Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Comfort in Numbers

This week was hard. I am sick, tired and overwhelmed with school (isn't senior year of high school supposed to be all fun and slacking off?!). A lovely idea for a blog would roll into my mind but would swiftly be overcome by dark clouds of exhaustion and inadequacy. Learning more about human trafficking has really weighed heavily on me. With a workload piling up exponentially on my back and my heart burdened, I shut down emotionally and creatively. My grades, my work schedule and fighting human trafficking loomed before me and everything else was shoved to the back burner. 
I headed off wearily last night to Bible study, thinking about my growing to do list and the mounting suffering in the city around me. I settled down into a comfy couch and prayed in my heart "Jesus...I'm so tired..I need you." We sang, lifting our praise to the Lord, and then we opened our Bibles to Ecclesiastes 4, the book we've been studying and read:

 I saw the tears of the oppressed— 
   and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
   and they have no comforter. 
2 And I declared that the dead,
   who had already died,
are happier than the living,
   who are still alive. 
3 But better than both
   is the one who has never been born,
who has not seen the evil
   that is done under the sun.

Harsh. Much of our discussion was dealing with those verses–many had a hard time hearing the author because he seemed so pessimistic–which is understandable. But I'm there. It feels so senselessly painful sometimes to deal with social justice issues. If a child was never born if they were sold into child slavery at the age of six wouldn't it be better if they were never born? Who is the comforter to the marginalized? Those who oppress obviously have all the power...so what can I do? 

Eva's voice broke my desperate chain of thought, "So this book was written before Jesus, so this is all the author of Ecclesiastes could see. But now that Jesus has come we know His Kingdom is different than this world. Those who mourn will be comforted. Those who are meek and without power now will one day inherit the Earth." 

I had forgotten Jesus. 

I had gotten lost in my own narrow view of the darkness around me and forgotten that ultimately the war is already won and my God is victorious. I leaned my head against my knee and closed my eyes tight against gathering tears. 

"See Em. I never left you," I heard the Lord whisper to me. 

"This is great guys, I love getting to talk with you all every week...yea, let's talk about verses 9-12," Steve said as he gently directed our conversation. "These are some of the best verses in the Bible I think." 

9 Two are better than one,
   because they have a good return for their labor: 
10 If either of them falls down,
   one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
   and has no one to help them up. 
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
   But how can one keep warm alone? 
12 Though one may be overpowered,
   two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

"This image of community, I mean, that's what it's about. We can't do it alone...and also verse 6 is great (Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.) It's like 'it's better to have only one hand full so that the other hand is free to hold someone else's rather than just having two hands full of shit," Steve continued profoundly. 

I was struck. Why do I keep trying to stand alone? I spend so much time chasing achievements or recognition or even good things like social justice, but I leave no time for life giving friendships–for community. Major mistake number one. So many girls have signed up to join me in this one dress campaign and I have so many people praying for me–I am not alone in this. Not only is there strength in numbers, there is comfort in numbers. 

That was a lot. But I felt the need to share a lot. 

My lack of computer knowledge is prohibiting me from uploading any new pictures right now except for this candid of me running out the door as I was late for school! 

 (I have no idea why all of a sudden it won't work! I'll fix it soon...well, my mom will fix it soon!)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Opportunity and Fear

I am in a class at my high school called Political Radicalism. The class is designed to expose students to radical thoughts and challenge set suburban dogmas. I think this class was designed with me in mind. I've already been forced to address personal prejudices, subscribe to a socialist philosophy, adopt a vegan diet–and it's only been one quarter. I love passionate people. I love people willing to share what they hold to be true. My class has heard a number of speakers so far this semester and not one of them alike. The only common theme in their presentations was their passion and zeal. Their idea may not be popular or easy–but they were ready to defend their perception of truth. I admire that kind of tenacity.

I was sharing with my Poly Rad teacher, Mr. Strausbaugh, about my One Dress Campaign and he informed me that we were going to have a speaker come in at the end of April who was going to share about sex trafficking. I was naturally quite excited and interested.

 "Would you be willing to give a presentation in class about your involvement with the issue?" he asked.
 "Sure!" I eagerly replied, envisioning myself giving a five to ten minute introduction to my mini-campaign, and maybe passing out some cards with facts about sex trafficking.
"Ok great!" he smiled "How does the 25th of April sound? There are Poly Rad classes during periods 4, 5, 6, and 7. Would you be willing to miss some of your other classes for this? Just a short 20 minute speech–nothing big." My heart pounded a little faster. Twenty minutes? In front of ALL of the Poly Rad classes?! (Pretty much all seniors at my school take Poly Rad.)

