Posts Tagged ‘sabbatical’


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.

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.”

Friday 7/23

After getting a last-minute e-mail from France saying the visiting Berkeley scholar (who was supposed to wire the deposit to us) had a family emergency and wasn’t going to come after all, we scrambled to call some others, and 24 hours before we leave, new tenants sign lease. Cue big sigh of relief.

Saturday 7/24

5:00 am Pacific Time: get up, make smoothie with last four fruits in the kitchen, and start scurrying around the house finishing cleaning, washing last loads of laundry, and so forth. Treat ourselves to McDonald’s breakfast.
8:30 am PT: Give myself a final buzz cut so I don’t have to worry about hair for the first few weeks.
9:30 am PT: Shove the last boxes in the basement storage area and staple on the chicken wire shutting our stuff off from the outside world.
10:00 am PT: passport and wallet check, take out the trash and recycling, give friends car keys, and it’s airport time. Goodbye 3039 Madeline Street!

Farewell, Oakland!

12:30 pm PT: rejoice when we get moved up to bulkhead seats (not exit, but first row in coach), on the side with just two seats. Score! No squeezing past grumpy fellow passengers for our incessant bathroom breaks.
12:30-1:15 PT: last frantic phone calls and texts before we part ways with Verizon. Goodbye family!
1:15 pm PT: Takeoff. Goodbye Bay Area! We fly straight west, out over the SF cloud bank, so no final view of Oakland.
1:20 pm PT: Valium.
3:30-5:30 pm PT: Parents across the aisle only intermittently successful at silencing their two screaming toddlers. Well, at least we tried sleeping; Laura’s bright idea was to try to get on Manila time as early as we could, but c’est le airplane.
11:30 pm PT/4:30 pm Tokyo time: get into Tokyo early. The Japanese countryside is so tidy! We immediately notice the perfectly square rice fields, different than the round-patterned ones we have in the Midwest.
(11:31: put passports in under-clothes passport holders–thank you, Pop and Joyce, for being the cautionary tales of pickpocketing.)

Sunday 7/25

Midnight PT/5 pm local: Airport sushi! Best melt-in-your mouth fatty tuna and Dragon Rolls we’ve ever had. Yellow Tail, oddly enough, not worth writing home about.
2 am PT/7 pm local: Even the boarding area going from Tokyo to Manila has a different vibe than the one going from SFO to Tokyo–running late, people milling about but smiling, friendly chaos as Japanese airport staff try to herd people who speak either English or Tagalog.
3:30-5 am PT/7:30-9 local: watch two episodes of The Wire on the laptop. Still waiting to be enticed by the cop show theme; currently thinking that L’s brother having lived in Baltimore where the show’s set has colored his judgement.
6 am PT/11 pm local: get into Manila after an another answer-to-prayer uneventful flight. All our bags show up, un-tampered with.
7 am PT/midnight local: get cab provided by Fulbright to hotel. Sleepy ride through rainy Manila streets; thankfully we missed the cloudburst/flash flood earlier that day (welcome to monsoon season!) that rerouted flights and tied up traffic.
7:30 am PT/12:15 local: sleep.

Monday 7/26

7 am local: wake up for breakfast of rice, coconut-breaded chicken, papaya, mystery vegetables, and pineapple juice. I miss American breakfast already! (My pop says it’s just cultural conditioning, but we’ll see how well we adjust to rice three meals a day.)

-Laura & Nate

Dear Friends,

Although we’ve been preparing for this journey for almost a year, we knew that our lives had truly become consumed by it when we were at Walgreens at 11:49 p.m. on a Thursday night getting passport photos for our visas.  With less than a month to go, initially strange things now seem almost routine: hepatitis shots, visa applications, packing most of our lives into storage bins, and letting go of more things than we bargained for almost every day.  But that was always the point of this year away, so we’re trying not to sweat it.

Thank you to all of you who have been so supportive of our somewhat crazy idea to spend this next year of our lives fighting sex trafficking in Manila.  We’ve been blessed by all of the kind words, prayers, encouragement, and financial support.  If you happen to think of us during this final countdown, we’d be grateful for your prayers and support as we 1) try to find renters for our lovely little Oakland home, and 2) do our best to fundraise the last $13,000 needed for us to be able to pull this thing off.

Thanks to everyone who attended the great even at Netivot Shalom, and we’ll hope to see you at one of the other great events featured on our site!

Nate & Laura

Why “Free Is a Verb”?

For one, we’re not politicians, activists, law enforcement, or businesspeople–we’re writers, and that is the main skill we’re bringing to this cause. But second, and most importantly, we want to promote action both locally and abroad, because that’s what it will take to end modern-day slavery.


What am I donating to?

All of our work in the Philippines will be volunteer, so you will be supporting us for the 12 months we are there. We’re volunteering with Samaritana Transformational Ministries, and International Justice Mission (IJM).  Samaritana does some amazing aftercare work, helping prostituted women build a new life and providing them with counseling, livelihood skills (and a new way to make a living), scholarship programs for their children, and a loving, accepting Christian community.  IJM works to prosecute traffickers, rescue victims of trafficking, and place those victims in aftercare facilities like Samaritana.

Fight human trafficking from the comfort of your own wallet!

Are donations tax-deductible?

Yes.  Prior to our departure for Manila, our fundraising was with the Joyce Family Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit set up for supporting charitable work. The tax ID # is 41-6378114.  While in the Philippines, we are working under the umbrella of Converge Worldwide.

What is your budget, and how are you planning to cover your expenses?

Our budget for a year in the Philippines is approximately $40,000.  The Fulbright scholarship will provide $11,000, but the remainder we need to address with a combination of our savings and donations.  We’ve saved enough money over the last seven years to cover our California mortgage while we’re gone, and to cover personal expenses during our year away.

How else can I help?

You can volunteer locally with any of the organizations listed in the sidebar, or donate to them. Please visit their respective web sites for more information.

You can also spread the word about human trafficking to everyone you know!  We’re continually amazed by how many people in our lives don’t know about it, and humbled by how long it took us to learn about it ourselves.

Neither Laura nor I have ever felt called to full-time charitable/missions work, but the year before we got married we got the idea of putting our regular lives on pause for one year out of every seven, and donating that time to helping others. (We were inspired by the scriptural idea of the Sabbath Year, as found in Leviticus 25.) We got married in 2003, so 2010 marks the seventh year. We knew we were going to go somewhere and do some sort of charitable work, but what?

Once we started learning about human trafficking, we were impressed with the urgency of the problem and concluded that fighting this injustice would be a worthwhile use of our year away. While it is a global problem, we were drawn to Asia for various reasons, and as Laura went through the application process for the Fulbright scholarship, that helped us narrow it down to the Philippines, which met several of our criteria: hot spot for trafficking (5th worst in the world), yet not hopelessly corrupt government; existing organizations in place whom we could partner with; culturally different enough to force us to re-evaluate our lives.

Laura recently received notification that she has been awarded the Fulbright, confirming that our work in the Philippines will involve the following: Laura will be working with Samaritana, a Manila-based non-profit that rehabilitates women rescued from prostitution, and writing a novel about sex trafficking, in consultation with a scholar at the University of the Philippines. Nate will be working with some combination of Samaritana and International Justice Mission.


The Mills College Student Union was full of hope on Thursday, May 21, 2010 as Bay Area guests tasted not only food and wine, but the reality of human trafficking in the Bay Area–and what they could do to fight it.  Ten abolitionist organizations had tables in the midst of the food and wine, which was donated from restaurants and wineries ranging from Sonoma Valley to Oakland.  The event also included a silent auction, with exciting art work by local Bay Area artists, restaurant and winery gift certificates, and services like pilates lessons and massage therapy.

Among the non-profit organizations present was Because Justice Matters, California Against Slavery, Freedom House, Garden of Hope, International Justice Mission, M.I.S.S.S.E.Y., New Day for Children, Trade as One, and Workers of Faith (Mills College).  Nate and Laura Davis of Free is a Verb hosted the event.

The event began with some words from Council Member Jean Quan, who is running for Oakland Mayor and has done remarkable work in fighting human trafficking in Oakland.  She spoke about the harsh realities that Oakland girls face, and the need for volunteers and donors to support organizations like the ones present at Taste for Freedom.

Later in the evening, hosts Nate and Laura Davis shared their own story about how they found out about human trafficking, and why they are uprooting their lives in Oakland to move to the Philippines for a year.  They also shared their own top ten list of how you can start fighting human trafficking today:

Anti-trafficking top ten list:

1. If you have more money than time, make a donation to one of the non-profits here making a difference in your home, the Bay Area.

2. If you have more time than money, volunteer. You’re a bunch of educated, skilled, accomplished, beautiful people. And you’re here, so you have heart! They can use you.

3. If you haven’t already, sign California Against Slavery’s petition to get stronger anti-trafficking laws in place.

4. Buy fair-trade products from Trade as One, because sustainable business helps break the cycle of poverty that so often contributes to the supply side of trafficking. (There are a number of other online resources for finding fair-trade products, such as

5. Bring up fair trade when you’re at the grocery store. Let’s make fair trade as common vernacular in 2020 as local and organic are in 2010!

6. Like Free Is a Verb or one of these other organizations on facebook.

7. Write a letter to one corporation, government official, or media outlet. Look for letter templates on our site next week.

8. Shop consignment or thrift store, to reduce the demand for new slave-produced clothes.

9. Ask your company about donating or matching a donation to an anti-trafficking organization.

10.  Tell one family member, one friend, and one co-worker how you spent this evening.


You can see more photos of the night taken and donated by photographer Steve Babuljak here.

Thanks to all of our amazing volunteers and sponsors.  Please support the businesses below, who were generous enough to support us and make Taste for Freedom possible: