Creation of our Family- May 24, 2014

Monday, April 25, 2016

La Luz

“La luz siempre brilla en la oscuridad, y la luz siempre brillará”

            I originally began this journal entry on March 20, while I was in Antigua, Guatemala. My last few days in Guatemala filled up so quickly that I never returned to finish it! God has been moving mightily in the past month and I have a lot to share today: healing and hope, the resurrection of dreams, and next steps for our family. Just a warning: this is a long and exciting blog post. :) 
            This morning, as I sat down to finally write this blog entry, the words in today’s message in Reckless Devotion fairly jumped off the page at me. Heidi Baker is writing these words as if God were speaking to our hearts: Allow me to work with you. All I need is your willingness. Overcome your pride and come to Me. Let go of your preconceptions. Let go of every reason why something miraculous should not happen in your situation. Be obedient to Me. Allow me to step into your situation and show you what I can do with the smallest amount of trust.

          And so there is my challenge: to trust God with every situation in my life. To let go and be willing to see the miraculous happen. To obey and take the next step. And friends, I invite you to do the same. As you read the words below and see all that God has done in my life over the past month, please be open and be willing. Let go. Choose to trust God with every situation in your life. Even when life feels overwhelming and painful, and dreams seem so far away, trust.

A world without human trafficking
To recap the second half of the conference, before we went to Antigua, it was life-changing and transformational in the midst of much pain and conflict. All of our participants chose a type of violence to focus on in small groups. Many of them had been directly affected by the type of violence they chose. For example, the woman who chose to focus on human trafficking had a daughter who currently was being trafficked and exploited through pornography. We asked the groups to dream for a few moments about what the world would look like without the type of violence they focused on. What would their communities look like? What would the lives of the survivors look like if this type of violence no longer existed at all?

A world without gang violence
A world without gender-based violence
Abundance. Wholeness. Light. Equality. Freedom. The artistic expressions they created of the world without violence sprang off the pages with hope. No more human trafficking. No more gang violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, or violence during migration. A world of peace and potential for all people.

A world without migration violence
A world without domestic violence
After they created their visions of a world without violence, they began working on the specific tool kit they would use to help their communities heal after they returned home. The amazing effect of these tools went beyond healing to prevention. As each participant  shared both their story of healing and their plans for promoting healing in their communities, the entire group tangibly felt the weight of transformation among us.            
         This one week of my life spent co-facilitating this conference in Guatemala City now shines clearly as the most impactful, long-lasting work I have ever done to prevent violence and seek justice for the oppressed. I am awed and amazed that I had this opportunity, and that so many partnered with me to bring about this transformation. I truly believe that the epidemic violence in Central America will ultimately be stopped by the people at our conference and those they will touch.

The remainder of my time in Guatemala passed quickly, a combination of visiting a home for child sexual abuse survivors, enjoying the excitement of Antigua during semana santa, and working with Laurel on our human trafficking article. Palm Sunday morning was an incredible experience- walking around the city of Antigua, Guatemala, so that we could see the people making the alfombras and palmas for the processions today. That day was so special- domingo de las ramas- in Guatemala, which means parades, crowds, flowers, and huge carpets made of flowers, leaves, and colored sawdust in the streets near the catholic churches. I was astonished at the outpouring of the faithful that week, a reminder of the joy present even amidst the violence in Central America. 

Through it all, the words spoken by Willie, the president of Semilla Seminary, at our closing event stayed in my heart:  “La luz siempre brilla en la oscuridad, y la luz siempre brillará.” No matter how dark, and no matter how hopeless, light will always shine through the darkness.

Human Trafficking
If you have known me in the last seven years, you know that advocating for human trafficking survivors is central to my heart and my life vocation. I have not often used this blog as an opportunity to share that part of me, as the purpose of it was initially to give voice to one of the most difficult parts of who I am, namely, my unfulfilled desire to be a mother. But today is different. This is really a snapshot blog entry of a lot of the different things happening in my life right now. And my work related to human trafficking is a part of what is happening, friends!

            Since our move to Minnesota, I have stayed active as an advocate for human trafficking survivors and for systems change around anti-trafficking issues. It has been a wonderful experience getting connected to organizations here (The Advocates for Human Rights, the Minnesota Department of Health), while continuing some of my work with Ohio. I am so grateful for these partners and friends, old and new! 

            Two new exciting things have happened recently. First, in August I will become an adjunct professor for the first time. I will be teaching an online course called Human Trafficking and the Law through the University of Toledo, and it is already full of criminal justice and social work students!! I am thrilled for the opportunity, because I have learned that our collective response to human trafficking really grows exponentially more effective the more multi-disciplinary professionals truly understand human trafficking. Kudos to the University of Toledo Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute for pushing hard for this course! 

            Second, returning to Guatemala for a moment, I just need to say I am so excited for the article that Laurel Neufeld Weaver and I are writing on human trafficking. It is called Moving Forward: Accompanying Human Trafficking Survivors Using Trauma-Informed Practices in the United States, and will be an amazing, practical tool for people who interact with and serve human trafficking survivors in any capacity on their journey to wholeness and healing. Much of what we write about is inspired by our experiences in Ohio working directly with survivors, but it is framed by the conference we recently led in Guatemala City.

Friends, if you work with the survivors of any form of violence or exploitation, this article will help you prepare, evaluate, and implement more effective accompaniment of survivors. I wish I would have had access to an article like this when I first started representing trafficking survivors!

And one more thing about trafficking: I am coming to Ohio in June to provide a series of trainings of labor trafficking and trafficking of children in rural communities. Ohio friends: I hope to see you when we are in the state!

Many of you have accompanied me over the past seven years as I have sought to follow God’s calling on my life to advocate for human trafficking survivors and be a voice for the voiceless. I have now come to understand that calling in a slightly different way. As I have learned about trauma and healing through working so closely with almost 200 survivors, I have come to understand that, rather than me giving voice to a voiceless victim, my goal is to build up that victim so he or she can become a survivor able to advocate for himself or herself. Coming out of such utter despair, darkness, and struggle, it can be hard to even imagine such a thing. But I have seen it happen over and over! 

I come back again to the words I heard at Semilla: “La luz siempre brilla en la oscuridad, y la luz siempre brillará.”  Hope is the light that shines through and helps illuminate the next steps for victims, the steps that help them climb out of darkness and into light. 

New Job! My African Heart
In southeast Kenya with a group of community health workers, July 2009 
I realize this blog post is getting long… but now I hope I have your attention (or maybe you skipped down to this section to hear the big news)! And so here it is: I have committed to become the new Executive Director at Light of Hope Kenya and Lighthouse Ministries International of Africa!! 

            We are still negotiating the contract details, so it is not completely official yet, but I needed to let all you out there who have been praying for us and supporting us know that I got a full-time job! And so much more than a full-time job… this is a dream come true! I will be directing an organization that works with girls in Africa, providing refuge, restoration, and redirection through shelter, education, and leadership training. Many of these girls come to the program because of abuse or exploitation, neglect, abandonment, or being orphaned. The organization helps them grow into leaders in their communities and dramatically reduces their risk of being trafficked, abused, or exploited as adults. The current work (of serving almost 100 girls daily in Kenya) is big, but the vision is even bigger!

            Since leaving Ohio, my passion for human trafficking survivors has really led me back to prevention. I have focused on adoption and foster care, on empowerment to prevent re-victimization, and now on protecting and educating highly vulnerable girls. It is a perfect fit! And even more exciting: I get to go back to Africa for the first time in six years!!

God has been equipping me for this opportunity, and I am so excited to jump in full-time on July 1. Stay tuned for more details about how you can get involved with Light of Hope. :)

Our Family
And so here we are again, after all of the exciting news, talking about babies. I will keep this last section short and sweet.

Many of you have come along with Josh and I on this journey from the beginning of our infertility diagnosis. My heart aches when I think back on everything we have endured. Friends, it has been a year of difficult anniversaries (one month since we lost the first set of babies, the date the first set of twins would have been due, a month since we lost the second set of babies). And now, as many of you know, it has been exactly one year since e created our six little embryos and our first IVF attempt failed. We lost two babies in April 2015.
Picture taken April 28, 2015 over a field near our home in Defiance, OH
We actually found out on the last Tuesday morning in April last year. That’s when I got the worst phone call of my life to that point: “Unfortunately, I am not calling with good news. The test was negative. You lost both babies.” Josh and I still remain so incredibly grateful to all of you who reached out to us, loved us, encouraged us, prayed for us, and even made us laugh as we struggled to respond. And so, it will be one year ago tomorrow. My heart is heavy, yet full. God is on the move. Over this last year, time and again I have seen his resurrection power and yielded my own will to his. He is the God of miracles, and his Light always will triumph over darkness.

“La luz siempre brilla en la oscuridad, y la luz siempre brillará.”

We will keep moving forward: praying for a miracle and planning for adoption. Thank you so much for sharing this journey with us. Lots of big things coming and evidence of hope everywhere! Your support helps us keep on believing and helps us see the light shining through.