Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking
 An Article by Sarah Leech

Each year, criminals around the world collect billions of dollars in profits by compelling the service of other human beings through fraud, force and coercion in order to exploit their labor. Their victims are slaves, who today number somewhere between 10 million and 30 million people across the globe. The victims include people like Tola, a toddler in Southeast Asia who was sold to beggars to redeem a debt his father could not pay, and forced to beg on the busy streets of a Cambodian border town at the age of two; freckle-faced, blonde, blue-eyed American teenagers who’ve run away from bad home situations, only to find themselves pimped out at truck stops and street corners across America; Latin American families hoping for work who get tricked out of their property rights back home, transported to “el Norte” and trapped by debt into working for no pay in construction companies, in domestic servitude, on farms or in factories.

Worldwide, slaves harvest and process the cacao that goes into much of the chocolate we eat. They mill rice, bake bricks, mine precious metals, assemble electronic devices, labor on fishing boats and farms. They are domestic slaves, sweatshop workers, and restaurant workers. Some have been forced to become child soldiers, mail order brides, even organ donors. And multitudes have been forced into prostitution.

How did these who bear God’s image become enslaved?
Some were abducted – snatched from their families or schools. Some were deceived. A reliable-seeming stranger – or even a trusted relative or friend - came with a job offer, a promise of education and better life. They took that offer, and found themselves trapped. Some were sold or sent away to help their family survive. Many were lured or taken from their own country or region by recruiters, deprived of identification papers, sold, isolated from family and community support, kept under constant watch, trapped by ever increasing debt for their food, transportation and lodging, and forced to work under threat of injury or death, for no pay and with no way of escape.

All of these people were enslaved through human trafficking, which the UN defines as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, or fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”

Global Scope of Human Trafficking
Each year traffickers smuggle 600,000 to 800,000 people across international borders and traffick millions more within their own countries. Approximately 80 percent of those trafficked trans-nationally are female, and half of these are children. The majority of these victims are forced into the commercial sex trade. Forced or bonded labor awaits most of the males and females trafficked within their own countries’ borders.

This tragedy is happening in every country in the world, including the United States. The United States is a destination country in the slave trade. About 17,500 people get trafficked into the US each year. They come largely from poor countries, mostly from Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, with a smaller percentage coming from Latin America. There are US citizens trafficked within US borders as well. Worldwide, trafficking typically moves people from poorer countries in the global South and East, and Eastern Europe, to richer industrialized nations in the West, the Pacific and the Middle East.  Within countries, traffickers typically move their victims from poor rural areas to prosperous urban areas.

If it is illegal, why does it persist?
Trafficking is illegal in every country of the world, but it persists because it is profitable. The UN estimates the slave trade generates $32 billion in profits globally each year, bringing in more than the illegal arms trade. Because human trafficking is so profitable, there is a huge black market in human beings. They are cheap, in ready supply and endlessly renewable. Slaves cost the traffickers very little – about the price of a pair of athletic shoes. They can be resold many times, and everyone who handles them profits. Potential slaves are in ready supply because so many people around the world are desperate for work and opportunities to improve their lives. Such people are likely to migrate, and their desperation and naiveté feed the trafficking industry.

Trafficking is part of the economic systems of the countries where it operates. This is especially true of Southeast Asia, where tourism accounts for 8.2% of GDP and sex tourism is an openly promoted part of the industry. It’s also true in consumer cultures like those in the West. The goods slaves make are in high demand because they are cheap. Things consumers eat and use every day, from coffee to cotton underclothing to electronics, may have involved slave labor. The demand for cheap products fuels the demand for cheap labor, incentivizing traffickers to trade in human beings.

Other factors that enable human trafficking to persist include: cultural attitudes toward girls and prejudices about minorities that make it a low priority to protect victims; community tolerance or ignorance about trafficking, and government corruption, or ineptitude - or simply lack of resources - that make it easy for traffickers to operate with impunity.

Who is vulnerable, and why?
People from all walks of life are vulnerable, but overwhelmingly it is people who are poor, desperate, undereducated and marginalized, who are in the most danger. Poverty and lack of economic opportunity make parents and young people susceptible to offers of jobs or education in faraway cities. Gender discrimination plays a role, for girls are less likely to be educated than boys and first on the list to be sold or sent off to earn money. Marginalized ethnic and religious minorities, who often live outside the protection of the law, and can’t gain access to services, are easy prey for traffickers. And youth suffering from domestic abuse, parental drug use and alcoholism who are desperate to get out of a bad situation, are vulnerable as well. Such people are easy targets for traffickers. Their lives can be destroyed, and chances are high that nobody will notice, or do anything to stop it.

What can we do?
There is a great deal faith communities can do to combat human trafficking and the damage it causes its victims. Grounding our actions in faith, we can:
·      Educate ourselves about the issue of human trafficking, how it plays out in our own communities as well as around the world, what the red flags are that indicate a possible trafficking situation, how consumer choices may support trafficking, and how to report a suspected trafficking case or obtain confidential help and information (contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline, 1-888-3737-888).
·      Advocate for laws that protect and restore victims and make it easy to apprehend and prosecute traffickers; urge corporations to adopt policies and practices to keep slave labor out of their supply chains; boycott products produced by slaves; use websites and smart phone apps to empower justice-based consumer choices.
·      Serve trafficking victims directly or through local agencies to provide medical advocacy, translation, counseling, housing, job placement and similar services; reach out to migrant communities in our area; educate doctors, nurses, hospitals and schools in our area about the signs of trafficking, and raise community awareness through op-ed pieces, events and campaigns.
·      Pray for trafficking victims & survivors, perpetrators, law enforcement, corporations, and governments, and for abolitionists, grassroots organizations and NGOs that work to prevent, protect and restore victims or to prosecute traffickers.
·      Team up with others in our communities and denomination who are working on the issue of human trafficking; work together and share resources; develop relationships with organizations doing global and / or local anti-trafficking work, including those providing services to victims; find out what their needs are, and explore partnership with them
·      Give as generously as we can and raise funds to support local & global projects that combat trafficking.
·      Believe that God cares and is already at work, and that we are invited to join God in proclaiming release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and in letting the oppressed go free.

Human Trafficking: Freeing Women, Children, and Men, a booklet from Anglican Women’s Empowerment that provides a concise overview of human trafficking, suggestions for a Christian response, and information about trafficking-focused initiatives and resources across the Anglican Communion. www.anglicanwomensempowerment.org

Trafficking in Persons Report 2011, US Department of State – a snapshot of what’s happening related to human trafficking in 184 countries around the world, including the United States. http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2011/index.htm

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), a service of Polaris Project, is a national, confidential, 24-hour, toll-free hotline, available to answer calls from anywhere in the United States. 1-888-3737-888 The hotline is not a government entity, law enforcement or an immigration authority. It is a safe place to call and report a tip, access resources, request training, or receive referrals. The resource center website offers downloadable materials to help individuals and groups learn how to identify, prevent and combat human trafficking in the United States. Items available include educational handouts and presentations, information on legislation, materials for public awareness raising and direct outreach to potential victims, educators, professionals, and public servants. http://www.polarisproject.org/resources

The Not for Sale campaign offers and creates tools to engage grassroots groups (including churches), businesses, and governments “in order to incubate and grow social enterprises to benefit enslaved and vulnerable communities.” One of these tools is the Community Abolitionist Network. http://www.notforsalecampaign.org

The Freedom Registry, a web resource to “share and discover what advocates and organizations are doing to address human trafficking and exploitation across the United States.” http://freedomregistry.org/

World Concern’s Women of Purpose Human Trafficking Resources, a list of books, films, discussion guides, training resources, prayer resources about human trafficking, its causes and solutions, and of some organizations working to combat human trafficking. For a free copy of the resource list, email womenofpurpose@worldconcern.org.

Sarah Leech, volunteer, is Director of World Concern’s Women of Purpose program, Shoreline, Washington.

For the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of Saint Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, WA

Sunday, June 17, 2012

kernel mustard

Small, hidden, mysterious, potent, seed – mustard, cedar, soy, or sycamore – grows quietly, becoming only slowly what it will become in its fullness, and yet – the kernel is there, the seed is there, the DNA is there: and the seed knows how it wants to grow, knows what it wants to become.

That sounds a bit mystical: and yet even horticulturalists talk that way. When W. S. Merwin was growing his garden of 800 rare kinds of palm trees on 19 acres in Ha'ikū, Hawaii, he asked the biologist E. O. Wilson if it was silly to talk to the trees. And Wilson replied, no, it was not silly at all. “‘The tree’s gene code is much older than yours,’ he said. ‘It’s not withholding anything. If you know how to talk, it will tell you everything you want.’”

I trusted the tree in the backyard. We were friends. If I could talk to it, it would talk to me. But I didn't know how. I was talking to the biologist E.O. Wilson about that, and he said talking to trees was not silly at all. 'The tree's gene code is much older than yours,' he said. 'It's not withholding anything. If you know how to talk, it will tell you everything you want.'" Even, it seems, how to grow a forest.

Matthew Gurewitsch, “On the Palms From His Hands”, The Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2012, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304019404577418053772472254.html accessed June 16, 2012)

They know how they want to grow.

And it turns out, in the case of plants and trees, they often want to start out slowly, from small beginnings, growing in mysterious and hidden ways – and sometimes they increase and flourish.

The people Jesus knew were dry-culture farmers, meaning they had no irrigation in first-century Palestine. They would cultivate the ground, sow the seed, and, in time, harvest. But in the meantime, they knew, it was up to God.

One time I was talking to the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and I ventured that he had had quite a success as bishop of Bath and Wells during a great renewal in the church. And he replied, someone else did the sowing; I was there at the harvest. Not just humility, but truth. And in between, they knew, it was up to God.

We’d like to force it, sometimes. We’d like it to grow the way we want it to grow, on our timetable, to our specifications. But the kingdom of God is – God’s kingdom. And God is the one who makes things grow.

We guide, nourish, co-operate; we are at best assistant gardeners; which, it turns out, is a pretty important job.

We are called to be part of the growth of the most extraordinary thing; we are called to be part of the growth of the most ordinary thing.

For the kingdom of heaven, Ezekiel said, was like this: God takes a small twig, a sprig, from the top of a cedar tree, and plants it on a high mountain. This sprig takes root and grows; and in time that cedar is the greatest and noblest of trees; birds rest in its branches. And yet – the kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, is like the smallest of seeds – a mustard seed. And you know what happens when you spread mustard seed around?

A bunch of small plants! Maybe four feet high! Covering a hillside or a field, or filling your garden, what you have are almost ordinary weeds – just something ordinary. Something not far away, not inaccessibly gigantic, not impossible to grow; something you can reach out and touch with your hands, flowers you can pluck, seeds you can taste.
The kingdom of heaven is close at hand. The kingdom of heaven is already among you. The kingdom of heaven is real – and not strange at all. It is growing – like a weed!

What do we learn from this? Patience, hope, vision. And those are not small things at all.

We know that growth of the kingdom is not obvious and not subject to our control. We know that God is responsible for what falls and what rises. We know that he will transform the world, that a new creation is coming into being, that we are part of it. We know that God’s glory begins sometimes as a small and hidden (Gk: krypton) thing.

We know that the kingdom is God’s doing – and our eyes will marvel at it in its fullness, in its glory.

Vision, and hope despite the odds; patience – these are not small things, but extraordinary things: things that make the kingdom grow. And make us grow with it.

How will we plant a mustard seed today? How will we have faith – put our trust in God?

How will we enjoy seeing it grow? Will we wait? Will we try to push it along?

The kingdom will come, is coming, in its fullness: it is already present in hidden, small, secret, potent form. How will we help it spread?

Where do you see it spreading?

June 17
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 6
Ezekiel 17:22-24
Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 4:26-34

Sunday, June 10, 2012

in the cool of the day

Genesis 3:8-15
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

At the time of the evening breeze, in the cool of the day, the Lord walked in the garden. And he sought out the man and his wife, asking, “Where are you?”

“We are hiding!” the man replied. “We are naked.”

“Who told you that you were naked?”

Ah. Here we go.

Well, the tree … the snake … she … the snake …

Ah-hum. In other words…

Well – yes.

And so they left paradise, the man and the woman, having tasted of the knowledge of what is good, and what is bad, and maybe learned a little of what is right and what is wrong. But they could have known it all along.

What is wrong, what they got wrong, was seeking after divinity – without placing trust in God. To be equal with God, to be divine, this first Adam felt was a thing to be grasped, not given or received. The last Adam, our Lord Jesus, on the other hand,

though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.

Obedience – this is what was lacking, in the garden. And that is why it was not paradise, for long, not completely, not yet. The man and the woman, the mythical first couple, reveal what we know of ourselves. We need to receive from God all that gift of what we are. We cannot do it alone. We cannot take it for ourselves; it is God’s gift.

What we can do is to put our trust in the living God – and practice obedience to him.

This is the ultimate allegiance, the final one identity – and the one family to which we all may belong: those who do the will of God. That is what Jesus is saying, not turn your back on Mom and Dad, but turn your face toward heaven. Put God first and all else will fall in to place, will take its place in right relationship to the ultimate reality.

That is what it means in the Eucharistic Prayer when we call for the day when

In the fullness of time, God will put all things in subjection under Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country where we may enter the everlasting heritage of God’s children, his sons and daughters.

It is the call to obedience, to putting God first in our lives, following the way of Christ, which is the way of the Cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.

And that is why we pray that—

God will unite us to his Son in his sacrifice that we may be acceptable through him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

We come across Jesus in a scene of strange paradox: his accusers say he is in league with the devil, but he points out in common-sense fashion that a house cannot stand against itself. And his mother and siblings are worried about him: he seems to have become ecstatic, outside himself, ‘out of his mind’ in a transcendent state. And he replies to them: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

What is happening with Jesus is that he in the midst of a confrontation with the powers the be, the powers of world and flesh, that keep people from God and from the fullness of life which God has made us to enjoy. That fullness is the completeness of life in God, the restoration of the original wholeness in which we were made, and to which we are called to return, through Christ. This is the state of bliss; to be one with the Creator, through the work of the Redeemer, through the power of the breath of God we call the Holy Spirit.

It is relationship to God the Father that is the primary relationship. There is nothing wrong with family relationships – they come into their own when they are properly subordinate to that primary allegiance that every creature owes to the Maker of all.

In the cool of the day – more literally, at the time of the evening’s breath – the Lord seeks out the man and the woman in the garden. They are already in the presence of the breath, the wind, the Spirit— that is God’s creative energy at work all around them. And yet they are hiding! They are afraid – to admit that they have sought wisdom apart from God. And now they are indeed separate. And so the original wholeness is lost.

It is lost, in this story, at the beginning of time. It is lost, in our lives, at the time when we turn away from right relationships with God and each other. It is lost – but can be regained, not by our own efforts but through Christ in the Spirit by the will of God.

And so the invitation lands at our feet: let us come together again, you and I, the Spirit beckons. Let us, again and anew and forever, be friends, and more than friends— be my family, be my heirs, be my children: be with me today in Paradise. Walk, walk with me: in the garden, in the cool of the day.

O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your Spirit’s indwelling breath we may be mindful of those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Spreading Flames

Wow! Those are two scary words. For anyone growing up in the arid West they are reminders of the increasing threat of wild fire through the long hot dry months of summer. They speak of a spark taking off, becoming a flame and tearing apart hillsides and fields, green grass gone blonde gone black. What is left but seed for next year, a few stalwart trees, and a saving remnant of verdure passed over but scorched. A few bushes grow, here and there. Seed spreads across the blackened earth. And still the summer waits.

The breath of a cool change in the air, the trembling hope of a monsoon with its violent release of water: these are coming – but when?

In the church, too, there is the hint of spreading flames – but it is a hopeful fear, not anticipatory dread, that draws us in fascination. What we are seeing are fields gradually ripening, the “flame” the spreading word of the gospel, which catches spontaneously and lights new lights in dark places.

Sometimes like ivy “it sleeps, it creeps, then it leaps!” (Gradually, gradually the word is spreading.) Sometimes suddenly it is evident all around us: “Why didn’t I see that before?”

God’s kingdom is all around us, coming into being, drawing us into fullness. God is at work in the world: how do we share in it? The Sundays after Pentecost (beginning with Trinity, the first Sunday in June, and extending all the way through All Saints to Christ the King) are all about this challenge.

How do we take part in God’s work in the world? Or, how are we to be the body of Christ? How do we share it? How do we show it?

We pause for a moment of stillness, after the sermon and after the Eucharist, to allow spaciousness in our spirits, to allow the Holy Breath to breathe through us. And in the stillness, we wonder. What would God say if we stopped and listened?

For the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, June-July 2012, Edmonds, Wash. JRL+