Tag Archives: trafficking

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.’

let’s ROAR

a moment on the street

a moment on the street

The tummy-tug rush of the sky scraper escalators whirls and twirls as I descend into the stomach of the Kalvin Ter metro in Budapest. I always breathe in and wait for the sensual recognition that free surfing the underground brings. I learned it first in Moscow and my mind returns to those turbulent days. For me, the metro is a scent, a feel, a quality of air married to subterranean travel that takes me back.

Lost in my reverie,  I almost missed her when she tried to abort her approach.

When you have lived your years and your feet are unfaithful, those stairs threaten to snatch the earth from its firm foundation. I watched her step and hesitate too late. She was on but she was unsteady and then she was summersaulting. A little grandma taking a tumble like Humpty-Dumpty and my mind grasped for words that played a macabre game of Hungarian hide and seek. Screams of ‘help’ but they were silent screams that could only flirt with the trauma unfolding.

A woman behind me ROARED an emergency call in decibels that ricocheted off of the storied ceilings. The young man in front of me stretched his body across the chasm and punched the red emergency STOP button. And we all rushed off of our escalator and ran to help. In the midst of blood, and  topsy-turvy bags and fine gray hair, she was okay. Shaken. Bleeding. But, okay. Continue reading

lazarus and one world

I saw Lazarus do a HAPPY stride like Pharell Williams last night in front of a One World television while the World Cup captivated a room full of strangers. I saw him eat a bar of dark chocolate with a bowl full of fruit this morning. He was Asian.

I think I am starting to like this hostel world.

I like the Polish girl at the desk with her friendly, Polish-accented English. I like the unpolished, anything but plush, earthy, this is the real world reality of an apartment turned home for sojourners on the cheap.

I like the community that becomes a part of the momentary fiber of who and what we share at the core. We are people. Not nationalities, or adverts, or styles, or occupations, or them or us. We are people. People who need a place to sleep, a place to shower, some practical food.

Individualism severs that main artery to community. It does. It breathes into reality an insulated cocoon of comfort. Cultures with higher levels of individualism necessitate broader personal space. And personal space breeds a disconnect from others.

The hostel community forces you out of that bubble – shared bathrooms, shower facilities, sleeping quarters – they attack that individual, comfortable, sterile bubble. Germs. Activity. Plans. They all become somehow more visible, tangible, real.

Can I say that I think our North American churches may suffer from the disconnect of living here in these margins where most of the world breathes?

Our places of worship can easily become bubbles. We are comfortable there : safe, sanitized, proper, like a Hilton hotel. But most of the world is spending the night in One World. Quite honestly, the majority of the world spent the night on the street, selling herself, raped, used, abused, starving, begging for mercy.

And this is not a post to create guilt for prosperity.

This is a post that invites us to step into the world. Incarnationally. It means living in the world, with the world, becoming side by side sojourners : Entering into the mystery of a God who entered into our One World. The bubbles have to be burst. The choice to intentionally live where the germs, and the bathrooms, and the borders are shared is the Jesus way.

Last night, I said this One World was stretchy for me. It is. Truth : I didn’t book this place for my family. Someone else did.

And I did not write the new Wesleyan Freedom statement that talks to church folks about the reality of humans in chains. Someone else wrote that thing.

But, our family has spent a significant amount of our lives crisscrossing Central Europe in a VW Sharan, in all-night buses, in trains, living with people, experiencing their stories … enough to know that if ever we needed a Church that moved to the margins, it is now.

Want to hear something? This world seems so big, right? We think that our lives are disconnected, insulated, safe.

We met Lazarus last night right here in One World watching the World Cup. He was cheering for USA. Turns out Lazarus graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University last year. He and his brother are touring Europe before he goes to grad school. And, Lazarus, this Lazarus, well he can’t hear Jesus calling him yet. I guess he probably hears him, he just doesn’t want to listen. But, it seems like God knows where One World is.


Or a God who bursts bubbles to do a happy dance?

Praying for Lazarus now.



lazarus stopped dancing

Just when we thought that missioning was all fairytale adventures and warm fuzzy feelings, reality reminds us that there is another side. The character of this breaking-in kingdom, this good story, this freedom tale is humility. But, like most worthwhile things, it comes with a price. Humility is not free, you see.