Check out the 25th...there's my name on the official Poly Rad calendar! 

Sharing in front of my peers is daunting. What do I have to say that will interest them? How can I talk for twenty minutes without stuttering!? Will they take me seriously? Waves of insecurity drown my thoughts. And then I remember Micah 6:8. "Do justly, love mercy and walk humbly." I have been given an opportunity to advocate for the freedom of thousands of women and children and I'm afraid I might be laughed at by some guy in the back of the room who thinks my grey dress is baggy? I have been given the opportunity to share something I am passionate about and I'm nervous that I might stutter around a bit? My fear and insecurity must be thrown away in my pursuit of justice. I am no hero (all I'm doing is wearing a dress for pete's sake!), but I have been given a chance to speak for those who have slipped under the radar for far too long. I bet I will be nervous, and I'm positive I will stutter and someone will laugh–but that will not deter me from setting forth my best efforts despite my fear.

I'm so thankful that God uses small people and small actions. I will be praying the entire time I'm presenting to my class about sex trafficking and the Daughter Project, and I have faith that the Lord will be with me.

I'm glad I get to be a part of God's grander plan. Yes, I will stumble and embarrass my way through, but He will never leave my side.

Some various grey dress days! Sorry I haven't taken a picture every day (my sisters wanted me to document my every outfit) but I promise there have been many repeat outfits and nothing too creative. I'll try to get better at documenting my adventure in my grey dress.

My sweet dog Dolly is quite supportive of the whole campaign as you can see.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Generation Y

I fall solidly into the category "Generation Y." According to studies, my generation is achievement-oriented, we're team players (I've only met one person my age who escaped soccer youth boosters), we crave attention, and we are certainly tech-savvy. We grew up in the age of Internet, youtube, and online social networking. We are equipped with blackberries, laptops, smart phones, and the latest 'i' gadget apple is selling. Constantly plugged-in and connected we are inundated with information from sunrise to well past the sunset. The more I ponder the characteristics of my generation the more I think I'm a bit of a fluke. I hate technology, and technology definitely hates me. My 'dumb' phone (seeing as it's not a smart phone I've assuming it is less intelligent) confounds me. My netbook brings me to the brink of tears. I still do not  know the ins and outs of facebook-they keep updating it and I just can't keep up. Kindles and Nooks will destroy literature–I'm sure of it. Technological malfunctions can swiftly make me swear like a sailor and I frequently shock my friends with questions like "What exactly is the difference between DVR and DDR?" or "How do I put in the flash drive thingy?" I must be an exception. Just writing on this blog is a huge technological victory for me. (PS if anyone knows how to add a device that keeps track of the days starting March 9-June 4 on my blog please let me know!)

With a wealth of information at our finger tips and countless resources available to us we have become a generation of screens. The internet has been identified as the number one platform that pimps, traffickers and "johns" (buyers) currently use for buying and selling women and children for sex in the United States. An FBI investigation discovered that in 2008 alone, 2,800 ads of prostituted children were posted on Craigslist. The uncharted and unclaimed waters of cyberspace have become a digital brothel–exploited and abused young women and children are just a click away. How do we monitor such an impossible amount of data and information? How do we protect women from becoming victims of the impersonal, unblinking screen of a computer?  I don't have all the answers–in fact, I have very few. But I hope that as we search the web, check our facebooks, blog, and shop online–we are reminded of the precious women and children who are being marked for sale on websites like Craigslist.com, Backpage.com and Eros.com. 

This story from The Polaris Project website broke my heart: 
"I was first forced into prostitution when I was 11 years old by a 28-year-old man. I am not an exception. The man who trafficked me sold so many girls my age, his house was called "Daddy Day Care." All day, other girls and I sat with our laptops, posting pictures and answering ads on Craigslist. He made $1,500 a night selling my body, dragging me to Los Angeles, Houston, Little Rock -- and one trip to Las Vegas in the trunk of a car. I am 17 now, and my childhood memories aren't of my family, going to middle school, or dancing at the prom. They are of making my own arrangements on Craigslist to be sold for sex, and answering as many ads as possible for fear of beatings and ice water baths.” – An Open Letter from MC to Craigslist. 

