To Write

I currently have 7 unfinished blog posts sitting in my WordPress drafts, serving no purpose, and doing no good for anyone. I have written out stories, secret prayers, and personal revelations I believe everyone could benefit from reading. So why do I have all these drafts collecting virtual dust and not being posted?

Because of Self-Doubt.

I have grown to believe the lies that the world and the enemy has blasted at me ever since I could remember. I have developed a lot of self-doubt due to believing the lies that I am not good enough, that no one cares about what I have to say, that there is no space for my thoughts, and that there are far too many writers and bloggers in this world already.

Because of Fear.

I have fear of being judged. I have fear that I will offend someone. I have fear that I am not creative enough or my words are not powerful enough. I have fear of not being perfect and making mistakes. I have fear that holds me back from simply clicking  “Publish”.

But the truth is: I love to write. I love to share. I love to encourage. And I love to inspire.

Ever since I was a little girl I loved writing stories and journaling my thoughts. If I looked hard enough I could find unfinished short stories I wrote just for fun in 6th grade on my family’s computer drive. I had dreams of being a story teller- a famous author.  That passion grew into high school where I delighted in writing short story essays for English class and writing poems for enjoyment. Before going to college I briefly thought about studying English or Writing, something I never really shared with anyone. Years ago I dreamed of being an influential blogger, long before it was the “cool thing to do”.  Everyone around me always told me I was a “good writer”, but I let the insecurity and self-doubt consume my thoughts and stop me from fully pursing this secret passion of mine.

What I have been learning the past year, however, is that our fears and insecurities are usually fueled by lies – lies that we believe about ourselves. Believing these lies about myself has held me back from pursuing new and exciting things, from taking risks, talking to people, applying for positions, writing, picking up the phone, speaking up, digging deeper, and pushing the “Publish” button.

God has been radically healing my heart the past year and gently counseling me about this deep issue I have regarding fear and self-doubt that holds me back. Lately, every time fear or insecurity creeps into my mind and I begin to listen or believe it, God lovingly asks me:

“Why would you believe that lie, daughter? You are more than enough because you are mine.”

God has shown me through close friends and mentors that my thoughts do matter and that my words do have the power to help, inspire, and bring joy. My church in Boise recently held a millennial conference called “Now Gathering”, which was all about embracing your “NOW” – embracing the passion that God has put on your heart and in your life, and not letting fear hold you back from pursuing your dreams. So this is me embracing my now, embracing the secret passion that God put in me as a little girl: to write. 

Jesus is taking me to new places this year (I’ll be posting more about that later), and He is revealing new things about His heart, while also healing parts of mine. He is pushing me to love others fearlessly and serve without hesitation. He is asking me to be more intentional with people and be quiet to His voice. He is asking me to take risks for His Kingdom and go to places I have never gone before. He is asking me to live a life filled with purpose.

So here’s to sharing more of my heart and letting go of trying to be perfect. Here’s to not letting one more blog post go unpublished. Here’s to being vulnerable and inspiring others to live intentionally and fearlessly. Here’s to sharing more of my heart and writing about this beautiful and mysterious life that I live.

My beloved spoke and said to me: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.”

-Song of Solomon: 2:10

Angeles City: City of Angels (Post #4)

 – Philippines July Trip Post 4 – 

Bar Outreach in the Red Light District

In the Philippines there is a 1.5 mile long street located in Angeles City where over 12,000 girls are trafficked in the sex trade, and this is where my team and I (Wipe Every Tear) stayed for three nights to bring hope, love, and a way out to the girls being sold there.

We stayed in a hotel that was just a short walk from “Walking Street”, which closes to vehicles every night, catering to the foot traffic of foreigners and sex tourists. This is one of the Red Light Districts of the Philippines where girls, women, and ladyboys work, live, and are sold to foreign sex tourists every night.

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My first exposure to Walking Street was during the daytime when my team and I walked all the way down it to reach the other side in an effort to catch trike rides to the Bella Goose house (see previous post). Walking down this street during the day enabled us to clearly see all the “Now Hiring Dancers and Waitresses” signs displayed outside all the bars and see some of the foreign customers already walking the street, some with small Filipino girls on their arm. Maybe it was the signs that upset me, or the handful of white men having drinks and gazing vacantly outside the bar windows anticipating the night ahead, or the homeless mother and her dirty barefooted children living on the streets that I gave a few extra pesos to. Maybe it was a combination of all these sights and sounds that caused my heart to sink into a very sad, broken, and disturbed place. It was in this moment, while experiencing Walking Street for the first time that a knot welled up in my throat and I felt my face become very hot and my body tense.

For the first time in my life I could actually feel my heart breaking for something that breaks God’s heart.

This experience was a big turning point in the trip for me because I began to see every single person on that street in Angeles City the way Jesus sees them and sees you and I, as God’s children; People: broken, hurting, unique, loved, and chosen people. Jesus DIED for these people because he loves them and wants to KNOW them. God sacrificed EVERYTHING because he loves these people with a kind of love that I have a hard time wrapping my mind around. They are just like you and me – sinners, broken, and in desperate need of a savior and a father’s unconditional love. This intense feeling God had given me that first day on the streets of Angeles City prepared my heart for what was to come the next few nights.

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My amazing bar outreach team. (The faces of the Filipino girls have been blurred to protect their privacy)

Each night in AC, before leaving the hotel for bar outreach we were broken up into groups of four, including a Filipina leader who helped us navigate the bars and talk to the bar girls. Side note: the Filipina girls that led us in bar outreach are girls that were once trafficked on Walking Street but are now living a new life of freedom in the care of Wipe Every Tear. Thankfully English is fluently spoken by most people in the Philippines, which made communicating with girls at the bars fairly easy. My group consisted of me, Paisley (Paisley, who is from Georgia has the sweetest accent and kindest spirit), Joanna (Joana, being from South Africa also has a cool accent, the best fashion sense, and the most gentle heart), and Amber (our fearless Filipina leader who left the bar life and came into Wipe Every Tear’s care less than TWO months prior). Filipinos are not allowed in the bars as customers unless they are accompanied by a foreigner (that is why my team and I are so important to getting into the bars and reaching out to the bar girls). Needless to say our team was pretty awesome. We had so much fun getting to know the girls and waitresses in some of the bars. I could seriously write an entire post about each girl I met, the conversations I had, the things I saw, and everything I felt, but I will stick to the highlights:

JUST LOVE. 

Just love. This is the mission of Wipe Every Tear, and was also the goal of my team’s bar outreach – to just love, dance, laugh, talk, and listen to the hopes and dreams of the girls working in the bars. And that is exactly what took place those three nights on Walking Street. Our team would get dressed up, do our makeup for the first time since arriving in the Philippines, and have our lovely Filipino girls braid or curl our hair. We would pray for the girls, the customers, and our hearts each night before leaving the hotel with the intention of having fun and just loving on beautiful girls.

CITY OF ANGELS

City of Angels: That is what the Wipe Every Tear founder calls Angeles City.

Angeles City is truly the city of beautiful, talented, smart, funny, unique, strong, courageous, kind, and amazing ANGELS working in the bars to provide for their children, siblings, and parents back home in their rural provinces.

One of the first girls we had the pleasure of hanging out with told us she was 20 years old (although she looked much younger), is the oldest of 7 brothers and sisters back home in her province, and was brought to AC to work, only to end up working in a bar on Walking Street. After learning about her dreams of studying computer science and pursuing a career in the technology field we decided to get her and a few waitresses to dance with us, which turned into a huge dance party with the waitresses and causing a big scene (you have no idea how much fun this was haha). That same night we went to a bigger bar where some of our fellow teammates were at, which resulted in all of us getting on stage with the bar girls and following along to the dances shown on the screens (SO much fun). I LOVED dancing with the bar girls and connecting with them in such a lighthearted and silly way – the same way I would connect with girls in America, just being myself and having fun!

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Like I said, there were a lot of women, girls, and ladyboys we met those nights, all with similar stories and dreams. There were two girls, Beth and Brie, best friends and roommates around the same age as me whom I had fun getting to know, but also had some difficult conversations with. Joana bonded with Brie over makeup while Beth and I talked about our special relationships with our younger sisters. Beth informed me the first night we met that her younger sister, Rae worked at a different bar across the street and told us we should go meet her, which we ended up doing. Beth who is literally only a month younger than I am told me all about her family in the province and how her amazing mother was raising her 2 year old son while she lived and worked in Angeles City (although her family had no idea what kind of “work” she was doing). Beth never finished high school because she felt the need to work to help her family, which resulted in her being trafficked to Angeles City. She showed me pictures of her sweet son, her mother, aunt, younger siblings, cousins, and friends back home. I asked Beth what her and her roommate liked to do for fun when they’re not working. Beth being loud and energetic, in this moment grew very quiet, drawing her eyes down from mine as she explained the long work hours were hard on them, so their free time was usually spent sleeping. On the rare occasion they got to leave the bar a little early (3:00am), Beth and Brie would go home and drink. Beth admitted to me that if her and Brie were not working or sleeping they found themselves drinking because it “helps you not think about things..”. This response shattered me.

No other girls I met on Walking Street were as real and honest about every part of them as Beth was. Through talking to Beth more and telling her about Wipe Every Tear and what they could provide I uncovered that she did in fact recognize that there could be a better way to provide for her son and maybe a way to start a new life, but there were a million little voices telling her that she is not smart enough, brave enough, dedicated enough, talented enough, or good enough. Me, along with my close friends in America have been fighting these same voices our whole lives, but thankfully we have friends, family, and mentors telling us everyday that those voices are wrong, that we ARE good enough, and as a result we begin to believe it. Not here. Not in Angeles City. In Angeles City these girls are manipulated into believing that they are not smart enough or capable of going to college and pursuing their dreams.

For some of these bar girls on Walking Street interacting with us means being told for the very first time in their lives that they ARE smart enough, that they CAN go to and finish school and pursue a job they are passionate about, that they are good enough, strong enough, that they are simply ENOUGH.

McDonald’s or Jollibee

Just like in America, after a night out in the Philippines you have to grab some greasy fast food to cap off a night of dancing, and that is exactly what we did with our Filipino girls after our last night of outreach. Our three Filipino girls opted for McDonald’s fried chicken, rice, and spaghetti (fast food staples in the Philippines) and us Americans went for the french fries and milkshakes of course. While snacking on my fries I thanked God for the three courageous Filipino girls sitting beside me eating and joking around, girls who were once working late nights in the bars, and are now experiencing and living in freedom, sharing it with girls who have not been rescued yet. Three women who were manipulated and trapped into believing that selling themselves was the only way they could make money for their families are now working hard in college or preparing to become elementary school teachers. These same women who were once trafficked are now inviting other girls to experience the new life they have been given. This is God’s heart. This is the gospel. This is freedom. And I want this freedom so badly for every single beautiful angel on that street and in those bars.

The Difficulty of Leaving Walking Street

Although the bar outreach nights were filled with fun and joyful moments, the difficult moments seemed to hover over me like a stormy cloud, following me to my hotel room at 3:00am. I would lay in my bed after a long night of outreach finding myself unable to shake images or thoughts out of my mind. Images of customers sitting on couches that lined the bar, some with girls already called to them, some using laser pointers to call down a girl with an identification tag clipped to her bikini. I would think about the young teenage girls on stage wearing extremely small bikinis, standing in the back with their arms crossed in an attempt to hide their small bodies, and images of women on stage with stretch marks on their stomachs from having children – marks of being mothers. I would hear a customer’s voice in my head telling the waitress he was going to pay the “bar fine” to take a girl to his hotel for the night. These thoughts, sights, and sounds were hard to block out each night and even now, four months later, I find myself still being disturbed by them.

