Friday, January 29, 2016

God Chooses You

A few weeks ago, our pastor was teaching from the book of Ephesians.  He mentioned that at the time Paul wrote this letter (around 60 A.D) that the city of Ephesus was considered the Slave Capital of the world.
He went on to explain that Ephesus was a city built on attaining physical perfection and status.  In Ephesus, they would actually discard babies who they viewed as “less than” outside the city gate.  Babies were discarded and tossed away because they did not measure up to someone’s idea of perfection. 
Consequently, if someone in the city of Ephesus desired to own a slave, they would simply go outside the city gate to buy one. 
From c.100 B.C. to c. A.D. 100 Ephesus was the world capital of the slave trade.
Paul is writing to a city that communicated to its people that if you didn’t measure up to “the standard” then you were unworthy.  You were unacceptable and unlovable.  
But Paul writes to remind them that since they now belong to Christ, they must start living their lives accordingly. They need to hold fast to the ways of God rather than the ways of the world. 
Ephesians 1:11 tells us that In Him we are chosen! 
When the world tells us that we don’t matter, we can take comfort in knowing that God chooses us!  In Him, we are adopted, accepted, redeemed, and forgiven.  He calls us His own and places us in His family.
God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. (Eph 1:5 NLT)
One of the saddest interactions I’ve ever had with someone who was in The Life was a 25 year-old young woman.  After letting her know that there were people who wanted to support her and point her to resources she said,
“I’m too old to be helped.  Why don’t you help the younger girls?”
At just 25 years old, this young woman had convinced herself that this was all her life was ever going to be.  She had deemed her life unworthy of anything more. 
To her, and to all the other women just like her, I want to say that the message you are being told is a lie.  You do matter.  And you are loved.  GOD chooses you.  He pursues you.  In love, he adopted you.  In His eyes you are perfect, holy and blameless. 
Around Christmas, my daughter got a shirt that says, “I woke up flawless.”  And that’s the beauty of the cross.  Because of Jesus’ death on the cross we are deemed flawless.  We are given a new identity.  The old is gone and the new has begun.  We are given a new beginning.  That new beginning is available to anyone who chooses it.  It doesn’t matter your age, your background, or your occupation.  God chooses you.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Casting Our Net

Many of you know that I have recently been blessed with the opportunity to work for an organization called Refuge For Women and that we have been in the process of locating a home for our ministry for quite some time now. 
Since last Fall we have been in talks with another non-profit regarding the ownership of a home that they were no longer using.  Our hopes were that this organization would transfer ownership of this home to Refuge.  Since last Fall we have been in a holding pattern to see if this lead would come to fruition. 

We were informed this morning that their governance board, under direction from their funding board, has voted to try to sell the house that they had at first intended to give us.  Their financial resources are dwindling and this could be a way to address that.  While wondering about this turn of events, we trust God and are reminded of Acts 16:6-7 where the Spirit blocked Paul from going to Asia so that he would go to Macedonia.  .

While this is an obvious setback, we remain faithful that He indeed has a house for us, just not that one.

During this time of waiting, we have been like the women with their oil lamps burning.  We are ready to move ahead as soon as God makes His move in telling us where the home will be located. We have been preparing our volunteers, selecting our program director, building connections and partnerships, and fundraising to be able to establish this house well.

As we wait for God to establish the house that He will use for ministry, we are also reminded of Peter’s calling to cast down his net in Luke chapter 5.  Simon (later called Peter) was a fisherman by trade.  He had been fishing all day, but had not been successful. But after being obedient to Jesus’ command, he casts his net and is supplied with more fish than he could ever ask or imagine.

Our efforts in locating a home have not been successful thus far.  But we feel as if God is telling us to cast our net again.  Cast it wider and with more certainty than before.  Cast our net with full confidence that He will fill it to overflowing and provide more than we could ever ask or imagine.  Perhaps God does not have just one house in mind for us.  Perhaps he has 3 homes to fill our net.  And so, dear friends, we are now casting our net in faith.  Let those who have ears to hear, hear this need and pay attention to any promptings they may have to partner with Refuge.  We are asking you to help us stretch our net far and wide.  Do you have a house or know someone that has a house that could be used for ministry? Please let others know that Refuge needs a house. 

Once Peter answered the Lords call, his focus changed from fishing for actual fish and earning a days wage to fishing for people. His focus shifted from the here and now to the eternal.  Fishing for souls and bringing them to Christ. Once God establishes the home, we too will shift our focus.  We will become fishers of women and souls for eternity.  We will then begin the good work that he has started in KY and begin the healing work the Lord has for women who have been exploited in our city and community.

Luke 5
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken,  and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

One Word For 2016 - Choose

I’m finally getting around to posting my One Word for 2016.  This past year I have really struggled with keeping my emotions in check.  When praying for God to give me a word for 2016 I kept sensing something along the lines of perspective or choice.  So the word that I’ve settled on is choose.

God created us with free will.  The power to choose.

Each and every day we have choices to make.  Simple things like am I going to hit the snooze button just once more and risk being late or will I get up and get moving now so the rest of my morning goes smoothly. And more important choices like how I will react to certain situations or comments.  Will I let my anger rise up and respond with something I’ll regret or will I bite my tongue until I have a chance to calm down.  I have to choose.

“When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Prov. 10:19).

I find it interesting that one of the ways to sign the word sin in sign language is by pointing your index fingers at the corners of your mouth and then doing a circular motion away from the mouth with your fingers. So often we can sin by what comes out of our mouth.  Our words or even the tone of our words can cause us to sin. We can choose if our words will build up or tear down.  It’s something I want to be more mindful of this year. 

And as I think about this word choose and the power it has over my life, I can’t help but think about this power at work in the lives of women who are in The Life.  As we reach out to them, we are presenting them with a different option. We let them know that there are people who care and resources that are available.  We place this information in their lap, but they have to be the one to choose what to do with that information. 

For you and I, this choice might seem obvious, but to them it is not that simple.  Their life may seem chaotic, unstable and even scary at times to us, but to them it’s what they know.  It’s what is familiar. And don’t we all love to cling to what’s familiar even though it may not be God’s best for us? That quick temper – we justify it by saying “Well that’s just the way I am.”  No, it’s what is familiar to you, but not God’s best for you.  

Ultimately, for these women we reach out to, our hope is that they choose life.  The biggest and most life altering choice we all must make in our lifetime is whether we choose life or death.

Jesus and His death on the cross offers us life.  An abundant life.  Eternal Life.  We are all just one choice away from forever.  You, me, my neighbor down the street.  We all have to choose.  And that choice will last forever, into eternity.

“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."  Joshua 24:15 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Support Locally With Your Christmas Shopping

Refuge For Women Chicago is a twelve-month holistic journey for women who wish to leave the sex industry.  They are opening a home in the Chicago area in 2016. You can support Refuge For Women just by shopping online with Amazon!  If you already have an Amazon account simply log in to and select Refuge For Women as your charity of choice.  You use Amazon Smile the same way you use Amazon. It has the same products and pricing as Amazon. You even use the same account, password, and other settings as Amazon. 

WAR Chest Boutique is an arm of Women at Risk International.  Traffic victims are given shelter and care in one of their 5 safe houses and trained with a skill to help them go forward in life.  The items are sold online at their website or one of 3 store front locations in Naperville, IL;  Wyoming;  and Michigan.  The website allows you to shop by the country where the product was made.

Anne's House is currently the only home in IL for minor girls who have been trafficked.  They provide a safe place where the girls can heal and receive counseling. Shop their website for a variety of handmade soaps.  Proceeds directly benefit the girls who live at Anne's House.

Ink 180 transforms the painful reminders of left from a former life in a gang or enslaved by human trafficking into beautiful art.  The Ink 180 Documentary follows the life and work of Chris Baker and the former gang members and human trafficking survivors helped by his tattoo ministry. The documentary recently won 2 Emmy awards!  You can purchase this award winning documentary

New Moms provides housing for young moms who are experiencing poverty and homelessness in Chicago. Visit their Bright Endeavors social enterprise and shop a from a selection of handmade candles.

STOP IT operates s Drop In center for young women who have been trafficked or are at risk of trafficking.  The drop in center provides a safe place where they can rest, find resources, and build community.  Shop from STOP IT's online Christmas tree and help their participants celebrate Christmas.  Gifts must be chosen by December 4th and dropped off by December 18th

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Anniversary of the TVPA (Trafficking Victims Protection Act)

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), has now been a law since 2000. For 15 years, this key piece of legislation has increased U.S. ability to protect victims and prosecute traffickers.

The TVPRA stands for the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.  The TVPA is the centerpiece of all U.S. laws against human trafficking and created the first comprehensive federal law to address human trafficking and modern-day slavery.  It was first introduced in 2000 and signed by Bill Clinton

The TVPA was designed to combat trafficking in the U.S. by increasing the charges of trafficking from a misdemeanor to a felony crime.  It also provides assistance for survivors and visa protection for victims that have been trafficked across international borders. 

It also established a global minimum standard for confronting trafficking and slavery as published in The Trafficking in Persons report.  This report examines the status of 188 countries for both human trafficking violations and efforts to stop human trafficking. Those efforts include passing prohibitive legislation, arrests of perpetrators, and convictions
following arrests.

TIP Report 2015 Summary

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which is partially funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a critical piece of the government’s effort against human trafficking, with over 21,000 trafficking cases reported to the NHTRC Hotline since 2007. The hotline has been established to provide a safe number for victims and survivors seeking assistance, a confidential crisis and tip line, and a national resource and referral center. 

Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2015

The U.S. State Department's annual Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report for 2015 was released earlier this year. 
What is the TIP report?

The TIP report helps to identify countries where trafficking is most problematic.  It rates 188 countries and gives each nation a tier rating based on their compliance with standards outlined in the TVPA. These tiers are:

  • Tier 1 Countries whose governments fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards.
  • Tier 2 Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
  • Tier 2 Watchlist Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND: a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; or b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.
  • Tier 3 Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

What Types of Trafficking are covered in the report?

