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!

Advertisements

a simple walk.

Image

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.