Thankfully our trip leaders, Hannah and Lauren, and the Filipina staff were amazing in helping us process the things we experienced each night. During the days we would debrief together by talking about the things that happened the night before and pray for the girls we encountered. We would also wait patiently for girls to meet us for breakfast, lunch, or dinner so we could tell them more about Wipe Every Tear. The Wipe Every Tear staff in the Philippines have been in contact with a few of the girls we met since, so we continue to pray that they would trust us and decide to visit the safe houses when they are ready – whenever that may be.

Wipe Every Tear will continue to work tirelessly and lovingly 

UNTIL ALL ARE FREE.

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To learn more about Wipe Every Tear, what they do, and how you can get involved please visit: wipeeverytear.org

Slums, Karaoke, & Coffee (Post #3)

– Philippines July Trip Post 3 – 

The Slums of Manila & Banaba House Ministries

Located in Quezon City (just outside Manila) tucked and hidden beside a canal is the poor community of Dona Pepeng, which is where my team and I spent one of our first full days in the Philippines. We had the honor of spending the day in the neighborhood and receiving a taste of daily life for the impoverished people that live there. We were guided and hosted by the staff of Banaba House Ministries, which is a non-profit ministry founded by a pastor from Portland that brings new life, new skills, and new hope for young adults in Manila and the urban poor through discipleship, education, and vocational training. This ministry caters to the boys and young men that live in this poverty-stricken community and we got to spend time getting to know some of the boys in their program (http://www.banabahouseministries.com/).

We walked through the narrow and short walkways of the slums guided by the staff and boys of Banaba House Ministries. The turns were sharp and drastic, the homes were shacks stacked very close together, and the smell of trash was strong. Despite these undesirable characteristics however, the people were content, joyful, lively, and at home; because that’s just it – it’s their home. The people of Banaba shared their heart for the community: their mission is to serve the underserved children and young people of the community by helping them achieve their educational and work goals. What Banaba is doing is rare and raw in that their program and home is located in the heart of the slum, with their staff members living with, doing life with, and discipling to the young people of the community every single day.

I was impressed with the boys we met that are going through the Banaba program. It was wonderful getting to know these bright and talented young men and hearing about their dreams, hobbies, and interests. Spending a day in their element was special because we were able to take a look into their lives and see where some of the girls of Wipe Every Tear are from. Most people in the Philippines are born and raised in slums with limited resources and access to good education and vocational training, therefore, it is imperative that organizations like Banaba and Wipe Every Tear come along side the young people of the Philippines to empower them to dream and reach their goals within their communities.

This day was powerful for me in that for the first time I got a glimpse of and realized what it truly means to be the hands and feet of Jesus and to love his people the way he did when he walked this earth.

For me this meant simply sitting down in the dirt and playing with the slum children, having the girls braid my hair while I tickled the little girl in my lap, and to have the young boys laugh and yell around me as their faces lit up every time I laughed with them or asked them about their favorite games. I could write a whole post about everything I experienced and learned that day with Banaba – but to keep it short I will end with saying this: despite not having much, the people there are full of life and love, and spending just one day with them has changed me in how I see, treat, and love each person I encounter every day for the rest of my life.

POST3SLUMS2POST3SLUMSI cannot wait until the day I get to reunite with the people of Banaba and Dona Pepeng.

To learn more about what Banaba House Ministries is doing for the Urban Poor in Manila and how you can help please visit: http://www.banabahouseministries.com/

Angeles City: The Church & Bella Goose Coffee

After a few days in Manila my team and I, along with some of the Wipe Every Tear Filipina staff and a few of the girls already in Wipe Every Tear’s care, traveled to Angeles City (about a two hour drive from Manila) where we stayed for three days and nights to do bar outreach in the red light district. Upon arriving in Angeles City we had lunch at a small church that has been a long time partner of Wipe Every Tear. One of the women of the church prepared us lunch and dinner every day during our time in AC. This was such a blessing because it allowed us to have a space to eat, pray, laugh, worship, and process the heavy nights of bar outreach, and not to mention the food was AMAZING – Chicken Adobo and Lumpia being some of my favorite dishes (we never went hungry on this trip haha).

The location of this church is incredible in that it lies in a very poor neighborhood of Angeles City, on the same street as the red light district – literally bringing light and love into a place of darkness.

One day after lunch a group of us decided to walk the leftover food down the street to a community and family living in the neighborhood and bless them with a meal. When we arrived the family was doing karaoke (Filipinos LOVE karaoke), so of course we joined them for an hour of singing and making fools of ourselves. By the end of the karaoke sesh there were several people from the neighborhood that had walked over and joined in on the fun. This moment was one of my favorites of the trip because what was seen as an unplanned and simple act turned out to be the biggest blessing to the poor community.

During our first day in Angeles City we had the privilege of visiting the incredible women of Bella Goose Coffee. Bella Goose Coffee is another amazing partner of Wipe Every Tear, sharing in the passion and mission of bringing freedom to those trapped in the sex trade. In fact, 100% of the gross profit from all the coffee sold go to fight human trafficking (http://bellagoosecoffee.com/). One of the ways they do this is by providing girls who were once trafficked in the bars (girls from Wipe Every Tear) a livelihood of their own by making coffee and learning about business and the coffee industry. Bella Goose is based in the United States, but their Philippines house is located in Angeles City, which is where we spent the day drinking coffee (OUT OF THIS WORLD INCREDIBLE COFFEE) made by three amazing and talented Filipino girls from Wipe Every Tear. I loved watching these girls live out their freedom through serving and learning, and teaching us all about the art of coffee making. 

Bella Goose and Wipe Every Tear are incredible in that they create a culture of ‘YES’ by empowering once trafficked women by saying ‘yes’ to their dreams, saying yes you can be and achieve anything you want, yes you can earn a college degree, yes you can be a successful business woman, yes you can bring hope and freedom to other girls being trafficked, and yes you can create a new life for yourself and your family. It is truly remarkable.

To learn more about Bella Goose Coffee, what they do, and how you can help, please visit: http://bellagoosecoffee.com/ 

 

To learn how Wipe Every Tear is fighting sex trafficking and how you can get involved please visit: wipeeverytear.org 

Sex Trafficking in the Philippines (Post #2)

– Philippines July Trip Post 2 – 

Seventeen year old Josie was born in a rural province on the outskirts of the Philippines where she lives with her parents, grandparents, cousins, and 7 brothers and sisters. Her life here is simple but difficult due to the fact that her family has very little money. She has not finished high school but her parents desperately need her to go into the big cities, such as Manila, to find work so that she can send money home to her poor family. Maybe she can even finish high school and eventually seek a college degree while she’s there.

What Josie finds, however, upon arriving to Manila is that decent paying jobs are hard to come by, especially without a college degree. Josie soon finds out that she needs a college education to even work at a restaurant as a waitress. After weeks of struggling to find someone to employ her she falls victim to sex traffickers and is manipulated into agreeing to travel to Angeles City with the promise of a high paying job as a ‘waitress’. Once there she realizes that the picture painted for her is completely different than what she thought. Taken in by a Mamasan (basically a female pimp) and bar owners she is manipulated into working at a bar in the red light district (essentially a brothel) every night, selling her body to strangers. She is easily and quickly trapped into this “work’ because she now has a debt to pay to the people who took her in and “helped her out’, while also trying to send money home to her family in the province.

Josie is seventeen years old. Josie has hopes of someday finishing school and becoming a flight attendant so she can see the world. Josie has younger brothers and sisters that look up to her. Josie loves to paint pictures and sing. Josie could be your sister, friend, niece, daughter, or granddaughter. And Josie is living in a small apartment behind a bar in the red light district of Angeles City selling her small body to foreign men every single night.

This is the reality of sex trafficking. And it is NOT okay.

The Problem of Sex Trafficking in the Philippines

The Philippines is home to some of the world’s poorest people and communities and human traffickers in these types of conditions prey on the most vulnerable people by luring them from their homes with promises of jobs and money, but ultimately tricking them into working in sex bars in the big cities of southeast Asia.

In the Philippines, the red light district of Angeles City is home to some of the highest rates of sex tourism in the world.

In addition to the extreme poverty, sex trafficking is a major problem because of the lack of education and resources available to young people, as well as the strong family dynamics . In this country it is almost impossible to get a decent paying job without a college education. In fact, in the Philippines you need to have a college degree to even work at a cafe or restaurant. Unaware of this, many young girls (often times the oldest of several children in their family) will move from their rural provinces to the big cities in hopes of finding work to earn money to send back to their poor families. Family is everything in this culture and the people will do anything to keep their families together and take care of each other.

All of these variables contribute to young Filipino girls being deceived and hired at bars as “waitresses” or “dancers” that sell them to foreign customers for the night. The girls are manipulated into thinking it is the only way they can make money for their families and therefore, spend years working at sex bars being sexually exploited and taken advantage of every single night by foreign tourists.

It took traveling to the Philippines and spending time with the wonderful girls and women in Wipe Every Tear’s care, and doing bar outreach in the red light district to fully realize and understand this: young women and girls, just like myself, my sister, my friends, teammates, classmates, and coworkers are so desperate to survive and provide for their families that they have to resort to selling their bodies. This realization broke me. Beautiful, silly, smart, and kind young girls have to turn to something so evil and demeaning just to send a few extra pesos home to their families each month.

To learn more about the problem of sex traficking in the Philippines please visit: http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/08/world/asia/freedom-fighters-stats/index.html

My Two Weeks in the Philippines

In the midst of such darkness and injustice taking place in the Philippines there is a light that brings hope to these exploited girls. This light is fueled by God’s love, Wipe Every Tear, and financial supporters and prayer warriors like you. I had the privilege and high honor (thanks to you and many others) to travel to the country of the Philippines and play a small part in bringing hope, healing, and restoration to once exploited girls and girls that are currently being exploited. Each day and evening was different during my 2 weeks in the Philippines. The sights, sounds, thoughts, experiences, and emotions varied while I submerged myself into the Filipino culture and experienced life in a place completely different than what I am accustomed to in Boise, Idaho.

From hanging out, laughing, and enjoying ice cream with the rescued girls, to bar and slum outreach in the cities; my time in the Philippines was powerful and life changing.

Ice Cream Party With The Rescued Girls & Ladyboys

One of the first nights in Manila my team and I got to celebrate freedom the best way we know how, with ice cream! We went to an ice cream shop in Manila with the “Faith House” (about 22 rescued girls and ladyboys) and spent the night getting to know some of the girls in Wipe Every Tear’s care. Oh what a treat it was to hang out with these fun, silly, compassionate, kind, and bright young women. I connected with Janna, who is the same age as me, told me about her dreams of becoming a police officer and also shared her struggles in college classes, specifically with math (a struggle that resonated with me personally).

Janna, who was once sold in the sex trade, is now experiencing freedom, going to college, and working towards breaking the chains of poverty in her family.

That night I realized that Janna and the rest of the Wipe Every Tear girls are just like me – they go to school, they struggle in math, they go on dates with boys, they love music, they love to joke around with their friends, they’re goofy, they love their families immensely, they have good days and bad, and they have goals and dreams for their lives. This special night set the tone in my heart for the entire two week trip.

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One of the first nights in Manila my team and I had an ice cream party with some of the girls in Wipe Every Tear’s care. The sound of laughter and silly jokes filled the local ice cream shop as we enjoyed getting to know each girl.
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* To protect the privacy of the rescued Filipino girls pictures have been blurred *

Note: All names are changed to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the Wipe Every Tear girls and ladyboys.

To learn more about Wipe Every Tear and how you can get involved please visit their website at wipeeverytear.org