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!

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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.

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.

let that be enough.

My excuse for ignoring this blog is that my life has been consumed with grad school. Now all that remains before graduation is one measly paper. But in an effort to ignore my remaining responsibilities, I return to this blog.  

To be honest, I should have continued blogging regularly, especially during this last month. It was not but a few days ago that I returned from another trip abroad. In summary, I traveled to 5 countries (bringing my official international tally to 31 countries visited), I was on 14 flights (for a total of 75 hours in the air), and I changed time zones 10 times (my body still hates me). Though I rarely slept, the journey was incredible. Between the people, the culture, and the challenges it was an adventure for the senses, and also for the soul. 

But tonight I have no desire to detail my experiences abroad. Instead I want to express a heart of discouragement, a heart asking the question of Psalm 42:11,  “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”

There are many apparent responses I could give as to why it has been a discouraging period in life. For example, there has been a friend in my life who has been making poor decisions that are having hurtful and negative affects. Despite any advice or love I offer, or any consequences they face, I continue to witness a hardening heart.

Another example would be watching a friend struggle through major medical issues, which are a direct consequence of a former eating disorder. Months of my life were once dominated with hospital visits in support of this person I loved. Now life is hanging on a string.

Beyond these challenges, work has been a bit overwhelming. I have long consumed my life with what I do. Maybe partly to ignore shadows in my past, but mostly because I give everything within me to the commitments I make. I have certainly been increasingly successful, and my superiors would echo that sentiment with enthusiasm, but I am yet disheartened because the fruits of my labor have not been as ripe as I anticipated.

Though I could continue to bullet point item after item that is weighing on my soul, I feel that I am most disheartened by the lack of people around me continuing to follow Jesus and seeking righteousness. Don’t misunderstand me. I know that none of us is perfect. I know that I am far from perfection. And I think there is something beautiful about Jesus taking our imperfections and loving us still, loving me despite all of my inadequacies. But today the emotion overwhelmed me. I feel utterly saddened by a world so lost, by a world filling their empty void with girl after boy, a world that spits in the face of anything good. 

Though I do not have answers yet to the emotion welling inside me, I am thankful that Psalm 42:11 does not end with a question. Instead it concludes with a certainty: “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Let that be enough.

“He awoke each morning with the desire to do right, to be a good and meaningful person, to be, as simple as it sounded and as impossible as it actually was, happy. And during the course of each day his heart would descend from his chest into his stomach. By early afternoon he was overcome by the feeling that nothing was right, or nothing was right for him, and by the desire to be alone. By evening he was fulfilled: alone in the magnitude of his grief, alone in his aimless guilt, alone even in his loneliness. I am not sad, he would repeat to himself over and over, I am not sad. As if he might one day convince himself. Or fool himself. Or convince others–the only thing worse than being sad is for others to know that you are sad. I am not sad. I am not sad. Because his life had unlimited potential for happiness, insofar as it was an empty white room. He would fall asleep with his heart at the foot of his bed, like some domesticated animal that was no part of him at all. And each morning he would wake with it again in the cupboard of his rib cage, having become a little heavier, a little weaker, but still pumping. And by the midafternoon he was again overcome with the desire to be somewhere else, someone else, someone else somewhere else. I am not sad.
― Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything is Illuminated

the supreme court.

I have been following the Hollingsworth v. Perry and US v. Windsor cases moderately. I haven’t been the good and informed Republican that I used to be though! But as the Supreme Court gets ready to rule on each case, and with the wild-card Justices, I feel like their rulings will not end up satisfying anyone.

My hope is that in the case of Prop 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry), the Justices will uphold the will of the people as they chose to amend California’s state law. But my sneaky premonition is that Justices will interpret the 14th Amendment more liberally and find some minuscule reason to negate an official ruling, laying the ground for the state to ignore the popular vote and will of the people. However, I don’t foresee their ruling affecting other states per se.

I think the second case could go in a similar direction – meaning the court could weasel out of actually making a decision. But if they did decide to create precedence, I imagine that there would be some national impact as the High Court would leave the definition of marriage to be defined by each individual state. In doing so, the federal government would technically be recognizing same-sex marriage since would be an allowed (endorsed) lifestyle choice within the United States. 
 
Whatever the court decides, there are going to be some upset people. I just hope the Justices do what is Constitutionally honorable. And I suppose the Justices will weigh their decisions and outcomes, but hopefully their decision is not based on politics.
 
We shall await the Supreme Court’s decisions. 

the threat of nationalization.

Notorious for having one of the most liberally socialistic economies in the developed world, France is once again swinging its iron fist. ArcelorMittal is the world’s largest Steel producer and is headquartered in Luxembourg. Currently, company operations in France employ nearly 20,000 individuals at manufacturing and steel complex sites. With the weakening demand in Europe, ArcelorMittal had planned to eliminate usage of two blast furnaces in Eastern France. While there would be collateral damage, in terms of potential layoffs, it would bolster the viability of company success for ArcelorMittal by allowing them to remain economically and financially stable. But instead of moving forward with operative plans, the French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault intervened with a politically expedient motivation and blackmailed ArcelorMittal into keeping all French sites in service at full capacity. Essentially the Prime Minister offered an ultimatum to the firm: either keep operations at full capacity or face the nationalization of your company. ArcelorMittal could have chosen to sell the facilities to a competitor, but no company would dare risk such an investment. Opting to refrain from government control, ArcelorMittal vowed to invest $233.6 million into the facilities to keep facilities functioning.

The actions of the French government towards ArcelorMittal were not only despicable, but they were unethical and an assault on the principles of capitalism. The threat of nationalizing a foreign entity raises real concerns in the international business community. If France could successfully bully one company into accepting the nation’s politically motivated desires, what would stop the government from forcibly controlling other entities? Therein lays the dogma of the socialist agenda and its antagonistic approach towards free trade. Effectually government control stifles competition, falsifies monetary value, and inflates unsubstantiated job creation. To illustrate, recall the nationalized coal industry in the UK, which at one point employed 70,000 workers. The bureaucratic industry was a dichotic failure as 75% of coal companies were losing money on a yearly basis. The only reason any coal company remained operational was because the UK government poured nearly $3.0 billion into the industry every year. Fortunately, Margaret Thatcher was elected as Prime Minister. She successfully battled the industry and privatized coal. As a result the bloated commerce was reduced to what was necessary to remain economically viable, including a reduction of employees to 3,000 individuals, and garnered success within the free market.

While France was unsuccessful in commandeering ArcelorMittal in the sense of nationalization, it has, in another sense, bound the company’s freedom by forcibly inciting the company to operate as if it were a bureaucratic entity by pouring funds into a weaning venture. Subsequently, ArcelorMittal will have to redevelop its supply chain. This may include closing operations in other countries where it has substantial capital investments so that it can streamline and facilitate a financially successful future.

Arguably, developing a stable and financially successful future is the ethically responsible priority of any firm. Biblically, this point is echoed in the parable of the talents that Jesus narrates. In this story, three servants were entrusted a portion of the master’s wealth and commanded to invest the moneys. Two of the servants went heartedly to work and doubled the investment .The third servant, however, buried the investment and later had nothing to show for what he was given. This servant was rebuked and what he had was taken away from him (Matthew 25:13-30, ESV). Similarly, government intervention and regulation of business is likened to wasting investment. It impacts global business as it discourages companies to operate in a financially responsible way. Thus companies struggle with resulting consequences of inefficiencies and unfounded expectancies. The recent closure of Hostess is an excellent example. Between government regulation of the industry and the selfish demands of governmentally permissible unions, the company was faced with meeting ludicrous demands or facing closure. Unfortunately, though Hostess sought to meet the demands and produce a financially and ethically principled plan, the organization was forced into closure and as a result many individuals, some quite deservingly, lost their jobs. Now it is ArcelorMittal that strives to meet the demands of the French government and its socialistic regulatory policy. And likely enough, it may only prolong their inevitable fate unless the steel market can regain strength.

Overall I am not surprised with the actions of the French government and their abuse of power. Politics and supremacy, this day in age, seem to trump ethically responsible judgments that would benefit society as a whole, through free market extremities. Their socialistic agenda is a noxious pollutant to businesses globally as growth is stifled by discouraging incentive with the unreasonable excuse and falsely defined doctrine and notion of demanded fairness.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324205404578151383591045230.html?mod=WSJ_business_whatsNews#printMode