Here I am on day 5 of my One Dress Campaign Sorry I forgot to post pictures of my grey dress for days 3 and 4, but I promise I looked pretty much exactly like this!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

1992-Not Yet

Tuesday morning I went to an informational workshop about human trafficking at the Salvation Army Columbus headquarters. There were three of us who attended: a recent college grad who works for AmeriCorp and was looking for credit hours, an older women who was representing her church group and looking for an organization to volunteer with, and then me, who was just looking. Three women at three very different stages in life united by our desire to see all women treated with the love and respect they deserve. My pen scrawled the staggering statistics across my journal pages as the presentation continued. I was overwhelmed by the gravity of the issue. Sex trafficking is the second largest grossing criminal industry, in recent years surpassing illegal weapon distribution. (Apparently more profit can be made from selling people than selling automatic weapons and bombs.) It's hard to gather accurate numbers when dealing with human trafficking because obviously traffickers would like to keep their victims a secret–but the conservative number of people being trafficked in Ohio right now is 1,900. 

Driving through downtown Columbus on my way home from the meeting I couldn't shake those numbers–1,900 people are in slavery in my state. I found myself praying to God "Lord, can I even help? This world is so broken–what is the point? I want to be done here and just be with You." Immediately after praying those words a scene from Gladiator popped into my head. It's the scene where Maximus and his fellow gladiator are talking about their families–Maximus's wife and son were brutally murdered, and Juba acknowledges that he will never see his family again on earth. Maximus, broken down by all of the pain in his past and the future suffering to come, expresses his deep desire to be with his wife and son in the afterlife. Juba looks at Maximus with profound understanding and says "You will see them again. But not yet. Not yet."

I'm in that 'not yet.' It is a sweet and severe waiting. What I do with my 'not yet' has eternal consequences. To reference Gladiator again: What we do in this life echos in eternity. I may have 50+ years left on this earth and how I live those years is up to me. From 1992-the day I leave this earth I have a responsibility to love; and one of the best ways I can do that is to advocate for justice. The prospect of a just and loving world is ahead–but not yet. Not yet. 

PS: Here's the outfit for day 2! I know socks with sandals is frowned upon...but I have always enjoyed it!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Day 1!

     Today was quite grey. I woke up before the jolt of my alarm clock to hear the sound of rain patterning lazily against my window. Stretching I rolled over to look at my clock-five AM. My head still hazy with sleep I breathed deeply. Today was the day of my beginning. It was a such an undramatic beginning to this campaign that weighs so heavy in my heart it felt almost paradoxical. Instead of complaining about the general dreariness of the day, I thought the grey sheet hanging above to be quite fitting. Running from my car to school in my new 'battle greys' I felt encouraged by the sky's participation and acknowledgment. It was as if the gathering clouds of varying shades of grey were tipping their hat to me-I think they knew.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Beginning.

    Tomorrow I will slip a simple unimpressive grey dress over my head and walk the halls of my unforgiving high school. Pledging to wear the same unfitted dress everyday until I graduate on June 4th is a scarier promise than I had imagined. But as I teeter on the edge on this campaign I remember why I initially made this promise. Years ago, I was sitting in church with my parents, most likely rolling my eyes, or playing sudoku on my dad's phone, or even rebelliously pretending to sleep, when the pastor Rich Nathan directed our attention to the front screens for a video. Being a young teenager I was immediately drawn in the familiar media display-But what I saw was not familiar. What was playing on the screen was a video from an organization called Love 146 which is an abolitionist movement fighting against child sex slavery and exploitation. Images of children in bondage and statistics about sex slavery flashed before my eyes. I was stunned. I shut my eyes tightly but hot tears spilled out over my eye lashes, racing down my checks and falling onto my clenched fists. My heart was broken for those women and children whose bodies and spirits had been mutilated by sex slavery. Even before I prayed and asked God for purpose and direction, He was showing me what broke His heart.
    I wear this homely grey dress because I have to do something. My sister Becca told me of a women named Amy Seiffert who was wearing one dress for six months and donating the money she would have spent on clothes, or shoes etc. to The Daughter Project, which is a non-profit organization in Northwest Ohio that creates homes for girls who are survivors of trafficking and helps others escape from it. I was astonished and inspired. It seems small, but then I remembered the size of my closet and the amount of time I devote to my appearance...and realized that this is not a small undertaking. But my hope and prayer is that as I continue to wear this ordinary dress, people notice. People need to know that human trafficking is not just an issue in third world countries, but right here in Ohio there are some where around 1,500 victims a year. Numerically speaking there are more slaves in the United States today than when slavery was legal. I hope people will ask me why I seem to look oddly similar each day so that I can answer them: I put on this dress everyday as a reminder to pray for whose who are forced to degrade themselves for the pleasure of others. I'm wearing this to raise awareness to that fact that in our nation, in our state, in our very city, people are slaves.