Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.
This is the second summer that I’ve been a member of the Franciscan Peacemaker’s team. We began the summer with warmer temperatures, planned vacations, children out of school, and the coveted “Road Trip(s)”.
We’ve also seen signs as we drive along the highways alerting us to the Heavy Traffic that we are about to encounter.
Unfortunately, while doing our outreach, we too have seen signs, although not written, that there is Heavy Traffic. We have seen an increased number of women and men who present themselves as women, walking the streets in certain neighborhoods. Not only do we encounter more people in the areas known for prostitution, we see more people on streets where sex for sale did not occur or has not occurred in years.
We stop, ask if they’re doing okay? If they are hungry? We see familiar faces and unfortunately new faces as traffic increases.
We see faces that contain fear, that is when there is a man next to them, behind them, or down the street, giving them a “look”. That “look” is for them to accept what we have to offer and keep going. That “look” is directing them to not talk too much, not ask if we are able to take them to safety. Many of the women and men are being trafficked to offer sex for money which they hand over or use to buy drugs for themselves and the men. It is saddening, and maddening that there is little to nothing we can do.
This work has trained me and others who do similar work, to notice this activity on the street in new and familiar neighborhoods, while at festivals and fairs, while on vacation in other cities and states. If we think it’s safe for the person, we ask if we can help them. If we don’t think it’s safe, we have a gut-wrenching pain. It is our hope that we can spread education and awareness so that more eyes notice this traffic and we can slow down and eventually stop all this traffic!
Alright, a confession: the laundry in my house is never done.
Just when I think I’ve washed and dried and folded and put away every last bathing suit, burp cloth and bedsheet, I find a week’s worth of abandoned socks under a bed. Or I climb into my minivan and find some damp beach towels draped over the back seats. Or I walk up the stairs triumphantly holding the last basket of folded laundry, ready for my victory lap, only to witness two grass stained and mud soaked boys skipping into the house.
Because laundry for a parent of four is never, ever done.
And this was hard for me as a new mom. I like projects to be wrapped up. I like the feeling of completion and accomplishment. I put a lot of value on the final product. And in laundry, and in most of motherhood, it seems, there’s a lot of this not-getting-things-completely-done thing that happens.
But somewhere along the way, God found me in this mess. First, there was a book that appeared into my life during those early mothering years. Being Home by Gunilla Norris is a book of meditations that relate to housework. There’s a prayer/poem for each task – “Doing the Dishes”, “Sweeping”, “Taking out the Trash” and yes, “Folding Clothes”.
Ms. Norris writes: “Let the folding of these towels be an invocation. I think of the hands that have been dried on them. Tentative, strong, confused, determined hands. Grant that our hands will find ways to do your will. Keep us in your love”.
And second, an interview with Sylvia Boorstein on the radio show and podcast, “On Being” with Krista Tippett, in which the Jewish-Buddhist mother and grandmother says, “Spirituality doesn’t look like sitting down and meditating. Spirituality looks like folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in the family even though you’ve had a long day.”
And so I remember that in all of this busy-ness, everything small task we have is a doorway to God. Sometimes, I don’t even have to reread the Norris poem prayers to be reminded of their power. Just seeing the titles – these everyday activities, capitalized, I remember that it’s my choice to approach all tasks with a sense of the sacred, to approach them kindly and allow them to make me more sweet, more caring, more humble.
And so, I offer this challenge to all of us who care for our mission.
May washing with our soap become a prayer:
May the scent remind us that God intends sweetness for each person created in Her image.
As we shower, may our intention be that the ladies we serve are showered with blessings that day. May each of us be blessed with resolve, strength, tenacity, ease, comfort, beauty and grace.
In our small moments of self-care, washing face and hands, may we be reminded of the ladies for whom self-care is a distant dream. May you, and each person we serve, remember our God given worth, may we know our strength, may we find God in the messiness of our lives.
