Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Silver Cross Necklace

The other day, I received one of those Christmas letters from a friend in which he wrote about a family holiday tradition that goes back for years. That got me thinking.

Ever since I can remember, Christmas has been filled with gifts. I have old home movies of my brothers and me as children. On Christmas morning, we stumbled into our living room rubbing sleep from our eyes to be met with a lavish spread of toys. Gifts have always been a part of my Christmastime. That's just the way it has been since forever.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were shopping at Kohl's when I came across a display of sterling silver necklaces on sale. I mentioned to her that these would be perfect for a couple staff members and girls at Rapha House. I wanted to express my appreciation to them for helping me initiate a new program there. So we bought the necklaces and sent them back with our Cambodian director who had been visiting the States.

When I called to see what the girls thought of their gifts, I wasn't prepared for one girl's reply. The translator told us that she was truly moved by the gift and said it was the first time in her life that she had received a gift. Imagine that. Her mother and father were too poor to buy her anything. And up to now no one had given her a gift. My wife and I chose a silver cross necklace for her.

This girl's comments made me think. I take far too much for granted. Gifts at Christmastime have always been a part of my life. But for one girl at Rapha House Christmas will always hold the memory of being the first time that she received a gift. I'm glad it was a cross, for the cross is the best gift of all.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Conversation With Rat Killer

Technology is a wonderful thing.

The other night, I had a video chat with one of our staffers in Cambodia. I spoke with her and some of our girls in our program for over an hour. And it didn’t cost me a single penny! Pretty cool.

What was even better was the conversation that I had with one of our girls. We call her “Rat Killer.” I’ll spare you the details. But suffice it to say that rice field vermin had better run for cover when she’s around. She means business.

Despite her ominous sounding name, “Rat Killer” is a real sweetie. She has an upbeat personality and a ready smile. “Kerry, I want to tell you something,” she began through the translator. “I want to thank you for letting me live here and giving me a chance for a better life.” I acknowledged her comment.

Then she went on. “Kerry, I am going to work hard and become a success. I am going to save my money and pay you back.” I assured her that wasn’t necessary. But she wasn’t through. “I want you to tell all the people at your church and in the USA that even though they have never seen me, that I love them and appreciate what they have done.” I said that I would pass her words along.

So there you have it. “Rat Killer” loves and appreciates you. You had better pay attention!

Seriously, think about it. Somewhere on the other side of the world, there’s a girl who loves you and prays for you. And she’s not alone. Somewhere on the other side of the world, there’s a girl who has found hope because of you. And she’s not alone. And somewhere, maybe not that far away, there’s another girl who waits in the darkness to step into the light. And she’s not alone. Help us bring them the light.

The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Matthew 4:16)

Monday, September 28, 2009

One Little Girl

There’s a new girl at Rapha House. She’s little pixie. She’s probably the age of a kindergartener, if that. With wispy brown hair, a toothless grin, and big Cambodian eyes, she has a certain spark about her.

My translator and I were sitting on the six-person rocking swing talking to some of the older girls while this little girl snuggled up next to the translator. She wasn’t interested in conversation. She just wanted to cuddle. But when it came time to snap a photo of one of the older girls and me, this little girl insisted on doing it. Quite frankly, it’s a pretty good photo.

I walked away to visit with our director before readying to leave. And as we were heading towards the gates, this little girl comes barreling across the parking lot towards me. I scooped her up in my arms and tossed her in the air. She let out a squeal and began laughing.

These are what moments in childhood are supposed to be about—cuddling on rocking swings and the exhilaration of being playfully tossed in the air by a grownup.

However, up to now, the grownups in this little girl’s life have been anything but safe or playful. According to our director, this little girl comes to us as a serious rape case. I think of her tiny body and injured spirit, and my heart breaks a little more once again.

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

One Red Light District in Phnom Penh

Just down the street from the hotel where I'm staying is a major red light district in Phnom Penh. They call it "The Building." It gets is name from a dilapidated three- or four-story landmark building with a triangular plaza adjacent to it. Every night, girls are paraded around the plaza by their handlers, so the johns can take their pick.

My translator tells me that it's easy to find 15-year-olds, 14-year-olds, and younger girls working at "The Building." Behind it is an alley filled with ratty stalls, where these girls pass long nights servicing a steady stream of customers.

Just four days ago, I came home from the campgrounds where we held a camp out for families from our church. Some friends invited me into their RV to enjoy some homemade tacos. There on the couch was a young girl from our church who was waiting to go outside to hang out with her friends and make s'mores around the campfire. She's 14-years-old.

The juxtaposition of these two scenes is stark. Not every teenager in the world should have the chance to go camping. But every child should be able to spend a carefree night somewhere other than in a defiling haunt like "The Building."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Real Heroes

When it comes to combating human trafficking, who are the real heroes in this fight? I’ve given a lot of thought to this. So far, I’ve come up with three.

To answer the hero question, you must first ask another question: What’s the real goal here? Is it simply to bring justice to victims? I’m all for justice. But that’s not the real goal in this fight.

To make this fight only about or even chiefly about justice misses an important point. Justice does a lot for victims, but it doesn’t teach them how to live free. Justice may help victims realize that they’re worth fighting for, but it does not sufficiently heal their deepest psychological wounds.

So who are the real heroes in this fight? Again, we have to ask: What is the real goal in this battle? Justice for victims and lasting freedom for survivors is the only real goal worth seeking.

Does this mean, then, that the caregivers who provide shelter or the counselors who promote healing or the vocational trainers who inspire hope are the real heroes? Yes, as much as law enforcement, prosecutors, the courts, and jailers. But, as I’ve said, there are only three real heroes in this fight.…Well, actually four.

People who pray for this cause are heroes. People who serve this cause are heroes. And people who give to this cause are heroes. Those are the only three heroes that I’ve come up with. And yes, every survivor is a hero but particularly those who tell their stories in order to shine more light on this ugly darkness.

Act heroically. Do good.

Children, you show love for others by truly helping them, and not merely by talking about it. (1 John 3:18, Contemporary English Version)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Rambo Solution & Human Trafficking 101

OK, I have to admit it. There's something terribly appealing about the Rambo solution to human trafficking. Kick in some doors. Rough up some pimps. Send those disgusting johns scurrying off like roaches fleeing the light. Scoop up all the innocent kids. Roll credits. Play some high-energy music followed with a mellow set. Fade to black. Bam! Now, that's the way it's done, folks. Go home and eat some ice cream.

Whew, thank goodness for Rambo. The world is now a safer place.

Is it? Rambo solutions make for good theater but poor solutions to human trafficking, especially if you care about the kids.

What happens to them after the credits roll? Where will they go? Back to the parents who sold them? Who's going to pay for the medical bills for the damage done to their small bodies? And who's going to counsel their damaged souls?

Who's going to rock them to sleep after the night terrors? Who's going to enroll them in school and help them overcome illiteracy? Who's going to prepare them for life in the real world? And who's going to be there when they take their first steps into lasting freedom?

Not Rambo. We are.

Here's the first lesson of Human Trafficking 101. It's not about kicking in doors. It's about helping kids find lasting freedom. You have to begin with that end in mind.

Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, "When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?"
The king will answer, "Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me." (Matthew 25:37-40 CEV)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Myth of the Rescued Child

There's a myth that perpetually circulates in human trafficking circles. And it's just as prevalent as those pesky urban legends. It's the "Myth of the Rescued Child."

Humanitarians and agencies often innocently purvey this myth whenever they recount their statistics of the number of children that they've rescued. Recently, I read a newspaper article of one humanitarian who has rescued thousands of children. Again I thought of the "Myth of the Rescued Child."

Don't get me wrong. I applaud every humanitarian in the fight. I am happy for every child who is rescued from a brothel. But I wonder what happens next. What happens once all the publicity fades? Now that's the real story.

If a child is returned to a dangerous or highly dysfunctional family, if a child is shown to some revolving door that leads back to bondage, or if a child is placed in some sub-standard shelter and warehoused for a few weeks or months without adequate preparation to remain free, then can we honestly chalk this up as a win?

I think that the only worthy goal in this fight against human trafficking is helping children to remain free long-term. To do this we must provide rescued children with quality shelters, programs that prepare them for independent living, and re-entry strategies that helps them to find sufficient economic opportunity in order to stand on their own. Now that's something to get excited out.

Guiding trafficked and exploited children to long-term freedom is what we do at Rapha House. It doesn't capture as many headlines. But I think it's worth it. And I think most rescued children would agree.

In my anguish I cried to the LORD,
and he answered by setting me free.
—Psalm 118:5

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bumblebee Stew and Passion

My bumblebee stew was getting cold while a colleague and I talked and dreamed dreams about expanding our vocational training center at Rapha House. Bumblebee stew is a concoction of corn, stewed tomatoes, onions and black beans over white rice. The restaurant J. Gumbo serves this Cajun dish at its location in Louisville, Kentucky, where we were attending the North American Christian Convention.

While we were exchanging ideas, my colleague mentioned something that struck me. He said that when he takes people on short term mission trips anywhere he expects them to develop a personal engagement plan. He then went on to explain what this is.

A personal engagement plan answers the question: "What am I going to do about this?" People travel to foreign lands in order to experience ministry in these places firsthand, whether this means church plants, caring for AIDS orphans or helping survivors of human trafficking. But too often they return and their focus begins to blur as the experience fades. A personal engagement plan keeps people focused and helps them to continue to take ongoing meaningful action.

Call it what you will. But without a personal engagement plan, passion for any cause begins to cool like bumblebee stew.

Commitment to the fight against human trafficking must not cool. Over one million children will be trafficked throughout the world this year. So, what are you going to do about this?

Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless;
maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.
Rescue the weak and needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
—Psalm 82:3,4

Monday, June 15, 2009

Success At Rapha House

Our motto in our vocational training program at Rapha House is simple: We are successful when the girls that we serve are successful. This does not mean that we do everything for our girls while they sit back and wait to become successful. They know that they must learn a trade and how to present themselves to the public. They know that they must learn to be good employees or how to run a business and how to manage their money. And they know that they must work hard and have a positive attitude. They know that if they do their part, then we will do our part to help them find success.

One way that we help some of our girls is by starting them in business. Recently, we launched two more girls in their own beauty salons. We continue to monitor their progress and give them guidance. We want them to succeed. We’re excited about what the future holds for these girls. And they are, too.

At Rapha House our definition of success is clear: Success means that our girls will become spiritual and free women with reasonable economic and emotional stability. At Rapha House, we work hard to help our girls succeed. But we couldn’t do that without you. You are the key to their success. Your prayers and financial support makes all the difference. And two more young women in Cambodia now realize just how big a difference you’re making. Thank you so much!

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. (Proverbs 29:7)

Vocational Training Building Fund Update: To date, we've raised a little over $20,000 towards our $210,000 goal by November. Please help us to secure a permanent facility to train our girls. Donate securely online. Please designate your gift as "building fund."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Four Girls Perish In Karaoke Bar Fire In NorthwestCambodia
Fire destroys building with girls trapped behind a chained door

Fire raged through a karaoke bar consuming the lives of four young women trapped inside. In this part of the world, karaoke bars are often fronts for brothels.

These four young women were prisoners behind a chained door preventing their escape or rescue. Now the charred ruins of this back alley nightclub starkly testify to the horror that took place there. Four lives were lost needlessly early Sunday morning, May 3, 2009.

Probably no western newspaper will pick up the story of the deaths of Hou Leak, 15; Srey Touch, 17; Srey Mao, 19; and Sambath. 22. Their passing is but a footnote to the endless parade of human suffering throughout the world. Things like this happen all the time.

We, however, shouldn’t let their story pass without further reflection. There’s the suggestion of something more sinister in this incident. 

It’s not the cause of the fire that’s suspect. According to police sources, faulty electrical wiring is to blame. Nobody is suggesting that foul play contributed to the cause of the fire. But something about this case is troublesome.

The door to the girls’ room was chained. That chained door is troublesome. Certainly, the chance of the girls’ survival would have been improved had the door not been chained. And no one disputes the fact that the door was chained. Even the newspaper reports that the families might seek compensation from the club owner for his carelessness after they finish burying the remains of their daughters.

Now the club owner might plea his case by saying that he was only doing his part in keeping the girls safe by chaining the door. He might argue that the chains kept intruders out. But the chains did more than keep intruders out. They kept the girls in, and that’s why these four young women perished.

Four girls are dead because they couldn’t escape. In effect, they were prisoners. And word on the street says that’s exactly what they were. There’s a persistent rumor going around that they were part of a sex trafficking ring working out of Phnom Penh. That’s why these girls were held behind a chained door. They couldn’t escape even if they wanted to.

This tragedy is difficult for us at Rapha House. What makes this tragedy difficult for us is that we have a safehouse within a couple miles from where these girls perished. Help was that close. We would have gladly taken them in. We would have cared for them. We would have given them an opportunity for a better life. We would have done everything within our power to help them. But we didn’t know about these four girls.

It’s horrifying to think what the last moments of life was like for these four girls. We don’t want to imagine something as awful as that. But had the night passed without incident, what would life had been like for these four girls if they were part of a sex trafficking ring?

All over the world, young girls are kept behind chained doors only to greet another day of bondage. Help us to reach more girls before its too late for them.

Rapha House, P.O. Box 1569, Joplin, MO 64802-1569  • 

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Way to Help Without Giving More Money

Sometimes the whole human trafficking thing gets to be a little overwhelming. The toll this evil takes on victims is so heavy. And it’s easy to feel like “what’s the use?” We can’t all jump on planes and go off to foreign countries to help out. And even if we could, how much good can we really do in just a couple weeks? So we give to worthy causes like Rapha House. But times are tight, and… Well, we’d like to do more but can’t.

But we can. Let me explain.

Recently, we’ve launched the Victims Impact Project. You can read more about it on our blog.

This is an attempt at open-source activism benefiting victims of trafficking and abuse and their caregivers. Here’s how it works. Anyone wishing to contribute time and talent can join us in a virtual community as we develop tools, resources, programs and services that directly impact victims of trafficking and abuse and their caregivers.

There are plenty of talented persons—you might be one or know one—who can help us develop digital tools and resources in the native languages of victims. Products may include DVDs, web-based videos, podcasts, digital print resources, websites, blogs, and more. We already have four projects in development: 1) We’re creating a grief recovery curriculum to aid those who have suffered trauma and loss. (We’re creating simple animated videos that will be narrated in different languages and delivered via the web, along with support materials.) 2) We’re inviting survivors of abuse to write their own stories and submit them for possible posting on the Victims Impact Project website. (See details on our blog.) 3) We’re seeking to translate, format and distribute electronically for free our “Healing for the Wounded Heart” curriculum in as many languages as possible. And 4) we’re seeking to translate, format and distribute electronically for free our “Healing for the Wounded Heart” devotions in as many languages as possible. Our goal is to continually develop more and more projects that will directly benefit survivors of trafficking and abuse and their caregivers and deliver these programs for free. We call it open-source activism.

Take a moment to check out our blog. Pass the word along to your friends and family who might want to get involved. Request a copy of one of our free resources. And pray for our efforts.

Freely you have received, freely give. (Matthew 10:8)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Power of Survivors

During my life, I’ve met some truly impressive people. People with superior intellect. People with exceptional talent. And people possessing enormous power and influence. But none have had a greater impact on my life than a group of young women and little girls who have survived trafficking and sexual abuse. Why is that?

Survivors don’t necessarily possess superior intellect or remarkable talent. And certainly they don’t possess enormous power and influence. Or do they?

Survivors possess the power to mobilize us like few can. I didn’t get involved in this cause after hearing a persuasive speech by a passionate and intelligent communicator. Nobody with remarkable talent enlisted my support. It was the power of one survivor’s story that captivated me. She first caught my attention and then my heart. And it’s the remarkable power of survivors that hold me firmly in this ministry’s grasp.

Survivors possess the power to teach us. Recently, I threw out my back. And I spent days moaning and complaining to my wife about how miserable I was. She was very patient and understanding, but I’m sure that she tired of my whining. Every time I visit Rapha House, I’m impressed with how cheerful and loving these girls are, despite what they have experienced. Without words, they are teaching me important lessons about life.

Survivors inspire. For most of my life, I’ve struggled deeply with religious questions, including wondering if tragedy can defeat faith in God. I’ve seen it happen in others. Yet I’ve witnessed something odd at Rapha House: Girls who have found God through horrible tragedy. And that inspires me.

Whether they know it or not, survivors posses incredible real power, even more than what I’ve mentioned. And I am privileged to know and serve them.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." —2 Corinthians 12:9

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Bridge to Freedom

In a private conversation that I had with an anti-trafficking activist, I was told about a case where the authorities conducted a raid freeing a number of trafficked children and youth. The media in that country seized upon the event as propaganda to reassure the populace that their leaders are combating trafficking. And the international community took note and applauded what happened.

What happened next wasn't anything to celebrate. Once the hoopla died down, the kids were released from the abandoned building where they were being warehoused and turned out to the streets to fend for their selves.

I did not independently verify this story. But it sounds entirely plausible. Many countries lack the infrastructure for long-term human trafficking solutions, so they offer up whatever plays well in the press and with the international community.

When it comes to combating human trafficking, raids aren't the solution. Prosecuting perpetrators isn't the solution. Building shelters isn't the solution. Educating and counseling victims isn't the solution. And providing employment opportunities for survivors so they can start a new life isn't the solution.

There is no one solution. Think about the Golden Gate Bridge. Which section of road spanning the bridge is most important—the beginning, middle or end? Which supporting tower is most important—the first or second? Which cables would you want to do without? Obviously, you need every part of the bridge, if you want to reach the other side safely.

When it comes to helping children at Rapha House, we won't settle for raids, shelters, justice, counseling, education or employment opportunities. We're escorting young lives to safety. We're helping them to reach the other side. We'll cross the bridge with them and take them all the way to freedom. Whatever it takes. We'll stop at nothing short of that.

At Rapha House, we believe in long-term solutions. And we invite you to join us in building a bridge to freedom.

"…say to the captives, 'Come out,' and to those in darkness, 'Be free!' " (Isaiah 49:9)