hobby lobby.

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Monday, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling in the case of Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby.  By now you have certainly heard that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, setting precedence that employers are not required to provide contraception, which was originally mandated as a result of the Affordable Care Act.  This ruling is a huge victory for religious liberty.

As I scanned the twittersphere yesterday, I came across many opinions that seemed to express outrage.  Predictably, the political left has now “lost faith” in the Supreme Court.  From what I gather, the primary liberal argument is twofold: 1) companies should not infringe on women’s sexual rights and 2) religious beliefs should not be forced on individuals.  However, just as the Supreme Court determined neither argument was valid, I too find myself agreeing with such logic.

I have never understood the attitude of entitlement within the United States.  Maybe that is because I had my first part-time job at the age of 12.  Early on I learned the meaning of discipline and hard-work.  As a result, I have always refused and resented handouts. Perhaps this is one reason I am emotionally opposed to companies being mandated to provide contraceptives.  I would never expect contraceptives to be provided to me.  If I was involved in a sexual relationship, it would be my personal responsibility to access and purchase contraception, not that of my employers.

On that token, logically, companies should not have to provide contraceptives to prevent the consequences of an individual’s personal behavior for the very reason that preventative measures can be taken by the individual to prevent 100% of the consequences (pregnancy and/or STD’s) of their behavior…that is if the individual was truly concerned about the consequences of their behaviors. This is why this issue is not so much a women’s rights issue as it is a fight to have businesses fund individual promiscuity. Hence, Hobby Lobby was well in their legal right to refuse to pay for contraceptives, regardless of religious affiliation.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruling does not diminish women’s rights, since the decision does not impact a woman’s choice to use any type of contraception she deems appropriate.  The argument then becomes an issue of affordability: If a woman cannot afford every type of contraception because her employer refuses to cover it, does this infringe upon her rights to have access to the contraception she wants?  However, the issue of affordability is separate from the issue of women’s rights.  Affordability does not eliminate freedom of choice.  Additionally, if affordability was such a concern, abstinence is a completely free form of contraception and it has been proven to be the most effective option.

Overall, I am satisfied by the High Court’s decision.  Not only was the decision logical, it also protects a very essential liberty guaranteed by the Constitution: religious freedom.

the legacy.

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“Chaz, thanks for coming. It makes the day go by quicker with good company.” – Grandpa Oswald

As I hugged my grandfather goodbye in the hospital room Friday evening, these were the last words that he shared with me.  I wrote them down and tucked them away, so as to not forget them.  Somehow I knew they would be the last words I would hear from him.

It was Sunday morning at about 1:30am when I received the call that he passed away.  Though I had intuitively expected that he would not have much more time, I still found myself in shock, as the night before I was told that he was recovering and was expected to make a full recovery.  So I threw on a pair of jeans and a sweater and made the hour drive to the hospital where I visited him just 36 hours earlier.  My family gathered in the waiting room to share in memories and share in tears.  Reflecting back on this experience, I realize how special and intimate this moment was.  The hospital allowed for my grandfather’s body to remain in the room so that the family could gather and mourn the loss.

When I first saw his lifeless body, I could not control the tears that ran down my cheeks.  My grandmother embraced me and then lovingly placed her hands on either side of my face so that I would focus on her words.  Looking me unwaveringly in the eyes, she said, “Son, it is alright.” Then she pulled my face close to hers and she kissed my cheek.

Though the tears did not stop, the love I felt was incredible.  With the tremendous support of two pastors who were ministering to my family, we sat around my grandfather’s body in prayer, reciting Scripture, and singing together some of his favorite hymns.  The intimacy of the moment was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  The hospital’s silence was broken by our rejoicing, as we did not mourn like the world mourns.  We grieved for the loved one we missed, but we were comforted by the hope that this is only a temporary separation.

Though my grandfather no longer is physically with us, the memory of him will certainly remain.  He was a decorated Korean War Veteran whose bravery earned him the Bronze Star, which is the Army’s 4th-highest individual military award.  He earned this honor, along with the Purple Heart (among, many, many other medals), for his bravery in battle when he rescued a friend by trading places with him on a land mine.  He then jumped off the land mine, which caused him to lose both legs from the knee down.

In his personal life, it was evident that his faith in Jesus Christ was his highest priority.  He embodied the fruit of the Spirit as he led a life that was loving, gentle, patient, joyful, good, and faithful.  He and my grandmother had 65 amazing years together.  They were so in love, even until the very end.  I remember how he looked at her.  I remember how he treated her.  I remember how he cared for her.  I remember how they held hands.  Their relationship, which was built on the foundation of Christ, was to be admired and sought after.

Some of my fondest memories with him include playing Rook, watching University of Michigan football (Go Blue!), and sharing in laughter – lots of laughter!  He was a man of character and integrity.  And he will always be remembered by the smile that graced his face.  My hope, now, is that grandpa’s passing will provide opportunity for my remaining family, who currently have no hope in Jesus, to experience the comfort that can only comes from the Living God.

“And He said to me, ‘It is done!’ I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give the fountain of water of life freely to him who thirsts.'” -Revelations 21:6

return.

But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the sovereign Lord my refuge. – Psalm 73:28

My grandmother asked me if I had been ill.  I asked her why she thought that I had not been well.  And she said that my eyes gave me away.  I tried to play it off, but she was adamant and determined to understand what my heartache was from.  Part of my exhaustion was for the very reason I found myself in conversation with my grandmother that friday evening.  My grandfather had had a heart attack early that morning.  Though he was in stable condition when I had visited him, the situation weighed heavily on my heart.  Sadly, his health quickly deteriorated and Sunday morning he was whisked into the arms of Jesus.  I have certainly struggled with his passing, not because I lack hope, but because I truly miss him.  He was one of the most godly men I knew and we were very close.  In fact, I was named after him.  Though I intend to detail his life and what he meant to me later on this week, to honor his memory, there was a another situation that very same friday that truly shattered my heart, partly because of the close proximity of who it involved and partly because of its topical relation to all that I resolutely abhor and have been writing about as of late: the sex slave trade and abuse of children.

A Fox News article on sex trafficking details how this week marked the eighth week-long operation to terminate such crimes in the United States.  There were “168 children rescued from the sex trade… [and] 281 pimps…arrested during the same period on state and federal charges (2014).” This sex-sting was concentrated in 106 cities nationwide and was coordinated by state and federal officials from Homeland Security and the FBI.  But what makes this story hit home is not merely that fact that “these are not faraway kids in faraway lands,” as FBI Director James Comey stated, but the fact that one of the predators was a colleague.  It should be noted that I have purposefully omitted the word, “alleged,” as following his arrest friday, John Balyo confessed to raping a 12-year-old boy.

John, who was host of a widely popular Christian morning radio show in West Michigan, was attending and live-casting from a three-day Christian concert series – Big Ticket Festival – in Gaylord, Michigan, when he was arrested.  The radio station, which has since (appropriately, I might add) cut ties with John, is affiliated with the Christian university with which I am employed.  With shocked, disgusted, and humble hearts, the university staff and faculty gathered this morning to lament, pray, and seek the Lord – first, for the victims that have been terrorized, and, second, for the depravity of the human heart.

Though I might never be able to make sense of, or even fully process, the horrendous acts John committed, I think it appropriate to declare that he in no way acted in representation of authentic Christianity, nor in conjunction with the Person of Jesus Christ.  John deserves the full condemnation of the law that governs the United States of America, including the full extent of the consequences as a result of his actions.  My hope and prayer is that he is brought to justice.  Furthermore, I pray that his heart be truly shattered and that he seeks true repentance, for Christ withholds forgiveness from none that honestly seek it.

In addition to discussing John’s situation, I want to briefly discuss the media’s attention to this story, along with the saddening internet comments from every self-righteous “Joe Shmoe” with a computer and an opinion.  Certainly John Balyo committed gruesome atrocities and is deserving of all criticism hurled his way, however, I am also disgusted by lowly individuals who are using this situation as a platform to score political points by raking Christianity through the coals.  It is not Christianity that is the cause of such monstrous and destructive acts, so much as it is the sinful human being, imperfectly striving to live a Christian life (or maybe even lying about living a Christian life). Many call this hypocrisy, and it certainly is.  But the message of Jesus is not that those who are Christians will not mess up or act hypocritically, it is that despite our shortcomings, despite our inability to do right, God’s grace and love and mercy is greater than the wrong we commit.  Additionally, I find it appropriate to point out that despite the vast number of Christians caught up in such hypocrisy and sin, there are tens of millions of secular people caught up in the same acts.  This means that this is not an issue solely to be focused on the Christian, but rather on the whole of humanity.

