Missing My Friends

This time in Indiana has not in any way gone according to how I envisioned. I Imagined learning all kinds of things in my anti-human trafficking sessions, and then coming back to the apartment and having all this time to work on my novel. It's kinda laughable, now that I think about it. How in the world I thought I'd be able to set aside every disturbing fact I'm learning to immerse myself in a world of my own making is beyond me.

Still. I find myself thinking wistfully of Justin and Emma and wondering how they're getting along without me. I wonder how she's coping with the loss of her husband. I wonder if he's screwed up the courage to admit his feelings for her while I've been away. You may laugh and think I'm a bit loony in the head--they're only figments of my own imagination, after all. But after a couple years spent with them, I've come to see them both as friends. I'm deeply committed to making sure that everything turns out in their lives how it should. And, no, Troy. That does not include the horrific plot twists you've envisioned. Okay, private joke.

They are my friends. I miss spending time with them. I miss crying with them. Laughing with them. Watching them find their way to each other. And most importantly, hearing about the lessons Jesus has been teaching them.

I miss my friends.


An Unexpected Burden

During this afternoon's session, a fellow missionary who'd spent a week in Burundi, Africa, spoke to our group about her time there. She shared about how the country has been ravaged by war over the last several decades. Many of us have heard about the genocide that took place in Rwanda. But what is not commonly known is that the same battles between those two ethnic groups also ravaged the country of Burundi. A entire generation was basically destroyed. On top of that, HIV/AIDS have spread like wildfire through the country, resulting in even more deaths. There is an increasing population of young widows and orphans--most of whom have little or no income. And many of whom resort to prostitution to provide for their families, thereby increasing the spread of HIV/AIDS throughout the country. The church desperately needs help in providing alternate means of income for these women and children. They'd like to teach these women skills they can use, like sewing, to earn money for their families. But they need workers. They need financial supporters. 

It wasn't long before I found myself unexpectedly broken for the ruined state of the country.

Perhaps a little background history is in order here. My paternal grandparents, Bill & Ruth Cox, were pioneer missionaries with World Gospel Mission to Burundi. When I say "pioneer" missionaries, I mean it just like it sounds. My grandfather was dropped off in the middle of nowhere with basic supplies and a tent. He himself made the bricks needed to then build each of the buildings on their compound. They had no language school to attend to learn Kirundi. No seasoned missionaries to lead and guide them through their initial days on the field. I've heard stories of my grandmother--a very gracious, well-groomed woman--spreading her handkerchief over the dried dung piles the women sat on during her Bible lessons. After a time of making little relational progress with the women, God showed her what the problem was. My meticulously groomed grandmother removed her handkerchief and sat on the dried dung pile like the other women. That simple act bridged the gap between them.

My father was actually born in Burundi. As an adult, he and my mother served a couple years on the field with their one-year-old firstborn: me. I learned Kirundi along with English and embraced the Burundian people as my own. They've often told me that when we came back to the States, I wasn't used to seeing so many white faces. Spotting a black man at either a restaurant or the airport (I don't recall which), I walked right up to him and held my arms out for him to pick me up. Of course I don't remember anything about my time there, as I was only 3 years old when we returned to the States. Strangely enough, even though I grew up hearing stories of Burundi, Kenya, and other parts of Africa, I've never had any desire to visit the country. And I'm the only one in the family who feels this way.

So this afternoon when I heard about how ravaged the country has been over the years, I was surprised at the degree to which my heart ached. Regardless of my personal lack of desire to visit the country, Burundi is part of my family heritage. The language and memories of the people and my time spent there are ingrained in some corner of my brain. Therefore, it shouldn't come as a surprise that I can feel a bit of the burden my grandparents must've felt for the country and people of Burundi. I know if they were alive today, they would both be broken-hearted by what has taken place there. I am thankful for their 35 years of faithful service. And I pray that God will raise up a new generation of workers and missionaries like them who are called to minister to the precious people of that country.

Please pray with me for the country of Burundi.


End of Week 2

We arrived back at headquarters from Clifty Falls late this afternoon. After our emotional day spent watching "Schindler's List" yesterday, we used our evening hours to play games, giving us a chance to get to know each other better. A good game of "Apples to Apples" will do that for you. I can't think of a quicker way to determine a person's sense of humor than a rousing hand or two of the game. (Especially when you've played "52 card pick-up" before even playing the game because someone--and I won't name names--scattered all of the million cards from the game onto the floor when picking up the box.)

This morning we packed our belongings, stowed them in the vehicles, and then completed the last session of the week. In this session, we had the opportunity to view clips from the movies, "Not Without My Daughter", "Kite Runner", and "Trade". I've never seen any of these movies (although as a movie about Mexican children who'd been trafficked, the latter is already on my Netflix queue). I'm not entirely sure why, but these movies, particularly the first, rendered me an emotional mess. Perhaps I should just always travel with a giant Kleenex box with me wherever I go when talking or learning about this particular subject.

It's strange to think that we're already half-way through with our training. Next week I will begin my third week of training and the independent (country specific) study I'm required to complete as well. While I have learned, over the years, a few things about Mexican history and culture, I'm looking forward to learning even more as I prepare for my studies. I'm also anticipating, yet dreading, the research I'll need to do on human trafficking in Mexico. I've recently become aware that it is actually happening. Sometimes I think it would be much easier to bury my head in the sand and pretend it doesn't exist. Like ostriches. But I can't. God has called me specifically to the people of Mexico City. And I believe He has recently called me to service in this particular ministry. So as much as I want to pretend it doesn't exist, I know that it does. And I know that something must be done about it. The church must learn about it and how they can stop it. I believe God is laying this on my shoulders. Please pray with me that He will show me exactly what He wants me to do. Pray that doors are opened for me to be able to share with the churches and possibly even the seminary students about this issue.


Week Two - Days One and Two

It's the second week of my anti-human trafficking training, and we are on "retreat" at the hotel at Clifty Falls state park. (All this means is that the other conference rooms at OMS headquarters were previously booked, so we came off campus for our week's sessions.) It really is a beautiful setting. We're about ten minutes or so from Kentucky. If I look from the far right corner of my bedroom window, I can see a tip of the Ohio River in the distance. (The view of the river is spectacular from the dining room windows. If the weather were a tad warmer, I would definitely enjoy exploring the grounds and visiting the many falls in this state park. Another time.)

Yesterday afternoon after our mid-afternoon arrival, Shirley had a great object lesson for us on clay pots. She gave us each a small clay pot, told us to break them, and then write encouraging notes and scriptures on the pieces. We are then going to glue them back together so that we'll have a visual reminder that the people we are ministering to are broken....but who have, hopefully, been restored through the grace and saving mercy of Jesus Christ. I was reminded that whole clay vessels do not make the best lanterns. They're too dense for the light to seep through. But clay vessels that have been broken filter the light much better. Through these transformed, redeemed lives that were once broken, we can see fully see God's mercies. What He's brought them through to become the Light-infused individuals they have become. I'm also reminded that my heart must continually be broken for these people. A broken heart encompasses more compassion than a cold one.

After dinner and my presentation on the spiritual and socio-economic needs in Mexico, we watched "Amazing Grace". We own this movie, so I've seen it a few times. Yet, I'm always struck by the cruelty men are capable of. How is it even possible that mankind can treat their fellow human beings this way? It was a theme reiterated to me this afternoon when I finally watched "Schinder's List" for the first time. I cried and cried seeing the animalistic treatment of the Jews by the Germans. Shooting them for no reason. The degradation of their fellow man. The horrors those children were forced to witness. I cannot even imagine the psychological scars that had to have left on the survivors. I think the ones who were killed were probably the lucky ones. Their torment ended. There were scenes upon scenes where children were ripped out of their mother's arms. One in particular where it was a girl torn from her mother. I imagined how I would feel if my own two precious daughters were torn from me and I wept. How would I feel watching my sons shot? I cannot even begin to fathom the things these people endured.

The horrific thing is that these atrocities have not ceased. They are not simply a part of "history". They continue today. Children are ripped from their mothers' arms. People are shot or killed for no reason. There is forced slavery. People are beaten. Raped. Degraded. It happens every day. We can say, but I'm just one person. What can I do? Oskar Schindler was one man. And look what God enabled him to do.

Lord, Jesus, help us to take a stand wherever we are. Help us, as individuals and as a whole, to put an end to the atrocities committed. May there be men raised up who can hold other men accountable. To teach them what it means to be men of God. May there be men and women raised up who will join the fight. To not simply look on from the sidelines. Help us make a difference.

Help me make a difference.


End of Week 1

My first official week of training was finished on Wednesday. While it was an emotional day for many, I found myself....numb. There were no more tears to be shed. I guess there's only so much information you can take in until your mind goes into self defense mode. It didn't help that I was starting to get whatever sickness the rest of the family has (boo, hiss!), and I just wasn't feeling like myself.

I look at my girls--who are the ages of commonly trafficked girls--and I see their innocence. Their joy for life. And I wonder how anyone could do anything to take that away. How anyone could see that innocence and still treat them as a plaything? The Mama part of me wants to scoop all those children up and carry them away to parents who will love them and nurture them. The Mama part of me is angry at the men (and women) who abuse these precious little ones. The Mama part of me wants to beg God to wipe these individuals off the face of the earth. Like Sodom and Gomorrah. I know He could do it. And I know He is as broken-hearted and angry on behalf of these children as I am. Even more so.

But I also remind myself that, no matter how despicable I think these acts are, God still loves these men and women. Despite how I personally feel at this moment, they are not beyond salvation. Redemption. And so I will continue to pray that God will liberate these women and children. And I will continue to pray for revival. That God would raise up Christian men who can be an example and a witness to the men of the world. The scary thing is that there are even men who profess to know Jesus engaging in these acts. The very ones who should know better.

Yesterday, I was working on a presentation of Mexico I'm to give on Monday. I went through the "Operation World" statistics and found some information online that, unfortunately, confirms what we suspected: human trafficking is alive and well in Mexico. The statistics greatly disturbed me. I didn't think I could have any greater a burden for the people of that country. But I was wrong. After working on this presentation for the whole day, I was heartsick (as well as physically sick). I laid down in the bedroom to get some rest. And had what is probably the first of many dreams in which I was a trafficking victim. My dream was horrific in nature. But there is a huge difference between my nightmare and that of many young children around the world.

I woke up from mine to find it was only a dream. They are caught in their nightmare day in and day out. Fully awake and aware that this is no dream. It is their daily existence. Their living nightmare.


Anti-Human Trafficking Training, Day Two

For our video segment today, we watched a video that had much significance for me. As I heard the young girl's story, I was struck by how familiar it was. But where had I heard it before? When, however, she talked about dying at the age of 24 of AIDS---and wondering if anyone would even care enough to come to her funeral---I remembered exactly where I'd heard her story before.

She was my introduction to human trafficking at a seminar last year. It is her story, and those of many other young girls I heard about over those two days in April, 2011, that served to stir up a longing to help. God used her story to break my heart for these women and children.

Today, listening to the story again, this time sitting in an anti-human trafficking training session, fresh tears poured down my cheeks and my heart was broken for her again. I may not know exactly how to help them. But I want more than anything to be the voice for those who haven't a voice.

Heart-Breaking Statistics

We are reading a prayer guide for our class, entitled "A Voice for the Voiceless: 30 Days of Prayer for the Voiceless". We read one to two days' worth of stories each class period. Today's were the individual stories of a child prostitute and a young African woman infected with AIDS. The following statistics broke my heart and greatly disturbed me:

- 10 million children worldwide are engaged in some facet of the sex industry. Each year at least one million children, mostly girls, become prostitutes.

- In Thailand, 10-12 year old girls service men in the sex industry. They typically have sex with men 10-15 times daily and sometimes as many as 20-30. (This one particularly kills me because this is the age bracket of my eldest daughter. Her face is the one I imagine when I think of these girls.)

- In South Africa, there are 40,000 child prostitutes.

- Africa has 12 million AIDS orphans.

- 43% of those infected with AIDS are women.

- Of the 40.3 million people living with AIDS worldwide, 1/3 of them are between the ages of 15-24.

Jesus, help us. Rise up and defend the little ones, Lord. They are defenseless. Many times sold into this living hell by their own family members. Have mercy on the adults who sell them and use them. Convict these individuals and bring your Gospel message to them so that they might cry out to You for forgiveness. Bring freedom, healing, and restoration to these little ones, Jesus. That they might come to know You. To know that they are beautiful boys and girls that were created in Your image. That they are loved. And loved unto death on a cross. Lord God, may there be men and women the world around who rise up in outrage over this horrific exploitation. Who will move heaven and earth to put an end to it. Jesus, don't just let us sit back, look on in horror, but do nothing. Move us to action. Move me to action. Show me how I might do something to help these little ones. Your precious children.


Anti-Human Trafficking Training, Day One

Today was the first day of training. I went in this morning, knowing that it would be an emotional day. I think tomorrow I'll bring my own box of Kleenex.

Anyway, today was kind of an overview day. An opportunity to meet each other and begin the "getting to know you" process. It's always nice to hear how the Lord led people into missions. Each story is different. Encouraging. Challenging. I'm always amazed anew every time I share my story; each calling in my life has been significant and memorable, with many confirmations along the way. It's not that you forget your own story. I mean, how could you? But hearing yourself tell others about the path God has led you down serves as a stark reminder of the journey. Kind of like collecting seashells to remember a particularly enjoyable afternoon at the beach.

This afternoon once the training was complete for the day, Joyce asked us to think about what we'd learned and try to pick out a few things that stood out to us. For me, the two things that stood out the most were the video clips we watched. The first was a partly animated, partly live-action video clip telling two sisters' stories. One was promised a better life abroad by a family member. The other, by a significant other she had fallen in love with. Both men betrayed them. Sold them into sexual slavery. I can't think which betrayal would be worse: the trusted, favored family member, or that of the supposed soul mate. To be reminded that there are parents, husbands, family members, and friends who would sell their own children, wives, nieces, cousins, and friends into sexual bondage..... It's unspeakable. Unthinkable. As someone who grew up in a loving, nurturing home, I can't even imagine it. How does that kind of pain even heal? Sometimes I am absolutely overwhelmed when I think about even attempting to minister to children and women like this. What in the world makes me think they'd even listen to one word I say?! And yet, I know I'm not really the one speaking to or reaching out to them at all. It's Christ in me. Through me. Praise God, because I am so inadequate to the task.

The second video clip was based on the ministry, "Remember Nhu". The founder of this ministry was in a seminar, saw the pictures, and heard the story about a little girl named Nhu. He was instantly sobbing in his seat, broken with the knowledge of what this little girl endured. And I remember thinking, that was me. That was what happened to me. I was sitting in a seminar, blissfully unaware of the scope of the issue. When I was confronted with it in the form of stories, pictures, testimonies, I was wholly unprepared for the emotional, physical reaction I had to it. I have never been more burdened in my life, my spirit has never felt so heavy. I walked around for the next two days after that seminar in alternating states of passionate anger and shock. I was fired up one minute and sobbing the next. As I've mentioned before, I came home from the seminar and allowed life to distract me. There were children to educate. Trips to plan. More training to prepare for. So many things--not even bad or unnecessary things--distanced me from those girls I'd been so burdened for. Then, in the middle of our July training, we visited a church one Sunday with the intent to speak to the church mission's committee. That was our intention, anyway. But God had other plans. In church that particular Sunday, was a missionary leaving the next day to minister in Bangladesh. Their ministry was to women who'd been forced into prostitution--and the children conceived in that existence. My heart was broken anew and all the same feelings and burdens came rushing back to me even stronger. Just like the founder of "Remebering Nhu" recognized that he simply must do something to help those poor girls, I knew it was something God was putting on my heart as well.

He's yet to show me exactly what role I'm to take in the ministry. But I've no doubt that He has a plan for me in it somewhere.


The Night Before

After months of anticipation, it's finally here. My anti-human trafficking training is scheduled to begin at 8 AM tomorrow morning. We arrived in Indianapolis last night and checked into a hotel for the night. It was literally the most stressful day before a trip we've ever had. And that's saying a lot. I was unusually sluggish. Normally, if I don't have all the laundry run the day before, I have at least a good start on it. Well, I hadn't washed a thing come Friday morning. So I literally had about eight loads of laundry to wash as well as all the packing to do. About the only thing I had done was to pull together all the school supplies Troy would need for the next five weeks. And okay. That was a massive job. So by 9:30 Friday night, aside from the school supplies, nothing was packed. For a five-week trip. Tensions and tempers were high. The tension in the air was so think that even the kids could feel it. It was bad. Thankfully, after eating a little supper, I got a burst of energy and was able to do most of the packing in about two hours. It also helped that we had abandoned our plan to leave at 5:30 in the morning. Instead, we slept in a bit and left when we were ready.

As long as we're in Mississippi, the kids have medical coverage. But once we step foot out of state, that coverage disappears faster than an ice cube in July. And of course, the dry, cold air we hit as we went north irritated the kids' throats. At least one of the kids now has a pretty nasty cough as a result. I'm sure more will follow.

Today we were able to visit some dear friends of ours, friends we haven't seen in six months. We anticipate many more fun times to come during our stay in Indiana. After our fun day together, we all got back into the car and drove to our little home away from home here on the OMS campus. We stayed in this apartment this summer during our month of Cross Training. It holds many great memories for us; it was a little bittersweet unpacking our things this evening, knowing our dear friends from last summer won't be here with us.

After I'd unpacked our belongings, and began preparing myself for the start of class tomorrow, I thought about our packing day and the fact that our kids are already fighting the sick germs. I'm not really convinced they were coincidental. The subject matter I'll be focusing on for the next several weeks is very serious and dark. But there's also a lot of hope and promise as well. With God's help, and through His grace and mercy, we can learn how to minister to those caught in the bondage of slavery. There is one who would love nothing better than to keep them there---and to keep us distracted from our purpose. Maybe the hectic packing day and the illness were attempts to do just that. Keep us distracted. Unbalanced. Unfocused. Stressed.

I will be praying each morning for the day's sessions, and I would love for you to do the same. This is a subject matter that tugs at my heart. It is very emotionally laden for me. I just know that the next few weeks will be difficult in many ways. It's always hard to hear about suffering. So please pray with me for the leaders and for those of us participating in the training. Pray that God uses these sessions to break our hearts anew and give us the fervor and the love needed to help the hurting.

I'm not sure yet quite how often I'll be posting, but I'm sure it will be at least a couple times a week. If you have not already signed up to follow this blog or our ministry blog, (www.disciplesofallnations.blogspot.com -- I'll be posting the same entries to each blog each time), you might want to do so.

Thank you in advance for your prayers. And please keep praying with me that everyone, particularly the kids, will have their coughs disappear and remain healthy for the rest of the time here.


A Milestone

This afternoon, I officially went past the 40,000 word mark. According to fictionfactor.com, this classifies my novel-in-progress as a "novella". 10,000 more words to go, and it'll become a full-fledged novel. The website suggested that most publishing companies prefer at least 70,000 - 80,000 words for a first novel. It is thrilling to know I'm already half-way there. With lots of the story yet to be told.

Honestly, I'm so excited, I'm almost giddy. Yup, just call me giddy-girl.