How to Fight Trafficking

It is impossible to tell someone one time that she is valuable and for her to treasure those words in her heart forever. It is impossible to tell someone one time that you love her and yet do nothing to show her what love is. And it is impossible to “save” a victim of trafficking simply by knocking on her door one time, asking her to walk out of a brothel and doing nothing more.

While numerous surveys of women in prostitution and trafficking show that most of them want to leave the life, other studies have shown that, on average, it takes a woman in prostitution six attempts before she can successfully leave and start a different life. Why this discrepancy?

Sometimes it is because of coercion. There may be a pimp, a trafficker, or a so-called boyfriend refusing to let her leave, sometimes applying physical and certainly emotional pressure on her to stay or come back. Sometimes it is because there is no place to go. In the U.S., one of the greatest challenges to women in prostitution is that they don’t have safe housing apart from their pimps. They often have criminal records so they can’t get a job or have difficulty qualifying for low-cost housing or welfare programs that help them get back on their feet. They go back to their abusers because they don’t know where else to go.

And sometimes it is because they have been told all their lives that this is all that they are good for—to make money for others by selling their bodies–and that their worth is based on how much money they can make. These lies pervade the commercial sex industry; even where there is no physical force being employed, the emotional force, the lack of other options, the pressure from her family or boyfriend is enough to keep her in a place of exploitation.

In Cambodia, we have been working with young women who are not physically restrained from leaving the karaoke bars and beer gardens where they work. In fact, they live off premises and, depending on their managers, they can choose whether or not to go home with a client at night. It is well understood, however, that beer gardens and karaoke bars are where men go to find sex for hire, and it is also understood that the young woman will not make a living wage without the tips they get from their clients.

Our job here is to fight sex trafficking, but it does not mean that we are knocking down brothel doors and carrying young women out to safe housing. No, here it means going out and meeting these young women. It means talking to them, building relationships with them, sharing with them new ideas—ideas about what they could do instead, and, more importantly, new ideas about where their value really lies. It is not in how much they receive in tips but in their inherent value as people, as daughters and creations of God.

It is an uphill battle. Many of these young women have been raised to believe that this is their role. Most, if not all, send a fair sum of money home to their families every month. The families often put immense pressure on them to remain in the bars. Many of them have grown up to believe that their entire worth is dependent on how much money they earn.

There are some young women who leave. We have several young women currently living with us at our center, Rahab’s House, and we are working with them to find good, well-paying jobs, to get them vocational and academic training, and, most importantly, to help them see how valuable they really are.

It is worthless to meet a young woman and to tell her one time that she is priceless. This doesn’t translate. Even though the young women who are at Rahab’s House might have left because they started to believe us and want a different life, they still deal with the family and cultural pressure to make more money fast.

The only thing that works, what the work of fighting trafficking is, is day in and day out showing young women that they are valuable and showing them what love is. It is the daily demonstration that we love them, not just in word but also in deed, showing them what real love is—that it is sacrifice and consistency, being there. It means speaking and living out truth in areas where so much of their lives have been filled with lies. It means showing them through love that they are valuable because they are daughters of Christ.

At the risk of sounding trite, remind the women in your life today that they are valuable. We fight trafficking and all forms of sexual exploitation by speaking truth about women to women, by helping them know and live in the truth about themselves. Too much of sexual violence today remains hidden because it is shrouded in shame for the victims. Too many women–our friends, sisters, even our mothers and our daughters–live in a cloud of guilt which should be on their abuser and not themselves. Confidence and a strong sense of identity come not just from one person, saying one thing, one time. Rather, they come from knowing real love from the people who give input into our lives and ultimately, having our identity firmly rooted in Christ.

Posted in Social Justice | Leave a comment

That’s Just How I Am

Nod your head if you’ve ever heard someone say something like this to you in reference to some way they’ve let you or someone else down: “I can’t help it. That’s just how I am.”

Now nod your head if you’ve ever said that yourself. (I’m nodding.)

The problem is, that sentiment is completely untrue. You can help it probably more than you think.

Sometime in my early teens I was blessed with some friends who loved me enough to tell me when I was wrong. During this time, I went to a private Christian school and was an overachiever to the max (as were all my friends), so breaks were reserved for homework, lunchtimes were obviously meant for meetings with teachers or ASB members, and after school was either meant for sports or homework. End of story. So when one of my (still) best friends wanted to find a time to confront me about something, she had to be determined and creative.

Luckily, she possessed both of those characteristics, in addition to guts. She spoke with our teacher just before class and got his permission to let us step out for a few moments to have an important conversation. You can imagine how surprised I was. She sat me down at a picnic table outside and confronted me on something that I had excused under the “that’s just my personality” category.

There she was, pointing out my blind spot. Exposing my weakness. Shining light on what was actually my sin. And it SUCKED. My pride was being challenged, and how I chose to respond would either propel me into being more of who God created me to be, or keep me stuck in my unwholeness and pride.

Thankfully, I chose the first option. Through that particular circumstance and others similar to it, I learned two things that ultimately changed my life for the better: 1. I’m not perfect, and I need to get over it; 2. Accepting constructive criticism from those I trust will ultimately make me better and stronger.

Fifteen years later, I’m still learning this, still trying to accept it, still suffering through the bitter taste of being humbled. But I never regret it.

Here’s the gist: Just because it’s “how we are” doesn’t mean it’s okay. Our personalities may lend themselves naturally to certain strengths and weaknesses, but it doesn’t excuse us from the responsibility of strengthening those weaknesses. Why is that important? Because a kinder, more gracious, more loving, more secure, more thoughtful, stronger, more compassionate, smarter, wiser me benefits not only me, but also those around me, and honors the Lord.

I would suggest that insisting on a “that’s just how I am” mentality is doing some of us more harm than good. It’s stunting our growth and certainly giving the enemy a foothold in our lives.

Here’s what I recommend (and what I try to do myself): Ask yourself what weak spots you know of that you’ve been excusing under the “that’s just how I am” category, and admit that God created to you to be something far better than that. Ask a trusted friend to help you in your growth process. If a friend has tried to point something out that they think is hindering your life but you’ve had a stubborn streak, do the right thing and humble yourself, ask for forgiveness, and get to work. Lastly, ask a friend to shed some light on a blind spot in your life. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through them, and commit to overcoming your weakness.

With Christ as our example, the Word and the Holy Spirit as our guide, a little (or lot) of humility, and some accountability and loving perspective, we don’t have to be bound to our weaknesses.

Photo via

Posted in Adversity, Relationships, Self Esteem | 2 Comments

Stuck in the Middle

Dog stuck in the middle
Photo via

Everything about this season feels stuck in the middle, in between what’s been and what’s coming.

As I write this, there’s an inch of slushy snow on the ground, with mud and scraggly grass showing through the melted footprints. Half of my heart is yearning for the final melt, for spring; half of my heart wishes for one more good snowstorm.

According to the Christian calendar, we’re now in the season of Lent: forty solemn days of reflection and repentance when we prepare our hearts for the joy of Easter. For me, this time always feels like a spiritual valley between the twin mountaintop celebrations of Christmas and Easter. During Lent, I find that everything usually goes wrong: the pipes burst, the kids are sick, I have no patience — as if the whole world were conspiring to drain me of joy and distract me from meaningful reflection.

And THIS year, I’m slogging my way through the third trimester of my fourth pregnancy. This has been my most ache-y and uncomfortable pregnancy yet, and I’ve been saying, “I just want this baby to be born so that I never have to do this again,” much earlier than usual. On the other hand, I also want to savor every minute, knowing that I’ll probably never again experience pregnancy (if I have any say in the matter).

Stuck in the middle.

Then I read Exodus 14:14, which tells the story of people who were literally stuck in the middle. To set the scene: Moses and the Israelites have just been kicked out of Egypt, fleeing by foot in the night from the home they’d known for 430 years. They hear a rumbling behind them, and look back to see that Pharaoh, having changed his mind, is chasing them with the entire Egyptian army. In front of them is the Red Sea; there’s no escape.

So they freak out.

Because most of us have heard this story (or seen the Charlton Heston movie) since we were old enough to remember, and since we already know the ending, we — at least I — tend to think, “Silly Israelites! Why are you always panicking? GOD’s on your side!” But, man, if there was ever a time to feel like, “There’s no way out; we’re stuck in the middle and we’re all going to die!” it was then. Looked at from any perspective, they were in an impossible situation. When they complain to Moses that they would rather stay slaves in Egypt than die in the desert, it seems perfectly logical.

But in Exodus 14:14, Moses tells the Israelites, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

I felt like this should reassure me in my own stuck-ness — which, let’s face it, is nowhere NEAR as dire as the Israelites’. But it seems like counter-intuitive advice. When we’re mentally, physically, spiritually, or emotionally stuck, the last thing we want to do is “be still.” We want to struggle, we want to MOVE — to get un-stuck so that we can make forward progress. Not only that, but I couldn’t see how I was supposed to “be still” with three children, a puppy, a husband, a house, a yard. . . . Every day is a whirlwind; let’s just say my moments of quiet reflection, let alone SITTING, are at a minimum.

What kept coming to mind, oddly, was a scene from What About Bob?, the 1991 film about a psychologist, Dr. Marvin (Richard Dreyfus), and his manipulative patient, Bob (Bill Murray). In this scene, Bill Murray practices Dreyfus’s self-help philosophy, called “Baby Steps.” You can watch a video clip here, but it goes something like this:

Bob: [to himself] Baby steps out of the office . . . baby steps into the hall . . . baby steps onto the elevator . . .

This kind of “being still” feels possible for me right now: not doing NOTHING, but focusing on the task immediately at hand instead of worrying about what’s behind or in front of me: a still spirit in an active body. I think that’s also the kind of “still” that Moses was advocating to the Israelites. After all, they didn’t sit down and start meditating — they kept walking. In fact, in the very next verse, God Himself says, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.” (God’s kind of awesome like that: “Quit complaining and just put one foot in front of the other!” One of my favorite translations of Exodus 14:14 comes from The Message: “God will fight the battle for you. And you? You keep your mouths shut!”)

When we’re stuck, I think we sometimes mistake inaction with spirituality. Don’t get me wrong: prayer, meditation, and reflection are all great things. But Exodus — and Dr. Marvin — remind me that inaction isn’t always possible, practical, or even “holy.” Sometimes being still means shushing our minds and hearts, but taking a step forward.

So, one morning, I said to myself, “I don’t have to worry about the day ahead, or about the changing seasons, or about making myself as spiritually right as I’d like to be, or about a baby who won’t be here for another three months. Right now, I have to make the coffee. I can make the coffee.”

And for that moment, I took care of the coffee and God took care of the rest. Baby steps. (Coffee helps, too.)

Posted in Adversity, Theology & Philosophy | 2 Comments

Flat Tire Moment

Flat Tire Moment /noun/: The point in time when, suddenly, a big person blows it. Said big person must stop what he or she is doing, evaluate the damage, and figure out the best way to repair and move on.

Here is my Flat Tire Moment from last week . . .

Our younger daughter was headed out for dance class, and our fourteen-year-old asked if we could watch a movie and snuggle while her sister was gone. That sounded great to us, since she has been away all weekend at youth camp. We had missed out on some serious snuggle time. She rattled off a title, said it was rated PG13, and that it was a good opportunity to see it since little sister would be out. I said, “Yeah that sounds good,” and Daddy headed out to the door to our nearest Redbox. BOOM! Thump thump thump. Yep, there it was.

I knew it. As soon as I said it, I knew it. I am practically a spokesperson for checking out all forms of media before allowing kids to watch or play it. I use Common Sense Media several times a week to check out tv shows, books, websites and movies. I preach this stuff, but apparently not to myself on this particular day. It crossed Daddy’s mind, too, but he assumed I had done my usual research and approved the movie selection. I knew what the problem was: I was too tired and lazy to do it.

So the evening progressed as you are probably imagining it would. The movie was not at all what we expected it to be. It was dark, intense and addressed very serious issues of abuse. The main characters used drugs, drank, and were promiscuous. We stopped it about thirty minutes in to have a serious discussion about whether or not to continue watching.

Ultimately, we considered our daughter’s maturity level and the opportunity to discuss some issues that she will likely face next year in high school, and decided to watch the rest together. Afterward, we did have a good discussion about how teens cope with pain, especially when they do not have good relationships with their parents, or have faith to cling to during hard times. But that was just plain grace and mercy. It could have gone another way.

The bottom line is, if I had done my homework, which frankly would have taken all of five minutes, we could have made an informed decision beforehand. We could have talked about whether it was a good time for us to tackle some of these weighty issues, and if this was the way we wanted to do it.

Unfortunately, I blew it, and we got backed into a bit of a corner. We had to stop the car, evaluate the status of the flat, and choose the best way to move on with as little damage as possible. Thank goodness there aren’t lions pacing just outside the car door, as was the case for these lucky safari goers in the picture above. Most of the time we can stop, acknowledge our mistake, apologize, and figure out the best way to proceed without permanent damage. In truth, by the time our kids leave our homes as young adults, they NEED to know how to change a flat tire, both literally and figuratively.

Kids don’t need perfect parents, which is lucky, since there are none. I share these failures with you so that you will know you are not alone in blowing it and you will be encouraged that it is rarely a flat tire that takes out the whole vehicle. God’s grace and mercy are alive and well, and seem to become even more noticeable when we humble ourselves as parents and ask forgiveness from our kids.

Photo via

*This article was originally published on the Catch and Release blog. Check it out to find more articles like this one, and be sure to “Like” the Catch and Release Facebook page!

Posted in Family, Parenting | 1 Comment

House of Cards in Review

Kevin Spacey, in House of Cards

I have recently delved deep into the world of House of Cards — the second Netflix original series, but by far the most prominent and successful. Power-watching TV shows, episode after episode, is my favorite way to consume TV dramas. The story of the sly, Democratic Majority Whip, Congressman Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is fraught with intrigue, sex, dirty politics, and power struggles. Underwood breaks the fourth wall every few minutes to discuss his thoughts with the audience and share his plot with us. He is the scheming type who is fueled by the pursuit of his own gain and acquisition of power.

In watching this show it soon became apparent that House of Cards is about a marriage. Francis and his wife Claire (Robin Wright) can be classified as a “power couple” or “super couple.” Claire runs a clean water non-profit and, as the wife of a powerful congressmen and his “partner in crime”, she has far more power than would be assumed of a non-profit director. Their mission in life is to acquire as much power and influence as possible.

Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in House of Cards

These two are attractive, successful, and they supposedly live by the mantra that they tell each other everything. I am interested in honesty in relationships, and the amount of it between them is shocking. They both know that they have or have had affairs with other people, sometimes for love and sometimes for political gain. They live in a childless world of their own design in a classy D.C. brownstone with all the personal style to match. They appear to support each other fully with the mutual understanding that they each have to do what they have to do to get ahead as individuals and as a couple. They are in a sort of upward struggle toward power and they have shed the things they thought were expendable along the way, including having children and staying faithful to each other.

We see these characters show us what it looks like to construct one’s own system of morality instead of subscribing to how God would have us live, or an outside system of morality. It is a dark show. It is incredibly well done, but it is very bleak. Politics is a dirty world. Although the setting of the show is the backroom world of our U.S. government, the term “politics” in this show also takes the form of manipulation in its many forms.

As a woman watching this show I put myself in the shoes of the women characters and empathizing with their struggles. I am reminded of the famous and well-worn article from 2012 “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” written by Ann-Marie Slaughter. One of On the Willows’ own writers, Faith Gong, wrote her poignant thoughts about that extensive, intriguing article last year. I sympathize with the women on this show and the things they must do to “get ahead” and fulfill their own goals versus the men on the show who embody the classic stereotypes of men in power. Claire made the decision to never have children and her feelings of regret become more apparent as the show progresses. Francis uses sex as a tool and says to the young, frustrated reporter he is sleeping with that “everything is about sex except sex . . . which is about power.” Zoe, that same reporter, had to give of herself to get what she wanted (insider information) while Francis was the one taking what he wanted and also benefiting at the same time.

I feel the same way about House of Cards that I did when I watched Mad Men. When the main characters of the show exhibit such distasteful behavior I find myself wondering why I am still rooting for them. We’ve only seen one season of this show and Season 2 is in production. Based on the trajectory of the plot, without giving anything away, my prediction is that the main characters won’t get away with as much as they think. I felt this coming on the show long before I realized it.

This show is fabulously acted and beautifully shot. The award winning director David Fincher conceptualized the show and is the executive producer. There is no shortage of quality storytelling. I thoroughly recommend House of Cards. And at only eight bucks a month, Netflix is continuing its upward climb toward being a serious contender for knocking out the classic network television model of entertainment. I highly anticipate Season 2 and other shows coming soon on the site.

Have you seen House of Cards? I look forward to your thoughts on the show . . .

Posted in Culture & Media, Marriage, Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment