When I was in first grade my favorite movie was Dirty Dancing (sorry to throw you under the bus, Mama). Hearing “Johnny” powerfully proclaim, to the world, that “nobody puts Baby in a corner” made being someone’s girlfriend #goals like nothing else. It would become my life’s mission to find a boy who loved me enough to stand up for me in times of adversity and for that moment to crescendo with choreography in a packed auditorium. That, in my opinion, was the grandest of all gestures and my favorite act of PDA to this day.
A small problem with my “girlfriend goal” was that my “cuteness” wasn’t really the stuff of mass appeal. I was surely a diamond, but more Kay Jeweler’s than Tiffany’s. So unfortunately, the “Johnny’s” of the world weren’t quite looking my way. By high school though, I had grown into my eyebrows and by some magical witchcraft, had become an option in the dating world.
After discovering that most guys didn’t know choreography, I settled on “nice hands” as a requirement to be my boyfriend. Nice hands would be needed for handholding and handholding would be needed to prove to the public that I was loved. I found a boy with nice hands, and we began a journey of solidifying our cafeteria-centered relationship.
One day while holding hands and strolling the school halls, a very attractive new girl could be seen in the distance. My memory is putting wind in her hair and a beam of light around her head, but its been so long ago that I can’t be sure. I wondered if my guy would give her more than a passing glance. As soon as I began the process of reassuring myself of our love he slowly, but surely, dropped my hand.
It was pretty obvious to everyone what had just happened.
Have you ever been publicly disassociated with?
It’s the worst…
Like, the absolute worst…
Yeah, yeah, I know…he was just a high school kid… who immediately tried to hold my hand once the girl passed by and someone turned off the wind machine, but the damage was done.
I was disposable.
I had been deemed the kind of girl that you could love in private but not in public. In a moment like that, there is such a feeling of loneliness and yet there is also the feeling that everyone is looking at you, pitying you but won’t come and hold your dropped hand.
It’s the exact opposite feeling that I have in my marriage. My husband is always down for a little PDA. Not the gross, “you’re ruining our dinner” kind of PDA, but the “she’s mine, keep walking” kind. I’ve complained during the unbearable Phoenix summers about holding hands only to be told, “Girl, it’s never too hot to be in love.” Clearly, I no longer lack in this area.
But it got me thinking about the times when that same feeling occurs in my soul. These feelings are no longer tied to a boyfriend or husband, but boil over when I feel let down or disassociated with on matters of race or class warfare, politics or religion. Life’s bigger issues… The ones where I feel that I or someone who God loves has been wronged and I want someone to hold my hand and say, “It’s hard, but I’m with you.” It’s the feeling I get when I long for friends to show solidarity on tough issues in public and not solely in my direct messages.
That feeling came rushing in at the beginning of April. I recently went to South East Asia with The Exodus Road, an organization daily engaged in the fight against human trafficking and the rescue and recovery of its victims. They are a small organization. In fact, I had never heard of them until I was asked, by a friend, if I’d be interested in traveling to see their work firsthand. I’ve always been saddened by and passionately against slavery and human trafficking, but I’d never taken the opportunity to know more about it beyond news articles or curious googling. I jumped at the chance to go. To listen. To not be the expert on a matter and yet engage it as strongly as I do the issues close to my heart.
So I went and I watched, learned, heard stories of rescue, saw footage of rescue missions, sat in brothels and learned what to look for when determining if someone is a minor and is being illegally exploited. I interviewed a freelance prostitute who I found was led there by poverty, debt, powerlessness and unjust structures. I listened to powerful testimonies from the leader of their BRAVO team who traveled from India to tell of the rescue of girls as young as my 7-year-old daughter. I learned that there are different types of brothels and that many of the ones in India are run by the parents of the victims.
I saw A LOT of PDA. The horrible and soul saddening kind. Men publicly using women and young girls as objects of pleasure…things I can’t mention here.
I saw girls dancing in brothels. Dancing… as if in an effort to disguise these sex houses as the more “culturally accepted” strip club. I saw tourists enjoying themselves in these brothels, numbed to the girl who looks 15, by their need for a good time. And the more that I looked around, the more it felt like someone had dropped the hands of all these girls and had left them completely alone and subject to the unimaginable.
I was in a brothel…that will probably stand out to a lot of people. I’ve had to repeat it often to those who thought they misunderstood me. It’s a place where a lot of Christians won’t go because they are afraid of what they might see. But the truth is, you don’t have to see it because people like the teams at The Exodus Road are already engaged in this work. But they can’t do it alone. They work supported by the funding of people like me and you. People who are rich or less than rich who spare our extra to rescue a child from a place he/she was never meant to be.
The Exodus Road is raising money for their team in India to fund their investigations. Their goal is to get 50 people to donate $35 a month. When they told me this, I laughed. Not on purpose. It just came out. I instantly became worried that they would think I was rude. I didn’t laugh because it was funny, I laughed because I thought, ” After all that I just witnessed, it takes so little to continue the work of setting girls and boys free from physical torment?” I felt that God was handing us such a simple, real and tangible way to help.
$35 a month is not a lot of money for the majority of Americans and yet $35 can fuel one night of local investigations for The Exodus Road.
My husband recently showed me a stat that American’s spent $235 a month on entertainment in 2012. Not on food or clothes… just being entertained. I realize that I laughed in that meeting because I knew $35 a month should be easy.
I’m asking you to donate as an act of holding the hands of the workers of The Exodus Road because their work can be lonely and dark. But mostly I’m asking you to hold the hands of the girls and boys who are being abused and literally desecrated.
I use that word on purpose. It is not a hyperbole.
Desecration is the act of depriving something of its sacred character and the destructive treatment of that which is to be held sacred or holy. It fits well to describe the vile act of children being used for sex.
Cornel West says, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” I didn’t understand what that meant for a long time. After a life long obsession with PDA, I still somehow missed the point. I understand now that justice is love’s PDA. I see that we can not say that we love people and leave them at the mercy of the evil systems and people of the world. We have to work to set right what has been made wrong.This is what The Exodus Road works to do.
They are not a large sexy organization that many have heard about. Essentially, they aren’t the pretty girl with wind in their hair or a beam of light around their head, but they are doing tangible, and beautiful work in the dark reality of human trafficking. They have not decided that the work is too big and have decided instead to marry their empathy with action. I believe in what they do and how they do it. I believe that they are a hand worth holding as they take the hands of children and walk them out of brothels and into a new and incredibly different life.
I urge you to check out my fundraising page and donate to this powerfully important work! https://empower.theexodusroad.com/fundraise?fcid=654395
A video about some of our experiences on the trip