memories of the Black Sea

a little boy eats chicken salad sandwiches

It is 1:30 AM and our bus stops at a petrol station somewhere between Romania and Moldova. The bus is sticky, smothering hot, the bathroom does not work and the seats are cramped. Really cramped. The ‘I can’t sleep but I’m desperate to,’ kind of cramped. The roads swirly zig zag like a scene from your favorite fairytales. Only this does not feel like a fairytale.

When we pull into the station, 13 TNU students, 2 professors, a passel of Sunbergs, and some Central Europeans tumble into the fresh air.

We almost missed the little boy trying to board the bus. While everybody else is seeking fresh air, he was working his way into the stale innards. Hoping for what? And, I watched Curtis and Jay stand guard at the door, good-naturedly but firmly blocking his entrance. I heard that they gave him the last of our chicken salad sandwiches and chips. Maybe tonight he will sleep with a full belly.

My mother’s heart wonders how a 13 year old finds himself counting stars in a midnight sky. Where is his mom? How long since he ate? Where does he sleep?

Quite frankly, he is one of the forgotten. The chances are slim that Compassionate Ministry donations will ever reach his reality. And for a missionary who believes that the kingdom is breaking in today, who believes that we carry the very image of God to a desperate world to fill their needs today, I am stuck. I am at a loss for words and answers. Because, if the kingdom is more than chicken salad sandwiches, and I believe that it is, I fail to connect the kingdom dots tonight.

But, I do believe. I believe in the power of an ancient prayer that goes something like this :

Our Father who is in heaven.
Glory to your name.
Let your kingdom come.
Let your will be done both on earth and in heaven.
And fill our needs today.
Forgive us and help us to forgive those that harm us.
Don’t let us be tempted beyond our endurance but deliver us from every evil.
For it is your kingdom, your power and your glory.
Let it be so.

Somehow, when my heart recites that precious creed, not only with my world in mind, but also with that of a little boy at a bus stop, there is new meaning – new depths.

I don’t have very many answers here in the black night of Eastern Romania. I don’t have a theology that explains how chicken salad brings a kingdom. But, I have a faith that says the kingdom came tonight in the life of a little man whose hope was tied up in a midnight snack.

As our big bus pulled away, I glanced back at the boy and I think I caught a glimpse of Lazarus.

He was dancing.

a difficult God

california

difficult God

Ever wonder why God has to be so difficult?

If anybody has the resources to crush slavery, to end death, to bring peace, certainly it is God. We celebrate His resurrection. His power over sin, His victory over death. This moment in our human framework when Jesus just walked right through Hell’s doorway and back into our linear timeline.

God has power over death.

‘Lazarus, come forth,‘ And, everybody who was dead in their sin understands that their name is Lazarus.

God is powerful. God is victorious.

So, sometimes we miss the next words of Jesus. We are so thrilled with the fact that Lazarus walked through the death-tomb doorway that we miss what Jesus said next. ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go. (NIV) Unbind him, and let him go. (NASB) Loose him, and let him go. (HCSB)

And when the Marys went to the tomb on Easter morning, the stone was rolled away and the body of Jesus was missing, but the grave clothes were there.

And when Lazarus walked back into life, somebody had to help him roll out of those grave clothes.

One story of two men and the scripture is careful to mention the stone, the women, and the grave clothes. With all of this obvious power over the life and the death cycles of our human reality, why is God still patiently, painstakingly, achingly concerned with these mundane details?

See, a resurrected Jesus marched his way out of a tomb, sans the grave clothes, and down to a beach to fire up some fish for a fisherman who had forgotten for a moment. And there was the smell of fish on the open fire. And, there had been a boat so full of fish it almost sank and the sheer weight of those fish tore the nets. And, there had been boy with a fish that fed five thousand.

And, that is why God seems so difficult.

If God can do that, why doesn’t He?

Miracle. Miracle. Miracle. And then?

Because there are kids in Syria who are forgetting what their mommy smelled like while they waste away in refugee camps. And, there are girls being violated and prostituted, and there are babies picking beans for my morning Java, and Ukrainians putting on armor on the Monday after Easter Sunday.

Did God came to free us from our slavery or not? Or did he come for only some of us? The lucky ones. The blessed ones. The ones with the right credit cards, education, political agendas, language, religion. The ones born in the right period in our human history.

Because there sure are a lot of tomb stones littering our 21st century. And there are overwhelming numbers of voiceless people – in fact, there are more people enslaved right now than in all the rest of history added together. And, it just seems like a God who cares enough to mention the mundane details of grave clothes, and tombstones and women might remember us.

