Anne’s House and shocking proximity

According to the author of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus began his public ministry with a reading from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” Then Jesus declared that He fulfilled those words!

According to our membership vows, all United Methodists promise to “do all in our power to fight evil, injustice and oppression, in whatever forms they present themselves.”

These are just two reasons I continue to push for my congregation (and all Christians) to be advocates with and for oppressed and marginalized people. Maybe your vision of oppressed people starts in some far away land. While you may not be wrong, that is not the whole truth.

Some oppressed people are living right in our midst. Even some enslaved people.

Hopefully by now you have read or heard that Anne’s House opened this month in Chicago. Why should you care about that? Anne’s House is the long-term, residential, therapeutic care home for girls rescued from commercial sexual exploitation. This house provides the emotional, educational and vocational support the girls need as they recover from the horrific nightmare of sex slavery. And the people of Woodridge United Methodist Church helped make this house possible!

Way back last Christmas we took an offering in support of a dream. The Salvation Army wanted to open this home. They had a location, what they lacked was funding. So we helped provide them with some. And eleven months later, that dream became a reality. The faithfulness and generosity of our people helped make that happen. In a small way, sure. But we did help.

I’m reminded of something Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “the arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And of something Dr. Cornel West says, “justice is what love looks like in public.”

Now you might be wondering, where will the girls who live in Anne’s House come from? From Cambodia or India or Mexico?

Try a little closer to home.

Oh, you mean like Seattle or Cleveland or Chicago.

Well, yes, in a nationally coordinated FBI operation conducted earlier this month, more girls were rescued from sex slavery in Seattle than anywhere else in the country. And Cleveland had a few too, as did Chicago. But you need to think even closer to us. By the way, the use of “girls” here is not a euphemism. We’re talking about children aged 12-17.

I think I might have heard something about South Holland, IL. (But I don’t know where that is.)

You’re right; girls are forced into sex slavery in South Holland too. (It’s about 40 miles southeast of Woodridge. I had to look it up.) But that’s still too far away.

Just tell us already! You’re obviously trying to shock us with the revelation of a spot near to us, a spot we’d rather not think child prostitutes could exist…where is it?!?

Downers Grove.

The heart-breaking, impossible-sounding, makes-me-want-to-retch truth is that of the 69 underage girls nationwide who were found in this operation, 1 of them was in Downers Grove.

Call it what you will – human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, sex slavery, child prostitutes, modern-day slavery – but we can never again call it a problem over there somewhere. It is very literally right here in our midst.

The operation was a success nationally: 884 arrests including 99 pimps from 40 cities across 30 states and the District of Columbia. Locally, 39 arrests included 3 pimps. Kudos to the FBI and local police and sheriff’s departments.

And thanks to the new Illinois law, minors found in the sex trade here are treated as the victims they are and not as criminals. So the good news is that the 3 underage girls in the Chicago area are now receiving treatment. Maybe they’ll eventually end up in Anne’s House.

Maybe even the girl from Downers Grove.

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May God give us the courage to unflinchingly look evil in the eye, the wisdom to respond with actions of faith, hope and love, and the strength to never give up even if we grow weary.

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