PLZ SOMEBODY HOLD ME, and other prayers

Have you seen the movie Gravity?

This is J and me, tethered together in outer space floating the month away, all hott and adorable like George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, while we forge a panicky plan to stay alive and the entire world roots for us.

Oh, minus the hott and adorable part, and minus the staying alive. And minus the whole world because only about 26 people read this regularly—but I’m positive the 26 of you are rooting for us. And minus the outer space. Oh yeah, and minus the panic for Jeff.

Add back in the panic for me, because this is how I do the unknown: I NEED MORE OXYGEN. WHERE THE F IS THE SATELLITE? CAN ANYBODY HEAR ME? PLZ SOMEBODY HOLD ME.  Continue reading PLZ SOMEBODY HOLD ME, and other prayers

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Thanksgiving, revised and expanded

It’s Thanksgiving time, and if I’m thankful for any one thing this year, it’s for the gift of relationship. This includes the new friends we’ve made across the world through World Next Door and for the old pals that somehow keep popping up all over the place.

Newer and further away: I’m thankful for the Nkuzi family in Rwanda who fed us and welcomed us and invited us into their grief; who trusted us to tread lightly and accepted our empathy as though it was enough. I’m thankful for all the dinner conversations with Peter and Fredrick and Nepo and Eriane and V for, like, the entire month of April in Rwanda. And I’m thankful for our friends Rachel and Ricardo who offered their home (and their liquor JUST KIDDING SORT OF) several times as a getaway. I am thankful for Katy and Alan, our Americans-in-the-field-with-kids people, who enriched our marriage and gave us a new picture of how we could do this if kids ever would enter the picture for us. I’m thankful for Mamsung who literally cared for our every whimsical need in Cambodia. (If you don’t know about her, click the link. You’ll thank me.) I’m thankful for our host family and 14 brothers and sisters in Nepal, who sang us to dinner and hugged us out every day. I’m thankful for Sarah and Kylie and Carlie and Kara in Nepal, who made us feel like we’d always been a part of their group and that there would be a piece missing when we left.  And for our beloved Cupcake Girls, with offers of Thanksgiving love and hospitality through show invites and dinner invites and all the laughing.

I am thankful for the trust of organizations like Tiny Hands and Cupcake Girls doing tricky work who allow us to tell their stories.

And of course, I’m thankful for the organization we write for: World Next Door (and the 62 people who funded us through World Next Door). WND is seeking out justice all over the world—looking for it, writing about it, exposing it—in the middle of tough injustices and laying everything out for all of us to be a part of through a free magazine. Free, you guys.

If you like what you’ve been reading in this space, please show us by downloading the World Next Door app and pass it on. These are the exact things World Next Door writes and publishes for free each month.

Cared For: In which tiny kids out me, emotionally

*This post was written while on assignment with World Next Door: a digital social justice travel magazine. Check out our website (www.worldnextdoor.org) for more information and download our most recent issue! All of the Nepal content can be found here.

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It was about halfway through our time with Tiny Hands in Nepal that I discovered a sweet spot tucked away their ministry. I was so dazzled by the anti-trafficking work detailed in the previous article—the border stations and interceptions, maps, analytics and all things undercover—that I sort of forgot about everything else, like how the ministry started in the first place: children’s homes.

Before we were scheduled to visit one of the homes, I flipped through a stack of old newsletters and magazines produced by Tiny Hands throughout the years and read that the founder, John, had originally established Tiny Hands as an organization caring for orphaned and abandoned street children. He launched the ministry after he noticed a stark contrast between street kids in Kathmandu and the smiling, laughing, singing, dancing kids of a local organization’s family-style children’s home. He determined to find those who need help the most—vulnerable orphaned or abandoned kids on the streets—and use the best strategies, the most qualified people, and with a “do much with little” philosophy.

Tiny Hands opened their first children’s home in 2003 as a family, not an orphanage, which I thought was interesting. My image of a children’s home had always been a gaggle of stray kids collected together and organized by age and sheltered until they were either adopted or turned 18. But kids in Tiny Hands’ homes were not waiting for adoption or shoring up dreams of a future family—the home in itself was a family. They had two parents who were called to serve them attentively and individually, a quality education in both Nepali and English at a nearby school, spiritual nurturing, health care, protection, solid nutrition, games, laughter, fun and on-target development.

So that was the plan. Tiny Hands opened that first home, and then grew a handful of additional homes in Kathmandu,  Pokhara and Chitwan caring for Nepal’s orphaned and abandoned kids.

It was only through the work with vulnerable kids, however, that John became aware of a more desperate injustice: sex-trafficking. Girls and kids were harvested from villages and streets all around him and taken across the Nepal/India borders for the purpose of sexual slavery. Quickly, victims of trafficking moved to the top of the list as “those who need help most” in addition to orphaned or abandoned street kids (who are themselves at risk of being sucked into the feeder system of the sex trade simply by being vulnerable) and the organization began specific anti-trafficking initiatives.

Ultimately, I understood, it wasn’t about the specific issue. The entire vision of Tiny Hands follows a few commands of Christ: love your neighbor as yourself, and whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me. If you found yourself alone on the street or without parents, would you be desperate for someone to help? Then Tiny Hands would be desperate to help. If you were kidnapped and raped, would you be desperate for someone to find the courage and conviction to save you? Then Tiny Hands would be desperate to find the girls and save them.

Tiny Hands is living this philosophy out, in addition to their sex-trafficking programs, within their ten children’s homes serving a total of 138 kids.

How could we have overlooked this?!

But I imagine it happens all the time. There are no blockbuster movies starring Liam Neeson about children’s homes. The injustice and responses aren’t as dramatic as trafficking. It’s not so glamorous, raising 14 kids that aren’t your own for life. And what would the title be called? Cared For.

This movie would feature early morning wake-ups, preparing a ton of breakfast, wetting down rogue hairs on an eight-year-old, morning prayers, packing book bags, socks and uniforms and bow ties and ponytails and braids and shoe-tying, walking several kids to several different schools, laundry, parent conferences, more food, homework, lots of math and spelling help, playtime, singing time, devotions, dinner, teeth-brushing, hair-undoing, night time prayers, uniform ironing, sock pairing, shoe-lining and several deep breaths.

Riveting.

The thing is, it was riveting when I saw it in action. And the tiny little faces that welcomed me into Tiny Hands’ Bethany Home are just as valuable, precious and deserving of attention as their counterparts at the borders with equally as desperate circumstances. All these vulnerable kids are just trying to make it in Nepal, and Tiny Hands is doing everything they can to ensure they more than make it, that they are loved, cared for, protected, educated, healthy and successful in the process—belonging to two parents and a handful of siblings for their entire lives.

Bethany Home kids posing in the play room on our first evening
Bethany Home kids posing in the play room on our first evening

BETHANY HOME

We—Jeff and I, along with a Tiny Hands staff—arrived at Bethany Home one evening during play time, and noticed about a dozen kids ranging in age from three to 12 playing on a colorfully carpeted floor in front of an entire wall of toys and games. The room was painted purple and green, decorated with construction paper handprints, photographs and crafts from each of the kids.

We were pummeled with hugs and kisses and laughter and tickling and displays of ABCs and number counting, and we were eventually serenaded with several songs that included coordinated dance moves and hand motions. They also waited expectantly as Jeff and I struggled to come up with an equally as impressive impromptu song with coordinated dance moves—Father Abraham was brilliant we thought, until they all joined in. Old news, Father Abraham.

Singing and dancing
Singing and dancing

We met the youngest kids, three-year-old Samuel and Sudin, who are not brothers, but were inseparable and off-the-wall silly, inciting monkey noises and matchbox car races and wresting moves from Jeff and the other staff.

Samuel and Sudin
Samuel and Sudin

Samuel and Sudin were typical three-year-old boys in every way possible—rambunctious, playful and full of energy. I looked at the house mom, who was acting as base for several other young kids who would run back and forth from her lap to the toys, and shook my head. How does she do it? And why? She and her husband have two healthy biological kids in the mix somewhere in the room and could surely be making more money for an easier life. But she smiled back and wrapped one of the boys in a bear hug, patiently redirecting the other who was break-dancing on top of another kid’s puzzle.

We wanted to hear their stories—the kids and the parents—but we’d have to come back. Being an attentive mom to 14 kids under 12 doesn’t really allow for efficient side conversation, so we enjoyed the tea served by one of the older kids and jumped into the playtime scene around us.

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Because it’s a law in Nepal that foreigners can’t spend the night in children’s homes, we made arrangements to sneak in the next morning for breakfast just to see what a typical morning is like in the home. We also hoped to visit the kids’ schools and spend some quality time getting to know the house parents.

We arrived early the next morning to sleepy faces and hot breakfast! The kids lined up at the table, prayed together and gobbled up their steamy platefuls of lentils and rice. We had such fun watching the little and big girls do each other’s hair, the older kids fix the uniform neckties of the younger kids, and little feet everywhere pulling socks on and off as they found the right sizes and matches. You would never believe the effort it takes to find and fit 14 little feet into shoes, but they did it, and the entire family gathered for dad’s morning prayer before leaving for school. I was in awe. Throughout the entire getting-ready-for-school process, I never felt tense or overwhelmed. The house parents emulate a feeling of peace and patience throughout the house, and it’s impossible not to just soak it up. When was the last time you spent a few hours with 14 kids under 12 during those hectic morning hours and walked away feeling peaceful?!

Girls getting ready before school
Girls getting ready before school
The girls all lined up and ready
The girls all lined up and ready
A little prayer over the kids before school
A little prayer over the kids before school
14 kids finding their school shoes at the same time :)
14 kids finding their school shoes at the same time :)

We walked with the family hand-in-hand to three different schools, including the two youngest—Samuel and Sudin—who attend a Montessori playgroup. Montessori playgroup. Such opportunities afforded to these two little guys! I wondered if a Montessori playgroup would even have been a possibility in their other lives prior to Bethany Home. Where had they come from? Why were they here?

Questions were piling up as we walked with the parents back to the house, and I patiently sat, sipping my tea and visiting, until the conversation lulled and they asked if we had any questions about the kids or the house. Finally!

“Tell me everything,” I said. “Beginning to end, front to back, yourselves, the kids, the entire story!”

I’d heard from Tiny Hands staff that Bethany Home was a special place, that the parents have a unique story, and that some of their youngest kids had the greatest margin of growth despite desperate beginnings. I wanted it all.  So we sat cross-legged on the floor of the colorful playroom over Nepali tea for several hours, and the Gurungs shared their own story, and the stories of how several kids had become their own.

[Read the rest of this story and how it relates to our own journey of unparerenting here…]

*This and other stories like this are be featured in the December issue of World Next Door Magazine, featuring Tiny Hands Nepal. Download it for freeeeee!

Viva Las Vegas! (or something)

Morning friends!

We are just a few hours from taking off for our next assignment in…   Las Vegas!  (You should see the look we get when we tell people this. Wait. Maybe it’s the look you have right now?)

All year-long fellows are able to choose one Stateside assignment of the five, and we are partnering with an organization called The Cupcake Girls.

The Cupcake Girls is a group of volunteers who are committed to providing non-judgmental support, consistent caring, and messages of faith, hope and love to women working in the strip clubs. The volunteers do this without agenda and believe that sometimes it’s the smallest act of kindness that leads to the greatest change.  Many of the individuals working at Cupcake Girls are Christians, but after hearing heartbreaking stories of Christian groups coming into the clubs throwing tracts at the girls in the name of Christ without ever talking to them, they understood that the real way to show Christ’s love would be through relationships.

For that reason, they purposely formed The Cupcake Girls as a non-religious non-profit in the hopes of breaking through some of those thick barriers. This group is essentially living out Christianity without the Christian sign on their foreheads.

It was obvious when talking to key staff and volunteers that their faith is their motivating factor. They have the freedom within the organization to share their own faith if someone asks what motivates them to do the job they’re doing, and volunteers link women up with spiritual resources through the churches that support them, but they don’t “push” Christianity onto the women. They establish trusting relationships and walk with them in or out of the industry. As their trust grows, monthly cupcakes turn into coffee dates and the Cupcake Girls are invited into the women’s lives where they’re able to assist the women in whatever ways they can through their services at the Women’s Resource Center:

Medical Assistance, Dental Assistance, Federal/County Aid Application Assistance, Financial Advisor, Educational Tutors- for both entertainers and their children, Nutritionist, Law Consultation, Coffee and Cupcakes Groups, One on One Mentoring, Emergency Care Packages, Moving Assistance, Drug and, Alcohol Rehab Assistance, Domestic Violence Assistance, Safe House Assistance, Hosting Baby Showers and Birthday Parties.

Literally, everything anyone could possibly need, the Cupcake Girls tries to provide for.

So, here’s a little trivia question. What US city do you think has the highest rate of strip clubs per capita?

Hint: It’s not Vegas.

Would you believe our beloved Portland?! Yes, Portland has the highest rate of strip clubs per capita in the US, so the Cupcake Girls has opened a location in Portland, too, and we hope to get the chance to visit the programs there, because the ultimate goal of the Cupcake Girls is to open in every major US city.

Jeff is also hoping to hook up with an organization called MST Project, which focuses on the mens. MST believes that the men who patron the brothels and strip clubs are themselves made in the image of Christ and are deserving of love and healing. We don’t know a whole lot about this org, other than that we first found them in Phnom Penh, and their headquarters are in Portland with a branch in Las Vegas. They keep popping up in all our cities, though, so we’d kind of like to see what they’re all about.

So. We feel inspired by The Cupcake Girls, and while the time between Nepal and Vegas was (too) short, we are excited to get started in Las Vegas!

OTHER EXCITING NEWS:

Book Launch Group Pic Storytelling 2

Our book launched on Tuesday! We had a fantastic party filled with desserts and storytelling from Nepal and Bangladesh. This is a hard-copy book of all the adorable kids from the places and organizations World Next Door has partnered with all over the world. November’s (free) magazine is a special issue companion to the book with about half the photos but a ton of additional video clips of the kids. So cute.

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The book is available here for $17 along with calendars and postcards. These would be great Christmas gifts :)

NEPAL STUFF

Speaking of magazine issues… Our Nepal issue will be available on the World Next Door app in your newsstand in December, and you WILL NOT BELIEVE everything we experienced there. Undercover brothels, border station interceptions, modern day 101 y/o prophets, awe-inspiring parents of 14 kids in a children’s home, entire albums of monkeys and mountains, a bunch of lost-in-translation moments, and some Everest trivia.

If you just can’t wait until December (I don’t blame you), here are links to blog posts written along the way while we were there.  These are Jeff’s reflections in the brothels, Nepal as the land of extremes, the back story of Tiny Hands, and what the border stations were like.

Fist pumping alone in my pajamas wearing a headlight

Undercover: A night out with the guys… and girls

Land of Extremes: Valleys and high places

The back story, which is kind of THE story, and the borders

Thanks for following, pals.

The backstory, which is kind of THE story, and the Borders

Throughout our time with Tiny Hands, I have been super inspired by a piece of the organization’s history. Beyond just ordinary growing pains, a few years ago they thought they’d actually failed the vision.  Because of their response, though, this “failure” became the turning point for the ministry and lead to unbelievable growth in Tiny Hands’ effectiveness at the borders. The story essentially reflects our own human limits despite our best intentions, and God’s expansive, restorative power.  When we just can’t, He can.

Early on, after evaluating failed operations at five different border stations, the small team of U.S. and Nepali Tiny Hands staff became frustrated with the apparent ineffectiveness of the organization’s approach. They were intercepting only a handful of girls each year, some months none at all, and felt like they were throwing money down the drain that could be put to more efficient use. They were failing the injustice despite all their best efforts and gallant vision.  What more could they do?

I thought it might have been easiest to throw their hands up and say, “Well, we did our best and it didn’t work!” They could have moved on with a clean conscious, having given it their best effort. But, as I’d read in Terrify No More, they would have been saying, effectively, to the girls being trafficked in Nepal: “We’re sorry. There is nothing more we can do. This is the best the best the body of Christ has to offer.”

Instead, staff described how the founder sent out a manifesto calling on the faith of the US and Nepali staff through an organization-wide rally cry of prayer and fasting. Every Wednesday all staff in both countries prayed and fasted for trafficking and for the effectiveness of their work.

Each person we interviewed shared a piece of this story as they continue to be inspired by it. They directed me to the manifesto entitled Project 58, after Isaiah 58:6 calling us to loose the chains of injustice and set the oppressed free, to break every yoke.  Two seconds into the manifesto, I had goose bumps and felt a new level of perseverance even in my small corner of the world.

Here is an excerpt:

Today around 30 Nepali girls were trafficked into India to be forced into the sex industry. Tomorrow, 30 more will be trafficked. By that time, those who were trafficked today will be awaking to the realization of what has happened to them. They will be locked up, beaten, and raped until they give in and accept the hell that will thereafter be their life. Meanwhile, as these girls continue to suffer, more will be added to their number, at the rate of 2-3 girls every waking hour—and this will continue until the small handful of NGOs who are working on this issue figure out a way to make their work more effective.

While you are working on anything relating to this project, and when you sit down to work and you are diverted and distracted by obstacles and cares, remember the faces of the girls that you know are in brothels now, and those whose lives are in danger of being wrecked if we do not stop it. Gary Haugan, the president of International Justice Mission, points out that the owners of brothels, and those who traffic girls are diligent and determined to succeed in their work. They are at it 24 hours a day, thinking about how to make their work more effective, and how to avoid being caught. Unless God’s people can muster up even greater determinedness, this work has little chance of succeeding. So fight, on behalf of your God and His love for these girls, against every instinct in you to give less than your absolute best, against every obstacle that you will encounter (and you will encounter many) and every frustration that comes your way (and many will come), fight. Do not be deterred by anything, do not let anything stop you from succeeding in each part of this work that you take on. Keep before you always the faces of the girls, and Christ in them, and remember His words and promises, and that He will go before you and after you, and help you.

During the time of prayer and fasting, the organization redoubled its efforts through research and literature. They identified the current director of anti-human trafficking—a former church planter translating some things for Tiny Hands at the time—who, inspired by the new initiative, wanted to get involved.  This was the guy now sitting across from me at the restaurant.

Together the team translated and distributed Border Monitoring Standards to all the stations and sent five staff in five different directions covering each section of the border to fill out the surveys, fill in the maps, and interview police, rickshaw drivers and NGOs.  Bhola, the church-planter-translator guy, emerged as a well-connected leader who took the vision of Tiny Hands to Christian churches along the border. Over the next month, he covered the entire border, setting up subcommittees within the local churches that would oversee 11 new locations with several more to follow.

That was almost five years ago.

Today, 26 local churches are staffing 28 border monitoring and transit stations, intercepting an average of 1600 girls per year!

I couldn’t wait to get to the borders.

Equipped with knowledge of the investigation process and the success the organization had experienced through prayer and research, we were excited to visit the border stations ourselves. This was the front-line fruit of all the prayer and fasting, and the physical halting of the rape business in-progress. I envisioned organized lines, checkpoints, police and high-tech monitoring devices.

I have no idea what world I was imagining. Certainly not Nepal’s.

The dusty Birgunj border
The dusty Birgunj border

It had taken over 10 hours to reach the closest border station on rickety mountain roads, I had sweat through all my clothes, was covered in dust, itching from a dust/water rash, and we literally walked across the border to India without a care by anyone. Any pretense I had about the sophistication or glamor of border work flew out the window. I had not even been there for 15 minutes and I was miserable. It was one hundred degrees and smelled like trash. Yet 100 workers hang out in 26 plywood border stations on the Indian border intercepting girls 12-16 hours per day.  Each border station is overseen and staffed by a local Nepali church, subcommittee and chairman, and Tiny Hands provides the training and funding.

One of the border stations- the brown shack in the background
One of the border stations- the brown shack in the background
Pastor and border staff at Birgunj border station
Pastor and border staff at Birgunj border station

We met with the pastor and staff early that morning and met an intercepted girl who was deaf and on day five of trying to locate family. She spoke a different language nobody could understand, but she was taken care of by the pastor’s wife at a temporary safe house tucked away from the border streets. She is one of 750 women intercepted at this station in four years. The sweetest part is what the pastor said later as we were leaving: though the anti-trafficking work is an essential part of his Christian ministry, his overall goal is to bring the people of Nepal to Christ. Each interception exposes a girl to the Gospel.

I went to bed that night thankful, inspired, and itchy.

The next morning, we drove another eight hours to the next border, collecting another eight pounds of dirt, dust, mosquito bites and hives. There, we found ourselves in the middle of an interception. Even more remarkable than seeing the actual interception process was that the particular border worker who intercepted the young girl was intercepted herself three years ago and now works at the station to help other girls like her. Here is a link to her video.

Another border station at a different crossing
Another border station at a different crossing
An interception in progress
An interception in progress

Again, this is the moment it all became real for me. I had never seen the rape business in progress until I saw this girl’s confused face at a dusty border station in hundred-degree heat in traditional clothes from a faraway village trying not to cry. She read the cartoon drawing posters tacked to the plywood wall describing the lies and actual reality of trafficking. The man she had come with was off to the side, hand in his hair, visibly stressed out.

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At the safe house she fought to maintain composure despite emerging tears. The pastor’s wife and staff fed, comforted and prayed for the girl as we stepped out with the pastor. Almost immediately, he received another call from the border staff about another interception, this time with two women who were on their way to the safe house.

So his days go, this station intercepting 40-50 girls per month, several per day.

I left the borders awestruck at the never-ending work of border workers and the local churches despite harsh conditions and constant threats.

This is an excerpt from my feature that will publish in the December issue of World Next Door magazine.

Land of Extremes: Valleys and high places

Due to internet speed, this post will be illustrated with *awesome* iphone pics only. Additional images of Nepal can be found here, though I’m about 3 weeks late in edits and uploads. Sigh.

