IL Forum to Combat Human Trafficking

I was quite encouraged by the crowd present for Monday’s Illinois Forum to Combat Human Trafficking. There were several hundred people there of diverse ages and races. The speakers were passionate and informative. Opportunities to take action to combat trafficking were offered, actions that could be taken right then and there.

International Justice Mission was the main sponsor of the event, in partnership with five Chicago-based anti-trafficking organizations: Traffick Free, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), Salvation Army PROMISE Initiative, STOP-IT Initiative Against Human Trafficking, and The Dreamcatcher Foundation. Representatives from each were present to talk about the work they are doing.

So the forum was very well done. I really don’t know how it could have been better. I am proud to say that of the six forum sponsors, my church has partnered with five of them! (Dreamcatchers is the only one we haven’t connected with…yet!)

By far the most powerful part of the evening was hearing Amanda’s story.

When she was 15, Amanda was trafficked into the Chicago-area sex trade. She was held captive and abused for over two years. Hearing her describe the manner and frequency with which she was abused was truly gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. Her story is a stark and horrific reminder that modern-day slavery is all too real and all too local.

But Amanda’s story also reminds us that there is hope in the midst of this ugly evil. Amanda eventually escaped her captors. She is receiving care for the physical, sexual and emotional trauma she endured. And she is not remaining silent. Working with Dreamcatchers, Amanda is bravely telling her story, shining a light in some very dark places, inspiring people to join (or continue) the fight against human trafficking.

Ready to act?

Here (again) is a simple way to make a difference: tell your members of Congress to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). This legislation authorizes assistance programs for victims, establishes key components of the U.S. government’s efforts to stop trafficking, including the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Passing the TVPRA will extend this law for another three years.

All you have to do is click here. Or here. Or here. Just pick one and raise your voice. Together we can demonstrate to our policy-makers that their constituents care about ending human trafficking at home and around the world.

One thing did disturb me though. If I understood him correctly, U.S. Representative Peter Roskam (R-IL), the Keynote Speaker at the Forum, said that the TVPRA likely will end up on a calendar of bills that are non-controversial.

Which makes sense, right? Who could possibly be for human trafficking?!?

So far, so good. Here’s the disturbing part: Rep. Roskam also said that funding for TVPRA will be hard to come by. It will have to fight for very limited funds just like every other bill. It sounded to me like Rep. Roskam doesn’t expect to find that funding. In fact, it even sounded to me like he didn’t think it should be funded.

I admit that I don’t know a lot about Rep. Roskam. I don’t live in his district so I haven’t encountered him or paid attention to him before. I do know he spoke passionately in support of IJM and in encouraging everyone at the Forum to engage in the fight against modern-day slavery. But if I heard and understood him correctly, my serious question is this:

What does it mean to be in favor of passing TVPRA but not in favor of funding it?

Maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe I misunderstood. I hope so. Because that seems to me like a distinction without meaning. It seems to me that the only way to truly be in favor of TVPRA is to be in favor of funding it. Maybe we need to add a line about funding to those petitions.

It does no good to reauthorize the act without also funding it.

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Widening the circle

Yesterday I shared that I was one of over 4000 pastors who signed an open letter to President Obama and Congress regarding the current budget impass.

I am also one of over 500 people from across Illinois who signed a memo to our Senators, Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk. Today, Bread for the World activists delivered those memos to the Senators’ local offices. The memo reads:

MEMO

TO:    Senator Richard Durbin/ Senator Mark Kirk

FROM:    Your Constituents (enclosed)

RE:     Things to Consider Before You Vote

As you work to balance the federal budget and reduce the deficit, I want to make sure you know my priorities. The economic recovery is still too slow. One in six families in the United States struggles to put food on the table. And one in five people around the world lives on less than $1.25 a day.

I agree that we need to substantially reduce future deficits, but not at the expense of hungry and poor people. You must create a circle of protection around programs vital to hungry and poor people. As you debate how to balance our budget, I want you to keep the following questions in mind:

• Did I vote to protect vital programs needed by the most vulnerable people here and abroad in these difficult times?

• If I did not, what do I tell the men, women, and children who have been hit hardest?

Or ask yourself, “What would Jesus cut?”

I’m counting on you as my representative in Congress to do the right thing. As a voter, I care deeply about the 26,000 kids abroad who die daily because they are simply too poor to survive, and about the millions of people here at home looking for work and trying to make ends meet.

Hunger has never been a partisan issue. Now is not the time to make it one. I’m interested in protecting hungry and poor people in these difficult times.

Thank you for listening.

Over 11,000 people from across the country have sent this memo to their members of Congress. I hope you’ll join us in creating a Circle of Protection with and around the most vulnerable among us.

In related news, Brian McLaren had a terrific Debt-Ceiling Dream you should read about.

How are you raising your voice?

Hey, Dave!!: The Nation of Hopeful Wanderers

Bruce Springsteen (with Max Weinberg in backgr...
Image via Wikipedia

Note: Here it is! The return of Hey, Dave!!, wherein my good friend, Ryan Hilligoss waxes poetic about, well, about whatever is on his mind.

“Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own times.”- Gustav Flaubert

In light of the looming election, I would like to address the rise of an insidious line of thought now pervading our national discourse, or lack thereof. To begin, below is part of a speech given by the modern American poet, Bruce Springsteen, in accepting an award from the Ellis Island Family Heritage Award earlier this year alongside Dikembe Mutumbo and others for their contributions to American life. The award honors Americans whose families came through the Port of New York and Ellis Island.

With all the immigrant furor out there, it’s good to remember that we’re a nation of immigrants, of hopeful wanderers. And we cannot know who is coming across our borders today, whose story will add a significant page to the American story. Who will work hard, who will raise a family, whose new blood will strengthen the good fabric holding our nation together.

So I am proud to be here today as another hopeful wanderer- a son of Italy, of Ireland, and of Holland- and to wish God’s grace, safe passage, and good fortune to those who are crossing our borders today. And to give thanks to those who have come before, whose journey, courage and sacrifice made me an American.

Fine words spoken that I wholeheartedly agree with and believe we all should hold dear. As unless your family was here on this continent prior to European settlement, we are all a nation of hopeful wanderers. My own family’s history, on fraternal side, can be traced back to Germany from which the first Hilligoss crossed the Atlantic and entered the country through the Philadelphia immigration office. Further investigation reveals some of our descendants originally resided in France but were driven from their homes due to their involvement with the early Protestant Church. These early family members were part of the exodus resulting from the French Huguenots. I am sure many of you have similar stories in your backgrounds if you cared to look. Many of your families came to this land looking for a better life, religious or political freedom or simply, just a second chance.

What concerns me is the current level of resentment leveled at many individuals or groups of immigrants, whether they be Latinos, Africans, Polish, or from any other country, religion or ethnicity. Especially the recent spate of hatred towards Muslims centered around the “Ground Zero Mosque” debate which I addressed in my prior post. It is not surprising that a great majority of the criticism comes from those who identify themselves with the Tea Party. The ideology of the Tea Party brings to mind another xenophobic movement in our nation’s history. The Know Nothing Party.

The Know-Nothing movement was a nativist American political movement during the 1840s and 1850s. It centered on popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by German and Irish Catholic immigrants, who were often regarded as hostile to Anglo-Saxon Protestant values and controlled by the pope in Rome. Mainly active from 1854 to 1856, it strove to curb immigration and naturalization, though its efforts met with little success. Members were mostly average regarding education and wealth. The term Know Nothing came from the idea that if a member were asked about the activities or thoughts of the group, the member was supposed to reply, “I know nothing.”

The movement peaked in the middle of the 1850’s when they won several elections in the northern states. However, the movement quickly disintegrated as the nation moved towards the civil war. How does this relate to modern America?

Many of our fellow citizens feel the country is being overrun with immigrants, whether legal or illegal, whom some believe are taking jobs from legal citizens, using our national or state funds for “free healthcare” or setting up some type of religious fundamental training camp to one day take over the country. And many of the “leaders” of the Tea Party have begun using Know Nothing tactics in their political campaigns. Sharron Angle in Nevada has taken to not speaking with the press at all to avoid bad publicity. Rand Paul in Kentucky has now either totally changed his stance on many topics to avoid “negative reporting” or is refusing to speak on some topics. And here in Illinois, the Republican candidate for governor, Bill Brady, has plainly stated, that he will not disclose his plans to correct our devastating budget woes until after the election!!!

To the Know Nothings, the enemy and the root of all their woes were Catholics and other immigrants. Then it was the Chinese. Then it was the Germans during WWI. Then the Japanese during WWII, and on and on down the list including, oh my, that Catholic with the secret cable direct to the Pope, John Kennedy. And now it is Hispanics and Muslims. Why is there always some bogeyman who some feel is responsible for their problems in life? It is dangerous thinking and completely anti American, isn’t that ironic?

To tie this all together, back to Mr. Springsteen for a moment. In 1978, after enduring a struggle for his own artistic freedom with his first manager, Bruce wrote a song called “The Promised Land” from the Darkness on the Edge of Town album. Whether directly or indirectly, it shared the same title of a song written by one of his, and countless others, musical heroes, Chuck Berry. A man from a poor family living in a segregated St.Louis, Mo. Chuck’s version, written in 1964 (and possibly influenced by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963), was about a poor southern boy dreaming of a better life in California and struggling to make his way across the country in search of that journey. In the later stage of his career, Elvis Presley, himself a man from a poor southern family, who also drove a truck for Crown Electric before setting the world on fire, recorded Chuck’s song and turned it into one of his last great rock recordings. Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, in my mind, share the titles of the fathers of rock and roll, one of America’s greatest exports to the world in the 20th century and one of the great unifying forces in modern America life and one that greatly influenced the civil rights movement. Elvis’ first recordings took place in a small Memphis studio called Sun Records which, ironically enough, was situated at 706 Union Ave. We could use a little more unity in our communities, in our states, in our country and across the world today.

The sooner we can all recognize the need for understanding our common problems, discussing them in an intelligent and fair manner and attempting to find some common ground, the sooner we can start living up to the ideals our nation stands for. The ideals that caused so many to risk it all, to make that journey across the water so they could start their hopeful wandering.

Oh, I believe in the Promised Land.