Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I Bid Adieu to "How I Met Your Mother"

And thus commences my tale of how I came to the decision to never watch How I Met Your Mother again.

Through a number of documentaries and conversations in the past week I have learned a great deal more about the sex slavery industry. While you may be under the (false) impression that sexual slavery only exists in impoverished countries where parents sell their children or girls are kidnapped off the streets and forced into prostitution, this is only part of the story.

As you may well know, there is prostitution in the United States, but what you may not fully realize is that each and every one of these individuals is a slave.

These women aren't free to leave, mentally or physically. Though a small portion initially wanted the life of a stripper or prostitute, that quickly faded away. Most were coerced by pimps, forced into the life through manipulation and violence. Many are addicted to narcotics, unable to run away.

Many girls leave their broken homes and are picked up by a pimp, who proceeds to convince them he loves them, cares about them. For those in need of a father-figure, he becomes that, for others he is a lover. Then he forces them to sell their bodies on the streets. That becomes their identity. When they're on the streets, on the corner at night, they might seem free to come and go, like they want to be there giving up their humanity night after night, but they don't.

They are no more free to leave than a prisoner in a jail cell, trapped by the lies and manipulations, the drugs and the damages.

They are threatened, their families are threatened. If they run away, they're caught and beaten, taking weeks to physically recover, though the psychological destruction caused can never really heal.

They are broken beyond repair, hurting and wanting out. They are completely enslaved, and this is happening all over the world, including in our country, the "land of the free."

Yet so many do not understand the true bondage prostitutes live in, that each and every one is a slave.

We see movies like Pretty Women, one of those "classic films" that everyone has seen, where a prostitute find love, her life beautiful and pretty and pink and happy. We see movies like The Hangover, where a character accidentally marries a stripper in his drunken state, it's a joke, a funny event we laugh at. We see what these women do and it doesn't seem that bad. They like their lifestyle, it's a choice, a way of life.

Reality: almost every woman who is a prostitute has had her life threatened.

Reality: no woman in prostitution wants that lifestyle.

Reality: the average age of a prostitute is 13

Reality: every woman in prostitution is a slave, physically and psychologically.

Through conversations I came to understand even more the powerful part society and media play in painting a completely false portrait of the reality of this slavery.

It starts just with sexual jokes, making light of a serious subject. From there we move on to movies filled with sexual humor, like 40-Year-Old-Virgin or American Pie or a million others.

There are strippers and sex, it's funny and light, nothing serious. The girls are hot, there's lots of skimpy clothing and revealed parts and it's all a joke. The women are treated as objects, but we laugh and joke because they're having fun, they want to be wasted and half-naked and have sex with strangers.

It doesn't stop at movies. Now we've seen the women, they've been objectified, they are nothing more than a means to an end, so in comes porn. Completely dehumanizing an individual. Dangerous not only for the person looking at it and that sexual sin, but also just because it completely takes away the rights of the person who has been photographed. No matter if they "volunteered" for that or not, they're being treated like nothing, there's no person or soul in those photos or videos.

And it continues shaping a perception of what "those kinds of women"are like. Women who want nothing more than drugs and drinks and parties and to sell their bodies for some cash, money that in reality they will never see.

But this is all a lie. The truth is that no woman wants to be in that life, and no woman is free to leave it.

And seeing this false portrayal that these women are dirty and want to be doing what they are doing, that they like being strippers and prostitutes, that they're free to go and have chosen this lifestyle makes us perceive a false reality. The truth is that they're all slaves, the truth is that they're all victims, the truth is that they all need to be set free.

And that is why I can't watch How I Met Your Mother anymore. Yes, it is a hilarious show, yes, I've always enjoyed it. But there are strippers in almost every episode, and the way these strippers are treated furthers the misconception and horrible stereotypes about these enslaved women. Barney is constantly going to strip clubs, and the women are nothing. And in one of the recent seasons, he starts dating a stripper who "loves her job." The reality is no stripper, no prostitute, loves, or even remotely likes, what they do.

You might say it's all fun and games, the jokes and movies and TV programs are just light humor. And yes, they are funny, but they are also dehumanizing, forcing lies into our minds as we perceive these enslaved women as "just sluts," when in reality they are broken, lost, abused, neglected, and deeply in need of salvation and freedom.

(Note: watch Nefarious and Very Young Girls. Both amazing, informative, heart-breaking documentaries)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Arch, a Setting Sun, and Breathtaking Love

Often the more you are around something the less you appreciate it. It loses its sense of awe, shock, beauty because it is so commonplace and everyday, even if it is so wonderful, shocking, or incredible that it can never truly be special or ordinary. 

As a "transplant" to the glorious state of Colorado, I've witnessed this numerous times. The mountains constantly awe me. Each day they change, from blinding white against a brilliant blue sky, to deep purples against the orange hues of a setting sun, or deeply set amongst fog and clouds, always glorious and powerful, beautiful and full of splendor and majesty. 

Sunsets and sunrises here constantly amaze me, the colors so vibrant and spectacular. I've always been a lover of sunsets, but here that love affair has grown oh-so-much deeper. 

As someone who didn't grow up in this state, I see this beauty with fresh eyes. It's not commonplace or ordinary. For many people I've met who grew up here, the mountains don't hold as much magic as they do for me, just like the Arch in St. Louis really isn't that cool the twentieth time you've ridden the jolting cramped cart to the top. 

Just as this happens in my life with the St. Louis Arch, it happens in my faith life too. 

It's so easy to slip into Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and unending love being a bit formulaic, especially if you grew up some sort of Christian home where you began learning the Bible stories from the moment you could understand words, whether you truly understood their meaning or not. 

  • Jesus became human and was born 
  • Jesus and His disciples traveled as He taught, performed miracles, and loved the lost
  • Jesus was crucified for our sins
  • Jesus died
  • Jesus rose from the dead
  • Jesus lives in us and now we can be free from sin
It's the most wonderful love story ever told, but see how easy it is to just explain it in a few unexciting words. The splendor, glory, and utterly breathtaking beauty of this love is broken down into a few bullet points. You've known it all for so long, it begins to lose its awe.

This is no simple story of life, death, and sacrifice. Though that in and of itself is always incredible. 

It's love, greater than I can ever comprehend, ever imagine, glorious and beautiful and free. It's sacrifice for the undeserving, the unworthy, the sinner, the captive. It's freedom from sin, redemption for the broken, grace beyond all measure, love beyond compare. 

Let's tell the story again, the real story, the one that is so incredible I can hardly believe it to be true, a story that amazing. 

The story that Jesus loves us so deeply He gave up everything for us. No only did He die for us, but all of our sin was placed upon His shoulders. Every bad thing we have ever done, are doing, or will do He took the punishment for. He died that we might live. And now we are His children. 

His love extended past dying for us and into living for us as well. How can we not live for Him in return? He has done so much for us, loved us more deeply and fully than we can ever imagine, how could we not fall on our faces and worship Him, give Him absolutely every part of our lives? How could we not love Him in return, for He first loved us and we most definitely did not, and do not, deserve it. 

That's the beauty of this story. It's not your typical love story of two people who love each other equally and thus make sacrifices for one another. 

Jesus' love came first. He created us to be loved by Him, to be in a relationship with Him, and to in response love and adore Him as well. We were made for love, nothing less. But because of sin, we our first love is ourselves, but even though we've been unfaithful to our Lord, He still loves us. He still loves us! So much He died. He died for then unrequited love, and still often unrequited love. He didn't just die for the people who believe in Him. He died for everyone, because He loves everyone equally and fully and beautifully. 

His love is so amazing, so divine. It's not something we can just say, "Oh, yeah, Jesus loves me. We're cool, no biggie, man," with a nonchalant shrug a too-cool-for-school look on our faces. It's incredible, this love beyond all measure or comprehension. 

It's love so beautiful and free that all I can do is fall on my face and worship the glorious Jesus who died for me. Each day I should be filled with complete awe in His sacrifice and total reverence of His love. 

Supporting Sights

God will provide. He always does. But I'm not gonna lie, the thought of raising about $3,000 in about a month has been mildly daunting, to say the least. South Asia is less than a week away and I still need $2,000. I'm not worried, overwhelmed, or stressed about that seemingly high number, God will provide. 

I realized I was totally at peace this morning when I was thinking over the dollar amounts and the to-do's of traveling. I'm not worried, and that's a beautifully freeing thought. 

"And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:7 

Truth be told, I haven't been fully at peace for this whole journey. It's been difficult. Raising a high amount of support isn't easy, especially not the first time. I've prayed for provision and I've prayed for peace. 

It's so easy to slip back into placing it all on your own shoulders, focusing on the "what if's" instead of leaving it to God and His fulfilling promise of "I will."

About two weeks ago I was struggling a bit. I'd spent hours writing my support letter and then addressing and stamping envelopes and it had been a week since I'd mailed them all off. Every day I checked my mailbox (okay, okay, a few times a day) and each time it was disappointingly empty. 

Though fully confident God would provide, I was still feeling a bit disappointed with a hint of overwhelmed stress thrown on top. Friday of that week arrived and I walked back to my apartment from class praying about the trip and raising support. I asked God to please just let there be a check, one check, in the mail that day.

As I opened the mailbox I was trying to be confident there'd be a letter, but honestly, there was still a little doubt in the back of my mind that took the form of bracing myself for the disappointment of an empty box. But God is faithful, even when I am not. And when I opened that mailbox, there was a letter, and from my grandparents too, accompanied by a sweet note about how they'll be praying for me. 

By last Wednesday, however, I had only received one other check and was sitting at a steady $200. With three weeks and $2,800 left to raise, money was definitely on my mind. Through the course of raising support I've been praying, a lot. And it's been so cool to see how God has changed my perceptions. 

So Wednesday as I was walking back to my apartment I was praying about support, asking for God to provide and to give me the ability to fully trust Him through the situation and that He will provide, just maybe not the way I think He will, and that He wants me in South Asia, so He'll make sure I end up there. 

I had two letters in my mailbox, but forgot to open them. A few minutes later I got a text from one of the leaders on the trip, Kristen, asking how support raising was going. I was about to text back that I was still at $200, but remembered the letters and opened them. One was for $100, the other for $250, which were both just amazing blessings. Then I got a text from a family in my parents' house church, asking what the online giving account number was. After I gave it to him, he texted back saying they had deposited $300 in the account! 

Within a span of literally five minutes I went from $200 to $850! It was incredible to see how faithfully the Lord provided. 

Since I've received $150 more, and am in need of $2,000 more by November 23. I know God will provide, and I feel such peace that His Will will be done in His perfect way. If you'd like to be part of His provision in this, however, go to give.cru.org/, put in the account number 2875125, specify that it's for Katy Owens in the comment box, and then let me know via email/text/Facebook/a comment because I don't personally have access to checking that account. 

Most importantly, pray for me and everyone else going on this trip as we prepare to serve Jesus and share the gospel and continue to raise funds to get there. 

Jesus is so good, and His love is everlasting and enduring, and that's what matters the most. I'm so excited for the opportunity to serve Him, humbled by how I have seen Him move already, and I can't wait to see how He continues to provide now and when we are in South Asia.  

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Story of God's Work Through IJM

Libby’s Update
November 2012
“Helping to end injustice while introducing
students & faculty to the God of justice”

An Incredible Story of God's Work

MUMBAI, INDIA – IJM Mumbai got a call from the Kolkata police de-partment. The police had been looking for Sundari,* a teenage girl who had gone missing three years earlier. Her brother had been the one to report the case, and he had refused to give up hope.
After months and months of false starts and dead ends, the Kolkata police believed they had finally found Sundari – she had been trafficked from Kolkata to a red-light district outside of Mumbai, nearly 1,000 miles away.

After a 36-hour train ride, they got to the brothel where they believed Sundari was trapped, and IJM staff, police and Sundari's brother made their way up the dark staircase to the fourth floor. As soon as Sundari saw her brother, she "literally jumped for joy." She had not seen him for three years, and could not believe he had been looking for her all this time.

IJM Mumbai’s Police Liaison held the hands of both young women as they walked out of the dark brothel. Sundari and the other girl said they had not seen the sun for three years.

Police arrested two suspects who will face trafficking charges if indeed they were running the brothel where Sundari and the other girl endured unspeakable violence.

Back at the Mumbai police station, the brave survivors answered questions. They gave harrowing reports of the brutal brothel, which operated on a "token system." A brothel customer would buy a token and get ten minutes with a girl, meaning the girls were raped by multiple men, multiple times in an hour. If they did not comply, the girls were beaten.

Sundari was eager to return home to Kolkata with her brother, and IJM will continue to support her so she can thrive in freedom. The other young survivor has been settled into an aftercare home for minors, where she can get the care and counsel she needs.

* A pseudonym has been used for the protection of this IJM client.

* To read the full version of this story, go to IJM’s website at www.ijm.org.

*Libby Swenson has been on Staff with Cru for 17 years and currently serves as Partnership Director of IJM/Cru. International Justice Mission is a human rights agency that brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. Cru is partnering with IJM to help end injustice while introducing students and faculty to the God of justice.

“He has shown you oh man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you, but to seek justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Colors and Contours

I've had the wonderful opportunity this quarter to take a painting class. It's an "experimental" class and we get to pretty generally paint whatever we want. The assignments are beautifully broad, allowing creativity to fully flow without the constraints specific assignments often provide.

It's been a great journey, learning to paint. I've never really painted before, which has caused a bit of insecurity. I'm learning, though, slowly developing my own style and learning to just embrace the medium and enjoy the process, rather than getting so caught up in the end result I don't actually learn anything along the way.

That's a bit how life is, actually. Sometimes it's so easy to focus so much on the future, on where you'll be in a few years, even just a few months, or maybe just a few days, if the weekend is near.

But when you get caught up in what's to come, you can't embrace and enjoy what's in the here and now. Life is about the journey, as much about where you go as how you got there.

When painting, if I focus all my attention on what my painting will look like in the end, I'll lose the opportunity to explore, to play, to embrace the process of painting and deviate from the original plan to create something entirely new and equally exciting as my original idea. Or maybe I play around and it utterly fails, but I learn from it and can apply that failure to my future attempts and endeavors.

If you never try anything, then it's true you'll never fail. But you'll also never succeed. Living life in fear of failing is no way to live at all. It's all about the process, the journey, the adventure.

That's what life is. A great big adventure. It's unknown, like any exciting adventure should be.

When you watch a movie or read a book for the first time, you have no idea what will happen, where the characters will go, how they will get there, or who they will become along the way. You travel with them, experiencing what they experience, feeling their fear, becoming excited along with them. When they're in danger, your heart races too, when they're excited, you are happy as well, and when they make it through safely, you breath a great sigh of relief. You don't know where they're going, the story is about the journey to get there and what they learn and who they become along the way.

It's about who we are. It's about who we become. That's why we go through our trials and suffering, joy and excitement, love and care. So we can paint a beautiful painting, or a meaningful painting, and learn along the way. It's as much about the end result as how you got there.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Be Still

There are about seven billion people in the world.

About half of these individuals live in poverty.

There are around 50 million orphans, and an estimated 27 million slaves.

There is so much brokenness, so much need. It's overwhelming.

I've been reading a lot recently, maybe too much. I read No Longer A Slumdog a few weeks ago (you can go to their website to get a FREE copy of the book). It's filled with stories of tragedy, loss, and abuse, the lives of people in various parts of Asia and the hardships they face. It is also a book filled with the hope and redemption that comes through Jesus Christ's saving Love.

As I was sitting on my bed reading, I couldn't help but cry. Partially my tears were sorrow for the brokenness in the world and the hardships so many around the world face, my heart was breaking for all the people who don't know Jesus, who don't know love, who live in the midst of so much abuse and so much hurt.

And my heart was breaking because I simply did not know what I could possibly do.

I could give more money, I could support more children, I could go to Asia, I could tell people about the issues there and inspire them to go, I could write, I could use my art to raise awareness and funds, I could share this book with people so they could know, I could keep praying, I could write articles, there were so many little things, so many things, but nothing could fix it.

All I wanted, all I want, is to fix it.

I don't want little girls to be used as sex toys. I don't want women to be abused. I don't want kids and adults to work for little or no pay in factories. I don't want infants to die, I don't want people to starve to death, I don't want anyone to be homeless, hungry, or unloved.

And I cried and cried, because I didn't know how to fix it, because the problem is so overwhelming, because there are so many millions of men and women and children desperately in need of salvation - both physically and spiritually - and I couldn't save them all.

"I want to lift them up...I groan within me. How can I help them come out of all this poverty and oppression? That's my burden." -Niran Das

This is how I felt, and still feel. Just so ... overwhelmed.

Then at the beginning of this week my friend, Anna, lent me a beautiful publication by Time magazine about Mother Teresa. It's a spectacular telling of her life's work, and incredibly inspirational. I highly recommend it.

Prior to reading it, I didn't know that much about Mother Teresa. I knew she was a missionary in India who has inspired many to live lives of service to the Lord and to the poor, I knew she was very servant-hearted and dedicated her entire life, I knew she started orphanages and homes for the destitute and dying. Basically I knew she was very important, inspirational, sacrificial, and very in love with Jesus.

I was so humbled reading her story. She was called to go and she went. She dedicated every moment of her life to the poor. She never stopped loving people, she never stopped serving her Jesus. She had such a deep faith and close relationship with God, it was so beautiful to read about.

And she influenced so many people.

She didn't have plans, she just did whatever God wanted her to do. If there wasn't a hospital where there should be one, she got one built. She built hospices, caring for those turned away from hospitals because they were going to die anyways.

She gave up everything, the familiarity of her home, her family, her friends. She moved to a country that was unfamiliar and she didn't just go for a little bit, she went for a lifetime.

She wasn't concerned with making a name for herself, she was simply concerned with loving people, helping the poor and the dying and the destitute, serving Jesus with her whole heart and spirit.

I read it and I thought, "I want to be like her. I want to do that. I want to give my whole heart, my whole self, my whole life and just go."

At Cru last night a team came and talked about mission work, particularly emphasizing God's explicit calling on everyone to go out and spread the gospel, that God wants each and every person who knows Him to share the good news of His love and grace.

I know this, I have known this. I want to go, I want to serve,  I want to do, I want to change lives and love people. But there are so many people to love. There are so many people to serve. There are so many countries and so many people who have never even heard of Jesus, much less know the story of His beautiful love.

And there are so many things I feel God wants me to do. I've wanted to adopt kids since I was a little kid. A few years ago, as I learned about slavery in the world today, I felt my heart pull to help those who have been enslaved. Last year I felt God wanted me to go on staff with Cru (after graduation), a desire He strengthened and affirmed for me during this quarter at DU. And now I know more and more about the poverty around the world, feel my heart breaking for the lost and hopeless. As I learn more about overseas missions opportunities, I start to wonder if I should stay in the US.

Is that selfish? To stay here where it's comfortable? Should I go to a different country? But where should I go? And what about adopting kids? And ending slavery? And doing Cru? Do I go on staff with Cru here? Or go to a different country? When? Where?

So many questions. They were running around my head in wild circles last night. I felt so agitated. There are so many things I could do to help, so many opportunities, so many options, and so many desires I have to serve. But what do I do? When do I do it? How do I know what God really wants?

And I've been begging to know. Saying, God, I don't know how I can help, how I can help fix these problems, God just tell me. I'll do anything. I'll go anywhere. I'll learn a new language and move to a new place and even if I never get to see my family again on this earth and have to leave all my friends it's okay. Whatever you want. Just tell me. Just let me know what you want me to do.

And this morning, God said to just be still. To be where I am, to not worry about the future, but to love people and serve people right here, right now.

See God knows how much I like to plan out the future, so He doesn't tell me what's going to happen. He wants me to just follow along and trust Him. And I know this, but I still work myself into a frenzy and freak out a bit and beg to be told what to do and finally hear God telling me, gently, to be still, to trust Him, and to live in the here and the now instead of beating myself up about the past or trying to run into the future.

There's so little time on this earth, and I have no idea how long I'll even be on it. If I live in the future, wondering what I can and will do five, 10, 15 years from now...I'll miss out on what God can be doing through me right now. I'll miss out on opportunities to love the people who are in my life right now. I'll miss being able to serve, share the gospel now, be the hands and feet of Jesus now.

Because that's the point. To be still and know that He is God. To trust His Holy Name and His Perfect Will and do what He desires. To be open to whatever, wherever, whenever. And if whatever, wherever, and whenever is right here, right now, where I am, that's where I'm to be. And I can serve so much here and when it's time for me to go somewhere else, God will tell me. If He wants me in Africa, India, Russia, South America, or here in the United States, He'll make that clear. When it's time.

And until then, I'm to love and serve people, love and serve my Jesus, and most importantly, trust and be still.