  1. Sex Trafficking:  When an adult engages in a commercial sex act, such as prostitution, as the result of force, threats of force, fraud, coercion or any combination of such means, that person is a victim of trafficking. Under such circumstances, perpetrators involved in recruiting, harboring, enticing, transporting, providing, obtaining, or maintaining a person for that purpose are guilty of the sex trafficking of an adult. Sex trafficking also may occur within debt bondage, as individuals are forced to continue in prostitution through the use of unlawful “debt,” purportedly incurred through their transportation, recruitment, or even their crude “sale”—which exploiters insist they must pay off before they can be free. An adult’s consent to participate in prostitution is not legally determinative: if one is thereafter held in service through psychological manipulation or physical force, he or she is a trafficking victim and should receive benefits. 
  2. Child Sex Trafficking: When a child (under 18 years of age) is recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, or maintained to perform a commercial sex act, proving force, fraud, or coercion is not necessary for the offense to be characterized as human trafficking. There are no exceptions to this rule: no cultural or socioeconomic rationalizations alter the fact that children who are prostituted are trafficking victims. The use of children in the commercial sex trade is prohibited under U.S. law and by statute in most countries around the world.   
  3. Forced Labor: Forced labor, sometimes also referred to as labor trafficking, encompasses the range of activities—recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining—involved when a person uses force or physical threats, psychological coercion, abuse of the legal process, deception, or other coercive means to compel someone to work. Once a person’s labor is exploited by such means, the person’s prior consent to work for an employer is legally irrelevant: the employer is a trafficker and the employee a trafficking victim. Migrants are particularly vulnerable to this form of human trafficking, but individuals may also be forced into labor in their own countries.  Female victims of forced or bonded labor, especially women and girls in domestic servitude, are often sexually exploited as well. 
  4. Bonded Labor or Debt Bondage: One form of coercion is the use of a bond or debt. Some workers inherit debt; for example, in South Asia it is estimated that there are millions of trafficking victims working to pay off their ancestors’ debts. Others fall victim to traffickers or recruiters who unlawfully exploit an initial debt assumed, wittingly or unwittingly, as a term of employment. Debts taken on by migrant laborers in their countries of origin, often with the involvement of labor agencies and employers in the destination country, can also contribute to a situation of debt bondage. Such circumstances may occur in the context of employment-based temporary work programs in which a worker’s legal status in the destination country is tied to the employer and workers fear seeking redress. 
  5. Domestic Servitude: Involuntary domestic servitude is a form of human trafficking found in distinct circumstances—work in a private residence—that creates unique vulnerabilities for victims. It is a crime in which a domestic worker is not free to leave her employment and is abused and underpaid, if paid at all. Many domestic workers do not receive the basic benefits and protections commonly extended to other groups of workers—things as simple as a day off. Moreover, their ability to move freely is often limited, and employment in private homes increases their vulnerability and isolation.  Authorities can't inspect homes as easily as formal workplaces, and in many cases do not have the mandate or capacity to do so.  Domestic workers, especially women, confront various forms of abuse, harassment, and exploitation. 
  6. Forced Child Labor: Although children may legally engage in certain forms of work, children can also be found in slavery or slavery-like situations. Some indicators of forced labor of a child include situations in which the child appears to be in the custody of a non-family member who requires the child to perform work that financially benefits someone outside the child's family and does not offer the child the option of leaving. 
  7. Unlawful Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers: Child soldering is a manifestation of human trafficking when it involves the unlawful recruitment or use of children (through force fraud or coercion) by armed forces as combatants.  Perpetrators may be government armed forces, paramilitary organizations, or rebel groups. Many children are forcibly abducted to be used as combatants. Others are made to work as porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies. Young girls can be forced to marry or have sex with commanders and male combatants. Both male and female child soldiers are often sexually abused and are at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
The 2015 Report Summary:
  • There are 31 countries that received the highest rating of Tier 1.
  • 89 Countries received a Tier 2 rating.
  • 44 Countries are on the Tier 2 Watch List that could lead to sanctions unless their records improve.
  • 23 Countries received the lowest rating of Tier 3 which means they are found not to be taking the affirmative steps necessary to fight human trafficking.
  • Out of those that received the Tier 3 rating, 2 of those were countries that were automatically downgraded to that rating.  Automatic downgrades were introduced in 2013 to prevent a country from remaining stagnant on the Tier 2 Watch List. After 2 years of being on the Tier 2 Watch List they are automatically downgrades to Tier 3.  The countries downgraded were Belarus and South Sudan. 
For the full report visit: US State Department

If you want to learn more about what human trafficking looks like globally this is a great place to start.  Choose a country (they are all listed alphabetically and read what trafficking looks like in that country.  If you're not sure which country to choose, read the report for the country you live in.  If you're not sure how to read a country narrative This page will help.