Miracle. Miracle. Miracle. And then?

And then … Pentecost when the Church was born with tongues of fire.

It took the fact that Hungary shuts down the grocery stores for two days to celebrate Pentecost Sunday to remind me that the power of this resurrection did not end in April with a nice Sunday dinner in our best Easter dress.

Feed my lambs.

If you love Me.

Take care of my sheep.

Feed my sheep.

Funny how this difficult God weaves us into the mundane details before the miraculous tongues of fire that find us tucked away in an upper room.

Take off the grave clothes. Unbind. Loose the ties.

Oh, this difficult God who defines for us what it means to be the Church: rolling stones away, declaring freedom, tearing off grave clothes – finding our way through the mundane details.

It would be so much easier if God would just wave his magic wand.

But, he does not.

And, when he does not use his magic wand, then, what does the Church look like in difficult places? Places like Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova? Places where the Church looks like Roma, like Prostitutes, like Women, like Abused, like Addicted, like Illiterate, like Educated, like Orphaned, like Homeless, like Unemployed, like Pimps, like Lazarus?

Come on. Come with us and see : empty tombs, immovable stones rolled away, voiceless people testifying of God : the mundanely, unmagical mercies of a difficult God.

Come.

Come with us.

Lazarus is dancing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you sell people

sarmali

Delicious.

When you sell people, you get a bargain. The maintenance is relatively cheap – a human can live and function with remarkably small amounts of cheap food. The product is easily controlled, especially if you own something of theirs. Burning their baby is highly effective, if you let them hear the pitiful screams. 

Consider buying as a later resort. There is a better way. A more cost effective approach to profit: become the boyfriend. It takes almost nothing to persuade a girl you are in love with her. Give her a couple of cheap trinkets, if you must, a few hours of sweet talk, and you become quick boyfriend material. Romance her and push past her sexual boundaries then introduce her to the idea of becoming sexual with a friend.  She will do it for you because you love her. Your machine is now primed for years of production.

I could go on. I will not. 

Money is always at the heart of the human slave trade. People are one of the cheapest commodities and yield the highest profit on the market today. Once procured, the cost to keep a girl functioning is surprisingly cheap and they can produce income for years. The sex market is ravenous – behavioral studies show that the sexual appetite can be stronger than hunger. 

The first step in the process of understanding this global evil is to stop thinking about sex trafficking in terms of sex. Sex happens because sex sells but every moving part in the sex industry machine revolves around the issue of money. That includes the maintenance of an apathetic stupor in affluent cultures so that middle and upper-class citizens are slow to sacrifice a comfortable lifestyle to stop the trade. When good folk, law abiding citizens, do nothing, we become part, a key part, of the sex industry channel. Maintenance of our comfortable, protected, pleasant lifestyles is our price and the trafficking industry bets that we will pay it. Our blind eyes are essential for their profit margin.

Prostituting a local girl is a one-man operation: one pimp can sell several girls in-country. Trafficking girls is different. It requires moving the merchandise to various geographical locations, usually across international borders, and that takes an infrastructure. Traffickers are keen business people not uneducated high school drop-outs. This is a multi-million dollar industry that is quickly growing. 

Step one in the chain is transport from her small Eastern European village to the airport. The channel needs somebody to drive a new product to market. The trafficker needs a taxi driver so he finds one simple guy with a family he cannot support and gives him a steady on-call, pay as needed, dependable job. All this guy has to do is what he does anyway: drive a taxi. One insignificantly significant cog in a well-oiled machine. The industry operates exactly that way from farm to sale – individual links on a track that carries human cargo to market.

Our human tendency to equate happiness with a number in our bank account or a certain standard of living creates a perfect market climate where girls, boys, pregnant women, college girls, Roma girls, vulnerable people become merchandise that yield unbelievably lucrative options for keen business people.

When you sell people, you get a bargain.

As we continue this segment on trafficking in the series, A Day in the Life of a Missionary, we must first understand these business principles:

The trafficking of humans for profit is based upon the supposition that a person is a commodity for consumption; like meat, cheese, orange juice, and it needs to get to market. 

The transportation and sales process relies upon individual, relatively isolated links in an industrial chain.

Everybody has a price.

