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.
“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 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.
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 ofpeople 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.
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.
It is a journey that many of you will never take. The bone crushing hours, the erratic driving, the diversity of languages and cultures become a challenge for the average tourist. All of this adventure meshes together in a wonderful array that is the Balkan Peninsula. On 10 November, 2014, we set out for a 8 day trek across the Eastern European part of our Central Europe Field. Follow us on twitter, on the Central Europe Field Facebook page, and here on the Across Cultures blog. Discover the beauty of the Balkans through our lens. Favorite us. Follow us. Pray with us. Join us. We are Balkan Beautiful.
There is a pink cherub skip-jumping a merry jig down Tkalciceva Ulica. She is anchored to her mum by one chubby hand while the other bounces a fall bouquet. The bounty is no doubt intended for a luncheon with friends but sans anchor, both cherub and flowers would be quickly lost in Zagreb’s sea this Saturday morning.
Buzzing voices marinate with the tinkle of spoons on coffee cups. The smell of expresso is in the street. It all pulls you toward a paradoxical space of intimacy amidst the crowd, if you can find a spot to sit and sip.
And, it seems like Jesus can’t find a seat.
This is not a crowd of tourists having a weekend go in Zagreb. They are locals who have rolled out of their Saturday bed, made an effort to look nice, and trekked to the centre from wherever they live. It’s like a Sunday morning scene that makes a church pastor salivate.
Come and get your Jesus fix here.
Get rest for your merry souls. Forgiveness for your dirty deeds. Relief for your addictions, and your depression and your loneliness.
But, they don’t.
And the Church can’t figure out why we are empty. In Europe. In North America.
I wonder if it has anything to do with our people projects?
Because fixing people for heaven is a task that you designate and delegate and execute.
I don’t think people want to be executed.
They want to be wanted.
They want to open the door and be greeted with a kiss on both cheeks as the cherub passes the bouquet and linger over coffee because they are important to you. If you want a picture of the quintessential Europe, that’s it, right there.
Simple like that.
But sometimes I get the feeling that we, as the Church, lick our lips like a lioness set free to cruise through humanity while they sit and sip their coffee in the kiss of the Adriatic sun.
Maybe they sense the danger, you know?
Because it is one kind of frightening to be swept away in a sea of people and another kind of scary to be counted as a number for an organization.
And that is what church feels like to this generation; an organization counting their number.
Nobody wants to be a number.
Or a project.
As if, with some measured time and the right ‘how to’ manual, I could renovate you and put you on the right track to Jesus.
Ironically, there are churchy articles and books that tell us how to connect with people. And, the problem isn’t that they exist. But, maybe why they exist should cause us to be concerned? Because, it implies that we don’t remember how to connect with people. Have we forgotten how to see someone as more than a countable commodity in our pews?
Three years ago, missionaries made Zagreb their home.
We don’t have a mega-church.
To be brutally honest, I don’t imagine that we have the kind of church growth strategy that makes it into those ‘how to’ manuals.
We have a Nazarene family becoming fluent in language and culture, putting their kids into Croatian school, practicing hospitality, carrying flowers into homes and finding seats in cafes.
Just like the Croats on the street below Dolac Market, in the third space, where it is public and intimate and anchored to the sea of humanity.
I like that – the intercourse of our lives birthing a relationship that cares for the other instead of using her.
It isn’t my space. It isn’t your space. It is our space. Neutral. Shared. And, we are hosted by the Holy Spirit in the Third Space.
He is that Third Space:
The Holy Spirit filling us, inviting us, to HIs table, and there is no Us and Them, because we are all lost and lonely and desperate and in need of an anchor.
It sounds like, well, it sounds like what we all always imagined church should be, before Church became about the best outreach strategies.
Back when we saw people as people; not projects, not numbers, not potential Christians, not target audiences, not even people going to Hell if we don’t intervene.
It seems like there might be a table opening up in my life with a friend motioning for me to join her there. There is a place for you too, for all of us; a Third Space, where grace speaks and the coffee flows, and the pink cherub jigs her way down Tkalciceva Ulica.
The Naz had a storyteller once upon a time. Harmon Schmelzenbach had his Swazi fish and he wove them deep down into the centers of our bellies and tugged. Somehow, Mr. Schmelzenbach helped ears to get beyond our heads and our troubled lives and our pressing needs and to remember that the soul and the stomach rumble in a painful unison.
He who has ears, let him hear.
I love it that Jesus said that because, who doesn’t, really? Have ears, that is. It is the paradoxical Jesus speaking. The one grinning while sea water drips from his beard like tears drip from the soul of humanity. Continue reading “fish stories”→