It was pouring rain one particular dark afternoon. A time for snuggling up with a cup of tea and good book. I love the rain. I love to watch it fill the street with small rivers. I love the sound as it hits the roof and drips to the ground. And, oh, the smell – fresh and clean. All this while safe, warm and dry.
I held a small paper-back in my hand. A unique page-turner, opening the window to a world foreign to my own. Story after story – women, girls, and boys – showing life lived – not of their choosing. My mind struggled to see the invisible faces, shivering in the cold and wet, selling body and soul to survive.
Human trafficking. Forced prostitution. Indentured services.
My snuggly afternoon shifted. Tears added to the downpour that day.
Since that rainy afternoon, the need to grow more aware remained ever present. Maybe not always on the front pages of the daily – but, certainly hovering in the back of my mind. The reality of trafficking remains daunting – so many tricks and cover-ups. Evil lurks and I find myself asking, “but, what can just one person do?”
Fear and doubt can paralyze and render us useless. Compassion, faith, and purpose can turn paralysis into confident mobilization.
Before long, I felt the pull toward volunteering at the Pregnancy Resource Center here in my city. This organization gave excellent training tools for breaking my shell of fear. I learned needed skills to listen deeper, speak patiently often, and offer compassion unconditionally. For nearly 15 years, I crossed the invisible border from my little world to another as I engaged with young women experiencing critical life struggles. Whether a new immigrant, a single mom, mentally ill, or a trafficked young woman. The eyes of my heart opened toward lives damaged by circumstances spiraling out of control. But, then to witness a transformation toward hope. This was my training ground. A springboard to other pursuits.
Meanwhile, the business of human trafficking continued its ugly destruction. Educating the public of these crimes has become essential. On-the-ground servants began working sacrificially in rescuing the vulnerable and exposing the perpetrators.
It’s taken too long for the public to see and understand human trafficking. But unique efforts are helping bring that awareness to the front.
Adorned in Grace It was a simple donation of a few hundred wedding dresses…landing in the home of a friend. A story of Hope [here] turned into a growing shop for bridal and formal wear right here in the greater Portland. Each woman who visits Adorned in Grace knows her purchase brings awareness and provides tools for prevention of human trafficking.
An extension of the bridal shop are mentors and volunteers welcoming the vulnerable to teach and guide them in developing life skills. Safe housing is provided to women desiring to leave their exploited lives.
Starfish Project was also birthed as a result of one person’s desire “to do something.” Jewelry became that avenue for hope. Precious jewels for precious lives.
I had the rare privilege to taste-and-see a young friend in action while visiting her in Asia. It was our Christmas holiday. Bearing small gifts, my friend and her national partner invited me to shadow while they visited a few businesses. Massage parlors and salons, for example.
Each place of business welcomed us with cheerful greetings. The women ranged from very young, to a handful near my age. They were family for each other and, even though somewhat shy with the Foreigner, were kind and naturally curious.
Building Trust …
…some will make their first step from exploitation to freedom because of these friendships.
When a woman decides to take that leap of faith and accept Starfish Project’s offer of Hope, she begins her process of healing in these ways:
- Safe Housing
- Vocational Training
- Career Opportunities
- Reach the Exploited
- Health Care
- United with Families
- Educate Children
- Facilitate Empowerment
And, this is where my journey has brought me – for now. Faces no longer obscure, but clear and beautiful. Dull eyes have become bright with hope and a future. Whether in Asia, a refugee camp, a housekeeper, or mani-pedi worker in my own city – human trafficking cannot be ignored.