Lilac bushes, freshly mown grass, sunscreen on sweaty kids’ noses, a fresh can of tennis balls, a broken in baseball glove – summer has so many great scents!
And we want you to hang onto those scents as we move into the last weeks of this beloved time of year.
- Enter our two contests this week by following Gifts for the Journey on social media. Enter on the Facebook page for a chance at winning Energizing Coconut Lime Soap and on the Instagram page to win a bar of Cooling Cucumber Melon soap! Winners announced Friday, August 17!
- Or, buy directly from our Gifts for the Journey website for your end of summer needs – stock up for back to school, put together an off-to-college care package, buy a gift set for your Labor Day party hosts, or treat yourself just because you made it through the dog days of summer!
Remember – your support of Gifts for the Journey helps us to continue providing housing, employment and rehabilitation to women choosing the path of healing after exploitation and addiction. We appreciate your support!
6 AM, Monday morning, I pull into the parking lot at St. Martin de Porres and the Kia van is fired up and waiting, Deacon Steve and lunches at the ready. We are hitting the streets as a part of my orientation to the work of the Peacemakers. Where are we headed? “The strips and strolls”, Steve tells me, the four areas of town where women are working. And then my first naïve question for the week (of which there were many): “Really , 6 AM on Monday morning and people are soliciting sex?”
I am not a person who shies away from the tough stuff. Maybe even the sort that goes right for it. You know, sometimes might be seen as bravery, but mostly it’s just my nature – act, then think. A strength and a weakness, for sure. In any case, I’ve spent much of my working life in places that can be difficult: homeless shelters, meal programs, developing countries and neighborhood in disarray. And I have educated myself on many issues of social justice – climate change, poverty, racism, globalization, violence.
But there’s this one issue that I’ve been hesitant to learn about – human trafficking. Whether this avoidance was conscious or subconscious, I’m not sure, but I know that as the week of doing visits to the Strips and Strolls went on, my naïveté was on display. Like: “Wouldn’t pimps be interested in the health of the ladies working for them – you know, provide health care and food and all that they need to stay productive? I mean, are there any good pimps?”
And Steve generously pauses long enough for me to answer my own question – to pimps and traffickers, these workers are disposable. It’s such a painful thought – that right now, in a neighborhood near you, a person is buying and selling the body of another – of a child, even – for profit. The pain of it all is a lot to bear. And you can see it in the eyes of the women we find that week – lots of women, it turns out, as we run out of lunches by Wednesday.
We pull the van up to women at work, roll down the window and offer what we have. “Thank goodness you are here, I’m starving.” “Do you have any sweaters in there, this rain is chilling me!”, “I could really use a Band-aid – do you have a first aid kit?”, “Any chance I can get a lunch for my girl – she’s in the car, not feeling great today”. And on and on.
So these very basic needs are being met through the street outreach. Life-sustaining stuff: turkey sandwiches, bottled water, friendly smiles and “God bless yous”.
But there’s more. You see, there are these relationships of kinship. First, that of Steve and Mary with each other. If you want to laugh a lot, join the two of them in the van on outreach and just observe their interplay – maybe try to tune out the activity on the streets around them – because that my infuriate/enrage/sadden/depress you. But this pair in ministry together: they are a great team. They laugh a lot, with Steve offering this: “You’ve got to laugh, really, to keep doing this work.” Praying with the Clare community at the regular Wednesday house meeting, Mary prayed for each around the table, in gratitude for what they bring to the community. When she got to Deacon Steve, she just said “and thank you God for Steve, for (dramatic pause)… oh, Lord… you know.” And the ladies of Clare community laughed with her and said “Yes, Lord, you do.”
Then there’s the relationships being built with the women on the street – some who Steve has known for 20 plus years. The women who trust: telling Steve about the trouble that’s been going on in the neighborhood – the guy who has been beating up on some women when they won’t get in his car, the woman who is maybe ready to enter recovery but who is hesitant because 30 years of heroin use is maybe insurmountable in her mind. The women building trust: Asking questions like “Do you help people get un-homeless?” or “ Can I take one of your cards in case I need to talk to someone?” or “The last outreach van said they’d go check on these four homeless folks around the corner but they didn’t drive that way – will you drive that way and see if they need food?”
And the skeptical, perhaps fearful women who look away or say no when we ask if they’d like a lunch. Those who check out the sign on the window and wave us off – maybe fearful that we’ll judge them or maybe dealing with pride and not wanting to admit they need help (I can relate to that type) or maybe just ladies walking around that time of day not working. Who knows? But of the women we encounter, not many shoo us off. Most of the women we saw this week engaged with us. Not for long, but for long enough that relationships can be built. Slowly, over many mornings of outreach.
“Trust leads to transformation” is something I heard a friend say recently – and so these small moments building trust lead us to the Clare community. At the weekly meeting, we discussed the residents’ schedules for the week: acupuncture, therapy, going to the gym, NA meetings, sending birthday card to the estranged son, wondering the best way to mop the Clare community floor, learning to make bath bombs and cap lotion bottles. This was a highlight of my week – thinking that here are a couple women who used to be out on the strips and strolls, whose lives are now focused on healing, on health of mind, body and soul, whose relationships are being mended , who are creating a home and a life for themselves, learning to do work that is creative and life-giving. What a transformation.
This is the Franciscan way – an engaged spirituality of those in right relationship – the sister-brotherhood of all. I remember something Richard Rohr said in an online course I took on Franciscan spirituality: Jesus didn’t say “think about this idea”, but rather “take this bread and eat”. Francis reminded us that the spirituality Jesus demonstrated was an engaged and embodied spirituality. Jesus, and Francis following in his footsteps – went to where the pain was over and over, bringing healing and mercy wherever they went. After showing up to where the pain is over and over and over again, bringing the goodness one has to offer, simple as it is in a smile and a bag lunch – all this provides a gateway to healing, a transformation through the trust and kinship that is developed over time. And isn’t that a journey we are all called to go on?
What a gift it is to be on this journey with the Peacemakers.
Sex trafficking within the U.S. is legally defined as commercial sex acts induced by force, fraud, or coercion or commercial sex acts in which the individual induced to perform commercial sex has not attained 18 years of age. The average age of entry into the commercial sex industry in the U.S. is between 12 to 14 years old. The following documents summarize the framework of various sex trafficking networks, review the complex methods of control imposed by traffickers, and illustrate the challenges victims face in seeking assistance.
Sex trafficking occurs when people are forced or coerced into the commercial sex trade against their will. Child sex trafficking includes any child involved in commercial sex. Sex traffickers frequently target vulnerable people with histories of abuse and then use violence; threats, lies, false promises, debt bondage, or other forms of control and manipulation keep victims involved in the sex industry. Sex trafficking exists within the broader commercial sex trade, often at much larger rates than most people realize or understand. Sex trafficking has been found in a wide variety of venues of the overall sex industry, including residential brothels disguised as massage parlors, hostess clubs, online escort services and street prostitution.
Labor trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Labor trafficking includes situations of debt bondage, forced labor, and involuntary child labor.
Labor traffickers use violence, threats, lies, and other forms of coercion to force people to work against their will in many different industries. Common types of labor trafficking include people forced to work in homes as domestic servants, farm workers coerced through violence as they harvest crops, or factory workers held in inhumane conditions with little to no pay. In the United States, these forms of forced labor are more prevalent than many people realize. However, Polaris Project and others working in the human trafficking field are learning more on a daily basis about the different types of labor trafficking that exist amongst us. In the United States, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines labor trafficking as: “The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.”
For more information on Human Trafficking and what you can do, please visit these websites:
Stop Trafficking! (www.stopenslavement.org)
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (www.usccb.org/about/human-trafficking)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking)