I left my house to the sound of bongos. My son, Asher, sat on the couch beating to the rhythm of his own making. Not a care in the world, it seemed. Just freedom to express himself, and joy spread across his face.
An hour later, I heard bongos again. But these were not from the hands of my 8-year-old son. These came from the speakers at the front of a church sanctuary, which provided the audio portion of a video I was watching about the child sex trade. I couldn’t help thinking about the contrast in scenes. The picture of my happy son, safe in his house, playing for the pure joy of it – because he can. And the beating of these drums set to the photos of children who are bought and sold into brothels and sweatshops, traumatized and ashamed.
It was a Saturday night and I was alone as I entered the church to attend “Purchased,” a concert and informative night to raise awareness for Love146, an organization dedicated to protecting, defending, restoring and empowering children rescued from the sex trade. http://www.love146.org
As I listened and watched, I found myself rummaging through my purse for scrap pieces of paper. I wanted to capture my thoughts and feelings as the information came at me, so I madly scrawled over old receipts and grocery lists.
One of the thoughts I recorded was this: “How do you ever accept a safe touch after sex slavery?” My mind turned toward my last blog entry about the desire for touch. How could I assume that everyone wants touch, when children all over the world are touched only for the pleasure of the people who own them or “buy” them for their perversity? I pictured the faces of children who are rescued and brought to safe houses. I wonder, how, how exactly does a little girl of 8 ever trust again? Will she ever be able to stop flinching at the moment someone first touches her arm? What will it take for her to know that she is not to blame? That she belongs to no man or woman? That she is free? That she is loved for who she is, not what she does with her body?
There were moments when I held my hand to my mouth for fear I might vomit. No one, especially a child, should ever have to live through the horrors of beating and rapes day in and day out for weeks, months or years. But all over this world, and even in our own towns, there are boys and girls who live this way. They. Live. This. Way.
The information was hard enough to absorb. Now that I had it, though, what was I to do with it? I had no idea. I still don’t know. But, for some reason I was compelled to go to the event. And not to cop out, but I have to rely on God to show me what’s next.
I may not be able to change the world or eradicate such things, but I do know that God can work miracles. I do know that the only way these children ever smile again, let alone play and develop relationships and laugh is because of Jesus, the ultimate healer and the ultimate lover. As I trust that he will do his job, I continue to discover my role starting here, in this humble, little blog to raise awareness.
That’s What Joy Did
I met Joy on Friday night at the Harrison Center for the Arts. I was promoting a program I started called The WriteHers Club, during First Friday, a downtown art tour. I had left the WriteHers table to visit with some friends in one of the galleries and put my two boys in charge. They must have worked their charm because several people signed up for mentoring and took part in a writing exercise I had developed based on artist Kyle Ragsdale’s show that night, titled, “Historical Fiction.” Several minutes after leaving the table, one of my sons found me and said someone was waiting at the table to talk to me.
That’s when I met Joy. Like the folks at Love146, Joy could not ignore the atrocities taking place in her country: namely, female genital mutilation. As a result of her advocacy, she has developed an art exhibit to raise awareness for this issue among other women’s issues around the globe. Joy, as her name indicates, lit up as she explained her work as a consultant to governments and non-govermental organizations who are dedicated to empowering victims to get the help they need and deserve. http://www.wicsaorg.com
I’m pretty sure my mouth was close to the floor as I listened to the stories Joy told. Who am I that I should connect with a woman who has spoken to the British parliament? Who am I that she should want to mentor in my little writing program here in the inner-city of the United States? Why did she seek me out to share her stories and her passion? And then I remembered, it’s not because of who I am. This has no more to do with me than it would if I was Michelle Obama. This is about what God orchestrates, and in this instance it’s two women connecting over what is right and what is good and the love God wants to pour out of us.
Which is exactly what I tried to do on Saturday afternoon.
It seems the woman with the long trench coat and missing teeth always approaches me at the Saturday soccer games. People tell me not to look her way. But I can’t help it. I see her coming and I know what she’s going to say: “Excuse me, do you have any money so I can buy some formula?”
I want to ask her what kind of formula she’s talking about because I am pretty sure she doesn’t have a baby. Instead I tell her no, I don’t have money, which is always the truth because I rarely bring my purse to the games.
This Saturday was no different. Except for the part when I left the game. I had already gone through the “no, I don’t have any money for your formula” routine so when I saw the missing teeth lady approaching my car as I waited to turn, I thought I would simply tell her no AGAIN. But as she tapped on my window, she didn’t ask for money. She wanted a ride. She didn’t want to go far. Two blocks, to be exact. Loaded with children in the back of my Suburban I surprised myself by saying, “Sure, get in.”
As she sat in the passenger seat, she started rifling through the bag I had tossed in between the seats. “What’s this?” she asked. “Oh, you don’t want that. It’s an old apple core and some trash,” I responded.
“But I’m soooooo hungry,” she said.
“Okay, but I have some doughnuts in the back that I will give you when we stop.”
“Can I have this water?”
“No, you don’t need to drink that water. It’s been opened,” I answered. “I have bottles in the back that I’ll give you, too.” Then I pushed a little more. “Do you want some help? I can take you someplace where you can get some help.”
“No, the missions are closed today,” she said. I knew she was lying, not only because not every mission in Indianapolis would be closed on Saturday, but also because she had told me earlier that she dropped her babies off at the mission so she could get formula. So I’m thinking the mission didn’t take her babies and then close for the day.
Concluding that she didn’t really want to receive help, and knowing it was not my job to rescue her, I pulled onto the street where she had asked to go. I took the keys with me as I got out of the car to retrieve the doughnuts and water bottles I had promised. The neighborhood looked bleak and I didn’t want to chance someone car jacking my Suburban full of children. AS I peeked around the back of the car to where the woman stood, and I asked her where she slept at night.
“In the car,” she answered. So I grabbed a large beach blanket out of the back to offer her, hoping it might provide some extra warmth at night.
As I handed it all to her, I asked her if I could pray with her. She said, yes, and then lifted the Bible she had been carrying with her. I asked her name and she told me it was Virginia. I began to pray for Virginia, but soon realized I had no idea what to pray for. What can you pray for a homeless woman who smells like a brewery, is probably schizophrenic, has most likely lived on the streets for far too long, and doesn’t want help? I just started talking and I simply asked God to somehow let Virginia know that she was precious to him, that she was loved, soooo loved and … as I was just getting into a groove, I heard Virginia mumble. Then she started to laugh.
“What?” I asked.
“Do you have freckles,” she asked as she dragged out each word in a sort of song.
“I do,” I answered, knowing prayer time was over.
“I luuuuve you,” Virginia said as she put her head on my shoulder.
“I love you, too,” I said. And I meant it because it was not me who was offering this woman anything. It was that love thing that God does through people, in the really weird ways he chooses to do it.
As I climbed back in my car, Virginia stopped a few feet down the street and shouted, “What’s your name?” I told her it was Lynn, and she spelled it, “L-Y-N-N?” I replied with a yes and then she said in her sing-songy way, “I love you, Lynn.”
I look for Virginia when I pass that street. I don’t know if I’ll ever see her again. Just like I have no idea how I’m supposed to use the information I have about the child sex trade and the work that Joy does for the women who deal with female genital mutilation. It’s frustrating to me to make these connections and then feel like they are moments slipping through my fingers. I want to hold on to them. To do something with them. To take all the passion I have for the hurting and lost and really DO something.
And then I remember that I did do something. I let God use me. If only for a moment, I let him use me as I cried for the children in brothels. As I learned about Joy’s desire to empower women. As I gave Virginia fresh water and a measly little prayer. I did something. It wasn’t big and no one will shout it from the rooftops, nor will it ever make front page news. But I did something. I listened and I loved. And I showed up. I simply showed up. God did the rest. He always does.