Archive for the ‘Our work’ Category

Nearly a decade ago, Nate handed me a copy of National Geographic and told me I should read the story there about modern-day slavery. It was the first time we’d heard the number 27 million (in reference to the number of modern-day slaves) or the name Kevin Bales (cited as the world’s leading expert).

Tonight Nate and I will get to meet Dr. Bales and hear him speak to the hundreds of people attending The Slave Next Door in Berkeley. For people who haven’t read much about human trafficking, the name Kevin Bales might not mean anything, but for me, it’s like meeting the Michael Jordan of the modern abolitionist movement. Not only is it thanks to Dr. Bales that we learned about the topic in the first place, but his book Disposable People played a large role in convincing us to spend a year of our lives in the Philippines working with victims of trafficking.

Along with Dr. Bales, the keynote speaker, we have an all-star supporting cast. Bay Area trafficking survivor Minh Dang will tell her story, followed by a panel of local experts including Nathan George from Trade As One, Officer Holly Joshi from the Oakland Police Department, and Tashina Manyak from M.I.S.S.S.E.Y. Nate and I are also humbled and grateful to be speaking as well. The evening will end with a fair trade bazaar including artisan chocolate tasting, crafts and gifts, and a chance to meet local heroes fighting trafficking.

Sounds great, right? But we need your help.

If you’re local, please attend! Invite your friends. Tell everyone you know about it. I’ve had the chance to attend and help plan many events on this topic over the past five years, and this is the most exciting one I’ve been a part of. While the topic is grim, there’s a lot of hope to be found in this evening. The message tonight is not that life is depressing, but that there is so much we can do to make a difference. Come to be inspired. Come to make a difference. Every ticket purchase goes toward Samaritana, New Day for Children, and M.I.S.S.S.E.Y.

If you’re not local, I’m asking you to pray today and this evening (the event will take place from 7:00-9:30 p.m.). While it’s not an explicitly Christian event, I believe it is an event that God would love to bless. The Bible is filled with the message that God cares about the oppressed, and this event will benefit the women and children here and around the world who need it most. We have seen firsthand how powerful prayer can be, and know that this event will be a shadow of what it could be without it. Pray that the event will be well-attended. Pray that things will go smoothly for everyone involved. Pray that people will leave the event changed, that they will find it in their hearts to care. Pray that this would be the beginning of something big!

Thank you to everyone who is partnering with us both here in the Bay Area, and around the world.

-Laura

Princess, daughter of one of the women at Samaritana, and one of about 3 billion people in the world living on less than $2.50/day

Almost exactly a year ago, living in Manila, we joined our church back in Oakland for the Global Hunger Fast. For Holy Week (Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday), we challenged ourselves to live in solidarity with half the world’s population–and specifically our Filipina sisters at Samaritana–and live on ~$2 per day.  The result was one of the more profound experiences we’ve had in recent years, and the lessons we’ve learned have stuck with us even months after returning to the States.

Holy Week is upon us once again, and we are thrilled that our church has once again taken on the challenge of the Global Hunger Fast, this time with the goal of donating the money saved to Samaritana. Once again, we’ll be chronicling our experience, this time from the perspective of new parents in the United States.

We want to invite you to join us this next week, and to consider donating the money you’ll save to Samaritana. If living on $2.50 per day seems impossible, there are other meaningful, yet manageable ways you can join this fast. Give up your gourmet coffee for a week, or cut out eating out/take-out, or pick a daily dinner that a typical Filipino would eat. You can read more about the Global Hunger Fast (and get more ideas on how to participate) here. You can check out last year’s Global Hunger Fast here.

Please let us know if you’re joining with us and post comments so others can be encouraged. We hope that once again this experience will not only challenge and change us, but be a huge blessing to Samaritana and the women they serve.

–Laura

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To make a tax-deductible donation to Samaritana, please write a check to Mission East Asia National Support (MEANS), and designate Samaritana in the memo. Then mail to: P.O. Box 8434, Bartlett, IL 60103.

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After you've eaten mangoes in the Philippines, it's hard to eat them anywhere else

Since we got back, our time has been divided between me looking for work, Laura revising her novel, us trying to find health care, getting used to the idea of having a baby in March–and trying to figure out something even more important: what do we want our life to look like now?

As we’ve remarked to people who have asked us about the transition back over the last four months, one of the hardest things, we’ve found, is resisting the temptation to simply be re-inserted back into the matrix. After all, our home, car, food, family, and friends are all here for us, tempting us to pick up the Bay Area good life again and let the life-altering experiences of the past year fade into the background. Like skills you don’t use, it’s alarming how quickly memories fade.

What we’ve concluded is that just as we’re committed to exercise to stay physically healthy, we have to be committed to working for Samaritana, for other trafficking and prostitution victims, and for these issues at large if we’re to remain spiritually healthy. One way we’re doing this is sharing our story every chance we get, so we were grateful for Converge Worldwide (our missions organization) giving us the chance to do two guest posts on their blog.

If you were busy from July 2010-July 2011, but are a little curious about what it’s like to quit your lives for a year and go overseas, this is the perfect time to catch up: Laura encapsulates our process leading up to the sabbatical year, and what we did, in just two posts. Please click over to read here.

And as always, thanks to all of you who helped us get there.

The Low-Flying Dove

Posted: October 13, 2011 in Our work
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One of the first things we learned when we arrived in Manila was that there is no word for “prostitute” in Tagalog. If Filipinos talk about the girls or women working on the streets and in bars, they use the English word or the Filipino euphemism kalapating mababa ang lipad, low-flying dove. One of the staff at Samaritana told us that this was a clue to understanding just how shameful prostitution is in Filipino culture. As I came to know and love dozens of these women, the idea stuck with me–not just the shame, but the image of a beautiful bird who flies low and can’t recover. The phrase haunted me all year; now it’s the title of my novel.

Many of you have asked for updates on the book, which I really appreciate! I finished it a couple of weeks ago, a feat made possible by my husband, who has been working hard to make sure that I can write full-time, a dream we’ve shared for more than a decade. It’s been a season of uncertainty, but also of wonder; God willing, a new little Davis will show up sometime in March.

As of a week ago, my novel is in the hands of a couple of agents. While the publishing process can take months (or even years), I wanted to give you a little taste of the book in the meantime. The moment I have any updates on the publishing process, you will find out about it here.

The following is a short excerpt from the middle of the book. While many scenes are more light-hearted and capture all that I came to cherish about the Philippines, other parts touch on the difficult realities of sex trafficking and prostitution. This particular scene is an introduction to Lovely, a low-flying dove.

-Laura

Excerpt from The Low-Flying Dove:

The dogs woke Lovely on the morning of her wedding. Usually she could shake off the pre-dawn cacophony, or even let the insomniac roosters and yelping animals tumble into half-dreams. This morning all she could think about was him, a vision too chilling to let her linger in morning slumber.

She crept past her sisters, who slept the contented sleep of innocence, snoring softly. As she passed the mattress by the far wall, she could hear her father’s whistling breath, and was immediately hit with the smells of sweat and Ginebra gin. She no longer heard him when he came in at night, many hours after the rest of them had fallen asleep. Lovely’s mother slept facing the wall, her back to her husband.

Outside the air was thick, and the sky hung heavily with pregnant clouds. The gray light of early morning didn’t have its usual cool, and Lovely took this to be a sign, a bad omen of her own terrible future.

She walked, ignoring the nagging conscience that had always been with her as the Ate to her younger siblings. She shouldn’t be out walking on the morning of her wedding. She should be home washing herself, wrapping her hair into little knots that would later become curls, dressing in the dress her mother had borrowed money to have made. She shook off this old wisdom; it hadn’t served her well. Someone else could be the Ate from now on.

She came to the place she’d been looking for without realizing that she was headed there all along. It was a sandy spot along the coast, less of a beach and more of a shoreline with only wispy memories of white sand. On the east side of the island, the waves were powerful and constant, a message from the endless ocean that ended in lands so distant and different that it was easier not to believe they were real. But on this side of the island, the water was still, and the world felt manageable, small. It was a place she hadn’t come to for many months, since before she’d left the province to work for Ma’am Yolly—before she met Jejomar. There was a perfectly smooth rock facing the water that was just the right size for a small person to sit.

Ate?” A squeaky, insistent voice stirred the morning haze just as Lovely was about to sit down. “Ah-tay!”

“Quiet,” she scolded, knowing without turning that it was Boy. “It’s still early.”

“Help me,” he said as he shoved a dirty fistful of white flowers at her.

“Not today, Boy,” she said, shaking off the feeling that had settled in before the small boy had spotted her.

Isa lang,” he cried. “Just one, Ate?”

She let him settle into her lap and dutifully tied the flower stems together in knots until she had made one wilting necklace, and then another. The flimsy blossoms might sell enough for Boy to buy some peanuts, but she didn’t have the heart to tell him that with her distorted harelip, his sister would always sell more. It wasn’t enough to simply be cute. They were street children, practically orphans since they had no father and their mother would do no more than sit on city curbs begging for spare change, sniffing rugby.

When at last Lovely had tied up the last of his flowers, Boy took the bundle and scurried off, forgetting to say thank you, and oblivious to Lovely’s weary expression.

She didn’t cry today as she had for so many days before. There was no use in replaying the scene, wondering if she could’ve somehow escaped from his grasp, chased away everything that would follow. Perhaps it hadn’t been her fault, her mother had said, smoothing Lovely’s hair as she cried, her inner thighs still burning even though she had washed herself until the blood and cloudy white fluid was gone. He really shouldn’t have been at the house while Ma’am Yolly was out. But Lovely was so pretty, and it was easy enough to understand why he’d wanted her. Now that he’d had her, they would marry. Perhaps it wasn’t the union they had hoped for, but there were worse men in the world, and Ma’am Yolly would find them work.

Her mother had said these things without looking directly at her, her soothing hand a betrayal. Lovely knew that the man she was marrying was not a good man, and her mother knew it, too. She must’ve known that Lovely had done nothing to suggest to him that she wanted the bruises on her wrists from where he held her down, or the lump on the back of her head from where he slammed her against the floor until she held still and let him do what he’d come for.

“Mama,” she’d said, facing away from her mother, but she couldn’t bear to ask the question she’d wanted to for months, to know if her mother had knowingly sent her to Ma’am Yolly’s, knowing what she’d be expected to do there. Lovely’s mother, as if she had known that the question was not one to be discussed, did not respond.

As we restart our lives in the US, one of the key ways we hope God will use us here is being able to share our experiences with various groups here. We got our first such big opportunity a week ago Sunday,  back in Minnesota visiting the church Laura grew up in–and where we got the sabbatical idea in the first place. They’d also supported us this past year, and gave us five minutes at their services to present our story. If you’ve wondered at any point “Uh, where’d they get that crazy idea? How’d they do that?” and so forth, here’s the answer:

Nate: It was a Sunday morning in 2002; Leith was preaching, and I was half listening, half worrying about school work. But then God dropped an idea on us that would pull us across the planet, take a year of our lives, and bind us to a topic that makes most people squirm.

Laura: The sermon was on Leviticus 25, where God tells the Israelites to take a Sabbath year every seven to break from ordinary work and trust in his provision. We weren’t “missionary types;” Nate was studying advertising; I was applying for MFA programs in fiction writing. We were just regular people, but that Sunday, we asked ourselves how life might be different if we took a year off to serve God.

Nate: Then we got married, I graduated, and we moved to California for Laura’s grad school, but the Sabbath year idea was gestating.  We made friends. We bought a house. We were putting down roots—but God was only going to let those roots go so deep. By 2008, we were still committed to the Sabbath year; we wanted something that would challenge and change us, but we didn’t know the who, what or where.

Laura: Then a friend lent us Not for Sale, where we read that there are 27 million slaves today. We went to see Call+Response, a documentary on sex trafficking and prostitution. Walking out of the theater that cool Berkeley night, we realized that this could be the focus of our year.

Nate: For the next two years, on top of our full-time jobs were meetings with our financial planner, contacting dozens of organizations, and Laura applying for (and God providing) a Fulbright scholarship to fund research on her novel about sex trafficking in the Philippines.  Thanks to Wooddale, family and friends, we raised the remaining funds we needed, packed up our lives, and two days before our flight, found tenants to rent our house. We knew the year would change us, but we had no idea how much. On July 25, 2010, we flew to Manila.

Laura: No amount of research could prepare us for what we found: one of the dirtiest, most densely populated cities in the world—and one of the worst hubs for sex trafficking. Manila rattles and roars with the energy of twenty million people hustling to get by, stray dogs and roosters roaming the streets, jam-packed jeepneys careening through traffic, acres of tin-roof-and-cinderblock slums, and grilled intestines competing with diesel fumes in dense, sweaty air.

Nate: It also smells of the broken dreams of countless women who come to escape chronic poverty, but often end up being trafficked or selling themselves instead.

