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unlikely heroes

My heart is full of gratitude this Thanksgiving morning.   Gratitude for healthy family – parents who loved me unconditionally, a devoted and caring spouse, sweet and kind adult children and delightful little honeybuns who call me “Nana.”   I have a warm home, a job and plenty of food on the table to share with friends.

Every day, however, I am privileged to walk a journey with dear ones who have experienced very little of the things I have often taken for granted.   There are so many children who have never known a safe and loving home.   Far too many little ones, in homes both poor and wealthy, have never known the safety of being tucked into bed with lullabies and bed time stories.   Their reality is the nightly terror of sexual abuse.

Into this world have come the most unlikely of heroes.   These saints come in all shapes and sizes, colors and walks of life.  Most of us, however, would be quite anxious to be in the same room with many of them, as they are usually rough, tough, tattooed, pierced, grubby, loud and on bikes – big ones, like the Harley variety.  Or at least that is the stereo-type that we may have learned to believe is true.

Yes, these are “biker saints.”   I cried when I read the following article.   What wonderful, wonderful people.   Bless each one of you this Thanksgiving morning.   I’d be honored to have you at my table.

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Bikers strike fear into the hearts of many. They’re seen as rough thugs… but there is more to a biker than you think. This gang, for instance, is happy to intimidate people. However, they only intimidate people who dare hurt children. They are the Bikers Against Child Abuse International. And they mean business.

These bikers aren’t looking for trouble. The only thing they want to do is make sure innocent children don’t feel so alone, or so powerless.

“It’s scary enough for an adult to go to court,” he says. “We’re not going to let one of our little wounded kids go alone.”

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buying a child’s life … the best of Christmas presents

Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat …”   So goes the old children’s nursery rhyme.  Well, for lots of little children, Christmas will never come unless you help them.  According to the following article by Alison Storm, “an estimated 5.7 million children are forced to work in factories, fields, and brothels all over the world.”

As I’ve shared in a previous post, there is no birthday or Christmas gift that compares to knowing that a child has literally been bought out of slavery in your name.  Can you imagine it?  Yet World Vision, on the post referenced, and other organizations such as Mission: Rescue Life, make that possible.

How about it?  Body wash, the newest CD or a child?  Read Alison’s article in Redbook Magazine and find out some ways to make that happen.

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You Can Save a Child From Slavery

An estimated 5.7 million children are forced to work in factories, fields, and brothels all over the world. Help to stop child labor by doing one thing on this list.

By Alison Storm
Child Slavery

Photo Credit: Carolyn Cole

1. Face the facts. Many people think slavery ended after the Civil War, but, tragically, there are more slaves today than at any point in human history. Millions of child slaves — some of whom are sold by their impoverished parents — work in fields, brothels, private homes, mines, and restaurants overseas and even right here in the United States. “I had read about trafficking, but I was completely blown away when I saw young children being sold for sex on the streets of Thailand,” says Desirea Rodgers, 34, who traveled there with friends for the first time in 2002 to see what she could do to make a difference. Unable to shake the heartbreaking images from their minds, they started plotting the launch of a nonprofit that could help young girls and boys. “Rescue workers told us they weren’t able to help as many children as they wanted to because they didn’t have enough safe places for them to live,” Desirea says, so she and her friends created Love146, which runs a shelter in the Philippines, another Asian country with major child-slavery problems. There, victims receive counseling and education that prepares them to return to their families or reintegrate into society on their own. The nonprofit’s name comes from a young girl, enslaved in a brothel, who was known only by the number clients used to identify her, 146. The Love146 founders were never able to track that girl down again, but they’ve helped dozens like her, including Serey, who was trafficked into a brothel without her parents’ knowledge when she was 17. Serey was rescued by local cops after several months and brought to Love146’s Round Home, where she attended school and worked with a therapist for 18 months. “The Round Home is where my life changed,” she says. “It’s where a new me was born. This home heals the broken.” To help more children find a safe place to restart their lives, give at love146.org/donate. Five dollars provides a victim with a new pair of shoes; $15 buys a school uniform; $80 pays for school books for one year.

2. Shop for fair-trade jewelry and handbags at store.madebysurvivors.com. Started by husband-and-wife team John Berger and Sarah Symons in 2005, the nonprofit has helped more than 500 rescued trafficking victims and their children attend school for the first time and make a living by handcrafting the products sold online. “Education, employment, and economic empowerment are so important. If survivors can support themselves without selling their bodies, they’ll never go back,” Sarah says. Without such intervention, less than 10 percent of children born into brothels escape for good, she says. “I’ve seen traffickers wait outside shelters and toss in notes and cell phones to lure girls out.” The program saved Anjali, who was kidnapped from a train station in Calcutta, India, at 11 and was forced to work as a sex slave for two years. “With this jewelry program, my future is brighter because I’m able to support myself and my mom,” says Anjali. Now she attends school for free through the charity’s education-sponsorship program.

3. Find out how many slaves work for you by answering 11 questions at slaveryfootprint.org. You’ll discover how much slavery plays a part in producing the things you buy, from the mica that gives certain eyeshadows their shimmer to the cotton in some T-shirts — some raw materials are mined or picked by children as young as 6. “By understanding just how big the problem is, we can start demanding that companies are accountable for who’s mining their products and working in their factories,” says Amy Nyquist, a 37-year-old mom of two who helped create the tool.

4. Educate a freed child slave in East India for one year. All it takes is giving up a $3 latte once a week for 52 weeks and pledging it to the charity Mercy 29’s Lattes for Legacies program (mercy29.org/lattesforlegacies.html). Since 2009, the group has negotiated the release of 380 children from India’s quarries, where they worked 12-hour days extracting slate and marble.

5. Scan the barcodes of your favorite products using the Free2Work smartphone app to find out which companies are working to eliminate forced labor from their supply chains. Not For Sale, the nonprofit behind the app, has graded more than 300 brands, which include jewelry, electronics, and even chocolate.

6. Give whatever you can to Save the Children (savethechildren.org/donate ), a nonprofit that helps vulnerable kids in more than 120 countries. In 2010 alone, the group trained nearly 17,000 children in El Salvador to protect themselves from traffickers; in Indonesia, they rescued 10,000 kids from dangerous working conditions.

7. Report a potential trafficking situation. If you suspect that a child in your city may be a victim, call the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 888-373-7888, or submit your anonymous tip online at polarisproject.org/report-a-tip. “Child trafficking is hard to spot,” says Sarah Jakiel, deputy director of the Polaris Project, the nonprofit that runs the hotline. “The biggest red flags are children who are working when they should be in school, have an unreasonable lack of freedom, and show any signs of physical abuse.” Since the hotline opened in 2007, they’ve helped more than 5,000 victims find safe housing, counseling, and legal help in states including Florida and Texas. “Children are lured here from places like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico with the promise of education,” says Kathleen Morris, who leads the International Rescue Committee’s anti-trafficking programs in Seattle. “They know they’ll have to work a little bit, but they often never get to go to school and are forced into jobs with long hours and no pay. What many people don’t realize is that this is happening in places we see on a regular basis, like small coffee shops and construction sites we drive by. It’s hidden in plain sight.”

one mother’s mission to bring her daughter home

I used to think that it was impossible for me to feel a stronger love than I do for my children, and then my daughter in love gave me three beautiful little grand girls.  The heart just isn’t big enough to contain the feelings I have for them.  There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my family.  Nothing.   So, if I learned one day that my daughter or daughter in love had gone out to run an errand, leaving a precious child in the care of safe people and she didn’t return, you bet your bottom dollar that I would be on a mission to find her, and that there would be nothing I wouldn’t do to bring her home.

That’s what happened to an ordinary mother in Argentina.  One day Susana Trimarco’s daughter, Maria de los Angeles “Marita” Verona, a young mother herself, went to a doctor’s appointment and didn’t come home.  For over ten long years, her courageous mother has been searching for her daughter, and what she has accomplished in the process stunned me this morning as I read the article.  In her hunt for Maria, Susana has rescued literally hundreds of Argentine women from the sex trade, women who were enslaved in misery until this remarkable woman helped liberate them.

Susana TrimarcoSusana has been honored with the “Women of Courage” award by the U.S. State Department and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on Nov. 28. Sunday night, President Cristina Fernandez gave her a human rights award before hundreds of thousands of people in the Plaza de Mayo (photo by Associated Press, Victor R. Calvano).

Susana continues to search for her daughter.  Rumors abound that she has been taken out of the country, that she was sighted just days ago …  This mother will never give up looking.  If she can’t find Maria alive, she wants to bring her body home.  I can’t imagine.

the gift of innocence

For several wonderful days this past week, I was blessed to hear “Nana” when a wee one woke in the middle of the night, knowing my name was safe in her mouth.  Her grandpa and I just grinned at each other in the dark when she & her big sister found their way to our bed at the beach cottage, and snuggled in for giggles and whispers before the sun got up.  Both of us were recipients of spontaneous hugs from fat little arms being wrapped around our necks, and we just drank in all the sweet little kisses & “I love you’s”  …. our little ones felt safe and we treasured their innocence.

It would be so pleasant to live in a bubble, believing that all little ones felt safe with their family members, that their innocence would be fiercely protected by those that they trusted.  As one of our little ones got her first taste of a wave coming in towards her, she ran to us for rescue.   At that second I was made aware of too many little ones who have no one to run to for rescue, because the one that should be their hero is the one who is causing their fear.  Life is not safe, and a little one’s heart can be broken in seconds, and for thousands of precious poppets every day is a living hell.

Be kind today to the snarly teenager bagging your groceries, or his sullen colleague with piercings in multiple places on her beautiful face, to the raging driver in the other lane who cuts you off, to the neighbor who swears at your dog as you walk by … yes, they might all  just be having a bad day, but they might also have been precious little ones who were locked in dark closets, beaten in alcoholic rages or sexually violated by grown ups whose job it was to protect them.  Their emotional development may have frozen at that moment in time, and their wee hearts were shattered.   We can’t go back & change their stories, but perhaps our smile, a genuine “thank you” or “good morning, Sam” might melt one of the bricks in their walls this morning.

one really good cop

I had breakfast this week with one pretty amazing young woman.  Not only is she a wonderful mother to a teenage football star/heart throb, a 5 year old princess and a sweet little toddler son, and is a great wife and loving daughter, Kim Mager is a tough cop, an incredible officer in the Ashland City Police force.

I first met Kim several years ago when she was being honored for being a “Woman of Achievement” in our county.  I was struck by the enthusiasm she had for her profession, her infectious laughter and the fact she was oblivious to her stunning beauty.  I had never met anyone quite like her before.

One of the many gifts that Kim has is the ability to confront evil every day in her job and still manage to come home with enough love to go around.  She is called into homes where little ones have been brutalized, and within a short time is gentle enough to get these traumatized children to trust her.  Her quiet reassurance of safety helps give them a voice.  This completely feminine creature then has the ability to spend hours in holding cells, facing their narcissistic and socio-pathic offenders, getting the deviant men & women to confess to  the horrible injuries they have done to these children who have trusted them.   Then, months later, Kim has to testify in Court on behalf of the children, being challenged and confronted at every turn.

Many of the adult women who come to me for counseling, and who have a history of sexual, emotional and/or physical abuse, never had a Kim in their lives.  No one was there to rescue them, to wrap a blanket around them and comfort them.  No one gave them a soft teddy bear to cuddle, and the reassurance that they would be safe.  No one took them away from the monster(s) that lived in their house.

So, Kim, this post is for you, to say how proud I am to be able to call you my friend, and to thank you for being an incredible person.   Our county is so blessed to have you as one of our heroes.

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Photo courtesy of the Ashland Times Gazette “Shop with a Cop”

Sexual Abuse and the Distortion of Worship – an AJS reblog

There is one question that I never fail to hear in my counseling office when I listen to abuse stories:  “Where was God in the middle of my pain?”

Where was God as the precious six year old girl was being raped by her father, when her mother was being battered, or when her little brother was being thrown down the stairs?  Where was God when she was kept locked in a cold & wet basement for days?  She prayed, she pleaded, but Heaven did not hear her.

Andrew J. Schmutzer has written another wonderful article, copy below, that addresses how trauma impacts a survivor’s concept of God.

Sexual Abuse and the Distortion of Worship

by Andrew J. Schmutzer

There’s another form of trauma from sexual abuse (SA), and one poorly addressed—the bitter upending of one’s faith. “Where was that sovereign God?” “Where were those guardian angels?” “Where are the empathetic people of God willing to listen to my story?” Have you seen this phenomenon or maybe lived it? This is especially traumatic for children in their developmental years, abused by familial and spiritual authorities. I would argue that this fracture of faith is the saddest of SA outcomes for survivors who claimed any faith to begin with. God may be retained for some survivors, but it’s a passive God that remains—a detached and dethroned deity. How do you worship a (“male”) God who did not prevent the plundering of an innocent, vulnerable child? It’s not just female survivors that struggle deeply to worship this God.

This is standard “fallout” for survivors of SA, in large part because the “absentee deity” is the new narrative that greets them at every turn in: the politics of violence, secular therapy offices, internet sites, angry support group leaders, and the sacred silence of the church. Many survivors, steeped in perfectionism and hypervigilance may cling to some form of God—or androgynous “cosmic sacrament”—but the profound spiritual estrangement that now exists between their lived-experience and God stifles any meaningful worship. This loss of worship is directly tied to religious community. As a survivor myself, this collapse of worship among survivors greatly concerns me. As a theologian, I must speak into this.

In part, the specialization in current professional training means that neither counselor nor pastor is adequately educated to address this hybrid of social-theological trauma. Can worship be restored in a twelve-week program? The populist social conviction is that religious systems are inherently flawed, especially those that smack of patriarchy. Is this a stereotype, science, or theology? The need for holistic address of faith and trauma has never been greater—that is my point. But what has happened to religious faith in universities? Where is trauma addressed in seminaries? From one end of the educational spectrum to the other, either God is protected and the victim largely ignored, or the victim takes center stage and God has to walk. It’s likely we’ve all witnessed these extremes. One thing we as professionals must increasingly model is how to disagree at a higher level, valuing inter-disciplinary dialogue in our papers, books, societies, and the classroom. How are therapists or ministers trained to address theological trauma—a whole other kind of healing is necessary! Whenever survivors write off organized faith and their worship dries up, hope will be put in something else, but political platforms aren’t spiritually nourishing.

Why have we separated “finding one’s voice” from “reviving one’s worship?” Understanding how the sin-portfolio operates in sexual abuse goes a long way to helping us understand why survivors struggle so much to worship and talk to God. Sin has its own life cycle, its own environmental logic that moves from: (1) the act, (2) through the resulting guilt, (3) to the perversion that is brought to others as a consequence. As Cornelius Plantinga states it: “[M]oral evil is social and structural as well as personal: it comprises a vast historical and cultural matrix” of derived effects—“we both discover evil and invent it; we both ratify and extend it” (Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 5).

Corruption and evil leads to pollution in the web of relationships and beliefs, and now the distortion of worship becomes more apparent: pollution corrupts by addition, failing to keep apart what should not be mixed. The polluting effect of sin inhibits worship through idolatry. “In idolatry a third party gets in between God and the human person, adulterating an exclusive loyalty” (Ibid, 44). For survivors of SA, the new abusive dynamic compromises the intended relationships by contaminating individuals, severing communities, and so defiling the victim’s proper orientation to God. Third parties are always wedge-shaped (Ibid, 45). As Alistair McFadyen observes: “Sin is therefore living out an active mis-relation to God…so the grounds for genuine joy, are blocked” (Bound to Sin, 149).

Understanding how worship can be disoriented for victims of abuse means helping them wade through the contaminating and toxic effects of sin—whether as self-idolatry or other-idolatry. Both self- and other-idolatry have their unique presentations and addictions. Caring for the abused requires us to bring counter-dynamics into their relational ecosystem. Appropriate healing services for abuse survivors instinctively understand the need for such things as: (1) naming and story-telling, (2) liturgies and memorial, (3) individual safety and corporate grief, (4) and acknowledgement of personal pain and Jesus’ own suffering. These are vital inroads to reawaken the worship of those sitting in silence and suffering from complex PTSD they can’t even explain. What they do know is that their metaphors for God have been crushed. We must help them find new metaphors for God, new rituals, and new vocabulary. To heal a survivor is to restore a community. Healing may take time, even a lifetime. But a survivor’s worship can be renewed and even strengthened by the Good Pardoner and Great Physician. That said, healing from abuse cannot be scripted. And reviving a survivor’s worship may be the most precarious stretch of their healing journey. Many wounded leave the path right here, at the juncture of joy.

Andrew Schmutzer teaches classes in Hebrew language and Old Testament Theology at Moody Bible Institute and is an adjunct instructor at Wheaton College. He is an associate member of the Trauma & Transformation project (McGill University), a contributing editor of Edification, and a co-founder of a support group for abuse survivors called CHAI (Courageous Healing of Abuse and Isolation). He recently edited the book The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused (Wipf & Stock, 2011), http://www.amazon.com/dp/1608993957. He desires an inter-faith dialogue to develop faith-based healing for survivors and (inter-)national policies against sexual abuse.  This article was previously published in Soul and Spirit.