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Flying into Kathmandu, I could see the tips of the Himalayan Mountains peeking through the clouds. Fascinated by top-of-the-world snowy peaks, prayer flags and Sherpa communities, I’d dreamt of visiting Nepal for years. I couldn’t imagine what the Himalayas might be like, twice as high as the Colorado Rockies I’d only seen for the first time three years ago. (I am a reformed beach vacationer.)

And Kathmandu? So exotic per all my pretend (now REAL) friends in House Hunters International- tune in Nov 15th  :)

From the sky, the city seemed sleepy and peaceful. I could never imagine the bustling, crowded, loud and fragrant streets, the pounding heat, or the black puffs of exhaust that would infiltrate the valleys below. The dreamy place of my imagination turned out to be worn and vulnerable—a parallel I would eventually make with its youngest and least educated inhabitants. The brick and stone buildings looked equally a million years strong and on the brink of toppling any second. Homes precariously perched on the sides of slopes could just slide right off tomorrow, it appeared.

On only the clearest day, beyond the ten-thousand-foot hills that surround Kathmandu valley, the Himalayas can be seen from the streets below, creating an excitement around town. An audible gasp can be heard on mornings when the fog lifts or a cloud dissipates revealing a massive, sparkly peak—like an unexpected royal breakfast guest. I could never anticipate the stirring I would feel inside, a tiny speck on one of those crowded streets, when the clouds cleared and I looked up to see the peaks in the distance. A glimpse of the high places. Real, I was sure, but from where I stood, unreachable.

Kathmandu Valley

Our royal breakfast guest
Our royal breakfast guest

Nepal is a land of extremes, and as high and bright as the mountains above soared, so deep was the darkness hidden from the high places, lurking in provincial villages and alleys. We had come to Nepal to write about sex trafficking.

I was prepared to hear the story of an individually trafficked girl. I was prepared to write about the micro-oriented work I thought Tiny Hands Nepal, our host ministry, was doing at various border stations. I thought I might conservatively marvel at the double-digits being intercepted on their way to India in the face of ten thousand. These efforts would have been commendable in themselves, for I had read that to succumb to the enormity of the problem is to fail the one. So, I would write about the work on behalf of the one, while at the same time myself succumbing to the enormity of the problem.

But Tiny Hands blew me out of the water. Everything I thought I knew about trafficking was flipped upside down and turned around.

I’d learned during my first week that Nepal, which shares open borders with India, is a source country for trafficking through India to the Arabian Gulf—to the tune of about 10,000 girls per year.  India is both a destination for trafficked Nepali girls and a transit route to the Arabian Gulf, where men from poorer communities have been recruited for cheap labor. Women are necessarily imported to meet their needs

What?!

Women are necessarily imported to meet the sexual needs of cheap laborers.

I could just imagine the business owners working out the whole arrangement:

-But where should we get them, boss?
-Oh, I don’t know. Just find a bunch of desperately poor, naïve, uneducated girls and trick them!

And a business was born. Supply and demand. However the girls are obtained—coercion, physical force, drugs, fake marriages, fake jobs—the overhead is cheap and the $32 billion dollar payoff is massive and renewable. It’s a low-risk/high-reward business.

But sex trafficking has been trending for a good few years. Awareness is growing, there are 5ks in every major American city to end slavery, and #anti-trafficking #hashtags all over twitter. I’d heard the stories of rescued girls and brothel raids; I’d looked into the tiny faces of would-be trafficked girls in Cambodia spared through preventative programming and shook my head in disbelief. I mean, I knew it was true, but it just didn’t seem real.

It got real real fast in Nepal.

I realized two things as I began to weave in and out of the programs at Tiny Hands: One, Because of all the exposure I’ve had to the concept of sex trafficking, my heart had been numbed by the language we use and scope of the problem. “Sex trafficking” is just a fancy name for rape business. When I thought of it in those terms, my heart jumped up and reached around for weapons. It’s a rape business! With kids!

Two, I had never seen the trafficking in-progress. I had never seen the collision of deception and naivety until I looked at the confused face of an intercepted 14-year old at a dusty border station. My perspective expanded to include rape business in-progress.

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As I’d read in Gary Haugen’s book Terrify No More that “The infinite distance between the dignified setting in which we talk about the gross brutalization of people and the places where it actually happens suddenly collapsed when the sights and sound of evil incarnate filled the room.”

Yep. That happened. Sex trafficking went from a concept to a person standing in front of me that day.

I began to understand that my previous knowledge of the trafficking industry was like seeing only the tip of a mountain peeking through the clouds, only the visible part of the trafficking enterprise: the commodity and the byproduct. But an entire mountain and valley, I learned, exists below the cloud line—a robust, unseen network.

Where did the girl come from? Why was she trafficked? By whom? How many more girls are there? Where did the traffickers come from? Which routes did they use? What border did they cross? Who funded it?

These are the questions Tiny Hands is asking.

They are not just waiting at the top of the mountain addressing all the things we can see. They’re not even off the side scooping up girls before they’re pulled in. They’re inside the mountain—the rape business in-progress—blowing the whole thing up!

How could they possibly do this, I wondered as I sat down with my pen and notebook across from Nepali staff on our first full day in country. I had come to the premature conclusion that in small niches of the world handfuls of girls were being spared this awful life by prevention, and another small portion was being methodically rescued; but I was not entirely convinced justice would ever find its way up and out to the bad guys or that any of these operations would put a dent in the industry.

Over the course of two days, hidden away in a corner Momo shop, the Tiny Hands staff pieced together for me the story of an inter-country collaboration of skills, expertise and the love of Christ working together to free those captive, dismantle the network and de-incentivise the business.

One-by-one the staff entered the restaurant hot and sweaty, during a government-sanctioned strike that shut down all transportation country-wide. I interviewed the directors, trainers, law personnel and aftercare workers who serve and train the border staff, and monitor their needs and safety.

Particularly striking about the Nepali staff was each one’s humility and willingness to put his life at risk coordinating border work. One described how he keeps logs of traffickers in jail and works hard to anticipate what harm might befall workers at various stations in retribution. All told of their lives being threatened. They weren’t stuffy white shirt guys with slick hair and gadget pens or big burly guys on motorcycles. They were ordinary Nepali men in ball caps and chinos, none over 5’8”, many with wives and young kids, equipped primarily with research and prayer.

Then we met the research guys. They comprise a covert network of Nepali “Justice Operations” expertise.

One guy, who had been part of the dark underworld of drugs and crime, is providing unparalleled information and access to the criminal network after Christ restored his life nine years ago. Saved by grace, he jumped at the chance to use his “criminal mind” for good, and is now in the business of fighting for justice. He also offered us his taxi contact, showed us a picture of his adorable little boy and offered to teach us how to make Momos.

Another would provide the necessary role of setting things up logistically, serving a liaison between teams in the field, and translating when necessary.

These two and several others work under the direction of the Vice President of Justice Operations—an international expert in the field, who was constantly presented to us by all the different staff and volunteers like this: You have to meet Jeff! He doesn’t live here, but he’s the expert training our research guys. He used to work for International Justice Mission, but he’s in Thailand right now on an operation.

Wow. An “operation.” I made jokes about spy pens, but everyone just nodded their heads sincerely.

Jeff had the vision for the Fusion Center, into which all the Justice Operations intelligence is funneled, and where an impassioned twenty-something Johns Hopkins grad makes sense of it. This grad is in charge of research and analysis, and he is self-funded, along with all the other Tiny Hands International staff.

During our sunset interview on his day off, he described how he creates maps showing points of origin for both the trafficker and the victim, the average path lengths and transit routes, funding sources, and final destinations. This, the team believes, will help them understand the methods of recruitment, and more strategically fight sex trafficking on a structural level.

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So, they are at the borders intercepting individual girls on a daily basis, but through the interception, they’re able to gather information for prosecution and de-incentivise the trade. Every successful intervention costs the traffickers money. Every successful prosecution costs them time, commodity, and resources. Every criminal sentenced to jail makes trafficking a higher risk/lower profit enterprise in that community.

A little more comprehensive than I had initially thought.

Here is the body of Christ, I marveled, with its different skills, purposes and nationalities working together toward a common goal of intercepting as many girls as possible, building tight cases for prosecution, and convicting the traffickers.

People constantly ask how God could let this happen. Couldn’t he just rescue the girls? Doesn’t he care?

Uh. Yeah. It was never God’s fault.

God has heard the cries of these girls. God is in the brothel with them. God is at the border with them. God is at the source, God is in the transit routes and God is at the destination. He has given us everything we need to pick these girls up—specks on the dirty, dusty streets looking at high places that don’t quite seem real. He has given us the ability to set them on the high places. Like the ancient-looking brick and stone buildings on the brink of toppling, so the sex trafficking industry would be in Nepal — thanks to the work of Tiny Hands.

This is an excerpt from my feature that will publish in the December issue of World Next Door magazine.  Again, muchas gracias to Beth and mom who helped with edits.

Persecution in an Unlikely Place…

[Disclaimer: Real persecution has been happening since the beginning of time all over the place.  All sorts of people are discriminated against for all types of reasons, and I don’t like any of it. Christians can sometimes discriminate against others, too.  I wish we had a different name than those guys. Sometimes those guys make the rest of us look like we deserve it.  All this acknowledged, the following is info about the Christian minority in Nepal.]

We’ve been on the ground for about two weeks here in Nepal, and I was dumbfounded to discover covert discrimination against Christianity here.  I knew persecution against the church was happening overtly and violently in key places, and I assumed we’d find it somewhere in our travels, but here?! I mean, it’s dreamy Nepal! A democratic republic, major tourist destination, and therefore, I assumed, progressive and inclusive of just about anyone.

We quickly saw, though, the tricky and delicate operations of our host ministry and the risk they are currently facing in renewing their registration because they are a Christian organization. Right now, although it’s a secular state, the Maoists have political control, Hindu has the religious majority, and the Christian minority sits just below legal status in terms of recognition of churches as registered organizations and in legal access to burial land.

Jeff was last here in 1999 during the Hindu monarchy (the world’s last constitutionally declared Hindu state, btw)  and at that time, evangelizing was illegal. Jeff got arrested. JUST KIDDING!

In response to Christian protests for equal rights, the government signed an agreement in 2006 promising to include legal recognition of their churches and land to bury their dead. Seven years later, these things still have not been enforced, because officials want to protect the sacred Hindu land within the city that Christians would need to use for burials. Although Nepal is still functioning under a transitional constitution that bans evangelism, it does allow for citizens to express their faith through charity work. Draft legislation for the new Nepali constitution, however, proposes a law criminalizing evangelism, and, per certain clauses in the legislation, challenging social injustices like caste oppression and women’s inequality would be illegal if they threatened religious feelings. Yikes. That’s kind of what we do.

Here’s what all that means to us and the organization we are working with: when government staff recently walked through one of the organization’s children’s home during worship time, the organization’s NGO registration renewal was mysteriously frozen. If only the organization believed in bribes, they could clear all this up real fast! But they don’t. So instead they are waiting patiently and letting the homes and kids speak for themselves.

After spending time with the pastor-dad of one of the Children’s homes this morning and talking about the Christian environment of the homes, discrimination against Christian NGOs and religious intolerance, I found this in one of Tiny Hand’s newsletters:

Every child has the right to choose his/her religion. This is one point at which both true Christians and secular child-rights activists are in agreement. To simply assume that children are Christians because of the home they grew up in, or, still worse, to make in any way our love for them contingent on their becoming Christian is (a) a violation of children’s rights, and (b) a way to create religious hypocrites. Doing so can make the free choice required for true faith almost impossible. Each individual has the right and obligation to choose for himself.

 It is true that children growing up in Christian homes usually end up being Christians, and insofar as children are either explicitly or implicitly (by social pressure and conditional love) forced to become Christians, these criticisms are valid. But just as children have a right to choose their religion, parents have a right to teach them about the things they believe. To deny this is the height of religious intolerance. And though it is very important to us not to make our love conditional on their becoming Christians, it is still more important to do all we can to model, teach, and encourage the faith expressing itself through the love that we find in the New Testament.

On an individual level? Here is what it looks like for the indigenous Nepali discovering Christianity for the first time.

One friend (a staff member) told us he was rejected by his entire family for converting to Christianity in secondary school after a teacher shared her own faith. The principal called his parents and said he’d been brainwashed, and his dad tried to force him to reject his conversion. But our friend said he couldn’t, because it was inside of him already. The teacher was fired, the 15-year-old grew in his Christianity, rejected the caste system, married another Christian woman and was excommunicated for marrying outside his caste.

His Christianity cost his entire family.

Another friend, a pastor we spoke with at one of the Tiny Hands Border Monitoring Stations, was introduced to Christianity through an uncle who would gather all the kids and tell Bible stories and sing songs on his living room floor.  The kids loved this time, because the Uncle allowed all the caste levels to sit together on the floor equally. When the adults in the community found out about this, no one was allowed to visit this uncle anymore, and the uncle was arrested and jailed. About a decade later, a co-worker invited this pastor to church, and respecting the co-worker very much, the pastor went. He recalled his Uncle’s stories and songs and his rejection of the caste system in the name of Christianity. Over time, the pastor began to believe the truth in the Gospel. He eventually accepted Christ, got baptized, quit his job and went to Bible school. Ultimately, through the pastor’s own example, his entire family came to accept Christ.

His Christiany saved his entire family.

Despite all this, where do you suppose Christianity is growing the fastest in the world right now?
Nepal!

 

These days, Christians in Nepal have one urgent goal: With 97% of their own friends and family enslaved to the beliefs and practices of Hinduism, their main mission is to evangelize, despite the law.

These pastors and staff believe that the anti-trafficking work we came to learn about is absolutely a part of their Christian ministry, but their overall goal is to bring the people of Nepal to Christ. Each interception exposes a girl to the Gospel.

 

What can you do? 
Pray for the local church and other Christian organizations in Nepal.

Welcome home!

We have only been in the country for two days, and there’s already too much to write!

Let me set the scene: we flew out of Indy at 8pm on Monday and arrived in Nepal at 7am on Weds with a full day before us. We spent all day doing things like setting up phones and dongles and changing money and meeting our host family, and when we went to bed that night, it had been about 52 hours since we had last gotten out of bed two mornings before. That might be the longest I’ve ever been awake at one time.

One funny note from the airport. Our travel time door-to-door was about 30 hours, so I was feeling a little less than fresh and very sleepy when we lined up for our Nepali visa at the airport. It was one of those quick and chaotic find-the-right-papers-and-get-in-the-right-line-before-everyone-else-on-the-plane-does situations, and we were thrilled to be relatively close to the visa counter when we realized we needed extra passport pics, and I didn’t have one. Jeff saved our place while they pointed me to the photo booth, which was locked and forming a line itself, but a young guy from behind a different counter switched hats, grabbed his keys and ran over to the photo booth, told me to sit on a stool, snapped a pic before I even knew what was happening, and here it was:

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confused, tired, quick and chaotic

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We were greeted at the airport by Sarah, the Tiny Hands Overseas Liaison. She helped get all our phones and dongles set up for us, took us to a guesthouse to shower, helped plan out our week, and hung out with us until our host fam was ready at 3p.

We could not have been blessed with a better host family!

At the family’s gate, a door swung open and a teen girl with a big smile said, Welcome home! Our host family has 14 girls and 4 boys. FOURTEEN SISTERS!!! They range in age from 4-26, and are a combination of siblings and cousins, as their dad’s two brothers, one sister-in-law and one brother-in-law live in the home together. The house is tall and skinny with four levels, maybe 10 bedrooms(?) and bunks everywhere. The host dad, G is a pastor and runs a separate ministry supported by the church and other organizations—his (and his family’s) story is so inspiring, I’m hoping to be able to share more about it later.

Jeff and I are in a room on the first floor, which is where all the kids do their homework.

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Our room

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Homework area outside our room

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Our host home

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Everyone’s shoes all organized outside the door

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The kitchen and living room area are warm and welcoming, and we have felt at home from the very beginning, especially when we discovered a basket of cookies and candy in our room on our arrival. We have Nepali tea with the parents in the mornings and tea on the roof in the evenings, share dinner together as a family in the kitchen, and the kids have come around at different times to talk and hang out one or two at a time. Someone is always home, always friendly and available, and almost everyone speaks English. We are slowly learning everyone’s names, and we’re impressed with how many of the kids come sit with us on the roof to talk or visit, which helps with the name learning one-by-one and is just so darn sweet.

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Family dinner!

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The home has a water filtration system built in, so we’ve had clean water, and there is a solar panel on top to heat water for showers! Which brings me to my favorite room of the house: the roof!