Laura: As part of my research for my novel, I interviewed many women and girls whose stories often left me in tears. Victoria’s friend convinced her to move to Manila to waitress; only after she arrived did she find out that the restaurant turned into a brothel after dark.  Caroline was just a teenager in the wrong place at the wrong time when she got rounded up by the police; she was drugged and raped by an officer, and so distraught that she later turned to prostitution to feed her children.  Gemma moved to Malaysia to work as a maid, but upon her arrival was imprisoned in a brothel.

Nate: As awful as these stories are, we are happy to say that when we met Victoria, Caroline, and Gemma, they could smile thanks to Samaritana, a shining light in the dark night of prostitution. Samaritana is a small Christian organization that helps women leave the spirit-crushing life on the streets and start anew. It became not just our workplace, but our Filipino family.

Laura: Samaritana’s holistic approach includes education, spiritual development, counseling, exercise, and livelihood skills. God’s love seeps through the daily activities, and also through the daily grace that the women feel from the staff and volunteers.  It is the most joyful place we have ever been.

Nate: Samaritana convinces women to leave the streets by building friendships first, then by offering them sustainable work. But when we asked the women what the best thing was about being there, every one of them had the same answer: “I came to know God here.  I learned how to read the Bible.”  One woman told us, “I accepted Jesus into my heart, and he accepted me into his.”

Laura: When we left for our Sabbath year, we naïvely thought we would just return to our normal lives. Now that we’re back—jobless and with a mortgage looming—Nate is looking for work, and I’m finishing my novel. But we’ve never felt so grateful, or had such a deep sense of how much we have to give. We’ve been ruined for the better.

Nate: Along with a taste for rice and mangoes, we came back with a passion to continue serving the women at Samaritana, and to urge others to expand the definition of who our neighbor is, to love our neighbors both here and around the globe.  We’re also asking God where he’ll take us in 2017, and trying to bridge our Western world with the impoverished one we left behind.

Laura: We want to close by asking for your prayers for Samaritana and for all the women still on the streets. As with Wilberforce and Lincoln fighting slavery in the 19th century, fighting human trafficking today is a chance for Christians to change the world. The Bible exhorts us repeatedly to serve the poor and oppressed, as in I John 3: “But if anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”

We’ve only been gone a year, but my friend says I look older. At age 34, that’s the first time anyone’s ever said that to me. I’ve always had a baby face: on my 15th birthday my friends suggested I ask for the 12-and-under price at the county fair; in my passport photo (age 27), I look like a college freshman. But it seems that this year has left its mark.

So what have I seen that’s made me age? Life how most of the world lives it: orphaned siblings sleeping in subway stations. Squatter families living in cement-block shacks the size of an American suburbanite’s walk-in closet. Street women selling themselves for a few dollars or less. Sights that would change anyone with eyes to see. But my eyes have widened joyfully as well: gawking at Avatar-inspiring marine life, eating heartstoppingly-good native mangoes, high-fiving women (who’d never before exercised) as they finished their first race.

But next month, I’m returning our old fantasy life, the Bay Area. Land of data plan complaints, hybrid hypermiling, and wine even in gas stations. Beloved Bay Area folks fret about real estate values or finding organic baby food at Whole Paycheck; Filipinos we have come to love worry about buying food for six on four dollars a day, or having to return to prostitution to pay their dying baby’s medical bills. Our old friends may see the change in my face, but can they feel it in their hearts? Will they even try? After a year of being a foreigner, an outsider, and a target, I fear being an alien in my native land.

When my wife and I quit our jobs last summer and moved to Manila for a year of volunteer work, I naïvely assumed it’d be similar to family trips as a kid: live overseas, see some old stuff, then pick up where I left off. But as a young but astute friend observed, the Philippines has “ruined me for the better.” So now my face tells a more serious story; my eyes focus on things besides literature, nature, and wine. Question is, will others want to see through them?

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For the past four years before we came here, my job coaching cross country and track & field at Mills College swallowed my life, and race planning was the most difficult part of it. Yet Take Back the Night prompted much more tooth-gnashing, hair-graying, and tear-shedding than any of those other races ever did.  I could chronicle the months-long nightmare of nailing down the date, venue, sponsors, equipment, and marketing, but suffice it to say that everything that could have gone wrong with this event, did.

But at last June 18 arrived, cool and overcast.  Then at 3:00 the skies opened.  We huddled in the stands, hoping that the storm would pass, but the only change was the dirt track turning to mud.  We made nervous jokes about gathering animals two by two. Around 5:00 we gathered to pray, and finally the rain lightened to a heavy sprinkle as we set up for the race. By 6:00 the Samaritana women and other race registrants began to show up.  The women were jittery and feeling varying degrees of fear and excitement about running the 3k or 5k–distances unthinkable just a few months ago when they could jog just once around the block when Super Babae began. “When it started raining, I prayed to God that it would stop in time for the race,” one of the women said to me around 6:30.  “And now it’s stopped. God answered my prayer.” (It started raining again just minutes after our event, and has been raining non-stop every since.)

It was almost completely dark by then, but when we asked the security guard to turn on the electricity for the lights and sound system, he said he couldn’t turn anything on until 7:00 (the time that the 10k was supposed to start), and meanwhile runners and the DJ’s sat in the stands in the dark.  7:00 came and went, and another security guard told us that the event permit, due to a clerical error, said 7:00 a.m. instead of 7:00 p.m. And of course he didn’t have the authority to override it, and his superior had gone home, assuming that because of the rain we’d canceled. So no lights. A race in the dark and the mud? It was a liability bomb just waiting to explode.

Meanwhile the 10k runners were getting restless on our mud swamp of a track, and our MC’s were stalling by yelling announcements with no PA system.  After some heated conversations and frantic prayers, the senior security guard returned from his house to turn on the power and lights to a big cheer from the crowd, and only 30 minutes late, with the Philippine National Anthem and an opening prayer, Take Back the Night was on.

I gathered the women for a quick pep talk, and they put their hands in the middle of the circle and chanted “Super Babae” (Taglish for “Super Woman”).  At the 5k starting line, one of the Samaritana women called the other women together to pray.  She thanked God for the change in weather, and prayed that they would be strong and able to run away from their past, no matter how they finished, and take back the night in their own lives.

As the runners splashed on their way, I cheered and swelled with pride as I saw each Samaritana woman pass, often in pairs or trios, alternating between wide grins and pained grimaces. Nate and Coach Kenny (one of our visiting American volunteers) ran with some of the women who were struggling, encouraging them through each soggy lap.

As the runners crossed the finish line, there was lots of cheering, laughter, and muddy, excited hugs.  One of the top female finishers said that running through the mud had been a fun, new challenge, different from other races she’d run.  The Samaritana women talked about how they’d thought they wouldn’t make it, but were so happy they had.  They were proud and amazed that they’d been able to go so far, and one of the women was pleasantly surprised to find that she’d earned a medal by finishing in the top three in the 3k!

As we awarded medals and cash prizes and then cleaned up for the night, there was a general feeling of cheer and inspiration, despite the long day of rain and the muddy races.  Several runners and volunteers thanked us for putting the event on, and said how inspired they were to be a part of it.  The women thanked us again and again, saying how special it was for them.  As we hugged them and told them again how proud of them we were, their glowing faces told us it had been worth it.

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And now we want to thank all of the good people who helped make the event possible!  Thanks to our sponsors Quezon City and Gatorade, to our event partners World Vision and Run4Change!  Thank you to Chloe from Mellow 94.7, Raffy Reyes from RX 93.1, and Katherine Visconti from ABS-CBN for promoting the event.  Thanks to all of the churches who promoted and signed up for the event.  Thanks to the UP Gender Office and College of Human Kinetics for helping us secure the venue.  Thanks to Coach Kenny and the team from Cole Valley Christian school in the US for hours of volunteering, and our friends Joe and M3 for compiling results.  Thank you to everyone at Samaritana who worked so hard around the clock for weeks before this event, especially Ate Becky, Ate Sunny, and Ate Jane.  Thanks to Ate Denise, who spent her entire birthday making sandwiches for and working at the event.  Thanks to everyone who sponsored women to run, making it possible for dozens of them to participate and see what they were capable of.  Thank you to the more than 40 friends and family across the world who committed to praying daily for this event for many weeks, and who were such a source of encouragement to those of us planning.  Most of all, the glory goes to God; it was pretty obvious to us all that this thing couldn’t happen without some miracles, and we’re grateful that His hand was on it all.

If you have a few more minutes, check out more event photos on Samaritana’s facebook page here.

-Laura