International Ministries

Interrupting Rivers of Suffering

August 5, 2013 Journal
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“Interrupting Rivers of Suffering”

During a recent training on sexual exploitation and trafficking of youth, I heard this phrase to describe our task in the anti-trafficking movement and it has stuck with me.  I also heard the following statistics. When researcher Melissa Farley interviewed 954 women across 9 countries involved in street level prostitution she discovered that:

71-95% were physically assaulted while being prostituted

63-75% were raped

75% were homeless at some point in their life

68% met the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

65-95% were sexually abused as children

88% experienced verbal abuse and social contempt

and 89% wanted to escape but did not have other options for survival

 (Farley 2003)

This reality is not the “Pretty Woman” myth used often to justify prostitution or the buyers and sellers of people in it.  The commercial sex trade is a common social practice on every continent, is predicated on systematic discrimination, is inherently harmful for most people on the supply side and is perpetuated by the “demand” for commercial sex.  Commercial sexual exploitation, a form of human trafficking, is one of the most destructive ways of discriminating against and denying the humanity of millions of God’s children.  As people of faith who believe that all are created in and reflect God’s image, I believe we must work to interrupt this river of suffering experienced by our most vulnerable family members. 

I was reminded of the imperative of investing early on and protecting children before rescue and restoration become the only and unlikely options.  When chaos hits family, it is usually the kids who bear the brunt of the burden.  Justice demands that we look out for the little ones and call to account those who hurt them, but sadly many are sacrificed to feed drug and sexual addictions.  Because it makes us feel uncomfortable, we may find it hard to discuss healthy sexuality in the church, but lament or criticize when teens get pregnant or internet pornography is used as a sick sort of sex education.   Somehow we have to start reflecting deeply about our beliefs and biases in honest and upfront ways so that those that steal life can be stopped and those that affirm life can lead us.  This will help interrupt the river of suffering and build bridges to true freedom.

When I was in Chile this month visiting my inspiring colleagues, Barb and Dwight Bolick, I heard many stories of struggle and challenge, but also saw evidence of transformation and new life.  My Costa Rican friend, Cora and I received warm hospitality, shared numerous communal cups of máte tea, saw beautiful landscapes, learned about economic development projects creating viable options for survival.  Barb introduced us to the leaders of the Talita Cumi Girls Club Project that she created, based on the Seven Classical Christian Virtues. These dynamic women are investing in the lives of impressionable pre-teens, reminding them of their true worth as children of God and not as sexual objects.  Some of the stories that they shared with me broke my heart, but also reminded me of how important consistent support and intentional friendship is to interrupting suffering, providing safe people and a safe place to grow. I was privileged to lead an accessible participatory art workshop for the leaders, affectionately called Tías, giving them a new skill that can be taught to their girls.  Freedom comes with having choices and practicing those choices. Inherent in the art form that we practiced together during the workshop is the multiplicity of patterns. Letting go of our fear of perfection and exploring the many creative options possible provided a taste of freedom. After the first taste, we were inspired to look for new patterns and even create some of our own. Like this art form, the disciplines of the classical Christian virtues, practiced over time will open up new streams of life for young Chileans. The Tías are interrupting the rivers of suffering by pointing out the life-giving gift of relationship with Christ and living into His purpose for their lives. 

Another interruption of suffering from my trip to Chile came from watching Dwight.  I was moved hearing Dwight’s passion for the indigenous Mapuche people, their culture and their quickly disappearing language.  When we lose a language, we lose culture. When we lose culture, we lose a reflection of the image of God. Hearing the stories of loss, witnessing the discrimination and prejudice towards them, and sorting through the complex and conflicting relationships all drive this passion. I won’t steal his reflections about the Mapuche’s word for the changing of the seasons because that is his story that I eagerly wait to read, but I can say that I was inspired by his solidarity with and respect for his brothers and sisters inside and outside of the Christian faith.

Someone once said that the real work of life happens in the interruptions.  Some of my most memorable interruptions (in other words, joys) during this last trip were:

*being present with and watching Barb minister to a Mapuche family during a family medical crisis  

*spending time with Katy, Boyden, Bailie, Jack and Will, missionary kids in Costa Rica and Chile.. I enjoyed creating and giving each of the kids their names written in tangles (an art form introduced to me by my friend Bernice Rogers)

*having impromptu art classes with 8 year old Will

 *seeing Doña Cora’s first airplane ride, first touch of snow, and millionth Gallo     Pinto, but made for the first time in Chile

I pray that you will actively look for ways to interrupt suffering as you partner with the God who builds bridges of freedom through love and grace.

August has me in Green Lake, WI for the Embrace the Cause Call Retreat, in California celebrating my Mom's 72 birthday and visiting the Gonzalez-Barnes family and ministries as well as Tijuana, Mexico with the Schellinger-Gutierrez family learning about border issues and helping out at Deborah's House, a safe haven for families who have experienced violence. Thanks for your prayers.

Yours on the way,