Posts Tagged ‘Laura’

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.


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.”


Posted: July 27, 2011 in Who we are
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It’s been three days, and somehow here we are, half a world away.

After 21 hours in transit, Saturday morning found us trudging into customs at SFO, encrusted with bags, hesitating briefly before getting in the native, non-visitors’ line for a the first time in year. We noticed big white people everywhere, and did auditory double-takes at being spoken to in English by Americans. When we saw “Welcome to the United States” scrolling across the screens above customs, tears sprang to our eyes as the full meaning of being an American, and returning there, impressed itself upon us. We were home.

Outside at the curb, breathing strangely clean air, we looked for the friend who had agreed to pick us up, and were instead greeted by more than a dozen friends, who welcomed us with hugs, smiles, and remarks that we looked thin and tired. One handed us farmers’ market peaches, a worthy substitute for the Philippines mangoes we’ll have dreams about.

The last three days have been a collage of returning to California memories: eating burritos from our favorite Oakland taco truck; devouring local cherries, strawberries, and figs; driving up highway 101 at dusk, watching the golden sun play on rolling vineyards and olive trees; being served a tiny fruit and cheese plate by our 5-year-old niece.

The intensity of everyday niceties here is a clear reminder of the life we just said goodbye to: each hot shower is a delicious luxury; clean air encourages deep, happy gulps, and despite the jet lag, trails to run on prompt grateful smiles. Drinking tap water is a minor celebration, as is sliding behind the wheel of a our own car instead of cramming ourselves on some form of public transit. And the quiet! This whole country is quiet, spacious, and clean. But the strangest thing isn’t all of the sudden contrasts, but how familiar it all seems, almost as if we never left.

The people we’ve left behind, however, give even the best of the Bay Area a bittersweet tinge; it was only Friday afternoon that we cried more at our Samaritana farewell than we have since our grandparents’ funerals. We had a group Pinoy-American bawl as women held us and told how we’d helped them grow; one of them said in tearful Taglish that she was never the kind of person before who would believe in herself, but she does now and knows she can be a leader. Another shared that we made her strong and brave to face life’s challenges. At the end they gathered around us, every woman touching or hugging us as they prayed for our safe travel, our future, and (much to our amusement) that we would have a baby. With every I-love-you and soggy embrace, we kept thinking “We can’t never see them again!”

In short, we’ve been ruined for the better. Instead of working for awards or prestige, Nate’s goal will be finding whatever advertising work will allow me to stay home and finish my book (and us to support Samaritana). Instead of filling our lives with activities, we’re planning ways to share our love for the Samaritana women with anyone who is interested enough to hear about them.  We’re talking about how to bring home the sense of deep community we experienced in the Philippines, a reality where relationships are more important than money, results, and time.

Before we left Manila, some of the women joked that they would hide inside our checked suitcases, and that they’d be ok as long as we packed some rice for them inside. Sadly even the most petite were over the 50-pound limit per bag, so we couldn’t bring them with us. We hope, though, that the next best thing can be carrying them in the embrace of a country that has so much to give.


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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.

* * * * *

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.


Take Back the Night is just 15 days away.  As we do our best to prepare for the fun run/race that will, we hope, raise the funds needed for Samaritana to accept the women who are currently on the waiting list, we are grateful for prayers, encouragement, and support from all of you who are near and far.

We’ve recently been asked by a few people back in the States if it’s possible to sponsor a Samaritana woman (or multiple women) to run this race.  The answer is yes!  The whole point of this event is to raise money for Samaritana; whether that money comes from race registrations or donors overseas, the result is the same: more women can get off the streets and start a new life.

There are currently 21 women at Samaritana.  Many of them hope to run and finish their race on June 4.  Please pray for these women, for sponsors to support them, and for all of the planning we’re doing during the next fifteen days to make this a great event for everyone involved.

If you would like to sponsor the Samaritana women, you can follow these 3 easy steps below:

1. Send an email to to let them know that you would like to sponsor a woman (or multiple women) for Take Back the Night.  For example, you might say, “I’d like to give $25 for every Samaritana woman who runs and finishes the race.”

2. Write a check to Samaritana’s non-profit partner in the US, Mission East Asia National Support (MEANS), and designate Samaritana in the memo. Samaritana is certified by the Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC); your donation will be tax-deductible.

3.Mail your check to: P.O. Box 8434, Bartlett, IL 60103.

We’ll post pictures, race results, and other news after the race on June 4!

-Laura & Nate

After Taste for Freedom, our fund-raiser that many of you attended or helped make happen, I said to myself, “Never again!” Event planning is just too stressful for me, since it requires both organization and detail-orientation, two things which I most definitely am not.

And yet here we are again. As you may have read a few months back, Laura had the idea to use her coaching experience to start a fitness program, Super Babae, for the women at Samaritana.  Super Babae is gaining momentum (Nike’s second donation is en route from the States!), and when we were talking to our friend Ryan (who worked in sports marketing and managed events), the idea came up of doing a fund-raising race for Samaritana. (All the Samaritana women will get to run the race and get the t-shirt for free, so we’re encouraging them to train the next few weeks as 3k is still longer than most of them have run.)

June 4 is closing in fast, so we’d appreciate your prayers! So far we have a venue, a few partners, and a water sponsor, so all we need is a few hundred locals to register and it’ll be a smashing success!

— Nate

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It’s safe to say that my anticipation for Easter has never been greater than it was this year.  Not even a 3:30 a.m. wakeup from the yappy dog next door or a 4:30 a.m. sunrise Easter service could dampen my spirits.

It was dark out when we ate mangoes and croissants before church; they were divine, and prompted numerous Josh Eichorn-style grunts of satisfaction as we devoured them. (I couldn’t help noticing that we paid a little less for them than what we’d spent for an entire day’s food the day before.)  We were so excited about eating a non-egg breakfast that we did it two more times, cereal at 6:30 a.m. and French Toast at 10.

After third breakfast, we went to work cooking.  We made Thai chicken curry from scratch (even pounding our own curry paste), had a large salad with fresh vegetables, ordered a giant (36″ inch) pizza, and even prepared mangoes and sticky rice for dessert.  Every bite of it was delicious–and in one meal we spent more than we have in the entire last week.

But the highlight of the day wasn’t all of the good food we ate, or going for our first run in a week this evening, or even the wonderful feeling of being full.  The best part of this Easter came in the form of little kids who couldn’t resist looking in our refrigerator, opening our drawers, and exploring every inch of our apartment while their young mothers tried to keep up.  By the time the sun went down, there were candy wrappers everywhere, the white tile bathroom floor was a splotchy gray, and one of the kids had diarrhea twice on the kitchen floor.  There were large piles of dirty dishes in the sink, the food was gone, and our wallets were empty.  We were delighted.

Our guests were about a dozen of the Samaritana women and their children, all of whom couldn’t afford to go back to the provinces for Holy Week.  After the past week’s peso-pinching, shopping for this meal felt  painfully indulgent, but we didn’t regret it.  We realized last week that if you’re living in poverty, there’s no such thing as holiday feasts or special treats like pizza.  We wanted to celebrate not just Christ’s resurrection, but the women who have become so dear to us and taught us so much.  We wanted to make this Easter special for them, for them to know just how precious they are to us.  We hope that in some small way this helped them know how precious they are to God.

For five hours, our apartment was filled with happy chaos.  There was a candy hunt that the adults were just as excited about as the kids.  There were giddy cries of disbelief when the three-foot-wide pizza had to be tilted to fit through the door–and then the wolf pack descended.  When it was time to go, 4-year old Penelope* (who a few months ago was afraid of strangers, but now has taken to calling us Uncle Nate and Aunt Laura) gave us hugs and said she wanted to come back to our house tomorrow.

After the crowd had gone and the hostess adrenaline faded, I was tired, but happy.  I thought about the story of the woman who anoints Jesus with perfume that cost a year’s wages; his disciples were indignant at the waste, but he said that what she’d done was a beautiful thing.  The Global Hunger Fast made me conscious of every peso we spend, but it also challenged me to find the right reasons for spending money at all.  Compared to how we’ve been living this past week, our Easter feast was extravagant.  But we hope that for the Samaritana women and for God, it was a beautiful thing.

We mentioned at the beginning of last week that we’d be donating what we saved last week to Samaritana.  If any of you would like to do the same, we’re providing the information you’ll need below.  With six women on the waiting list and recent news that Samaritana’s largest source of funding will be cut in half next year, there is a great need.  $100/month will support a new woman at Samaritana, but as we’ve mentioned before, every little bit goes a long way here.

Thanks to all of you who have done this Global Hunger Fast with us, either by participating or by following our daily reports and encouraging us along the way.  We hope our experience blessed you.

Happy Easter!


Here’s how you can donate to Samaritana:

Supporters in the United States may donate through our US partner Mission East Asia National Support (MEANS), and receive a tax-deductible receipt. Make checks payable to MEANS, and designate Samaritana in the memo. Mail to: P.O. Box 8434, Bartlett, IL 60103.

*Not her real name.