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Evening tea on the roof

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Looking West down our street from the roof

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Our little friend practicing her English homework at dusk

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Some boys playing volleyball on the street below

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Facing south, looking out over the neighborhood

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Looking North

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All the tomato and chili plants- the potatoes and garlic are kept inside because the monkeys steal them!

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The little chili plants

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Hanging the chilis to dry

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The water tank and solar panel

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Our home is a five-minute walk from both the main Tiny Hands Nepal office and the Freedom Operations office, not to mention a restaurant with delicious momos for a dollar. [More on momos later!]

We’ve spent the last two days at both offices meeting and getting to know the Nepali staff, learning a ton about the border monitoring process and the local church’s involvement, and trying to understand things like Bandh- a government issued political strike where no vehicles are allowed on the road at all and nothing is open. Kids are out of school and the only transport option is walking, or sometimes bicycles. Our first morning in the Tiny Hands office was a Bandh day, so people trickled in one-by-one over the course of the morning fanning themselves and gulping water after having walked, some of them, two hours to get to the office (what?!). Our host fam dad, G, had to officiate a wedding that day and had no choice but to walk with several of the kids to the church 5 miles away. All the guests had to walk, so the wedding, which was supposed to start at 11a didn’t start until 1p, and then a second round of guests began to arrive at 5p, so they did another round!

Also tricky are the intentional rolling blackouts. I think there’s a schedule, but I haven’t seen it yet. Wait, I just googled it and found this. Hmm.

Screen shot 2013-09-13 at 6.07.08 AM

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Electricity in certain seasons can be out for up to 16 hours per day. Right now it seems to go out at 8a and come back on around 3p. Some places have generators, and at our house, each room has one working light during blackouts, so that’s nice.

Weather right now is pretty awesome. It’s hot during the middle of the day, but 60s in the mornings and evenings. It hasn’t rained yet so far, and we’re looking forward to doing some cultural things in the city this weekend, before heading down to the borders and to Pokhara with Tiny Hands next week.

We are so impressed with Tiny Hands, it’s difficult to figure out how to fit everything in our short time here, and how to best share everything through World Next Door and on the blog. They are doing SO much SO well, and we’ve already been inspired after only two days.

The International and Nepali staff each have community nights for fellowship and meal sharing, and we’ve been invited to one tonight, which we’re pumped about. We haven’t met the international staff yet, so here’s to hoping we avoid Lost in Translation moments tonight.

Thanks for coming with us via the Internets!

We Harts You.

Hi buddy-ol-pals,

This is one of those lump-a-bunch-of-news-together kind of updates, with one embarrassing picture of our packing status.

We are only 8 hours from flying out for our next assignment in Nepal. We have been home for about 4 weeks and jam-packed a lot of family and friend visiting, although we didn’t see or talk to everyone we would have liked to visit with. We are in a state of constant disconnect it feels like, and wish we could stop time to catch up and share a meal with more people than there are days home. If you’re wondering, yes, we mean you!

World Next Door just released our 6th magazine issue this month (the 3rd for Jeff and I) and have seen growing success with increasing in downloads and readership each month!  We have also discovered many personal stories of individuals and families getting involved with different organizations, kids getting sponsored, trunk parties hosted, inspired US teens diverting birthday gifts to other teens in faraway places, etc. and have started a new section of the magazine called “Wild-eyed”. This section tells stories of ordinary people who have gotten personally involved in the fight against social injustice after reading an article in the magazine.  It’s how we’ll begin to share the effectiveness of the magazine with those who have invested in our mission of engaging others to action. We continue to be inspired, and we’re more excited than ever to get to Nepal and produce our next magazine with Tiny Hands International, scheduled for publication in December.

While CGI in Cambodia focused primarily on the prevention and re-integration of sex-trafficking, Tiny Hands actually intercepts girls being trafficked from Nepal to India through 26 border stations, and partners with International Justice Mission to build a case and prosecute. Each station has the capacity to rescue up to 130 girls per year if fully staffed. Tiny Hands also has several children’s homes staffed by a local married couple, a prayer initiative, and are in the middle of establishing a Dream Center and a US-accredited School of Injustice. Below are two behind-the-scenes videos about the Tiny Hands border stations and how the interceptions work.  The first video is embedded, the second is a link called “Trafficked” you’ll to click through. I was floored:

Trafficked: https://vimeo.com/45765371

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At the end of our six weeks, we’ll be spending time with a different organization called Nepal Outdoor Adventures, a Nepalese owned and operated trekking company who who are passionate about reaching young people in Nepal for Christ. They have developed a business model to help keep youth workers in their community called, Nepal Outdoor Adventure Treks and Expedition. Every 10 trekkers that use Nepal Outdoor Adventure Treks and Expedition will employ a full-time youth worker in Nepal for a year.  We will be going on a 10-day trek to the Annapurna sanctuary with this organization for an article or two.

The next six weeks will be packed! I sure wish we were packed.

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Now for the goods.

Below are the pictures and links for the iPad version of the Cambodia issue that came out last week, and the online version of the magazine for those who prefer to read the content online. We’ll also list the specific articles Jeff and I wrote for easy access, though I recommend reading the three features by our summer interns- SO good.

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Online content (click the image below to go to the table of contents):

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Our specific articles this month, with most of J’s photography scattered throughout the sections in the iPad version:

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Thanks for following along and for all your support, love and prayers. You guys carry us! Feel free to follow along while we’re in Nepal via:

Twitter.com/brooky

Facebook.com/brkhartman

Instagram.com/brkhartman

And the ol’ blog: www.brkwilson.wordpress.com