Monday, April 13, 2015

Local Event: A Night of New Beginnings April 25th

In the Chicagoland area, an estimated 16,000 - 25,000 women and girls are victims of commercial sexual exploitation each year. Refuge For Women - Chicago plans to open in Chicagoland in July of this year to offer a new beginning to women who have been sexually exploited.  Their program provides a residential family setting for healing to take place.

You are invited to A Night of New Beginnings to learn more about the Refuge For Women program and their plans for the home here in the NW Suburbs.  The evening will feature several interactive experience stations to help you get a feel for the redemptive work that God is accomplishing in KY and will accomplish here in Chicago. 

You will also get to hear first hand how God is working in the lives of several soon-to-be graduates of the program in KY and experience a powerful performance by Allie, a talented musician and soon-to-be Refuge graduate.

For more information or to register please visit the event page Here

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Upcoming Book Discussions

Dancing With the Devil by Anny Donewald
April 18th at 10 am at Panera Bread in the Arboretum
100 W Higgins Rd, South Barrington, IL
A memoir of transformation from a high-end stripper and escort who hit rock-bottom, turned to God, and left teh sex trade to found Eve's Angels, a ministry reaching out to women in the sex industry. 

Read the book on your own and join us for a discussion.

“Dancing For The Devil is not just a pole-to-the-pulpit memoir, but a call to action about how the billion-dollar sex-for-sale industry in America is impacting our culture. Anny Donewald and her co-author Carrie Gerlach Cecil grippingly and beautifully illustrate how one woman went from a life of privilege to surviving the underbelly of the sex-industry and ultimately advocating God’s grace in places others don’t dare to venture.”

Nobody's Girl by Barbara Amaya
May 26th at 7pm at Willow Creek Church
220 Exchange Drive; Crystal Lake, IL

Nobody's Girl is a memoir of Barbara Amaya's story and how God rescued her from a life of sex trafficking and child and domestic abuse. 

Read the book on your own and join us for a discussion.

“Human Trafficking is actually a Human Tragedy. It is the responsibility of those who have triumphed over this tragedy to till the soil, water the soil, shine our light on the soil and watch Gods garden of overcomer’s grow strong roots and thrive! Barbara Amaya fulfills this responsibility in her book Nobody’s Girl.”
-Marian Hatcher, Project Manager, Human Trafficking Coordinator, Cook County Sheriff’s Office

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

An Unwavering Promise – An Open Letter to a Survivor (Guest Post)

Today I have a guest post from fellow abolitionist Shellie Morgan.  After hearing Barbara Amaya share her story of how God rescued her from a life of sex trafficking and child and domestic abuse, Shellie was prompted to write this beautiful and moving letter.  Here's what Shellie says about why she wrote the letter.

I have been volunteering with the anti-trafficking team at Willow Creek's South Barrington location for about 2 years. When someone emailed me about the opportunity to hear Barbara speak, it was a no-brainer and I registered for the event right away. 

There really are not adequate words to describe what it is like to hear a survivor share their story. Barbara's story of getting trafficked was heartbreaking, but her story of survival and reclaiming her life was moving and inspiring. Afterward, I had the opportunity to thank her for sharing her story and get a personal inscription from her in her book, Nobody's Girl. As I drove home, I found myself wishing I had said more, done more. If I could hit the "rewind" button I would have given her a standing ovation, and not just thanked her, but asked if she would mind me giving her a hug. I wanted to somehow express how greatly I appreciated her choice to share her story and know how much it touched me and how precious she is.The thoughts started flowing, and it felt like God poured the words out through me onto paper. An open letter seemed like the perfect way to tell Barbara what I wished I could have expressed that night . My hope and prayer is the letter not only touches Barbara, but other survivors - and that it will encourage everyone to join the fight to end this in our lifetime.
Dear Precious One,

Last night brought the privilege of hearing first hand your amazing story of not just survival, but redemption. Privilege, because you have chosen to share your heart, your journey, your traumas – intimate details with strangers, and trusting that it will be received with grace and love and mercy. Trusting that it will move those in the crowd listening to “be the change” as you so aptly wrote inside the cover of your book.

What a privilege indeed, when you have all the reason in the world to never trust again. After all, where were we when you were being abused as a young child? Where were we when you fled your home at age 12, hoping to escape the abuse? Where were we when the trafficker scooped you off the street, taking advantage of your naiveté and vulnerability? Where were we when he conditioned you into believing you were nothing but a commodity to be bought, sold and traded? Where were we when you were arrested – a child treated as a criminal instead of the victim you were – and shamed for “what you had done”. Where were we when you finally found your way out, but still didn’t know you were the victim? Where were we when your police record continued to haunt you as you rebuilt a new life? Where were we?

For all of the times we were not there for you – we are sorry, so very sorry. Please accept our humble apologies; please forgive us. We didn’t know then. But we know now, oh, we know now.

We know now that human trafficking exists, not just “over there”, but right HERE, right in our very backyards. We know now that traffickers prey on the young, the weak, and the vulnerable – that the average age of victims is between 11-14 years old. We know now that traffickers are master manipulators and controllers. We know now that in your vulnerability, you could not see past the lies they fed you – that you were nothing, that no one cared about you, that this was all you would ever be. We know now that you were trapped in a dark, evil world and it wasn’t your fault.

We know too, that you are beautiful and brave, with strength beyond measure. We know that God will bring life from the ashes - that He will redeem all of the pain, not one tear will be wasted. We know that God has a plan and a purpose for you. We know that we are called to never let you be forgotten ever again. We know we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in finding you, serving you, loving you, standing alongside you, cheering you on.

And so, we promise you – an unwavering promise made with unwavering faith – that we are here now. We will learn to recognize the signs of the vulnerable as well as the signs of trafficking. We will read books and blogs and websites that can teach us what to look for and what to do. We will pray and knit and bake and sew for outreach to the vulnerable and exploited. We will renovate homes to create safe houses. We will shop with purpose to support survivors who are rebuilding their lives. We will be your voice in social and legislative circles. We promise we will be the change.

Grace and peace,
Your Willow Family
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ “ Luke 15:3-6

“…suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ “ Luke 15:8-9 
 An Unwavering Promise - An Open Letter to a Survivor, was written by Shellie Morgan, and may not be used or reproduced by any means without written permission.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Leadership Qualities (Lessons from Nehemiah)

1.  Replenish
After traveling 800 miles to Jerusalem Nehemiah replenishes for 3 days.  He takes the time to recharge before setting out on the task before him.
Neh 2:11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days...  
Our vitality bucket must be full for leaders to lead well.

We need to have something in our vitality bucket to draw from. If we're on empty we tend to make bad decisions. 

What are the things that fill you up? What can you do to make sure you are at your best?

Besides being in God's word, what fills me up is a good book, a blanket and a comfy couch.  I recharge with alone time because I am an introvert.  For you it may be completely opposite. 

2.  Define Reality and Communicate it with others
We have to define the reality of the situation and what we are up against.  If not, we can be overly optimistic and fall into despair when that situation seems insurmountable.
Neh 2:17-18 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”  I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.  They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.”
We must also communicate to others what that reality is.  Change can not occur if others are unaware of the problem.

The reality of human trafficking is that there are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world.  It is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.  There are more slaves today than any other time in history.

We must also remember not to let the reality of the situation allow us to become frozen.  Yes, the reality of trafficking seems insurmountable, but we serve a big God.

3.  Cast the Vision
Leadership is essentially about movement.  Moving people, staff, a ministry, etc from here to there. Always explain why we can't stay in the "here."
Neh 2:17 Then I said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.”
Here =   Israel is in ruins
There  = Let's start rebuilding

The "here" of human trafficking is that human beings are being used for a purpose in which they were not created.  Statistics show that only 1-2% of trafficking victims are ever rescued.  This is not OK.

We must raise awareness and bring this dark criminal industry into the light.  We must focus more attention on the men purchasing sex and hold them more accountable.  We must have better laws and stiffer penalties for the traffickers who are enslaving these women.  We must have more services and safe places for these women to heal.  We must change the mindset of our society to stop objectifying women.

4.  Motivate and Inspire
Recognize that God is in this!  Tell a story that shows how God is moving. 
Neh 2:18 Then I told them about how the gracious hand of God had been on me, and about my conversation with the king.  They replied at once, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!” So they began the good work.
Inspired people, inspire people.  They see it in you and become inspired.