 

 

it is raining babies

Croatia

broken

She was probably around fifteen the first time I met her at Blessings Church in Bucharest. You know, one of those teens that cause us good church folk to lower our eyes and not stare: a lot of piercings, questionable jewelry choices, black t-shirt, big make-up. One of those lost teens from marginalized homes who suck up our love and resources and then disappear into oblivion.  Continue reading

birthing freedom sunday

Bulgaria New Year

celebrate

Freedom.

It is on my mind like the impending labour pains for a mother to be. Sleep does not soothe, movement does not relieve; one never really gets away from the reality that something significant is happening just beyond our reach. We are in labour today for freedom on this glorious Sunday, 09 March, 2014. I wonder if we should cheer or weep? 

Our family has been celebrating freedom all weekend. At least we have been living in the warmth of its embrace. With a gaggle of girls packed into a van, we drove to Bratislava, Slovakia yesterday so that they could play their hearts out in a basketball tournament. Never mind the positive aspects of sports, there were adults all over that Communist-era school making sure that light bulbs worked, that bathrooms had toilet paper, that games ran according to schedule. The house was filled with adults watching over, providing for, protecting girls and nobody had to think about guarding our babies against pimps who would steal their soul and devour their bodies like a McDonald’s drive-thru. 

I am not saying that there were not girls there who are not at risk. I am saying that yesterday, there were adults making sure that nobody was vulnerable. And, that is cause for rejoicing.

Sofia, Bulgaria

say to the moutain, ‘move’

Plovdiv

if God is for us…

Freedom Sunday on this glorious 9th of March, 2014 is cause for celebration because awareness is being birthed. The bride of Christ is in labour pains today for souls that are so vulnerably, hideously exposed to the seedy side of passion. Celebrate!

My fear is, that once today passes into yesterday, the blogs fade, the Facebook posts move on, the Sunday sermon is filed, and we forget that Freedom Sunday is about awareness but Monday is about life.  Not your life. Not my life. The life of a vulnerable girl who has nobody to fight for her freedom. Celebrating a Sunday is absolutely pointless unless you are willing to fight on Monday. 

Rise up, Church.

Sofia, Bulgaria

a city on the side of a hill

By 2005, I was writing about the issue of prostitution because it was a constant part of our landscape. Girls on the Ring Road in Sofia staying warm with tire fires at night and flagging cars by day. Who does not see? Who does not know? Sometimes labour lasts through a long, painful night but, morning eventually comes. Morning is here. Put on your Sunday celebration this glorious 09 March, 2014. We need that. But, add this blog to your feed, share this blog with friends, pass by here again tonight. When the dishes are done and the evening beckons you to relax, check in and let’s talk about the dirty, thankless, tireless, back-breaking, confusing work that comes with the Monday after Freedom Sunday.

I leave you now with an excerpt from 2005. The rest of the story will be printed tonight, after Freedom Sunday begins to fade. If you want to talk about life after labour, I will be here on Monday, waiting…    

foot

footsteps

In the Footsteps of a Prostituted Girl.  Her screams tore through the night pulling us from the peace of our dreams and like dominoes down a corridor, blurry eyes peered around doors to encounter a woman deposited in the middle of the hotel’s corridor, like someone’s bag of trash.  She glared back at us from a defiantly misplaced heap.

“What is wrong?” I muttered sleepily.

“They took my shoe.” came the reply.

Sleep cloaked my brain in a thick fog as I strained to put pieces of a puzzle together.  I looked down the corridor at several sheet tussled but familiar heads belonging to a team of Americans who had come to Bulgaria to lay the foundation of a church.  There was a doctor, a retired editor of a popular magazine, a plumber, and a builder.

Instinctively, I knew that if I closed the door and returned to the warmth of my bed, if I left her sitting there in a shoe-less heap in the corridor, one of them would attempt to help her.

I glanced down at my grey, flannel long johns.  For a woman who loves fashion, this was not my apex.  My feet protested against the cold hotel floor.  There in the doorway of my room, staring at a prostitute in a heap on the floor, the warmth of my bed beckoned my return and I found myself wavering.

Glancing down the hallway again confirmed that the heads were still waiting.  The prostitute evidently intended to stay put.  I was the only head who spoke Bulgarian and somebody had to do something to right the situation.

Moments later, I had managed to locate a sweatshirt and socks, and I was feebly attempting to kick my sluggish mental faculties into gear in order to explain our situation to the desk clerk.  What Bulgarian words could I string together to say,

“Excuse me but there is a shoeless prostitute sitting in the middle of our corridor”?  Could you help her please?”

~ by Teanna Sunberg / Montana, Bulgaria  2005

I will see you here tonight for the next part of the story …