The Flip Side of Poverty

We see them – vagrants living on the streets, asking for handouts, and bumming rides. We judge them as runaways, addicts, alcoholics, or panhandlers. We rarely see little more than dirty clothes, mussed hair or the cardboard signs they carry. We might be bothered if we are stopped to hand them a crumpled up dollar bill from our wallets, or the considerate and those that think ahead, may have on hand a bag of toiletries and snacks or gift cards to local fast food joints. Then, their are the spiritually considerate that might hand them nothing more than a tract, with a word of encouragement. None of those things are wrong, exactly…but is it enough?

 More and more people are finding themselves homeless and in abject poverty. Did you know that 633, 782 people in the United States experience homelessness on any given night? That is a lot of people. And whereas, some of those people have chosen it by choosing drugs over shelter, the majority of them are simply homeless due to bad circumstances and tough breaks. I was talking to a friend of mine who has been living on the streets off and on since she was fifteen, and she admitted that even in government or state funded shelters there is no sense of security or safety. In fact, within 48 hours of street life, they are solicited for sexual acts…if it takes that long. And, some choose it. Because if one sexual favor means the difference between sleeping in the alley way or paying a few dollars to sleep in a shelter, to them, it might be worth it. This then makes them prime candidates for trafficking, and their problems just got a whole lot worse.

 I can’t imagine that choice, that feeling of fear and insecurity, the inability to really relax. But, being the thinker and imaginative soul that I am, I allowed myself a look at how easily that might happen to me and to my girls:

 Right now we are doing quite well. My husband has a good job and provides for us well, but in one split second my husband could die, and without his thinking ahead to provide life insurance, within a few months we could go from middle class to homeless. That fast. When you consider that one third of his paycheck goes to mortgage and then the other two thirds go to feed and clothe us, that money will dwindle quickly. Just a couple of late payments or missed payments and rejected calls from collections agents, we could found our house foreclosed on, our savings stripped and left with no other choice but to take to the streets. For us, it would take months. For some, it would take weeks.

 My friend I mentioned found herself on the streets when she was a teenager. Her mom was an alcoholic and her step dad was a pervert. One night she had a choice, she could roll over and give him what he wanted or she could hit the streets. With tears in her eyes and just enough clothes as would fit in an oversized bag, she chose the streets. She begged her mom to take her back, but her stepdad had already concocted a story that made her look like a whore and without the mental capacities to choose correctly, her mom refused her request. Her grandmother took her in for a while, but soon she passed away, and my sweet friend, again, was found to be helpless and homeless. She has not only been mugged multiple times, leaving her with a fear of having anything worth any value or money in any quantity, but she has been a witness to some of the most violent assaults that have forever left her fearful and haunted. Tragic. Perhaps even more tragic is she is one of thousands.

 On one of our meetings, I took her to the food stamp office. You know, the place that so many look down on unable to see beyond the masses that take advantage of it? The truth is, it does provide help. But, after sitting down with an elderly man, eager for food and desperate for help, I realized it’s increasingly difficult for the uneducated, unadvancing, and illiterate. As I walked away 45 minutes later, no further in the process than when he asked, my heart hurt for him…what hope did he have? I remember one day while mentoring at a local charitable organization, a woman was sitting in a corner, deep in thought, heavily burdened. I placed my arm around her and asked what was wrong. With big, sad eyes she said, “My baby is getting made fun of.” She had all of my attention. “You don’t know what it’s like to have to choose between feeding my kids or washing their clothes… and lately all I can do is feed them.” She didn’t have to say any more. I know kids. I know their cruelties. But she was right, I didn’t understand her pain, not fully.

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There is a flip side to poverty. Humanity. There aren’t just poor. They are people with fears, insecurities, and dreams. We dismiss them because we don’t know their stories, we don’t feel their pain. We judge them based on heresay and speculation and prejudice. They are humans with souls and hearts, and each one of them from the addict begging for the next hit to the struggling single mom has a story. But, that requires getting out of our comfort zone. Knowing those stories is more work than handing out a baggie or a tract or few dollars. Because, if you get to know them, you might see that they need more. They might let you in to that well-guarded untrusting heart of theirs, and then you will be compelled to do something.

 What you can’t see this side of poverty, the side that we sit comfortably on with our cell phones and laptops with cold iced water in a glass, is that some of those “hopeless” souls know more about God and His love and provision then you and I will ever have to face. Some of them don’t have a clue about love, any love, or provision or hope or God. We can’t afford to ignore either of them – every soul deserves to be seen, even the unlovely.  I once heard, “People aren’t unlovely because they are unlovable, but because they are unloved.” I wonder, the imaginative hopeful side of me, if there were more loving, would there be less poverty. It’s just a thought, but grounded in Christ and living out His example, love is abundance.

 One of the most touching statements I have heard lately was from my mom whose heart for the hurting I inherited and who has lived out love to the less fortunate all my life. “I hurt for them. I would invite them into my house to stay in a heartbeat. In fact, maybe your dad and I will buy a trailer and set it up for just that reason.” I love her heart, and I would gladly contribute to that endeavor, and maybe we will, but we cannot house them all, feed them all, clothe them all, or help them all. None of us can save everyone, but all of us can do something – and it starts with loving them.

 

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Whatever It Takes – A Look at Human Sex Trafficking

I know we have all seen the red X’s affixed to profiles in social media. The cry to “end it now”‘is echoed throughout the world. Those who are aware of human trafficking are appalled, overwhelmed, and desperate. We want to do something, but what?

The first thing we have to do is see the reality of it.

One story told by Geoff Moore during a concert recently shook me up. He spoke of a recent trip to Haiti. Almost as soon as he got off the plane a woman ran up to him and started pleading with him. She showed him her young daughter, obviously dressed to impress wearing a most likely very costly beautiful red dress, hair fixed and smile plastered. He smiled at the girl and spoke with her, and the woman became desperate! She wept and pleaded and raised her voice. Feeling a little freaked out, Geoff asked his interpreter what she was saying. The interpreter replied, “I don’t want to tell you.” The woman continued on, the interpreter responded to her, and she left. Geoff later discovered that she was begging him to take her daughter. She didn’t know him, but her desperation to see her daughter live drove her to beg a complete stranger to take her because in her mind he was a rich American and could give her a better life. I couldn’t help but think as I heard the story, “What if he weren’t Geoff Moore, Christian artist and song writer?” And then I wondered, “Did another man get the same plea? And is that young girl in the red dress still smiling?”

Whatever it takes.

It’s sometimes those desperate moments and places that take them there – the desire to see more for them that strips them of their freedom and eventually life.

I heard a story of a homeless woman. She had found shelter and help through The Friendship House in New Orleans. She had taken her young daughter, around 3 years old, out to the park which was just across the street. A man was there and was watching her and her daughter. Then, after commenting on her beauty and no doubt learning a few things about her, casually at first so as not to raise suspicion, he asked, “Could I buy her from you?” The woman was appalled. She grabbed up her baby and ran the distance back to The Friendship House and told the missionary there what had happened. But, what if The Friendship House wasn’t there? What if the mom, instead of finding help through a local ministry was desperate? Where would her daughter be now?

Whatever it takes.

That’s what the predators think, too. They aren’t all randomly walking the streets for desperate souls and pretty faces, many of them start with friendship.

The 18 year old that befriended her on Facebook seemed to legitimately care about her. The more he talked to her the more she could see that her parents really didn’t have time for her or want her around. He promised her hope and love and companionship, something her 16 year old heart desired. He told her he was passing through town and would love to meet. Why wouldn’t she? She was already sharing her heart and emotions, and he could be trusted. Even after he met her and took her phone and got her a tattoo and changed her looks, she still trusted that he was going to take care of her… As long as she gave him what he needed. Luckily, he was wrong. Her parents did care, and they were vigilant, and with the help of law enforcement, they got their daughter back, but she was forever changed.

The second thing we have to do is understand how it happens.

Whatever it takes.

Force.
Fraud.
Coercion.

And there are enough desperate hurting souls out there that get lured in.

Did you know that the homeless are the most at risk? Within 48 hours of being on the streets, they are propositioned for sexual favors and opportunity.

Did you know that the majority of trafficked humans in American are American, and they are also the most trafficked citizens in Mexico, too?

In ten minutes an unobserved and unassuming young boy or girl can be abducted and coerced away from home never to be seen of again.

10 minutes…

Did you know that jons pose as youth group members? Unheard of! Nope. One girl was trafficked for 3 years every Wednesday night all because she trusted a guy in her youth group that was willing to do whatever it took to make money. And she allowed it because she was willing to do whatever it took to protect her family.

It happens. It’s happening. And it’s not just the little Asian or European girls that didn’t know better… It’s our kids. It could be your kid if we don’t wake up.

We are creating a culture that makes it easier and easier. Our jobs keep us from being involved with our teens, from asking them the hard questions, from observing their friends or their classmates. We allow social media to babysit them, and there are many that are counting on you to be unaware and unconcerned.

Until we say “Whatever it takes” it will continue to be an issue, lives will continue to be at risk, and evil will prevail.

Are you aware that this world’s obsession with pornography feeds this sexual atrocity? And yet, even in the church we want to hide it under the rug and use excuses like “every man does it.” Well, it’s not just men obviously… And this sexual human trade relies on you to stay uninvolved or apathetic to its perils. In fact, whenever you pull out your credit card to purchase a movie or look at pictures, your red X statement becomes devoid of meaning because you yourself have helped fund their evil. In fact, most sites are set up to run ads, ads that pay them whether they are clicked on or not, so even if you “look but don’t buy” you have provided money for their crimes. Men? Women? Do you hear this?!

The third thing is we have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get involved and take a stand!

Are you willing? Taking a stand can look very different for many of us, but it is necessary. I’ve involved myself because I have seen the urgency! And, you can join me and many others by doing one or more of the following things: You can support homeless ministries or ministries that aid the broken and desperate in order to save them from slavery. Sponsoring children all over the world for $35 dollars a month, keeps food in their bellies and gives them advantages to keep them from being a desperate commodity to sell or trade. You can fund missionaries who are specifically called to go in and rescue and redeem these lost and misused children of God and show them the pure love of Jesus. You can raise funds to contribute to organizations that work to buy back these squandered souls. You can pray for those who daily find themselves in danger because they are doing what they can to put an end to this billion dollar industry. You can pray for those voices that cry out in anguish because they see no hope. You can become educated so that you can in turn educate others to the pitfalls and warning signs that surround this criminal activity. You can rethink how you view prostitutes and the stereotypical judgments of those in the sex industry. A majority of them are there out of necessity, addiction, or coercion, and I haven’t met one yet that is there and doing the unspeakable because they enjoy it. These are just some suggestions… But they can make a difference. What’s God calling you to do?

“Whatever it takes”
…this is the mentality that has trapped them, and this MUST be our passion to see them freed and to end it now!