My first exposure… (by Ellen)

 (Un psalm al lui David.)

Fiii lui Dumnezeu, daţi Domnului, daţi Domnului slavă şi cinste.

Daţi Domnului slava cuvenită Numelui Lui! Închinaţi-vă înaintea Domnului îmbrăcaţi cu podoabe sfinte!

-Psalmi 29:1-2

My first exposure to the concept of child slavery occurred when my parents showed me a video of an acquaintance of theirs. Jason Russell and two others stumbled upon a systematic epidemic of child slavery in Uganda, and shortly after started the non-profit Invisible Children. They hosted a “Global Night Commute” in Balboa Park, where people stayed the night and wrote letters to President Bush to raise awareness for the organization and the cause. That was the first time I felt empowered to stop something I felt was wrong.

After that, the light went dead for a while. I had little to no exposure of slavery apart from my history textbooks, which I knew was important but didn’t feel was “relevant” to the current generation.

Well…I was absolutely wrong. College happened, Point Loma Nazarene University’s Center of Justice and Reconciliation happened, and the Open Door Foundation happened. I happened to sign up for an information session on the CJR, who unannounced to me would be lead by Jamie Gates. That is where I felt the light flicker on again, but the light broke and started a wildfire. As Jamie explained the facets that the CJR tackles (which you can find here), my eyes welled up and I couldn’t stop grinning. Call it dramatic, but I could’ve powered a house with the adrenaline in my veins.

My introduction to the CJR prompted me to sign up for a Trafficking study course taught by Jamie. There we studied multiple case studies and statistics on trafficking around the United States, but we also put our knowledge to action by promoting the PLNU Beauty for Ashes Scholarship Fund. Despite my fear and hatred of soliciting people, I felt the same eagerness that I felt the night I addressed my letter to the President. The most memorable class meeting, however, was when Monica came and spoke to us.

Monica Boseff is in charge of the Open Door Foundation, a Romanian non-profit that provides a safe space for women who have been trafficked in and around Romania. Currently, this is the only safe house in the country. The story of the safe house is incredible, not only because of the cause behind it but because of the faithfulness of the leaders; there were many times that the project could’ve failed, but God kept it going. Monica spoke to that with the upmost assurance. Overall, her unwavering confidence in the mission of the safe house, as well as her faith in Christ, drew me in like a magnet. I wanted more than anything to find out her story and contribute to the process of anti-trafficking in a similar way. Little did I know that my church was developing a relationship with Open Door. After Monica spoke there, they set up an invitation from Open Door to Mission Church of the Nazarene. Uh…DUH, I’m in!

During the months before our departure, I saw God provide in numerous ways that validated my desire to go. First off, I raised about $900 more than I needed to make the trip, which was diverted to the much-needed ministry/construction fund. My church set up a donation drive that included school supplies, toiletries, snacks and toys for the budding children’s ministry. Lastly, 5 more people were able to join our team at the last minute. All together, we stuffed our suitcases with jars of Skippy and blankets and made off for LAX.

I came to Romania with a preconceived notion. As hard as I tried to clear my head and heart of all judgements and stereotypes, I still arrived with expectations that the women at the safe house would act skiddish around us. In other words, I thought that we would have to work really hard for them to interact with us. I could not have been more wrong! Because these women think of Monica as their mother figure, they trust that the visitors who come are willing to treat them with the same love and respect as Monica does. By the end of the first day, we were on a first-name basis with most of the girls, and some of them gave us hugs or laid their heads on our shoulders. They were so friendly, in fact, that my American “personal bubble” was slightly threatened.

I have issues with pride and control. As most mission trips go, there are many unexpected changes that pop up like Whack-a-Moles, and sometimes you just can’t hit them fast enough. I could have studied Romanian before I left, but that plan was reduced to 4 hours on YouTube the night before leaving. (Special thanks to “Nico” for her awesome YouTube series!) As a result, this was my first mission trip with a real language barrier. My previous trips were in the US or in Mexico, so if there was Spanish to be spoken I ended up translating. It took me a long time to forgive myself for that, but I realized that the ability to translate was often a gateway for me to feel authoritative and elitist. If I knew both languages, then I could control the communication between people. I could control.

In essence, communicating is extremely difficult when one is reduced to a few words and non-verbals. One day, I prepared to work on construction for the back of the safe house. I soon realized that my “job” had been usurped by 2-3 other people; it was so crowded that there was nothing for me to do. Irritated, I retreated with one of my team members to a table outside. At first no one joined us because it was early, but eventually one of the Romanian women wandered over to the table. I can’t recall how we started a Romanian lesson, but we ended up learning how to count to 100.

Unu…doi…trei…patru…cinch….

The woman giggled at our pronunciation flaws and corrected us multiple times before we managed to sputter the numbers. She was incredibly patient with us, and every time she saw us after that, she would start counting and wouldn’t let us stop until we reached 100. What I thought would be a day of purposelessness turned into an opportunity for us to learn something new.

More importantly, what I thought would be a trip of us teaching them, they ended up teaching us. One of the most beautiful observations I made was the goofiness and laughter that the girls shared amongst themselves. The first day, two of the girls randomly started dancing and singing a Romanian pop song, laughing at themselves intermittently. This goes back to the preconceived notion I had; although some of the women were shy and some were still carrying large emotional burdens, all of the women were receptive and welcoming which is more than I could ask for.

The girls’ backstories also taught me a lot about the current trafficking situation in Romania. In our nightly debriefing sessions, the organization’s lawyer and Monica would relate any current news of the women’s and children’s cases to us. They also explained the horrible situations that the women endured before they arrived at Open Door. Most, if not all of them were brought up in abusive homes before they were sold off by their families to traffickers. That alone is enough trauma to last a lifetime, let alone being transported around Romania and Europe for forced labor, sex, and more abuse along with it. Their recovery processes were not simple, either, but Monica asserted that they are always treated with dignity, respect, and love at the safe house. Serving the girls is their ministry, which according to Monica always raises questions. “Why are you doing this?” the women ask within a few days, because they grew up being treated very differently. That is when the staff can start a discussion about their faith, because otherwise the women have no context for who God is or what His love is. In fact, Monica asserts that before they ask, they have every right to refute anyone who claims that Jesus loves them. I mean, why would someone believe in a God who loves them when their definition of love is manipulation, coercion, and abuse?

Glasul Domnului răsună pe ape, Dumnezeul slavei face să bubue tunetul: Domnul este pe ape mari.

Glasul Domnului este puternic, glasul Domnului este măreţ.

-Psalmi 29:3-4

The power of God’s work in the Foundation is incredible, and we saw it work while we were there. During the course of our stay, two of the women got jobs. One of the women got a job as a seamstress, and was able to review because we brought sewing materials with us. Another woman who had not shared any information with the staff since she arrived recounted some of her story, and with that the lawyer started her case. Lastly, a portion of our group was able to assist in the children’s outreach where they pick up kids from their homes and spend time with them. Those kids are in abusive, potential trafficking situations, so they are taken to the church 3 times a week to play games, learn basic education, shower, and be fed. Sometimes it’s their only opportunity to shower or eat, and definitely the only time they go to “school.” Although I never met the children, their stories were equally as powerful.

It became very easy for me to discern when i was feeling prideful and didn’t want to go to the safe house. Not once did I have a reason NOT to go. In fact, each time I arrived, I felt a stronger desire to experience life at the safe house from a different point of view than that a visitor. I wanted to be a part of the everyday, the mundane, the challenging, the emotional, the beautiful, the breakthroughs, the setbacks, and the reality of the women’s lives.

On the night before we left, God confirmed in me a calling to missions. It was not a complete surprise, but more of a validation of my interests in career fields. I know that I want to express my faith openly in my job, since it is the deepest part of me. I do not want an office job. I want to employ all the miscellaneous skills I have (making friendship bracelets, for example) and use them somehow. I want to use my love for languages and passion for justice & reconciliation, be it anti-trafficking, fair trade, racial reconciliation, or another facet. Most importantly, I want to create deep community and relationships with people based on Jesus’ love. Missionary work is NOT easy and it never will be, but when have I ever strived for an easy job? (once every other blue moon, I reckon.)  No, I usually strive for tasks that are interesting and challenging rather than easy. These categories clearly point to a job in ministry.

The mission of Open Door Foundation is to return dignity to women who, by their society’s standards have lost it. Romanian culture is not very forgiving of transgressions (even victims), but the love of Jesus displayed by the staff of Open Door encourages the women in their esteem and view of life. There is beauty that emerges from the ashes. There is joy that comes from the mourning. There is hope, and there is love. I most definitely want to be a part of that.

Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings,

    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;

    worship the Lord in the splendor of his[a] holiness.

3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;

    the God of glory thunders,

    the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.

4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;

    the voice of the Lord is majestic.

 

flewerrrr

Upon Meeting Survivors by Gia Cabarse

I’m standing in a small kitchen washing dishes for a family I’ve known for only three hours and I’m introduced to this new sense of home in my heart. I sit back down at the round dining table, and I’m surrounded by a group of familiar strangers. As Crystal goes on about fermenting her own kombucha beverage at home, I look at the faces around me and dare to fathom the kinds of experiences they’ve gone through. I’m in awe at how they’ve still managed to find love and meaning beyond it.

I didn’t know much about sex trafficking, I only associated concepts and ideas: pimps, prostitutes, money, sex. It all seemed like a lifestyle to me–one in which those involved are shamelessly so. It’s big in the media. Point a finger anywhere on a page of popular hip hop lyrics, and you’re bound to land some concept that suggests the idea of sex for money. But I never could have imagined the reality that exists regarding the sex industry.

Through this internship I was immediately exposed to a great deal of information that was difficult for me to digest. There are children as young as 12 that are brought into this modern type of slavery. They’re often on the street because they’ve run away from home, and the people that pick them up off the streets–to recruit them for “sex work”–start to nurture a relationship based on a false trust and loyalty. These victims endure a tremendous amount of physical, emotional, and psychological abuse from both their “pimps” (those selling them) and the “johns”(those buying them). They are subject to overwhelming trauma, often talked about as “being raped over and over again.” My heart grew heavy with every discovery of this injustice; and at this point, I refuse to let myself stand by idly.

I really look up to the survivors that are here, gathered around the dining table with me.  To have suffered from the cruelty of these crimes, and to spend the remainder of their lives fighting against it, is something truly admirable and absolutely beautiful. As we clear out the dishes, I look to a welcoming and smiling Kathi, and suddenly I know that I’ve found a new passion: the fight against human trafficking.