5.  Include Everyone.  Work Together
Chapter 3 tells us how everyone was involved in the effort of rebuilding.  Similar to the Acts 2 church where everyone shared, spread the gospel, etc. for the glory of God.  Imagine the impact we could have on human trafficking if everyone was involved.  Everyone united in working together for the cause of Christ who does not desire for any of His children to be in slavery.
6.  Align peoples interest. 
Nehemiah set each group to work on the wall that was nearest to their own home. He had them take ownership by being responsible for a certain portion of the wall.  He aligned their passion with the vision. People are more apt to do good work and build a stronger wall if it is for the security of their own family.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Are You Qualified?

The answer is yes.  I am qualified and so are you.  We are all qualified to be used by God. The Bible is filled with stories of God using imperfect people to fulfill His purposes. 

He doesn't call the equipped, he equips the called.

When God first grabbed ahold of my heart on the issue of human trafficking my prayer became "God, use me how you want to use me."  I didn't know how that would be, but I knew I wanted to be involved.  Never did I expect to be speaking in front of people or sharing my story.  I'm an introvert.  Even social functions make me a little edgy. But God surely has a sense of humor as he has opened many doors for speaking in front of people.   

I remember the very first time.  I was shaking.  I could hear my voice quivering and I'm sure the people I was speaking to heard it too.  But I knew this was an important message.  One that needed to be heard.  Those who are trapped in slavery have no voice.  I have decided that I will use my voice even it if shakes.

Awareness is the first step toward change.   

It amazes me how many people still don't know what a huge problem this is. 
  • It's the 2nd largest and fastest growing crime worldwide
  • It generates $32 Billion annually 
Or if they do know they don't realize that it's happening so close to home. 
  • Human Trafficking has been reported in all 50 states.
  • Right here in Chicagoland an estimated 16,000 - 25,000 women and girls are victims of sexual exploitation each year.
It's been a few years since that very first time and God has grown me and stretched me in ways that never would have happened if I had said no.  I still get nervous, but God gives me the courage each time I am called to speak.  If it were any other topic, I don't imagine I would be able to do it.  But because this is something God has called me to do he equips me. 

Did you have special training to do this?

I tell people that I have 3 qualifications:
(1) I am an imperfect person redeemed by God's grace
(2) I am a wife and mother
(3) The issue of Human Trafficking breaks my heart and I am willing to volunteer.
No special training needed!  Just a heart to serve.
The next time you feel like GOD can’t use you, just remember…
Noah was a drunk
Abraham was too old
Isaac was a daydreamer
Jacob was a liar
Leah was ugly
Joseph was abused
Moses had a stuttering problem
Gideon was afraid
Samson had long hair and was a womanizer
Rahab was a prostitute
Jeremiah and Timothy were too young
avid had an affair and was a murderer
Elijah was suicidal
Isaiah preached naked
Jonah ran from God
Naomi was a widow
Job went bankrupt
Peter denied Christ
The Disciples fell asleep while praying
Martha worried about everything
The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once
Zaccheus was too small
Paul was too religious
Timothy had an ulcer..AND
Lazarus was dead!

Monday, March 23, 2015

What Is Your Holy Discontent? (Lessons from Nehemiah)

Our current series at church is studying the book of Nehemiah and I have been so inspired!

We started out in chapter 1 where Nehemiah learns that his homeland of Jerusalem is now in ruins.  When he hears this news the bible tells us that Nehemiah weeps.
Neh 1:3-4 ...The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.  When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.  For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
1.  Lean into it:  God intends to use that stirring
Nehemiah leaned into the pain.  He didn't ignore it or cap his emotions.  He mourned it for days.  Israel being in ruins became his Holy Discontent (a desire to fix something that's broken in the world.)

What makes you weep? 
My Holy discontent is the issue of human trafficking.  Specifically sex trafficking which accounts for about 80% of all trafficking. My heart breaks for any injustice, but this one spoke louder to me than any other.  God can whisper to us in many different ways, but for me God continued to place this issue in front of me over and over and I would feel a stirring each and every time.  I would see an article or hear an interview on the radio or bible verses about injustice would touch me and I would automatically relate it to trafficking.  I just really had a sense that God was prompting me to get involved and it became my “holy discontent”.  The fact that this was happening to women and children across the globe was no OK to me.  I felt like this was something God had layed on my heart. And it was an issue that I could not NOT do something about.
What do you notice that breaks your heart?  God wants to use that to spring you into action.

2.  Pray! and be available.
Neh 1:6-7 ...I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Neh 1:11 He prayed " Please grant me success."

Nehemiah did not remain stuck in his pain. He recognized where they had failed and confessed it to God.  He is moved to action and knows that in order to be successful he needs the Lord's blessing.

Most scholars say that Nehemiah prayed for 4 months before acting on anything.

What is the Lord asking you to do?  Draw near to Him and ask Him to direct your steps.  You were designed by God to get involved.  Get off the couch and suit up.

3. Risk Everything
Nehemiah risked everything to go back to Jerusalem. 

Nehemiah worked for the king as the official cup bearer.  This was the person who would taste the king's food and drink before the king would consume it.  In those days, it was quite common to try to poison someone so Nehemiah was the protection for the king should anyone try to poison him. He risks his job.

To be sad in the King's presence was punishable by death.  Not only does he ask for permission to leave his position and go back to Jerusalem, he asks the King for supplies.  He risks his life.
Neh 2:1-3 ... I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?

Nehemiah's actions demonstrate a story of obedience regardless of the cost.

God wants to move your life:
  • From comfortable to compelling
  • From predictable to powerful
  • From timid to tenacious
4. God delights in pouring out His favor for those who step out in obedience
Neh 2:8 "And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests."
Because God went before him things went well. 

If God has put something on your heart, he desires to bless you when you step out in obedience. Include God in your plans and He will be with you every step of the way. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Internet and Mobile Device Safety

When your child is old enough to drive a car would you just hand over the keys and let him go?  No, a car is a powerful piece of machinery and you would first teach him how to drive it and how to navigate various situations that might come up.  You would have boundaries and guidelines in place for when they are driving without your supervision. 

Allowing kids to access the Internet without any safety filters is like putting your child being the wheel of a car without having taught him to drive it.  The Internet is power at your fingertips and your child isn't going to figure out how to handle the internet without some training wheels and guidance. 

The Internet and Social Networking has completely transformed the way perpetrators lure and recruit victims. It provides a free, easy venue for pimps and sex traffickers. We must make teaching our children about Internet safety an important priority.

 Here are some general tips. 

  1. Teach them Internet Safety!   
    • Never give out personal information such as your phone number, address, school name.  Never share team names or after school activities.
    • Follow the NetSmart rules  

  1. Teach your children to identify inappropriate Internet interactions.  Encourage open dialogue with then so they feel comfortable reporting any improper or uncomfortable online activity.  Role play and ask what they would do if…  

  1. NEVER plan a face-to-face meeting.  People can pretend to be anyone they want behind the anonymity of the computer.  You could be putting yourself in danger to meet someone you’ve “met” online. 

  1. Most mobile devices offer a built in mechanism that allows you to create age brackets for your child’s device that will block unwanted applications from being downloaded and will block inappropriate content on the internet.  These are password protected so your child can not change them without your password. 

  1. You have to know what they are doing in order to be able to guide them. 
      • Supervise their computer use or keep access to computers in an open area of your home.
      • Turn in Cell phones and other devices at bedtime.
      • Know what they are doing on line, who they are talking to, who their friends are, what pictures they are posting.
      • Know the texting lingo and current apps – Instagram, Snap Chat, Facebook, etc.
  2. Make sure the Facebook privacy settings are set up correctly.  Under Account Settings there are a variety of settings that limit who can view your child’s page and access their profile.  Make sure their date of birth is not visible to viewers.  
7.     Don’t accept friend requests on Facebook from someone you don’t know.  If you aren’t friends in real life you shouldn’t be friends on line.

8.       Always know their passwords and randomly check their emails and other accounts 

9.     Install a Safety Filter such as Net Nanny or K9 for the computer or Mobile Guardian for mobile devices.    

10.  Consider Monitoring software.  This is different than a safety filter in that it actually tracks keystrokes and internet activity. 
Websites for internet safety: