Lessons Learned in the Going- Part 2

I cannot be surrendered to God but cling to outcomes.

I have a prayer habit of asking for God’s will to be done, while simultaneously insisting on what I want, how I want it, when I want it.

True surrender means letting go of my expectations.

This requires trust.  Trust in God’s character and His intentions toward me and others.

Questions I’ve been asked about the year ahead:

  • Will you be safe (physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially)?
  • How will you be able to learn a new (difficult) language quickly?
  • How do you expect to be effective on the ground (you do not have formal training in education, law enforcement, ministry, or counseling)?
  • Have you heard the statistics on how many restored victims of sexual exploitation/trafficking return to elements of their former lifestyle?

Questions I have to ask myself:

  • Who is in charge?
  • Is God good?  Is He faithful?  Does He equip those He calls?
  • Does He have a plan and a purpose for every life on earth?
  • Can I trust Him with outcomes?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  – Romans 8:28

 

Lessons Learned in the Going- Part 1

I cannot separate my past from my present and future.

In a sense, leaving a home, business, family, and friends to embark on a new adventure half way around the world seems like the perfect way cleanly divide the first 50 years from “the rest of my life”.  Surprisingly, this move has connected the pain of my past to the reality of the present in ways I did not predict.

I am reminded of a Beth Moore play on words:  God is the I AM of my WAS.  When He uses my WAS for my IS and IS TO COME-  that is the very definition of redemption.  In other words, when God can use the pain of my past to offer strength in the present, and hope for the future- He has truly brought me full circle.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

What a humbling privilege.

 

A Worldwide Social Experiment

Whether we realize it or not, we are all a part of an unprecedented social experiment.  That is, the pornification of culture- worldwide.  This is not a religious or political opinion.  It is simply a reality.  Over 87 billion porn videos were viewed on one site alone in 2015.  That’s 12 videos viewed for every person on the planet.  We can choose to deny it, vilify it, or celebrate it individually.  But collectively, we are reaping the results and passing them along to future generations.

Again, we can disagree on the potential benefits or harms of adult explicit material (although there is a growing body of peer-reviewed evidence that porn use is damaging-for all ages- to the brain, body, relationships, and society).  However, almost everyone agrees that porn is toxic for children.  And yet, children are being deeply affected by the following trends:

  1.  Children are getting much of their “sex education” online.
    • The average age of first exposure to online pornography is 11 (some say it’s more like 9).
    • The largest demographic of online porn users is aged 12-17.
    • Kids and teens may be getting information overload on violent or degrading sexual behaviors (at a time when their brains are developing pathways that will carry into adulthood), but they are not learning online about healthy connection, passion, pleasure, trust, intimacy, affection, desire, and respect between partners.
  2. Children are being exploited online.
    • In 2015, “teen” was the second most popular porn search word worldwide (“lesbian” was number one).
    • Whereas the victims of “in person” sexual exploitation are sometimes 12-15 years old, victims of online sexual exploitation are getting even younger (average 5-7 years old).  Law enforcement officials are seeing victims as young as 6 months old.  Male victims of all ages are also becoming more common globally.
    • Online exploitation includes bullying (posting inappropriate material), “sextortion” (threatening someone with exposure of material), child pornography, live-streaming video, and self-directed live rape (where the customer “directs” the abuse of a child via live remote video feed).  According to the International Justice Mission, online sexual exploitation of children has “skyrocketed” in the past 2 years (as internet density expands throughout the world).
  3. Children are becoming perpetrators.
    • “Sexting” and “sharing” (creating, downloading, forwarding, and receiving of inappropriate content) have become so commonplace (and hidden from parents through apps like SnapChat) that many kids and teens have no idea that they are actually committing serious crimes (producing, distributing, and possessing child pornography).
    • As kids become more interested in “trying out” what they’ve seen online, we are witnessing a disturbing increase in youth-on-youth sexual crime, including sibling-on-sibling incidents.
    • 73% of teens have smartphones.  By the time they reach college, they have consumed a steady diet of porn/pornified media- some for more than a decade.  The epidemic of campus rape is not surprising. Clearly, not all porn users will become sexual perpetrators.  But 100% of sexual perpetrators are or have been porn users.  There may or may not be a causal connection, but there IS a connection.

Basically, we have an online assault on the imagination of an entire  generation.  As these kids grow up, their view of sexuality is being warped.  The culture is affecting them in ways that are just now coming to light, and will continue to be revealed in the years ahead.

Many argue that pornography has been around forever.  True.  But never to the degree of intensity that it is marketed to today’s youth.  Porn has never been more violent, more degrading, and more accessible to children than right now.  Welcome to the grand experiment.

Whenever I ask industry/government/church/education/service organization leadership what to do (which is every chance I get), the answer is always the same:  parenting.  For better or for worse, they point to mom and dad.  Talk to your children.  Listen to your children.  Supervise your children.  Educate your children about sex, sexuality, and how to relate to themselves and to other people.  Instill in your children a strong sense of their value (and the value of others) as whole human beings.  This is their best chance of emerging from the experiment with the ability to form lasting, loving connections in this world.

 

Perpetrators’ Promises

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In order to know truth, I have to be able to recognize a lie.

Perpetrators of abuse have much in common with the enemy of our souls: They are not terribly creative in their deception, but they are extremely observant, and incredibly patient.  Their work is gradual, step-by-step.  In every story of abuse (and addiction) there is always an “At first…” and an “And then…”  That is the definition of a trap.

Perpetrators (and the enemy) begin with an understanding of universal human needs:

  1. Connection to other human beings (vs. isolation).
  2. A sense of value and worth (“specialness”).
  3. Purpose (a sense of meaning and direction).

It’s easy for them to observe potential victims.

Perpetrators then proceed to fill these needs with false promises:

  1. “Your connection to me makes you special.  We have a lot in common.  I am your friend/boyfriend/girlfriend/lover/partner/rescuer/protector.  I ‘get you’ like no one else does.”
  2. “You are valued because we do these things together.  Your compliance makes you special.  You are worthy because you please/satisfy me.”
  3. “I understand you and see your potential.  I can make you popular/powerful/sexy/successful.  You have ‘secret purpose’ in me.”

Perpetrators have the same goals as Satan:

  1. To make lies believable.
  2. To make truth unbelievable.

They are counting on their victims to remain confused, deceived, and tempted to stay in/return to a life built on a false foundation.

Unfortunately, truth (like Truth) cannot be force fed.  

Here are some tips straight from the mouths of former human trafficking victims on how to offer much-needed support:

  1. Meet me right where I am.  Offer to help with physical needs (food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, job training).
  2. Ask me about my story, then listen with respect.  Give me the dignity to ask questions, express discomfort/doubts/needs/desires/tears without interruption, correction, or unsolicited advice.  Be a safe place where I can ask or say anything.
  3. Mentor me with someone who has been through a similar experience.  Let the power of other people’s stories sink in.  Allow me to connect the dots.
  4. Encourage “positive practices” before “truth statements”.  Teach me about self-care, coping skills, boundaries, and relationship skills.  Let the truth emerge over time.
  5. Show a genuine interest in my well-being (not your agenda).  Stay connected to me longterm, and ask about my life (not just my victimization).  Be patient, and don’t give up on me!

The overall message:  If I don’t recognize a problem, I can’t see your solution.  If I’m not asking the question, I can’t hear your answer.  I need to acknowledge the lie before I can accept the truth.  Give it time, but KEEP ON INVITING ME WITH LOVE.  

Isn’t that what Jesus does?   

 

Why Not Fight Human-Trafficking in the US?

This question encourages me because it acknowledges that trafficking is indeed a (huge, BTW) problem in the US.  It also reveals a false dichotomy (either/or thinking where both/and is possible).  But since it has come up, I would like to explain with 3 answers:

The Simple Answer

I feel “called” to the country of Thailand in general, and the city of Chiang Mai in particular.  That answer may sound arrogant, ridiculous, or perfectly reasonable, depending on your perspective.  But, it’s the simple truth.  I prayed, then I listened.  I had no previous connection to this city or country.  Yet this specific location revealed itself in bizarre and undeniable ways.

The Strategic Answer

I read recently that “the further we are away from a problem, the more simple the solution looks”.  This is certainly true of the incredibly complex problem of human-trafficking.  As tempting as it sounds to suggest “obvious” answers (free the victims, lock up the bad guys), these actions do not address the underlying issues of supply and demand, struggling economies, undocumented minors, poverty, crime, lack of education, and corruption at all levels of business, government, and law enforcement.  Add to these issues increasingly violent pornography, child pornography, and sexual crimes perpetrated by and against younger and younger children.  All of this, to say nothing of deep questions of the heart:  What of justice?  Mercy?  Love?  Hope?

There are no easy answers.  But there are strategies (individual, community, regional, and national) that can make a positive difference.  It begins with asking questions, observing, and searching for truth.  And this process can actually be easier (especially for a novice like me) in Thailand than in the US, for the simple reason that the problem is more “out in the open”.  Trafficking is extremely prevalent in America, but also extremely well-hidden.

I certainly hope that in the future I can use what I learn in Thailand to make an impact on the trafficking problem in the US- whether in awareness, prevention, rescue, prosecution, or restoration.

The Spiritual Answer

One of the most transforming experiences I’ve had in the last 3 years has been working with Syrian refugee families in my hometown in NC.  This is personal, not political.  I don’t know what the best immigration policy is.   But I don’t know how demonstrating compassion for the people who are here (as survivors of a horrific war) can make things worse.  Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each   other because they do not communicate with each other; they do not communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”

There is indescribable joy in getting face-to-face with someone who is different from me, and trying to connect as human beings.  It reminds us all that we bear the image of the same Creator.  And I can’t think of anyone who needs to be reminded of his/her worth as a child of God than a victim of sexual violence.  There is something powerful about delivering that message in person.