Being Upstanders

By Barbara Anderson

img_0021“Human Trafficking is a form of modern slavery—a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 20.9 million people around the world. And no matter where you live, chances are it’s happening nearby. From the girl forced into prostitution at a truck stop, to the man discovered in a restaurant kitchen, stripped of his passport and held against his will. All trafficking victims share one essential experience: the loss of freedom.” (Polaris Project)

Ten years ago, I had never heard the term “human trafficking,” nor understood what it was and the magnitude to which it effected women, children, and men around the world and right here in my own community. In 2015, an estimated 1 out of 5 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex-trafficking victims. According to the Polaris Project, it is estimated that human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide. The darkness and violence continues to grow and, at times, seems hopeless.

As women of faith, we have not been bystanders to this situation. We have raised our voices in advocacy to our lawmakers, raised funds for programs supporting women survivors, and brought awareness to our communities. As faithful women, we have come together and God has heard our prayers. Although we may not be able to see it, we are making a difference in the lives of exploited women and girls. We are shining a light on the darkness. We, as a friend of mine would say, are “Upstanders.” We are women sharing God’s love and making a difference in our communities. We may not see the progress but change is happening. The media is now shining their light on this issue, lawmakers are shining their light through prosecuting traffickers, and organizations are shining their light in offering assistance through homes and services to women survivors. I have led an organization, “All Hands In,” for the past six years as we have worked to establish a presence in the Greater Boston area to support women survivors. Although we are not quite ready to begin our residence program, we are now serving women survivors, one-on-one. We are sponsoring survivor retreats and, in 2017, launching our social enterprise, employing women in our natural soap business and rolling store program.

Women of faith do not sit in the pews: we are “action in the pews” on Sundays and every day. We are not bystanders but upstanders. Let us continue to stand up for exploited and trafficked women in our communities and around the world. Upstanders, unite!

IMG_7110Barbara Anderson is president of “All Hands In,” a ministry organization sponsored by Trinity Baptist Church of East Arlington, MA, addressing the issue of human trafficking. Barbara is a former national president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. For more information about All Hands In, click here.

Are you feeling called by God to learn more about the critical issue of sex trafficking?  The International Christian Alliance on Prostitution is holding a conference at the Green Lake Conference Center, Green Lake, Wisconsin, May 21-26, 2017. Click here for information.

United Nations “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”

 

2016-03-15 13.33.28 HDRThe United Nations Commission on the Status of Women is “the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women,” (www.unwomen.org). Each year in the early spring is a two-week colloquium that brings world leaders together to assess progress on targets and goals addressing these issues. During UNCSW, there are parallel events organized by NGOs (non-governmental organizations), free and open to the public, on a wide variety of topics. By attending the parallel events, you gain a deeper understanding of issues with impact on women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, as well as hearing about exciting initiatives and meeting inspiring leaders. Additionally, there are creative, moving ecumenical worship services each morning to bring women of faith together and bathe the experience in prayer.

American Baptist women frequently attend at least part of UNCSW. In 2016, AB Women’s Ministries national coordinator of Mission with Women and Girls, Bonnie Sestito, executive director Virginia Holmstrom, associate executive director Rev. Sandra Hasenauer, and national director of American Baptist Women in Ministry/Transformation Ministries, Rev. Dr. Patricia Hernandez, attended several days of the event. These participants learned about pornography and its connection to sex trafficking and violence against women; the vulnerability of refugee and stateless women to violence and trafficking; how women in disadvantaged communities are working together towards peace and justice; opening doors through interfaith dialogue, and more. Through conversations at the end of the day, they came to the conclusion it was imperative they share what they were learning with the wider audience of American Baptist women.

SDGs_poster_new1In 2015, the United Nations assess the progress that had been made on it’s 15-year Millennium Development Goals initiative begun in 2000. Although significant progress had been made in many areas, there is obviously still more work to be done. Therefore, the UN launched “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” The 2030 agenda has 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all,” (www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/).

Although many of these issues may seem overwhelming and, in some cases, “far away,” there are many ways that congregations or women’s and girls’ ministry groups can become engaged in the betterment of our global neighborhood. To that end, American Baptist Women’s Ministries has posted information on our website about the SDGs and has ideas or other resources available to help you think through how you or your faith community could work on these issues locally as well as globally. (Lose this link? Just go to http://www.abwministries.org and hover your cursor over “Mission Focus.” It’s one of the options in the drop-down list that appears.)

May God bless our efforts to care for our world and all who inhabit it. Amen.

Sanctuary by the Sea

By Barbara Anderson

(c) 2013 Sandra Hasenauer

(c) 2013 Sandra Hasenauer

It amazes me when you set out to do something for others how God blesses you through the experience. I lead an organization named All Hands In that works on issues of human trafficking locally in Greater Boston, Massachusetts. Our goal is to acquire a house and begin a long term residence program for women survivors of trafficking and exploitation. While we work towards this ministry goal, we have begun a retreat program for women survivors entitled “Sanctuary by the Sea.” Every fall, we lead a retreat in Southern Maine under the pines and near the ocean. The survivor is able to bring a mentor or counselor with them to the event and the weekend expenses are covered through grants that we have received. We offer a safe place to relax, worship and build community together. Whether it is while we are playing games, taking a walk, sharing a meal or just chatting, God weaves his love through every part of that weekend. We even have an opportunity to work with horses at the stable, building trust through the experience.

One of my favorite parts of the retreat is having devotions on the beach and then watching the women frolick in the ocean; certainly an opportunity that they have not had in their lives. Lobster for dinner on Saturday evening is a tradition because you can’t be in Maine and not have lobster!

However, through the fun and silly times, we have prayer, Bible study, and worship on Sunday with communion. These are very powerful moments for all of us around the table together, sharing about our lives and growing together in our faith. God’s hands of healing touch each of us during this retreat weekend. I leave feeling so blessed by the amazing, courageous women I have met and the friendships that have been formed.

We are hoping to grow our retreat program and offer more retreats throughout the year to stay connected as well as to invite new women to join our community. I have learned that even sitting together having a cup of tea is so important to a woman’s healing process. I encourage you to find a way in your community to connect with a trafficking organization working with survivors to use your gifts to make a difference in the lives of women. Something simple can make a world of difference to someone else.

Barbara Anderson is president of All Hands In.

Partnering in the Abolition of Human Trafficking

Fields of Mudan Production Still

Human trafficking. We all are aware of the devastation, pain and greed associated with this atrocity and the mark it continues to make on our country, whether in cities or small towns. As American Baptist Women, you had a four year emphasis with this focus (“Break the Chains: Slavery in the 21st Century,” 2007-2011). I know God is using you in mighty ways as you band together to make a difference as women who care and who exercise God’s heart in a broken and hurting world. Now you can join with several million Baptist women as you continue to wage war in the area of human trafficking! Let me explain.

American Baptist Women’s Ministries is one of the member bodies represented in the North American Baptist Women’s Union (NABWU) consortium. We are a collaboration of the women’s departments of 17 Baptist denominations/organizations across Canada and the US (see www.nabwu.org for more information.) If you consider all of the women who make up these groups, we connect well over four million women! Our mission statement is “encouraging women to live out kingdom life, especially in the area of helping the vulnerable.” There are many vulnerable in our society and we have numerous wonderful Baptist women who are reaching out in God’s name and for God’s sake, to share God’s love with those who are less fortunate. The area of human trafficking is just one of those areas.

Your executive director, Virginia Holmstrom, and your president, Angel Sullivan, are on the NABWU board. At our meetings in April of 2015, we as a consortium decided to join forces, to join hands, so to speak, to continue to fight this scourge. Imagine what it would be like if all four million of us did one or two small things? Even if only half of us stepped up to do one or two small things, that is still two million women all shining our candle against the darkness! Many candles together are the “city on the hill” which Christ talked about!

Here’s what we are doing together: We are challenging each woman to take one step or even two! It’s quite easy, really. We are calling our women to help educate the public about the problem so when there is suspicion it can be reported, or some captive woman will see a sign with the right number to call to give her freedom from her captors. For us, it’s as simple as clicking a link found below, downloading a brochure or poster and bringing it to the manager at your local hotel, motel, truck stop or gas station or handing to a taxi driver. When you bring it to a business, you can ask them to use this information to inform their staff about what to look for and what to do or to put posters in their public restrooms.

Please download any resource you choose to use from the highlighted word/links:

Poster (available in 20 languages)

Brochure for truck stop managers and employees

Poster for men’s restrooms

Poster for women’s restrooms

Wallet cards to give to truckers

More posters, brochures, etc:

If you are interested in more resources, such as a speaker’s bureau, books or movies on the topic, etc. please see www.nabwu.org.