This reality cuts, it burns, it refines by bringing humility out of weakness. My friend, this being humbled is painful. Not at all like the triumphant tales of Saint George slaying the dragon. One of the hardest things about being a missionary is coming to terms with how incapable we really are and having the world witness that truth.

And, so, you come into a culture that is not your own with intentions to bless, to work, to teach, to rescue because that is your calling. Along the way, you discover that you skipped a vital step, spoke the language incorrectly, missed a cultural cue. Made a mistake. Maybe big. Maybe small.

Suddenly, Lazarus has stopped dancing. In the middle of a beat, right before the apex of the jig, he just turns his head and looks at you with disappointment rolling through his eyes.

‘Live missioning’ you say? I just want to crawl into a hole somewhere and hide.

The brutal truth, if you want it, is that the people you are called to serve with are, well, people too. Even Believers have baggage. The people that you have grown to love can sometimes hurt you. And, sometimes you hurt them. It is the underbelly of ministry. The tale of which we seldom speak. The side that stinks. The reality that drives fairytale seeking servants to pack up and go home.

The truth disturbs, for it is where the dreams of heroes end and the hard, bare bones, ‘grit my teeth through the tears’ begins. This humbling is not easy. This ‘live missioning’ looks nothing like I expected.

We took classes and learned formulas. We studied how to be culturally sensitive learners: the theology of wholistic, humanizing hospitality. But, humility; beautiful, life giving humility comes through pain. Can you still serve a baba (granny) who just called you fat? Can you serve a brother who chastises your attempts to speak his language? Do you have the broken strength of will to serve though you burn with embarrassment?

Throughout the story of the Gospels, this is what draws me to Jesus. This humble servanthood makes me dwell in deep depths because Deity sheds his royal robes and puts on the chains of skin. He limits himself, separates himself, and enters a stinking stable; helpless, naked, dependent, poor. Humility, it seems, costs something regardless of who you are.

Today, I post from Chishenau, Moldova. A spot on the continent of Europe where every kind of vulnerable lives. The addicted. The trafficked. The impoverished. The marginalized. The helpless and the homeless and the hope-less. We are all here.

And, I have a choice. Be discouraged. Be angry. Be bitter. Be stubborn. Be difficult. Or be humbled.

The greatest agent of change that our world will ever know? He was born, not from a place of power, not in a king’s palace, but in a stable, chained to stinking skin. Vulnerable. Like us.

You see, we thought we came to save the world but learned that it is a God-job. We read books to determine excellent missiology but found our self-centered reflections staring back through the mirror. We imagined that God would use us but discovered that He really wanted to transform us. How do you spin that story from newsletters and pulpits and blogs where a $3 donation can save one helpless human? Who wants to hear that today, the missionary’s soul had to gulp a breath of kingdom air to make it through the day?

This is not the stuff of fairytale hero-missionaries. This is not even the stuff of suffering missionary servanthood. This is simply the Gospel exhaling today on a stinking pin-prick of a planet, google-mapped to a pixelized Moldova where a missionary sits on a bench spinning a story.

Until we learn that the broken, victimized, prostituted, addicted, dependent, victims AND victimizers is WE not THEM, God can do very little with us or for us or through us because the story that we tell the world is a myth, at best.

This freedom story out of Egypt, across a desert, through a sea is our story, not just theirs. The sitting in the darkness with blood dripping from the doorway while the death angel passes is our story not only theirs. This vulnerability. It is a WE story.

How much pain do chains of skin bring a king?


How much brokenness can a Jesus-man carry on his back?

So, this is the un-fairytale that we live. Skin does not get prettied up and dance away the night at a ball. Skin takes a look at the rotting flesh, the jaggedy edges of sin, the oozing welts of tightly wound grave clothes, and exhales one final, desperate kingdom-coming breath.

‘LAZARUS come forth.’ And, the dead man does a jig by a bonfire do celebration. His death and his new life, they are born out of pain; vulnerability.

We live out of a core of shared recognition that we are all vulnerable.
We live by remembering our slavery.
We live remembering

Or we die in a fairytale of our own creation.