So what is the lesson to be learned? Likely John Balyo, just like many other sex predators, did not intend to ever get to the point where he would rape the innocence and future of a child.  Instead, it very well likely began with a glance.  There could have been explicit material he stumbled upon.  For a while it satisfied.  But to retain the high, his tastes began getting more perverted.  And as more time was consumed with perversion, more opportunity began to present itself, until finally it led him to the sickening situation he found himself in, which has ultimately destroyed his life – rejection of his family, loss of a job, and loss of a future, as likely he will spend the rest of his life in prison.  So let this be a wakeup call in your life, just as it is a wake up call in my life.  If there is something you are dealing with, even if it is just at the onset, I urge you to end it.  Do not let the potential embarrassment of your honesty and candidness keep you from asking a friend, a counselor, or a pastor for help.

As I conclude, I ask that you pray for the victims of these predators.  They are our children.  And their lives have been marred by physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse.

Return Lord Jesus, return.

all i can see.

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Before setting out to explore the Holy Land in March of this year, there were two books that I decided to read in preparation of my trip overseas. These books included Dr. David Livermore’s Leading with Cultural Intelligence and Dan Senor’s Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. This journal serves as a testament to the key concepts, principles, and ideals that were most striking to me as I prepared to journey to Israel.

Leading with Cultural Intelligence

Having traveled to more than thirty different countries, I have had the privilege to experience customs, colors, smells, foods, and peoples around the globe. Sadly, there have been times when I have allowed myself an attitude of arrogance in thinking that I am well versed in travel and thus have nothing left to learn. Some of this arrogance stems from accolade I have received while overseas as I have been told on multiple occasions that I am different than many foreign travelers. The difference is often cited in the sense that I have a deep appreciation and respect for the customs and cultures I am immersed in. This often is portrayed through a willingness to try and do everything and anything put in front of me. I have a personality that is adventurous, relaxed, and confident. But while I enjoy finding myself absorbed in a new journey, I am often humbled by the fact that, despite all my experiences, I have a great deal to be educated on. This rang true even as I prepared for the trip to Israel by reading Livermore’s Leading with Cultural Intelligence.

Livermore’s book, though relatively short, had a myriad of advice regarding travel preparation and cultural planning. The premise of the text is that the world is flattening and we are finding ourselves interacting with people who represent a plethora of cultures and countries worldwide. For example, at my university, I not only work with students who live in the United States, but I also have the privilege of working with international students from as many as forty other countries. There are days where I literally could be answering an email from a student in Turkey, Skyping with a student in China, and having a student visit from Guatemala. Certainly with as many students I work with from diverse backgrounds, the ability to understand each culture could be overwhelming, especially for someone with little international experience. Instead of feeling overcome though, Dr. Livermore explains, “cultural intelligence is an ability uniquely suited for the barrage of cultures faced by most contemporary leaders. Rather than expecting individuals to master all the norms of the various cultures encountered, cultural intelligence helps a leader develop an overall repertoire and perspective that results in effective leadership (or interaction),” (Livermore, 2010). In other words, the point of cultural intelligence is not to know and understand every custom of every culture, but to have a framework to intelligently interact with people across the cultural spectrum.

Beyond this initial premise, Dr. Livermore developed his book on the Four Dimensional Model of Cultural Intelligence, which includes an individual’s drive (motivation CQ), knowledge (cognitive CQ), strategy (metacognitive CQ) and action (behavioral CQ) in order to reap the benefits of cross-cultural interaction. The initial principle, CQ drive, which “includes three sub-imensions: intrinsic motivation -the degree to which you derive enjoyment from culturally diverse situations; extrinsic motivation-the tangible benefits you gain from culturally diverse experiences; and self-efficacy-the confidence that you will be effective in a cross-cultural encounter,” is the concept that stands out to me to the greatest degree (Livermore, 2010). Just like Dr. Livermore, I am completely energized in cross-cultural environments. To some degree, I would argue I am comfortable and invigorated in a diverse environment because I was raised in an extended family that is biracial, both in terms of marriages and in terms of children that have been adopted from all around the globe. As a result, I grew up celebrating ethnic, racial, and cultural differences. Arguably my motivation or cultural drive is a combination of nature and nurture, regarding this area of strength in my cultural intelligence.

