Georgia

Change

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” 

Jeremiah 29: 11-13

 

A ladder on the exterior of one of downtown Monroe's historic businesses.

A ladder on the exterior of one of downtown Monroe’s historic businesses.

Nobody likes change. Scratch that.

Nobody likes their plans getting upset. (Which leads to the whole…well, are they “your” plans or “God’s” plans? And his are bigger than yours, right?)

I have been drafting this post in my head for two weeks.

And even after two weeks of crafting the words in a different order, mulling over a creative metaphor, and generally just dragging my feet…I keep coming back to simplicity. News is best understood in its simplest form.

After living in Clarkston, on the outskirts of Atlanta, for one week as an intern with The Mission Society, I made the decision to go home.

I was so blessed and challenged by my one week in Clarkston. I learned about the culture and history of Burma from my host family and their church family. I learned about hospitality customs in Nepal from my next-door neighbors. I learned about how The Mission Society is investing in inner city Atlanta through John and Katheryn Heinz. And I witnessed Jesus moving in a community that has experienced more conflict, persecution, and change than any I have encountered before.

The refugees of Clarkston are so willing to share their stories with anyone who genuinely wishes to learn about their past, their home, their hearts. Whenever my family would return to the United States from living abroad for years, I often felt overlooked and unheard. You take away someone’s humanity when you disregard their story. It’s easy to look at a community of refugees and immigrants and list all of the problems. It’s hard to go sit in their living rooms, share a meal, and listen. I think listening is the key to the heart.

God is faithful and I learned more than I imagined I would. I am continuing to learn. Due to some miscommunications, along with some prodding from Jesus, I was convicted that my summer was not meant to be spent in Clarkston with the Mission Society.

I moved home three weeks ago. I spent my first week back looking for more opportunities in the city of Monroe, Georgia. My mother’s family is from Monroe. I grew up “doing furlough” in Monroe. My biggest fear for a long time would be that I would end up moving back to Monroe. And yet, here I am. But more importantly, God is here.

Through my parents’ church, I got connected to a local ministry called FISH (Faith in Serving Humanity). I was immediately attracted to their mission statement:

Because Jesus Christ calls His believers to be in service to the poor and needy among us, F.I.S.H. endeavors to respond to the needs of Walton County residents for food, shelter, utilities, clothing, medical care and transportation in verifiable situations.

The community at FISH is incredible. Their twelve staff members work with a crew of approximately 200 volunteers, who share the love of Jesus by loving members of their local community. There are times when statistics make everything seem hopeless. I have seen the hands-on love of the people at FISH restore dignity and love in the lives of hundreds of individuals here in my hometown. And I am beyond blessed to call myself part of this community.

So, in keeping this simple, funds I raised before this summer are now being transferred from The Mission Society to the FISH. The majority of the funds will go directly as a donation to the non-profit as they provide medical, dental, financial, and food services to the local community. A portion of the funds will be budgeted as my stipend.

I want to be transparent with those who have so generously prayed over my summer and given financially to the ministry God has led me to. Shoot me an email with questions about FISH, my summer, pretty much anything.

Change can be unnerving. But in change, I have found hope and joy through Jesus. And I am thrilled to continue sharing that life of hope.

Fourteen

Atlanta is one of 14 United States cities with the highest rate of children used in prostitution.

Yesterday I had the privilege to attend a seminar held by a United Methodists Women’s Circle on the topic of sex trafficking.

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, sex trafficking is defined under these guidelines:

A person commits sex trafficking when he/she: a) recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides or obtains another person to engage in sexually explicit conduct, or knowingly subjects a person to engage in sexually explicit conduct, for which anything of value is directly or indirectly given, promised, or received by any person; b) uses coercion or deception to induce or obtain sexually explicit conduct from another; or c) induces or obtains sexually explicit conduct from a minor person age 17 or younger).

The first time I heard about human trafficking was in 2007, after the release of the film Amazing Grace the year before. It was during an assembly held at my high school, in which we were made aware of the very real problem of sexual exploitation of both adults and minors.

The statistics are appalling. And I had no idea how much happens right here in Atlanta.

The FBI released a report with statistics in which Atlanta was found to be in the 14 US cities with the highest rate of sexual exploitation of children.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation did a comprehensive study of human trafficking in Georgia. They found that 63% of law enforcement polled in the State of Georgia said they did not feel adequately trained to handle cases involving sex trafficking.

Innocence Atlanta posted statistics revealing that 40.4% of all suspected trafficking incidents were child-related and classified as “prostitution or sexual exploitation of a child”.

It’s easy to lose hope when looking at the numbers. But the fact that there are people behind these numbers sparks me to action. There is hope. Groups like youthSpark are working on prevention and care for victims of sex trafficking. The Polaris Project is actively combatting modern-day slavery. Not For Sale envisions a world in which every person knows that they are not for sale. There are several pro-active organizations listed on the End It movement’s website.

You can get involved. You can help. You can take action.

Atlanta is one of 14 US cities with the highest rating of children in prostitution.

Let’s change that number to 13.