NABWU: Four million women…each doing something. Can you picture it? Exercising God’s heart, giving a voice to the voiceless as God calls us to do!  We can make a difference because together we are stronger and can make a larger impact! Please, for the sake of that one…

Moreen SharpMoreen Sharp is president of the North American Baptist Women’s Union and Vice-President of the Baptist World Alliance Women’s Department. If you are leading a ministry to those who are trafficked, please let NABWU know and they will connect you to their human trafficking networking group designed to encourage and support those in that ministry. Contact Ruby Fulbright at networking@nabwu.org.

 

Ecumenical Advocacy Days: A Personal Perspective

By Bonnie Sestito

The 13th annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) gathering has come and gone, but the work is not over. Approximately 1000 men and women of faith came together to explore “Breaking the Chains: Mass Incarceration and Systems of Exploitation.”

Placards at EAD

Placards at EAD

The U.S. makes up only five percent of the world’s population yet holds nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners. Still, “imprisonment” is a worldwide problem and takes various forms, as everywhere people around the world remain trapped in detention centers, prisons, factories and drug wars that bind and dehumanize individuals for political or economic profit. At EAD we confessed our personal and corporate failure to break the chains of poverty, racism, and greed institutionalized in our laws, economy and social behaviors that collude to perpetuate such human exploitation and strip civil and human rights.*

Human exploitation is the unethical, selfish use of human beings for the satisfaction of personal desires and/or profitable advantage. Plenaries, workshops, and films covered human trafficking including sex and labor, family detention for the undocumented, justice systems regarding the war on drugs, lack of education for girls, and more. My focus was on issues pertaining to women and girls.

EAD was intense and overwhelming. But at the end of the day, I found it very informative, educational and empowering. Statistics change. New information is shared and learned. Do you know that:

  • one in seven teenagers run away from home;
  • parents who are addicted to drugs sometimes “rent out” their children even as young as two months old for money to buy more drugs and pay bills;
  • boyfriends can be pimps;
  • one in ten men sitting in the church pews are buyers of commercial sex, but we are not talking about it; and
  • girls are married off as young as nine years old?

I took in as much information as my mind and emotions would allow. The injustices towards women and girls are far greater than the short list mentioned. Generally speaking, men create the demand; women and girls are the supply. Human exploitation will not change until we all take action. Get the facts. Promote awareness. Connect to a local task force, coalition, or service. Volunteer your professional skills. Buy fair trade products. Know who your representatives are. Write, email, or call them. They want to hear from their constituents.

After I returned home from EAD to digest what I heard and learned, I finally felt like I could do something. I could make a difference or at least I could try. I was given the tools to do a lobby visit. I understood that gathering toiletries for women in prison is thoughtful and generous, and purchasing jewelry or bath products made by survivors of trafficking is supportive and worthwhile.

EAD 2015 is over but the work is just beginning. As an individual, my goal is to move from charity to justice. As American Baptist women and girls, I can only image what could be accomplished if we banded together just as the women of 1931 raised over-and-above monetary gifts to enable the denomination to continue its crucial ministries during the Great Depression. What could we accomplish today if we once again raise our voices together? “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy,” (Proverbs 31:8-9).

*From program booklet for Ecumenical Advocacy Days, 2015.

For more information about Ecumenical Advocacy Days, visit www.advocacydays.org. You may see photos of the 2015 event and watch videos of 2015 plenary speakers. 2016 Ecumenical Advocacy Days are April 15-18, 2016, at the DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton Washington, D.C., Crystal City.

Bonnie SestitoBonnie Sestito serves as Coordinator of Mission with Women and Girls for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

Sunday after Christmas: Needing You This Christmas Season

By Jenn Leneus

Madonna and Child, Budapest, (c) 2012 Sandra Hasenauer

Madonna and Child, Budapest, (c) 2012 Sandra Hasenauer

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.11 For as [surely as] the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring forth, so [surely] the Lord God will cause rightness and justice and praise to spring forth before all the nations [through the self-fulfilling power of His word]. For Zion’s sake will I [Isaiah] not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest until her imputed righteousness and vindication go forth as brightness, and her salvation radiates as does a burning torch.And the nations shall see your righteousness and vindication [your rightness and justice—not your own, but His ascribed to you], and all kings shall behold your salvation and glory; and you shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord shall name.You shall also be [so beautiful and prosperous as to be thought of as] a crown of glory and honor in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem [exceedingly beautiful] in the hand of your God. (Isaiah 61:10–62:3, AMP)

Christmas time is a season of celebration and of praise. It is a season of remembrance and appreciation; for even before we were of existence, before we had breath in our bodies, God saw fit to save us from a world of destruction. He provided a way before we even knew we needed direction. Christ left his throne of glory, and became human for our sake. He came for men and women alike; not differentiating between sexes, color, age, or religion, making one of more importance. He came to provide life to the lifeless.

We are called to walk in the image of Christ and to see as he sees. As women, we are beautiful. Not just on the outside, but on the inside. We ought to teach other women their worth and self-value. In this day and time where human trafficking is at an all-time high, but is being kept low-key as if it is not an issue, women all around the world are being degraded and treated as less than human. Are we any better than them? Do they deserve the life that they are given? Of course not! I believe we have certain issues in our environment so that we are able to grow as one in the body. For the body has many members, but each member has a specific task to complete (1st Corinthians 12:12). If there is an open wound in the body, the heart picks up its pace and pumps more blood to accommodate for the loss. In the same manner, we ought to go out and reach out to our sisters that are suffering, whether it is through missions, outreach, or simply prayer. We are commissioned to go out to the four corners of the earth to introduce Christ to others (Matthew 28:19).

In the spirit of Christmas, let us remember our sisters in prayer. Lift them up before God so that God may hear our cries and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14). Let’s give them the assurance of being fearfully and wonderfully made. Together we can make a difference. Let us take this time to make a resolution to empower and uplift a woman, a young lady, or a little girl at least once a week. Who are we without each other? We are just one part of a body that needs our other parts in order to be fully functional!

Jenn LeneusJennifer Leneus serves as coordinator of Young Adult Women’s Ministries (2014-2017) on the national board of American Baptist Women’s Ministries. A member of Haitian Baptist Church at the Crossroads in Newark, New Jersey, Jenn served as secretary of the Youth Federation Committee for the Haitian Alliance of ABCUSA for three years. Jenn has helped plan several national events for young adult women sponsored by American Baptist Women’s Ministries. She is a graduated practical nursing student and is working towards her Bachelors in Nursing.

 

Hope in Prayer

By Emilie Rodriguez

Prayer Vigil Border credit CWS Aug 29 2014

Prayer vigil at the border, 8-29-14. Photo used by permission, Church World Service.

The breeze comes in through the open car window as we drive across the U.S. border into Tijuana. I look out on streets filled with people going to and from work, school, maybe even wandering around trying to find a place to call home. As I inhaled, memories of my childhood fill my mind, trying to burst free: hitting the piñata at countless birthday parties, cheering as my cousins played soccer with our older aunts and uncles, falling asleep on our way home as we cross the border back to the U.S. We arrive at the Primera Iglesia Bautista de Tijuana, the First Baptist Church of Tijuana. When we enter the building, my eyes widen in surprise. People from all over the United States have come to the vigil: Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, Boston, San Diego—and that’s just the people on this side of the border. Still more were gathering on the other side of the border to join us in prayer.

It gives me hope that so many have come to aid the crisis, come to do something about it and support the efforts. The discussion begins and we conference with our brothers and sisters in San Diego, those who are going to meet up with us later at the park. We go around the room, discussing what has been happening in each of our regions, each person speaking about the children and families that are haunted by the atrocities going on their countries. They’ve seen the faces of these refugees and want to help them overcome their traumatic experiences. The preliminary discussion ends and we head to the Border Field State Park. There, the people in San Ysidro come to join us, facing us across the fence from the U.S. side of the park. There we stand united, linked across two countries, and we all feel hope coursing through each of us. We begin the prayer and as we pray to God, pleading that he helps us fight this humanitarian crisis, my mind finds peace. A sense of calm courses through me, and I know that no matter what happens, God will help.

Emilie Rodriguez 2013-2015Emilie Rodriguez is convenor of the national leadership team of AB GIRLS, AB Women’s Ministries. A senior in high school, Emilie served as AB Women’s Ministries’ representative at a prayer vigil hosted by American Baptist Churches USA held at the border on August 29, 2014. To watch a video of the prayer vigil, click here.

AB Women’s Ministries 2014-2015 mission focus is “Crisis at the Border: What Could I Do?” For information, resources, and a link to subscribe to monthly emails on the topic, visit www.abwministries.org.