I woke up yesterday. And I pray I don’t fall back to sleep… lulled by the unending cries of bills and to-do lists that disguise the prosperity and blessing of the loving middle-class American family that I was born into. ///
Why was I born into this? What did I do before I was born to deserve this safety and security, so disguised by stress that I barely recognize it until I read something like this, posted the day Ramadi fell. (Does every American who knows the latest Hollywood gossip also know where Ramadi is?) ///
Dear North American Church,
Go ahead — wave to a nine-year-old kid today. Sit on the edge of her bed and just watch — just watch your nine-year-old while she sleeps.
Then sit with a 9 year-old-girl on the floor of a shipping container in the middle of northern Iraq.
Except there aren’t many nine-year-old Yezidi girls here, among these families displaced and fleeing from ISIS. There are 5 year olds, 7 year olds, but — I looked for them: there are no nine year olds. ISIS sells nine year old girls in slave bazaars.
Click away, turn the other way if you want, but those girls are wild to turn and escape — and they can’t. They are categorized. Stripped. And shipped naked. Examined and distributed. Sold and passed around like meat. Livestock.
You can walk into any mall and buy a pair of NIKE running shoes for what they are buying a Christian or Yezidi girl from 1-9 years of age — $172 dollars. And she’s yours. For whatever you want, for as long as you want, to make do whatever you want. Sit with that. Yeah, we’re all done living in a world where a pair of shoes can last longer, have more worth, be treated with more value, than a fondled, raped and discarded 9 year-old-girl.
The United Nations reports this week that at least one young girl’s been “married” over 20 times — and forced at the end of each violation to undergo surgery to “restore” her virginity.
So it could be ripped open and destroyed by the next highest bidder.
Yes, it’s true. This was written and experienced just a few months ago, and Ramadi is still in the hands of ISIS. So it’s still happening.
And other places around the world have the same atrocities happening.
And girls and boys in our own American towns are being victimized in the same way. As this American girl says in another article about growing up in the American sex trade:
I was just 6 years old when I (accidentally) mentioned something about my “uncles” to a teacher — I just said something like: “My uncles came over and we had fun,” because those were the words my mom always used. If you think at this point a SWAT team raced to my house and busted everyone, you and I live in different worlds. What happened instead was the teacher called my mom, and she talked her way out of it somehow. When I got home, she beat me up, I think to block out her entire Terrible Person Bingo card.
I was a chameleon good student and industrious worker with various part-time jobs, with a secret life in forced prostitution. That first part was important to my mother — keeping up appearances, looking like the “good girl.”
My mom had a webcam, and a couple of years after the visits from the “uncles” she decided to take the “business” online. She’d go into chat rooms and talk me up, and that’s how I got my work. The earliest webcam shows I remember were when I was around 6 years old, and they began to pick up after my grandmother passed when I was 8 (my grandmother being one of the last people in my life who could have put a stop to it).
No, I’m not making this stuff up. Unfortunately, it’s all too real in this messed-up-by-sin world we live in. Both the mothers who sell their own daughters – daughters who are sitting next to our own in the classrooms – and the mothers like those among the 150,000 refuges stranded on the mountain in Iraq.
Ann writes further:
I sit with 4 Yezidi mothers in a shipping container where they sleep. Sozan leans forward and whispers to me, “Our life was normal before. Our children went to school. Our families had homes, we worked hard. ISIS takes everything. ISIS destroys our homes. We lose everything.”
She points to her sister, Leyla, sitting on the ground beside me. “ISIS shot her husband. Then they shot her son.” I search Leyla’s eyes, her face deeply lined… longing. “… killed them.” Sozan pulls a blanket up around the baby. “We had to choose…” Mawra’s eyes are squeezed tight — like she’s trying to forget. “We had to choose which children we could take — and which we had to leave behind.”
It’s like the air’s sucked out of the shipping container, out of the membranes of my lungs.
When you and your people are being gunned down, you can cram 28 people into a getaway car — but where do you put the 29th? the 30th? Space is finite. There’s a hell on earth that can feel infinite.
“When we are on Sinjar Mountain,” Sozan motions to these mothers, these women, sitting on the floor of the shipping container — like you can truck humanity around like meat — “and ISIS is fighting and shooting and killing all around us — there is no water. No water anywhere — for any of our children. There is no food. Six of the children with us — six of my nieces and nephews” — she holds up her fingers — “six of them, they die. No water, no food. We have to leave their bodies on the mountain. We have to cover them with stones. We can’t get dig down, we can’t down into the mountain to bury them. Too hard.”
I think of my own three children, and my mind is unable to even contemplate having to choose between them. My heart echoes the same question Ann’s does.
Why do we get to be safe…. and they get to be killed, raped, displaced, destroyed?
Does she know that after every meal at home, I water all our houseplants with the leftover water in the pitcher? That our dog gets whatever we don’t finish off our plates?
Does she know that our churches are fundraising for building expansions and plusher chairs while their children are dying?
Somebody tells me after church, right after I get back from Iraq: “It’s nice that you care about those people over there.”
And I stop. Turn. How do I make this translate?
We aren’t where we are, to just peripherally care about the people on the margins as some superfluous gesture or token nicety. The exact reason why you are where you are — is to risk everything for those being oppressed out there.
I woke up early this morning with those words going through my head.
is to risk everything for those being oppressed.
Here I am working my fingers to the bone to pay off lawnmowers and medical bills and mortgages and all the trappings of what these women would call luxury. And I’m so busy doing it that I’m not sure if I have time to answer the tug in my heart to volunteer at a woman’s shelter the next town over.
Father help me.
I do not believe that I was created for the purpose of paying bills and earning enough extra to occasionally visit restaurants to eat food that makes me feel bad but tastes good. Yes, my husband and I must provide for our children… but what are we providing? Are we passing on the ignorance of Christian American privilege along with their clearanced clothing and grilled chicken and filtered water? As we teach them to get a job and pay for their own driver’s license and cars and cell phones, are we also teaching them that providing for themselves and their own is what life is all about?
If the struggle to provide was the curse of The Fall, and Jesus came to redeem us from that… and if He spoke truth when He said not to worry about what we will eat and drink… then we were created and redeemed for a greater purpose.
As I laid in bed this morning at 4am, the Lord reminded me yet again of something He showed me eight years ago… the part of the parable of the sower that applies to me. I was reading it to my kids, and right there, in the middle of the parable, I saw myself.
Jesus said: “And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the Word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the Word, and it becomes unfruitful.” He did not say that the plant died… ie: that the person loses their salvation. He said that the plant did not bear any fruit.
Did you catch that?
When we have the Word but bear no fruit, it’s because our life is being choked by these weeds. It’s either the worries of our privileged American life, and/or it’s because we’re too busy chasing after the money for MORE.
You know… the “more” that’s filling the catalogs in our mail and the junk email folder and the shelves in our malls and cluttering up our houses until we decide our house is too small.
Jesus said it.
But if you’re like me, then your mind responds, but how do I pay the bills and the taxes? How do I find the extra time or money to do anything more than just survive? It’s all well and good to say that other people live on $20/day, but I have to somehow come up with $10,000/year in taxes and thousands more to pay for health insurance that my government now requires that I purchase and insurance and gas for the car I have to have just to get to work, and…. and….
I’m not saying it’s easy being a middle-class American. It’s not.
I’m saying that we’re all-too-often cultivating those weeds instead of asking the Master Gardener to yank them out. We’re not asking Him to teach us whatever it is we need so that we can rest in His promises of provision and focus our own attention on giving and loving.
For those asking, “What can we actually do?” the answer is to ask God to point His finger toward what He knows you can do. He knows what He’s given you and what means He will provide in the future. I know this, because it’s a lesson I’ve already learned, walked in… and which has since gotten choked by weeds. Almost five years ago, He pointed at the nursing home around the corner and taught me a little about living a life poured out. I’m now doing three nursing homes… for three measly little hours each month. So little sacrifice, when I’ve been given so much. He’s been whispering “more” to me for awhile now, and in response, I point to the weeds.
I cannot rush over there to stop a war and to instill love and compassion into ISIS. I cannot air-drop food and water to refugees. I cannot reverse time and bring back the virginity and innocence of the young girls being bought and sold. I cannot transform the minds of the men or shape those of the young boys.
Only the gospel can work those miracles and redeem those atrocities. If I truly believe in the power of the redemption God offers, then that is what I can help with.
I can head out tomorrow and buy school supplies and personal care items and toys to pack into as many Christmas shoeboxes as I can, knowing that those boxes — and the Hope packed inside — can go where I cannot… can reach the orphans and the refugee children… and their mothers.
And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
– Romans 10:15
I can skip some restaurant meals or a visit to the movies or the sweater I want to buy and send the money to Compassion International, knowing that they have found ways into thousands of dark situations, and the money I send will help one life at a time in a way that is personal and life-changing.
And I can ask God to let me see my world through His eyes. Ask Him to point out those around me who need love. Turn over to Him the worries that are choking my life. Love the troubled kids I meet.
Ask Him to weed my life and prune me so I can become more fruitful.
And surrender more of my life to Him.