of people like me. 

“Many people tell me what they would have done in another period of history, as if it would have birthed a different response in them. I tell them, ‘No you would not have.’ 

He says it matter-of-factly, “If the story of the current 32 million slaves in the world does not move you, neither would any other plea from humanity.[Tweet this @TSunberg]

In patient tones, I explain that the Church feels helpless. “Our hands are tied.”

“Like a 12-year old trafficked and sold for sex?” 

He watches me shift uncomfortably and then he implores the Church to act. Governments, NGO’s, and even global partnerships are not enough. The Church is uniquely situated to win this war and without an intentionally focused Christ-body, this generation loses the fight for freedom. 

we can do something

we can do something

 SIX WAYS YOUR CHURCH CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN ANTI-TRAFFICKING

1. Be aware of vulnerability

The plight of trafficked millions entered the global stream of consciousness at the turn of the 21st century. Today, there is issue-based recognition but, the root of dismantling the industry lies with creating awareness that prompts community development. When businesses, neighborhoods, organizations and churches begin to harness the power of their presence for active prevention, then, awareness becomes real power.

Multiple layers of society need to be educated about awareness. That education looks different for each group.  

Everyone must learn to spot and protect vulnerable people.

Vulnerable people, such as children, the impoverished, the neglected, must learn how to recognize and to reject exploitive persons. 

Those who would become exploiters must be aware that they have other economic opportunities.

2. Be present in difficult places

Governments and NGO’s have money, but often lack grass-roots infrastructures for effective prevention and rescue. The Church, however, is present at an unprecedented, hands-on level in communities across the globe. 

A strategic Body can root itself into a community and become that layer of protection to identify the next girl to be prostituted and the next boy to be pimped.  Being present to develop economic options that remove vulnerability and to establish financial independence is crucial.

To intentionally live and work with vulnerable people will develop relationships that can strangle the trafficking pipe-line.  This war will be won in a one to one, every boot on the ground battle. Effective anti-trafficking will not be sanctioned by government, or cured with programming alone. The end to slavery will happen when holy people, in combination with government and programs, are motivated to be actively present in hell on earth.

3. Step away from the church culture

For so long, Christians have enclosed themselves within the safe walls of the church and developed a vocabulary and culture that can sound odd to others. Secular organizations can be hesitant to partner, fearing manipulation or poor practice until we learn to communicate in authentic, professional and intelligible ways that are free of the christian dialect.

Healthy evangelization means working with secular people for temporal good absent of the pressure to lead them to Christ. Focus on building healthy relationships of respect and be ready to give witness when you are invited to do so. Pray.  Learn to see people as people, not as salvation projects. 

Trusting the Holy Spirit is not an abdication of our Christian responsibility, rather, it is a reliance on Grace to open doors and hearts.

4. Change the boy culture

Historically, the Church has focused on teaching women to dress modestly for the sake of her male counterparts. We heap guilt and responsibility on young girls to prevent men from being led astray by sexually suggestive clothes.  We have a ‘boys will be boys’ mentality that leads us to say much less to men and with much less fervor about their responsibility to submit their thought life and sexual practice to Christ.

Comparatively, Sweden has one of the most effective anti-trafficking cultures on the globe. Law enforcement prosecutes those who pay for sex, not the prostitutes and pimps. By targeting those who create demand and bypromoting media campaigns that create a culture of shame around paying for sex, the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality is crumbling. 

5. Stop sexualizing wealth

Sex sells – in the media, in sports, in fashion, in food, in cars, in video games. Sex is everywhere and men are inundated with warped messages of masculinity, power, and wealth. Culture perpetuates greed and lust. Breaking the connection between sexuality and material happiness demands that the Church takes a hard look at the idolization of money and wealth – inside and outside of her walls. 

6. Create economic alternatives

Statistics show an alarming rise in forced labor, with 50% of all human trafficking now the exploitation of people, including children, for work.

Just as sex sells, poverty creates disposable people. In his book, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, author Kevin Bales explains that the situation for a 21st century slave is graver than his 19th century counterpart. ‘Humans are  easily used up and discarded by those who exploit them. Today, an average illegal child laborer can be purchased for $90. At that cheap price, the smartest business decision is to simply use up a person and then buy a new replacement.’

Profit margin based upon cheap labor drives the industry but faith communities can create economic alternatives. How can you work with a pimp to create other employment options? Are there creative ways to help businesses be financially profitable without exploiting people?

Long before the Nazi war machine roared to life, Irish philosopher Edmund Burke said, ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ [Tweet this @TSunberg] Painful words, Mr. Burke. Some two centuries later, German theologian and anti- Nazi dissident, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, echoed Burke. ‘We are not simply to bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.[Tweet this @Tsunberg] Bonhoeffer must have pictured Nazi tanks as he made his plea. 

Our call is to go beyond patching wounds. The ‘spoke in the wheel’ that Bonhoeffer refers to is our life. Today, the Church is called to rise up, to move in and to speak out as the Jesus-body for this generation.

Pick up a spoke. Stop the machine.

so many people

so many people

 life graffiti