Category Archives: Justice

The Boy with the Brown Eyes.

I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

I have subscribed to all the usual suspects on Twitter, CNN and BBC and every “breaking news” feed that I could find. A wealth of information at my fingertips, one mindless click away. Daily, I scroll through, growing progressively more numb with each sensational headline. We live in a world where genocide and car bombs are commonplace, where little girls are stolen into tangled jungles and the whole world cries bring them back from the comfort of our air conditioned living rooms. Hunger gnaws, hope wanes, poverty crushes and the whole aching world groans under the suffocating weight of sin. I confess that on far too many days, I turn away. I cannot feel it all.

The more information that I have at my leisurely disposal, the less I am prone to read it. But yesterday, I saw this headline and frozen, I couldn’t look away. Not from him.  “’Invisible’ in India: The story of a disabled boy tied to Mumbai bus stop.”

Tied? I breathe heavy, seething eyes already flashing at the monster who bound a little boy with rope and left him like a dog.

And then I read. I read about Lakhan Kale, a nine year old deaf and mute little boy with cerebral palsy and haunting brown eyes. I read about his Grandma, Sakubai, the only family Lakhan has that hasn’t died or abandoned him. My American eyes widen as the story unfolds, both of them living on the street, Grandma selling this and that to anyone that will stop, desperately trying to scrape together the necessary coins to feed her Grandson. Some days, she is successful. The monster fades as I begin to see a withered, 70 year old woman, pleading red eyes brimming with exhausted tears. Her shoulders defeatedly hunch as she quietly whispers, He can’t hear the traffic. If he ran onto the road he’d get killed. What else can I do?”

And so she would leave him tied to a pole while she went to work.

I feel like the air has been sucked out of the room as the breath catches in my throat and I stare unblinking at my screen, her words echoing in my mind. What else can I do? What are your options when you’re a homeless Grandmother with a disabled Grandson that couldn’t tell a stranger where he lived even if he had a home to be returned to?

I am gutted as I begin to understand that in India, there are no options. Stones fly easily from my air conditioned living room, but as the impossible weight of her every day seeps into my heart and leaks out of my eyes, I am enraged at the unfairness of it all. I am strangely proud of this woman that I had denounced as a monster, proud of her for staying with her disabled Grandson. For doing the very best that she could do. I want to grab her hands and look hard into her weary eyes and tell her I know you really tried.

And I am livid. I understand that the boy with the haunting brown eyes and his withered Grandmother are merely two of the 1.3 billion people in the world living on less than $1.25 a day. Just two of the 1.3 billion people living the raw, aching story of poverty. Living hungry bellies and preventable diseases, living in a world where other children go to school while theirs go to work. Living in a world where they go to bed with a sinking understanding that tomorrow will be just like today, that they and their children will die in the same cycle of poverty that has enslaved their family for generations.

In an age where newsfeeds are flooded with the searing stories of a world crumbing from the decay of sin, God forgive us if we ever become numb to 1.3 billion people with no choices. God forgive us if we stand idly by while 1.3 billion people that weren’t fortunate enough to have their story picked up by CNN stand with their noses pressed hard to the glass window of privilege, begging a watching world to intervene.

I believe that we can change the story of poverty. It’s why I work for HOPE International. A friend of mine often says that Good intentions are not good enough if we believe that people are created in the image of God, and I think he’s right. For so long, in a flurry of good intentions we have tried to solve global need by sending things. Our hearts hemorrhage and throb, and stricken by the headlines that we read we box up food and clothing and medical supplies–sending the unintentional but unmistakable message that the image-bearers on the receiving end are not enough. That they are incapable. That they somehow need us.

What if, instead of sending boxes, we looked at those same men and women and gave them the dignity of investing in their dreams, instead? What if we offered them a small loan and Christ-centered business training, affirming the glorious truth that they too, are image bearers? What if we offered them the tools that they needed to work themselves and their families out of poverty?

Lakhan Kale, his Grandmother and the 1.3 billion precious lives standing behind them  bear the imago Dei. They are creative, entrepreneurial, hard working people–and they are capable. They deserve far more than our pity and charity.

The roots of the issues at play in global poverty are manifold and tightly intertwined, and I am not naïve enough to suggest that there exists a tidy solution that will put all to right. But as men and women that are breathing the same air and walking around the same planet as 1.3 billion of our brothers and sisters that don’t know how they are going to feed their children tonight, we do not have the luxury of simply throwing up our hands and blithely continuing to scroll through our cluttered newsfeeds. There is far too much at stake.

Their stories matter, and I desperately want to be a part of empowering them to rewrite the endings. HOPE is committed to changing the story of poverty. Will you join us?

 

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Filed under HOPE International, Justice, Microfinance, Poverty

Changing the Story. [END IT.]

END ITWe were on Skype, she working in Nepal and me in my air-conditioned New York living room.

My computer screen flickered, and in utter disbelief, I had to ask my friend to repeat herself.

She said it again, slowly—Ashley, there are entire villages in Nepal where there are no women under 30, because they’ve all been sold.

I closed my eyes as the sheer enormity of it washed over me. Generations and generations of little girls being sold by impoverished parents too desperate to see another way. Mamas and daddies handing their daughters over to the highest bidder in a despairing, last-ditch attempt to keep food on their tables. My stomach churned as I pictured children violently ripped away from everything they knew to be sold as playthings.

She continued. Forty-two percent of people in Nepal are unemployed. Selling children is an industry here. They end up at bus stops, dance bars, and massage parlors—the lucky ones will be enslaved as house help.

The lucky ones.

The decay that sin has wreaked on the world is never more evident than when we look at an entire industry devoted to the buying and selling of humans. IJM soberly informs us that,

“More children, women and men are held in slavery right now than over the course of the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade…generating profits in excess of 32 billion dollars a year [GDP of Costa Rica] for those who, by force and deception, sell human lives into slavery and sexual bondage. Nearly 2 million children [population of Houston] are exploited in the commercial sex industry.” – International Justice Mission  (IJM)

Tomorrow, you and I and thousands like us will link arms and resolve together to END IT. We understand that the 27 million slaves being held captive TODAY are not simply a heart-wrenching statistic—they are names and faces and stories. These are sons and daughters just like ours, standing with their noses pressed to a glass window begging a watching world for intervention. Today, we cry, “Not on our watch!” and affirm together that we will not rest until they are free.

I am deeply grateful for organizations like IJM that have dedicated their lives to bringing freedom to the darkest corners of the world. I weep with each new story they release. I pray fervently for them. I long to see them expand and reach more people—with 27 million still enslaved, there is much yet to be done.

At the same time, I desperately long to see the narrative changed. My heart sings as I read sensational stories of raids and rescue—but I want to read more remarkably unsensational stories. Tell me the one about the Nepali girl who grew up in an adoring family of six. Tell me how she went to school with each of her three siblings because her parents never had to make the impossible choice of which child to educate, and which child to sell. Thrill me with the story of a mother and father whose children never went hungry, who never lived in quiet dread of being torn away from their homes and raped 30 times a day. How do we get more of those stories?

When my husband was in business school, one of his professors told a parable about a dusty village near a river. One day, a village woman noticed a baby floating down the river. Horrified, she ran into the swirling waters and rescued the baby. The very next day, a man passing by noticed yet another baby floating downstream. Horrified, he darted into the river and rescued the baby. This horrific pattern continued for years until, at long last, one of the villagers decided to walk upstream to find out where the babies were coming from.

As we feverishly work to rescue those who have been enslaved, we must also partner with those who are running upstream to stop slavery at its source. Slavery is deeply rooted in poverty. Traffickers prey upon the hungry, the homeless, the widowed, and the orphaned. Mothers and fathers who sell their children are not monsters—they are starving and live lives steeped in a desperation that our Western minds cannot comprehend.

What might happen in those Nepali villages if, before traffickers came knocking on parents’ doors, those same parents received a small loan and Christ-centered business training? Job creation is the unsung hero in our battle against slavery—a trafficker’s bait holds no allure when the gnawing ache of hunger has been satiated and the rent has been paid. I fear that until we destroy the roots of slavery, for every child rescued, five more will take her place.

The battle to END IT will take all of us. Today, let us resolve to send thousands more into the swirling waters to rescue the victims—and thousands more upstream to stop trafficking at its source. 

 

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Filed under Hope, Justice, Microfinance

Let Freedom [Really] Ring.

With my little sister, who is about Lakshimi's age.

With my little sister, who is about Lakshimi’s age.

As I watched red, white and blue sparks rain down across the night sky on July 4th, my heart felt like it might burst right along with the fireworks. I am grateful to have been born in a country with as much freedom as we enjoy in these United States, but I find it difficult to stomach the sheer privilege of it all when millions of people can’t begin to imagine what freedom tastes like. An agonized world begging for intervention presses their noses to the window while I watch fireworks and revel in my comfortable, free life. It feels ugly. It demands an unflinchingly honest examination of the way that I spend the days and dollars that I have been given.

Several weeks ago, I read a book called “Sold” by Patricia McCormick. It’s the story of a thirteen year old girl named Lakshimi living with her family in a small village in Nepal. As finances grow tighter and meals become smaller, her stepfather forces her to take a job to support her family. Believing that she is to be hired as a maid in the city, Lakshimi journeys to India where that little girl is hastily sold into the horrific world of prostitution. Her story is searing, heart wrenchingly impossible to read and still, impossible to set aside. I read the book in one sitting, unable to tear my eyes away.

At the end of the book, the author leaves us with this chilling note:

“Each year, nearly 12,000 Nepali girls are sold by their families, intentionally or unwittingly, into a life of sexual slavery in the brothels of India. Worldwide, the U.S. State Department estimates that nearly half a million children are trafficked into the sex trade annually.

As part of my research for Sold, I traced the path that many Nepalese girls have taken—from remote villages to the red light districts of Calcutta. I also interviewed aid workers who rescue girls from brothels, provide them with medical care and job training, and who work to reintegrate them into society.

But most touching and inspiring was interviewing survivors themselves. These young women have experienced what many people would describe as unspeakable horrors. But they are speaking out—with great dignity.

Some go door to door in the country’s most isolated villages to explain what really happens to girls who leave home with strangers promising good jobs. Some of them—even women who are ill with HIV—patrol the border between Nepal and India on the lookout for young girls traveling without their parents. And some are facing their traffickers in court—where it is often their word against the fathers and brothers, husbands and uncles who sold them for as little as three hundred dollars.”

To whom much has been given, much is required. Those who are free must advocate for those who are not, or I fear that we will look nothing like the Jesus that we claim to follow. Those who have given a voice must speak for those who have none, because freedom rings hollow when the bell tolls for a precious, privileged few. It is our solemn responsibility and sacred privilege to intercede for the broken, and to beg God to move for the orphan, the trafficked, the homeless, the hungry.  We must beg God for justice and then fight for it with our lives. Over the past several months, God has been breaking my heart with the idea that we do not get to call a world full of hurting people our “brothers and sisters” as long as we do nothing. Not when we’d never allow our biological brothers and sisters to go hungry or sleep on the street or be imprisoned in a brothel in India.

Jen Hatmaker wrote a book called Seven [RUN to buy it. It’s ruined my life in the best possible way, and now I’ve got Kellan reading it so it can ruin his too.] and in it, she echoes this tension. She wonders with me,

“What would the early church think if they walked into some of our buildings today, looked through our church Web sites, talked to an average attender? Would they be so confused? Would they wonder why we all had empty bedrooms and uneaten food in our trash cans? Would they regard our hoarded wealth with shock? Would they observe orphan statistics with disbelief since Christians outnumber orphans 7 to 1? Would they be stunned most of us don’t feed the hungry, visit the prisoner, care for the sick or protect the window? Would they see the spending on church builds and ourselves as extravagantly wasteful while twenty-five thousand people die every day from starvation?”

It’s Monday. The sparklers have died, fireworks have fizzled and the grills have been turned off. At the end of this holiday weekend, I am left with the indelible impression that our freedom is cheap if it is hoarded. Jesus entered right into the very heart of our pain and took it from us to set us free. It cost Him everything. How will this change the way that we live?

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Filed under Holidays other than Christmas, Hope, Justice