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The Journey Begins

Posted: December 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

Originally written on November 19, 2012 as part of a letter to my first supporters and prayer partners.  I have been blessed by them all!

It’s been said that “A journey begins with a single step.”  My journey began years ago when I learned about child trafficking and the vulnerable children in Thailand.  My “single step” was a commitment I made to God that, if He ever gave me the opportunity, I would go to Thailand to learn more about this terrible thing, and find out what I can do about it.

In the Bible, we read something similar.  The writer of Hebrews, speaking of Abraham, said “He went out, not knowing where he was going.”  Apparently, when I took that first step of commitment, expecting it to be in the direction of Thailand, God had another place in mind.  Before I knew it, I was on a plane to Ukraine, where I met many amazing people, and one little girl in particular.  Her situation was not like what I was expecting to find in Thailand, but it was certainly dire.  And God had me take another step – a really big one – along with my family, as we adopted that little girl, brought her home, and made her part of our family.

Now, fourteen years later, she is grown, doing great, and on her own, and we are proud of her, and so happy that God sent us to Ukraine.   But now … well, He’s reminded me of that first step long ago, and  He’s given me that opportunity to go to Thailand; clearly, this is His appointed time.  Once again, I really don’t know “where” I’m going.  Oh, the places, I do know; I have the full itinerary right in front of me.  But I’m not really sure where God is taking me, other than  “to learn about child trafficking and what you and I can do about it.”  Beyond that, I’m not sure, but here’s what I do know:

  • Thailand is the number one destination for foreign pedophiles seeking children to abuse.  More of those men come from the US than any other country.
  • The average age of a girl’s first victimization by commercial child sex abusers is 11.  For many, it’s 8, and for some, as young as three.
  • Once a child becomes a victim, they are usually kept under lock and key, held as slaves, forced to “serve” as many as 30 “clients” every day.
  • The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) in Thailand is complex and deeply ingrained.  Poverty plays a huge role, as parents face the decision of selling a daughter or not having enough money to feed her and her siblings.  Deception can involve traffickers making promises to a parent that his daughter will be taken to the city, offered a good job, and send money back home to feed the family. Lack of education strips children and their parents of most other options.  That’s just the beginning.
  • Given the pervasiveness of the problem, there is a monstrous shortage of organizations and facilities addressing this problem in Thailand.
  • The response to the situation is also complex. Prevention seeks to educate, equip and empower parents, caregivers and the children themselves to avoid the trap that is being set for them.  Prevention also works to help governments establish and enforce action against perpetrators. Rescue may include such things as brothel raids resulting in the freeing of the victims, or it may be rescuing street children from the extremely high risk of being trafficked.  Restoration includes providing safe shelter, a real, loving home, counseling and skill development to enable the child to become free and productive in their own society.  For Christian ministries like Zoe, it also includes teaching the children about Jesus, his love, his healing power, his forgiveness, and his wonderful plans for their lives – plans of a hope and a future (Jer 29:11).

More than anything else, I know that there is still a lack of awareness.  While more and more people are becoming aware of the scourge of CSEC, few know enough to also know what they can do.  So they look away, shaking their heads, and asking, “Now that I’m aware, what can I do?”  Hearing no answers, they just walk away, trying for forget what they have just learned.

This is what I hope to change.  I want to help people find the answer that that question, “Now that I’m aware…?”  But I can’t do that until I first get my feet on the ground, get the problem in my face, and the faces of children burned into my mind and heart.  Once that happens, I believe I’ll find out what God has for me next.

No Quitting Now

Posted: December 22, 2012 in Uncategorized
This was originally published in my first blog, soledelight.blogspot.com, on August 9, 2011.  In it, I share a little bit about the process that put me on the road I now travel.  My hope was, and remains, that as I head down this road, I will encourage others to find their purpose, commit to it, and promise to “never give up before the breakthrough.”

Finding Our Purpose By Finding Hope Where Others See Only Despair

It’s hard to imagine that over a year has past since my last post here. So much has happened during that time; some of it has been rather inconsequential, but other things have clearly been God-things with major ramifications. If I’m able to stick with this blog, I will eventually talk about some of those events. In the meantime, for the impatient, feel free to ask. The prodding may (or may not) produce results.

But in all of these things, my pursuit of Sole Delight has not waned. Indeed, it continues to grow and produce more fruit of its own. Most recently, Sole Delight has combined with various other developments to move me in a new direction that I expect will stick with me for a very long time.

About six weeks ago, our church, The Crossing in Elk River, held a one day conference for church leaders. I was only able to make the final talk given by Pastor Eric Dykstra. (Eric, if you are reading this, please forgive me for oversimplifying, but …) The take-away for me was his challenge to identify the one thing that God is calling me to do, then go for it, stick with it, and “Don’t give up before the breakthrough!” In his usual “I mean business” manner, Eric then asked us to commit to that one thing God is calling us to do by standing. I stood.

A few minutes later, I ran into another of our pastors and admitted that I really didn’t know what I was standing for. “I’m ready to commit, but I don’t know to what,” I told him. “There are about four things going on right now, any one of which I’d be ready to stick with and not give up before the breakthrough, but I don’t know which one God wants me to do.” Jason’s response was, “You’ll know soon enough.” Brief pause. Then I reached in my pocket and pulled out a little slip of paper that permitted me to pick up my grandchildren from the children’s program, and I offhandedly said, “Well, I guess I need to go rescue some kids.” Another brief pause. Then I turned to Jason and said, “I think that was my answer.”

About 15 years ago, I first became aware of a God-enfused delight that awaited those who seek the welfare of children, especially the ones who have no one else to care for them. It was this promise of joy that led us to adopt out third child, Valya, in 1999. Now everyone who knew us then, including Val herself, can testify that this promised joy seemed to be quite elusive for the next decade. But that joy began to shine when, ten years later, Val gave birth to a beautiful little girl and immediately committed one of the greatest acts of love I have ever witnessed. As she left the hospital, she handed her brand new baby over to a new mom, whom we all knew would take wonderful care of little Kate. That joy has continued to shine as Val, and we, have been able to stay in touch with Kate and Mike & Lindsay, visiting this beautiful child a few times a year.

Add to that other joyful events and developments over the past year, and even I begin to understand how God could lead me to take another risk, and reenter the world of hurting children. No, we’re NOT going to adopt again! No need to call the guys in the pretty white suits.

Part of what I learned fifteen years ago, part of that captured my heart, was the ghastly horror of little children – mostly girls, some as young as 5 – caught in Satan’s grip of child trafficking and child prostitution. At the time, that was not where God was leading me to go. But six weeks ago when I stood to commit to whatever God wants me to do next and “not give up before the breakthrough,” some kind of involvement in the rescue of these precious little ones was one of four things that were in my mind. I just didn’t know if it was the “one thing.”

Then I pulled out that little piece of paper and heard myself say, “I need to go rescue some children.”

Seriously, Does it need to get any clearer than that?

Well, whether is needed to or not, it did. Within a few days, I found a book in my personal library called, Children in Crisis: A New Commitment. Next to it was, Sexually Exploited Children: Working to Protect and Heal. On another shelf was Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions. None of these had been opened, much less read. It almost seemed like “somebody” had put them there years ago just for such a time as this.

Then I quite literally stumbled on one in the public library: Terrify No More, the story of the International Justice Mission raid in 2003 on Svay Pak, Cambodia, known to be one of the leading international Mecca’s for child prostitution. It was the first time I ever finished a book, set it down, and prayed through my tears. It was that powerful. My current read is, Forgotten Girls: Stories of Hope and Courage. (For now, I would suggest this one to anyone who is interested in finding their place in defending the girl child of the developing and third worlds. It’s hard-hitting, but very full of hope & practical steps.)

Then there’s the missionary who along with his family just arrived in Thailand, where he will pastor of a church that connects with missionaries, including some who address this issue; he’s helping me find connections. Or the missions pastor of a church in Dallas who sends short-term teams to Svay Pak and hopes to visit with me when we are in Dallas next month.

I find myself asking, What is it about me that draws me to this? Like most people, it repulses me, it makes me angry, it breaks my heart. Why do I absorb it like a sponge?

I think most people look at this and are not only repulsed, angry and broken-hearted, but also hopeless and defeated. It drains them. It depresses them. And, other than contributing some (much needed) money, they don’t feel a desire to step into the swamp. But, for some reason, I look at it and I’m repulsed, angry, and broken-hearted, yet I’m also filled with hope and I see victories even before they have been won. I know what it’s like to be in the swap – it can been literally hellish – and still I’m anxious to get back in. Because it connects with my pursuit of Sole Delight.

There’s another possibility: I’m just deluded. But I don’t think so. I think, rather, that I have found something that I’ve been seeking for a long time – the one thing that I can do that will make a difference in the world, and is something that not a lot of people want to do or can do. I can look at the problem of child prostitution and see hope, and that hope gives me joy. It energizes me. It fills me with delight.

Thus, the title of this post: Finding Our Purpose By Finding Hope Where Others See Only Despair. It’s kind of a “Sole Delight” way of finding one’s calling. If I can find hope, beauty and victory where others see only hopelessness, ugliness and defeat; and if that is in a place that desperately needs Jesus but where very few people want to “go,” – literally or figuratively – but I do, and if the thought of the Enemy’s attacks only make me want to do more, then maybe that is exactly where God is calling me.

But this blog is not meant about me. It’s about God, and it’s about you. It’s about you finding your Sole Delight in God and God Alone. So, my prayer is that you would look past my story, and ask yourself a simple question. Where in your life do you see hope when others only see hopelessness? Where do you see a yet invisible victory that only a few are able to see with you? Where in your life, or in your heart, is that place that desperately needs Jesus, but you are the only one who really, really wants to go there.

I tend to believe that God has placed in the heart of every Christian a passion, a dream – not your dream, HIS dream – one that’s so big you know that, once you set out to do it, either He steps in, or you will fail miserably. But you also know that if you succeed, you will deliver a blow to Satan, a victory for the Kingdom of God, and everlasting Sole Delight for yourself.

I urge you to find that place, Then, by all means, Go for it! Stick with it! And don’t give up before the breakthrough!