While motivational CQ might very well be my strength, strategic CQ could very well be my weakness. “The three subdimensions of CQ strategy are awareness, planning, and checking. Awareness means being in tune with what’s going on in ourselves and others. Planning is taking time to prepare for a cross-cultural encounter-anticipating how to approach the people, topic, and situation. Checking is monitoring our interactions to see if our plans and expectations were appropriate (Livermore, 2010). The most significant area of weakness for me would be during the planning stage of strategic CQ. I think the issue is twofold. First, since I have done a fair amount of traveling, I find myself feeling as though my general knowledge is suitable for every situation. Thus I find myself asking the question as to why I would spend a significant amount of time preparing when I am confident in my abilities. This certainly can be a prideful and arrogant excuse. Second, I think there is a part of me that can be so relaxed that it could almost be considered laziness. Obviously I am not perfect with every cross-cultural interaction and there could very well be times when I have ignorantly treated someone inappropriately because I was too lazy to aptly plan. But reflecting on this stage, and knowing I need to improve in this area, I think there are two areas I can specifically develop. These areas include preparation in understanding a cultures history and learning more of a country’s language. Too often, for example, I find myself dependent on either translators or nationals knowing English. And there have been occasions when that language barrier has placed me into some difficult or challenging circumstances. An instance where this occurred was when I was last in Thailand. After flagging down three taxis, I finally found a driver who knew enough English to navigate me to my hotel on the other side of Bangkok. But after roughly a thirty-minute drive, I found myself in front of the wrong hotel. Fortunately, I have always been good at charades, so after fifteen minutes of gesturing, the driver finally understood where I needed to be. Of course this scenario was somewhat a part of the journey or experience for me as I can be a bit of an adrenaline junkie. But if ever a situation were to turn sour, I could have really been caught in a terrible bind and knowing at least a bit of the language could potentially ease some of the tension.

The final concept I want to highlight from Livermore’s book is the importance of food. Growing up in the Baptist denomination, there has always been a high priority placed on food. I remember many of my Sunday evenings included gatherings around potlucks, or finger-food-fellowships, as I like to affectionately refer to them. Scripture is not silent on the topic of food either. For example, Christians remember Christ’s sacrifice through the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine. While the Last Supper is certainly symbolic and vital to the Christian faith, Dr. Livermore notes, “In most cultures, eating together has far more symbolic value than simply ‘grabbing a bite to eat.’ Sharing a meal together can often be viewed as a sacred event,” (Livermore, 2010). The first time I truly understood this concept was when a friend I met in Singapore had invited me over to her home to have a prepared meal. Prior to my visit, I found out that her mother had taken the entire day off of work to cook an authentic Chinese meal, complete with stingray, black chicken soup, rice, broccoli, and many other dishes. When I arrived for dinner an entire feast had been prepared. I certainly noticed the sacrifice this family made to have me for dinner, as they were a family of very modest means. To them, this dinner was very sacred and meant for social interaction, not the typical dine-and-dash that we are so accustomed to in the United States.

Overall, I felt that Livermore’s book was an eye opening read that has challenged me to become a more thoughtful international traveler. My overseas experiences have vaulted me forward in my cultural intelligence, but there is a great deal that I have yet to be educated on.

Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle

Having lived in both the United States and Singapore, I have become very familiar with countries of economic strength, noting that the might is often derivative of the nation’s business industry and capitalist policy. When it comes to start-ups though, my attention is immediately directed to Silicon Valley, which is known for the billions of dollars in tech start-up investments that flow through the San Franciscan city.

Before reading Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, I would have never had guessed that the tiny Jewish nation would have such a vibrant business industry with an economic climate that incentivizes and stimulates innovation. Certainly some of my ignorance stems from former knowledge that Israel is a country that is not much bigger than the state of New Jersey and that Israel literally has no natural resources. So it has always seemed to me as a country with very little economically to offer. Combine that with the fact that they are constantly in a state of war and one would ask how anything could be accomplished in such an oppressive environment. Despite these negative valuations though, Dan Senor does a masterful job assessing the nation’s tech savvy and inventive culture.

The astonishing success of Israel’s start-up industry, according to Senor, is based on a number of factors. One of these factors is in regards to the requirement of all citizens of Israel to gain multidisciplinary military training, whether male or female. Of course one of the reasons Israel requires military training of its citizens is due to the fact that the country is surrounded by nations on every border that would like to see the nation completely wiped from the map of the earth. But despite that obvious implication, the mandatory military training provides an excellent and disciplined skillset for the people of Israel. Second, from a cultural perspective, the Jewish people embrace the ideal that failure breeds education. In other words, the culture within Israel leaves plenty of room for individuals to learn from their mistakes. And another observation made by Senor is in regards to the diverse history of the people of Israel. Since Israel was not officially formed, in modern history, as a nation until after World War II, the Jewish people were spread around the globe in countries such as the United States, Russia, and Ireland. These people immigrated back to their homeland, bringing with them various degrees of higher education, diverse cultural perspectives related to the countries they once lived, and even a great deal of financial capital, which is a result of their innate ingenuity.

Speaking of ingenuity, one example of the nation’s start-up industry, more in terms of innovative spirit, is in regards to our MBA group visit to the Golan Olive Oil Mill. It is no surprise that Israel is known for their olives and olive oil industry. Even in ancient times, olive oil was produced in Israel. But for thousands of years, the pulp of the olive, which is what remains after the oil has been meticulously extracted, is left to waste, often-discarded back into the environment. Unfortunately, the remnants of the olive after production can lead to poor environmental impacts, such as polluting valuable water supplies. So in an effort to waste less of the olive and eliminate the harmful affects of olive waste, the Golan Olive Mill found alternative uses for the whole olive, which include the development of external application skin-care products. And it is this resourcefulness that resounds throughout Israel to make them known as a start-up nation.

Overall, I found Senor’s work to be very educational. As I noted previously, I had little understanding of the business environment, let alone the innovative side, of Israel. And I think there is a lot to be learned from Israel’s people and their economic environment, especially as it relates to the future vitality of the United States.

References:
Livermore, D.A. (2010). Leading with cultural intelligence: The new secret to
success. NY: AMACOM. ISBN: 978-0-8144-1487-3

Senor, Dan. (2011). Start-up nation: The story of Israel’s economic miracle.
NY: Twelve. ISBN: 978-0-446-54146-6

live in the sunshine.

My friend Beth and I made our way to the Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MRT) in Bangkok.  We had just stepped out of the taxi and began pushing our way through the crowds to catch our train deeper into the city in search of shopping and fresh Pad Thai. As we reached the stairway to bring us to our platform, we noticed a young girl who was dressed in rags, lying on a filthy blanket, eerily lifeless and completely alone.  Our hearts sank as we observed the cruel injustice that plagued this colossal city.

Now you do not need to travel to Thailand to realize how tainted and devastated our world has become.  In fact, the U.S. Representative from Illinois’ 14th District, Randy Hultgren, was addressing the House floor this afternoon regarding the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which is a bill the Congressman is sponsoring.  Every year, more than 100,000 children are trafficked every year in the United States.  But this is not merely a problem the United States faces.  It is of global proportions and of global importance in terms of needing to be addressed.

At any given time, an estimated 2.4 million people around the world are the victims of human trafficking, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Some of the facts of this practice, according to the International Labour Organizations, are:

  • 161 countries are reported to be affected by human trafficking by being a source, transit or destination country.
  • People are reported to be trafficked from 127 countries to be exploited in 137 countries, affecting every continent and every type of economy.
  • The majority of trafficking victims are between 18 and 24 years of age.
  • An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year.
  • 43 percent of victims are used for forced commercial sexual exploitation, of whom 98 percent are women and girls.
    (Half the Sky via PBS)

Recently, the book club I attend, “Apolitical,” concluded reading Half the Sky, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.  The premise of the text focused on three abuses at it relates to women’s issues on a worldwide scale: “sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence, including honor killings and mass rape; and maternal mortality, which still needlessly claims one woman a minute” (2009).

Though each of the aforementioned cruelties need to be rectified, my personal exploration, based on experience and reflection in the red light districts of many Southeast Asian counties, has led to a particular vendetta toward seeing an end to sex trafficking.  Of course, the statistics are overwhelming.  I find myself burdened and emotionally captivated by this issue, but I also find myself asking about the practicality of undertaking such a complex problem. Where does one even begin?  But in asking such a question I was reminded [and convicted] by an anecdote from Half the Sky about the impact one person can have:

A man goes out on the beach and sees that it is covered with starfish that have washed up in the tide. A little boy is walking along, picking them up and throwing them back into the water. “What are you doing, son?” the man asks. “You see how many starfish there are? You’ll never make a difference.” The boy paused thoughtfully, and picked up another starfish and threw it into the ocean. “It sure made a difference to that one,” he said (2009). 

My mentor, a successful businessman and now Vice President of a major university, used to tell me, “The faith, courage, and integrity of one man is a majority.”  I know this to be true, even in relation to the issue of combatting sex trafficking.  One man, simply helping one person at a time, can make a positive influence.

Certainly I do not anticipate quitting my job and heading to Thailand tomorrow to rescue women from the brothels, but I do expect, along with the members of my book club, getting involved in a realistic way to make a small impact in the lives of women on a global scale. As a group, we have resolved to:

  • Continue educating ourselves on issues that oppress and suppress women. This includes reading relevant books, critically analyzing works and statistics, and brainstorming creative ideas to continue our involvement in ending abuse of women.
  • Bring awareness to the issue through sharing information and stories on blogs and social media.
  • Start a collaborative micro-finance fund to support women’s business ideas in impoverished economic nations. Our group will collectively determine micro-business ventures worthy of investing in that will positively increase the financial stability of women, hopefully having a congruent impact on the investment certain families make in the education for their children.
  • Volunteer regularly at a local organization that supports the fight against sex trafficking, such as Women at Risk.
  • Take a fact-finding and short-term mission trip to a country where sex trafficking is prevalent, possibly even attempting to connect with women that we have supported via micro-finance.

These are just a few of the small ways I plan to get involved with my book club to fight the sex slave trade.  I look forward to sharing the progress, experiences, and opportunities of our involvement.

The next book we plan to read is The Road to Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine, by Somaly Mam. And if you have any book suggestions or ideas of how a layperson, such as myself, can get involved in the battle of the sex slave trade, I would love to hear from you!

a simple walk.

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Augustine of Hippo once opined, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page” (Slimbach, 2010).

Traveling is emotionally and conceptually romantic.  It embraces all senses on a road to discovery, not just of a place, but also of self.  Travel in essence, then, is education.  I know, personally, travel has often led to formative experiences that have challenged me intellectually, academically, and spiritually.

One such occasion was five years ago when I lived a month in Mongu, Zambia with my cousins who are third generation missionaries.  Thirteen hours from the nearest city, I found myself living on the Zambezi flood plain near a rural village of mud huts with limited access to electricity or fresh water.

With the intentions to serve the community, I found myself engaged with the local children, many of whom were orphans.  These children were partially clothed with tattered and scruffy attire that had been discarded by Americans.  Most did not even own a pair of shoes.  But despite their lack of materials, the children adorned precious and contagious smiles that resounded with gratitude each time a need was met.

In Running for My Life, Lopez Lomong indubitably expressed how each day was a story of survival, much like the story of the children I interacted with in Zambia, as he, too, fought for basic human essentials – food, water, and shelter.  “Even with pooling our rations,” Lopez describes, “we only had enough grain for one meal a day. Six days a week we ate our meal in the middle of the night. That way, we were the hungriest when we needed our strength the least” (2012).

In an effort to replicate a small piece of what life would be like in a refugee camp, I chose to abstain from using personal transportation on Saturday, May 3, 2014.  Instead of using my car during a 24-hour period, I decided to utilize public transportation, a bicycle, and my own two feet to complete my daily tasks.

One anecdote that stands out from this experience was when I realized that the date I established to forgo my automobile was also the day I was set to graduate.  Instead of riding my bicycle to the ceremony though, I decided it would be most realistic to walk.  So I packed my graduation outfit, including my cap and gown, and walked more than an hour to my destination.

In reflection, it was certainly a sobering and refreshing practice.  I never contemplated how a lack of personal transportation binds oneself to a small geographic region.  My entire life I had been used to traveling from one side of my city to the other at my leisure, whether meeting friends for a movie, studying at Starbucks, or heading to the beach.  Instead, if I had been confined to merely my walking shoes, I wonder if I would even know what the other side of the city looked like.

The simplicity of going a day without personal transportation was revolutionary both in my life and to my thought process.  This is one reason I am excited that Cornerstone University’s incoming students will participate in a similar exercise.  Many of us will never experience the harsh realities and arduous difficulties of living years inside a refugee camp, but my hope is that this experiment revolutionizes this generation, one heart at a time, to live a life empathetic to the needs around them.  Furthermore, I expect this practice to embolden a class of Christ-followers to relinquish apathy and pursue a deeper compassion for the plight of the hungry, sick, and downtrodden through further exploration of the issues. Living a day in the life of a refugee should only be the beginning of a lifelong endeavor.

References:

Lomong, L., & Tabb, M. A. (2012). Running for my life: one lost boy’s journey from the
killing fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson.

Slimbach, R. (2010). Becoming world wise a guide to global learning. Sterling, Va.: Stylus Pub., LLC.

it has to end.

It was the tail end of a month long adventure and I had just finished exploring Bangkok with my friend Beth. Since she has lived in the city for nearly a year while working for an international high school, Beth’s logistical knowledge and broken Thai helped me flag down a taxi driver who knew enough English to take me to the Millennium Hilton.

Armed with turn-by-turn directions written in English and the roadways written in Thai, I parted from Beth and was left at the mercy of a cab driver I was barely capable of being conversational with.

After roughly thirty minutes, I found myself in front of the wrong hotel. Fortunately, I have always been good at charades. And after fifteen minutes of gesturing, he finally understood where I needed to be. He confirmed his understanding with his broken English, “Ah, five star hotel. On riverfront. Very tall!”

As he turned the car around, I prayed a prayer of thankfulness that I had not been dropped off on the roadside in Bangkok. However, my prayer was interrupted as the taxi driver asked me a question. At first I didn’t understand. I thought he was muttering something in Thai. So I pretended to laugh and nod my head. Then he repeated himself a second time. This time I heard him: “You want boom boom?”

Immediately, my eyes turned from my iPhone to the sidewalk. We were apparently driving through one of Bangkok’s red light districts. The street was lined with women willing to satisfy any man’s desires if he is willing to pay a few baht.

After a moment of shock and understanding, a string of “no’s” sprang from my mouth.

Apparently my assertion was comprehended by the taxi driver as if I did not believe the women to be pretty enough for my taste. So he proceeded to bring me to girl after girl until finally my “no” resounded powerfully and aggressively enough. So he gave up and brought me directly to the Hilton.

Once to my room, I was able to reflect and process more appropriately on my brief experience in the red light district. It is no secret that South East Asia is plagued with brothels, prostitutes and sex trafficking. I just never had personal exposure to the oppressive, degrading, and heartless industry. And it was this occurrence that has challenged me to become better educated on the issue of worldwide tyrannical reign as it relates to the horrendous treatment of women.

So I have partnered with two friends who are as enraged about the cause as I have become. We have decided to begin the educational process by reading, “Half the Sky,” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It has proved thus far to be a heavy and sobering read based on the personal stories of women who have been involved in the sex trade industry.

To get an idea, just a vague picture of this hell, I give to you an excerpt as to how millions of young girls are treated after they have been kidnapped with the intention of selling them as sex toys:

“An essential part of the brothel business model is to break the spirit of girls, through humiliation, rape, threats, and violence. We met a fifteen-year-old Thai girl whose initiation consisted of being forced to eat dog droppings so as to shatter her self-esteem. Once a girl is broken and terrified, all hope of escape squeezed out of her, force may no longer be necessary to control her. She may smile and laugh at passerby, and try to grab them and tug them into the brothel. Many a foreigner would assume that she is there voluntarily. But in that situation, complying with the will of the brothel owner does not signify consent.”

This is an exact picture of the horror I was introduced to in Bangkok. The harsh and unfair realities have broken my heart. Certainly this is not the world that God created.

So it is my hope, with this brief introduction, to become conscious of the oppression facing women worldwide and determine what kind of impact a layperson such as myself can have to end this hellish slavery. I plan to share what I learn and I hope a dialog can be started with those of you who are just as infuriated about how women, such as the aforementioned fifteen-year-old, are treated.

It has to end.