The Curse of Thorns

…Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground…”

God speaks these words to man after he disobeys the one-and-only command God asked of him in the garden. (Genesis 3, ESV)

Until then, life was perfect. Man lived in unity with all of Creation and with God. They would walk together and talk. But, the day he decided that he desired to be like God, he realized how little authority and power he had. He is the image of the Creator but could and would never be God Almighty. In his desires, man sold his birthright of the earth to Satan and death took hold.

Thorns and thistles did not exist until this point.

A scientist I know explained thorns as: a leaf, branch, or flower whose potential is cut short. Something beautiful and life giving, when its potential is cut short or not fully realized, becomes painful and intrusive. A thorn is not good for anything. It only causes pain and hardship.

victoria-2016-90When the curse fell on mankind and his relationship with was God severed, potential of the earth and those in it was cut short.

So, it is no minor detail to flip to a story written almost 1500 years later of Jesus. Matthew 27:27-31, Roman soldiers, completely unaware of the curse, twist together a crown of thorns and beat it into the skull of Jesus to mock him, saying “Hail, King of the Jews!”

Onto Jesus the curse of the fallen potential of man and the earth was placed.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

The Prophet Isaiah foretold the coming Messiah who would take away the sins of the world, bearing the curse of death upon himself.

Even knowing this, how many still live like we are under the curse? The day Jesus died Death lost its power on mankind. Jesus took back our birthright for us. We no longer have to live with the potential of who we are cut short or not fully realized.

The curse is broken. Are you producing flowers or thorns?

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Child Trafficking: The Solutions

Melanie Visit-15In the last piece, we addressed the problem of child trafficking, and the forms it takes around the world. This time, we’re looking at the hope. We’re going to walk through recognizing the systematic issues behind trafficking and the practical steps all of us can take to help solve the issue. After all, every child deserves a chance to have a loving family and access to the things they need.

The Trafficking Cycle: Systematic Issues

We’ve looked at the issue of child-trafficking, and how extensive this issue is. Change will come to this problem slowly, and solutions won’t be one-size-fits all. We can try to put Band-Aids on problems, but gaping wounds need more than sticking plaster. To find solutions, we have to understand causes.

Phnom Penh 2016-57.jpgPoverty puts people in a place where they lack options for education, for healthcare, for family stability, for the things that allow them to live and thrive. That raises the trafficking risk for their children. Gary Haugen addresses the cycle of poverty in his book, The Locust Effect. (You can check out his TED Talk about it.) He points out that the lack of protection for the world’s poor from violence – from rape, police brutality, trafficking – has to be addressed before we can end poverty. Many of the world’s poor are not offered protection; if anything they are particularly targeted by governments, crime rings, and corrupt police.

Continue Reading… CIF Logo

Child Trafficking: The Problem

Many people recently requested I share a bit more about the work I do in Cambodia. I am going to be posting articles I have written for Children In Families here, so you can learn more. This is a 2 part piece that was one of the most informative to research and write. 

The International Labour Organisation estimates children make up about 25% of forced labour and sexual exploitation slavery.Part 1

Six months ago, world news headlines highlighted the child trafficking and abuse in Thailand’s fishing industry. The BBC reported children from Myanmar and Cambodia are forced to work on vessels and in processing factories, leading to dangerous and debilitating injuries, not to mention violating a litany of human rights. (Article here.)

During the past decade, organizations such as A21, Not for Sale, and International Justice Mission (IJM) raised the first-world’s awareness of slavery as an international issue, running deep through the veins of world economics and industry. It robs an estimate of well over 20 million people of their freedom and basic human rights.

While we want to address child trafficking, CIF believes that underneath the layers and complications involved in the multi-billion dollar industry of human beings, there lies hope.

We will address human trafficking and what that looks like for children, but more than anything, we want to offer up solutions. As overwhelming as the numbers appear, we want to strip down the numbers and reveal practical ideas for prevention, and the restoration of individuals. While the situation can appear depressingly complex, the answers may surprise you.

Even more surprising is your ability to do something about it.  CIF Logo

Continue reading here…

What the Election Cannot Change

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Dear American Church,

I have lived in seven different countries. Some are wealthy, some are 3rd world. Some are secular, Catholic, Buddhists, Christian, socialist (by loose definition), free-market, oppressive regimes, democracy, Constitutional monarchy, etc…

BoengTrabekProcess-2I traveled to Muslim nations. Communist nations. Hindu nations. Nations where witch craft and animism are regularly practiced.

I have seen the aftermath of genocide, massive natural disasters, and extreme poverty.

I held the hands of former sex-slaves. I have laughed with transgender sex workers. I chatted with witch doctors. I played hide-and-seek with refugees. I spent time with former Prime Ministers and Parliament speakers. And, I drank tea in the homes of some of the most materialistically destitute.

I met people who preached in underground churches in nations where they could be killed for their faith. I held babies dying of preventable disease.

Every place I have been, I have seen corruption. Yet, every place I treaded I saw hope and joy.

No matter what soil I stood on. No matter what the language, religion, or current government climate, I can say one thing for sure, “God was there.”

If the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, then why do you think one presidential election will destroy it? Why do you think laws or freedom of religion has any effect on who God is or what He can do in this world?

If you believe for one second that the Death and Resurrection of Jesus is not great enough to transform anyone (and I even mean ISIS) or any circumstance, then I hate to say it but you and I do NOT serve the same God.

Dear American Church, You cannot legislate the Power of a living God. You cannot contain Malaysia 2016-71Him. And, He certainly cannot be driven out. “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein…” Ps. 24:1

I say this, even to myself, maybe if we spent more time praying and battling the powers of darkness and less time fighting for our “rights” or criticizing people who don’t think and act like us, this world would look a little different.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” John 15:18-20

I issue you this challenge, as I take it on myself. When you feel like criticizing Hillary, Trump, Sanders – or really anyone – stop and pray for them instead. Speak life-giving words over them. Bless them, do not curse.

Vietnam 2015-46When you want to draw a line in the sand for your safety and build a wall to keep out Mexicans or Muslims or transgender people – or really anyone – remember whose image they were made in. Bless them, do not curse.

You’re only safety and security rests in the shadow of the wings of the Almighty God.

The day you accepted Christ as your Savior, you died. You laid down your rights. So, stop fighting to take them back.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

Do you believe that? Are you free already? Then, stop getting upset when someone tries to take your “rights.” You already laid them down. No one, absolutely no one, has the authority to steal your freedom, your joy, or your hope.

When they spit on you, mock you, and hate you, remember what Jesus endured for us.

Malaysia 2016-22I was recently reading 2 Chronicles about King Jehoshaphat. He followed after God. He kept God’s statutes. He did not worship other idols. Yet, in the end, rather than trust in God to protect his nation from their enemies, he made an alliance with a wicked king. God destroyed Jehoshaphat’s works and the kingdom he built up because he chose to trust in the alliances of other kingdoms above the power of God.

Is this really what the American Church wants? The end of us will be destruction because even though we followed God, we did not believe He was great enough to sustain us, so we trusted in the power of our leaders and our governments.

Capitalism and democracy are not God. America is not God. Your guns are not your safety. They will not protect you or sustain you. They will not provide for you. They are flawed systems built up by man. And, yet you set them before you as your shrine. You placed your hope in them.

Do you not believe the same power that conquered the grave lives in you?

In the end, as I watch it all fall apart, I pump my fist in the air with a triumphant cry!

Yes, the Church is being sifted! Yes, some will fall away, but how incredibly awesome it will be when the True Church emerges: bloodied, battered, and bruised but faithful. So incredibly faithful with all of her hope and trusted placed where it needs to be. At the foot of the Cross.

That’s why I am not going to worry about this election… or the next one. My hope, identity, safety, and rights don’t rest on the shoulders of a government or in the soil I was born on. They rest on an Eternal Kingdom that cannot and will not be destroyed. They rest in the hands of the Creator of the Universe.

With all the love in my heart, I pray you believe this, American Church.

Erin

 

Reveling In the Small

Silence for a while. I wanted to write, but what I had to say was too private, too raw to put on these pages.

2016 is a year where Romans 5:3-5 is near and real, “we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

The numbness, then crushing sadness, then unabated hope crash upon me and words feel insufficient.

Yet, there is joy. Sometimes the normalcy is where I find my greatest comfort. There are little things in my daily life that bridge the gap between my Asian home and my American home, and all the homes I lived in between.

I share with you small wonders of my day-to-day.

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Coffee. In the morning. It’s pretty much at the top of my list of favorite things. I also can’t help but think of my five weeks in Italy. *sigh*

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Just a spoonful of Mexican chocolate helps the coffee go down… All the way from Java in Boise, Idaho.

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Frothed milk completes my delectable morning potion.

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My kitchen is tiny and, well, dark. I decided to take my love of vibrant, saturated color and transform our poorly stained, dark brown cabinets. My color tastes may be inspired by my early childhood in Latin America.

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I am an artist. Again, I prefer to surround myself with happy colors.

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My multi-functional dream space, quiet-time, creativity, and sometimes time-out chair. (I designed the chair and had it made here in Phnom Penh.)

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My plants after the rain. The start to rainy season drives out the oppressive heat and makes the world green again. Since I live closed in by concrete, I created my own little green space.

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Big fluffy clouds and getting to go into the Province for work! I love my job at CIF.

 

Missing the Mark on Love

BoengTrabekProcess-19Drippy, ooey, gooey Love.

Snuggly, cuddly, feel-good Love.

[… I’ll come back to that….after I throw up a little.]

After dismounting my motodop, I handed the driver a few wadded bills from my bag. Surveying the block and squinting at the Latin script next to the Khmer squiggly symbols on the street sign, I gained my bearings and started south. The steam off of rice dishes rose off of push carts as a damp, warm rubbish smell mingled with cloying Asian foods… well, mostly fried fish. The bright neon lights contrasted with the deep, shrouded night. A few men, reeking of cheap beer, offered me a tuk-tuk.

“Aught!” I declined, tacking on “Arkoun” to be polite.

Drawing my bag closer under my arm, my flip-flops slapped the dirt encrusted, precariously shifted bricks of the sidewalk. Men, women, expats, backpackers, Khmer, children, all mingled. At night, this street was a hive of activity.

Emblazoned in purple letters to my left a sign read, “Heart of Darkness,” challenging me, attempting to make me feel tiny, unseen, and crushed under its bold weight and sheer size.  Yet, the purple sign was the most honest part of the street: a red light district, brimming with painted women in push-up bras, silks, and floral patterns, underneath whose little girl hearts fluttered in fear and weariness. Whose eyes betrayed that they are not quiet hardened yet. And the men wafting cologne, in tropical shirts or genie pants and dreadlocks, searching for intimacy or fun and not finding either. Mere facades of confidence but mostly lonely. And the tousled children, who chase each other in the streets, giggle, or push and shove, venting knowledge far too deep and experienced in the world for souls that size.

I soaked in this street with all of my senses. My heart tightened in my chest. An all familiar voice, rising up within my spirit gently whispered, “Do you see them? Do you see these children?” And what He really meant was, “Do you LOVE them? Do you LOVE these people, because I do?”

In that moment I realized, the only emotion in me was compassion. Fear, disgust, sadness, insecurity, judgement had no room. It was a gift, and certainly not my own to keep.

That night, as I sat in a room adjacent to this street, I heard prayer after prayer requesting, “Love.” “Show them love.” “Let them know Love.” “Help them find Love.” And, I realized this street pervaded with people who misused the true meaning of LOVE but, often times, the Church does as well.

I hear the genuine prayers of ooey, gooey, coconut-filled love (sounds delish). Even I half pray the prayers of warm, cuddly, snuggly love. But, then, the compassion coursing through me knew the people in that street deserved more. I stopped being content to sit still and prayer those safe prayers with a false, surface-level love.

Nothing about this place is clean or safe. Rife with suffering, empty fulfillment, and gold-coated dross, that neon emblazoned road does not need candy-coated love. That street needs nail-scarred, fierce, consuming, passionate love.

It may appear alive but inside dwells death and decay.

You do not stare into the mouth of an abysmal, nefarious pit and gently strum your way to safety. You claw and you fight. You get messy and dirty. Love was spit on and mocked. Love had thorns beaten deep. Love bears scars. Love descended into Sheol… And came back! Love is bloody and bruised. Love is terrifying. Love is conquering. Powerful. Triumphant. Victorious. Love redeems and restores. Love is Justice and Truth.

I looked the heart of darkness in the eyes and I wanted to declare this kind of love over it.

This street overflows with people who mistake sex for love, but the Church is filled with people who mistake comfort for love.

These streets are not safe or clean, but neither is love. Love is dangerous. Love will ask absolutely everything of you. But, this kind of love is the only thing that will not leave you wanting.

With a confident, cheeky grin, this kind of love kicks in the gates of hell, storms the heart of darkness, and takes back what was stolen.

… Guess what!?! This kind of LOVE wins!

The Beggar

BoengTrabek-33As I sat on my moto in dense traffic, I breathed in my daily supply of warm carbon dioxide emanating from the exhaust pipes of the hundred droning vehicles surrounding me. I was careful enough to balance without setting my foot in the filthy puddle near the curb; cautious with the other leg to not burn myself on someone’s muffler. My black flats coated with the grim of a 3rd world city. My purse sat in the front basket with its strap firmly wound around my moto to impede any criminally ambitious passers-by.

This is where I sat when I saw him.

Wide, artificial grin permanently in place as his eyes lolled unnaturally, he surveyed the masses, his curly dark hair coated with weeks of dust from his life on the streets.  He was crazy. Whether his life on the streets, sniffing glue did it or just the way he was born, I will never know. With a sideways limp, he pushed a dilapidated wheel chair holding the form of an emaciated human, his head tilted painfully to the side with his face hidden by a traditional scarf wound to fit his head. The hot sun spent a lifetime wearing their skin into deep, dark leather.

Here in this busy street they begged.

I watched them.

Broken.

I did not want to pretend they were not there, but no part of me wanted to admit they existed.

Conflicted.

Every corner tells a similar story. Some are old grannies, weak and imploring. Some are lively boys with hair greyed from the dust of the streets, feather dusters in hand, grinning and swatting at each other. Some hold dirty babies with no pants. Some push a disabled person around.

He made eye contact. Pressing out his hands, palms up, he asked.

Shaking my head, I denied.

I wondered around what corner sat his greedy relative or pimp, taking advantage of this destitution and vulnerability. I refused to play this role of rich Westerner, fueling the very system I came to fight.

But, what if I was wrong? What if he had no one? But, if I was right; if he was being used, I would be pouring money into human trafficking.

I longed in that moment to sit with him on the side walk. Tell him his value. Help him. Some way, anyway.

There are NGO’s and programs by the millions to help people like him. Did his family know and just keep him on the streets to profit from him? Was he capable of understanding? Surely not as my limited Khmer would not do my heart language justice.

The light turned green. I revved my engine and followed the masses. He stood in the midst of them, dust billowing, with his hands on the wheel chair. Permanent grin in place.

Sorrow welled inside. I wanted to scream! To scream at everyone around me. How, how can your culture just accept this!?! You turn away from the needy and the marginalized!

I wanted to scream at him and tell him there are so many options for help here. Why is he just standing there in the sun, in the heat, in the street, pushing a half-dead person around? Living to eat and do it all over again.

I wanted to shake him and yell, “You don’t know! How can you not know how valuable you are? Why hasn’t anyone told you that you deserve more? You are made in the image of a living God and this is all your life is!?! Why has no one told you?”

And then I grew angry. Angry at my own culture. My Western, Christian culture.

Angry at everyone back home who did not see him. “They don’t want to know!” I thought.  “It would make them uncomfortable.”

I want to scream at everyone back home, “You were not made to be comfortable! You were made to bring Heaven on earth. Well, where is it? Where is Heaven? I don’t see it!”

I want to grab them by the collar and shake them. Don’t you know you were made in the image of a living God? A God who called us to change this.

Alone.

More than angry, I felt alone. The weight of the brokenness of the world bearing down on me.  I wanted to take off my helmet and throw it against a wall, throw my hands up, and weep and scream.

“Where are they, God? Where are Your people? Why are they hiding in air-conditioned, million dollar buildings with comfortable chairs?”

I see this Every. Single. Day.

I desperately groped for the balance between caring and sanity. It is a fine line.

I go home. I crawl into bed. I curl up tightly and I weep. I want so badly for arms to wrap around me and take some of the sorrow on their shoulders.

Those arms never come.

I cry out as tears fall down my face. I can’t do this! I don’t want to be numb, but I can’t feel. Not like this.

I cry to the One who was acquainted with sorrow; a man who knew depths of grief. And, I wonder. I wonder if I am alone so I can know how it feels. So I can keep seeing the invisible. The ones who have no one. I wonder if I weep into silence instead of consoling, soft words of a caring friend because in the silence I cry out to the One who can save them. The One who can redeem. The One who will redeem.

No. Gentle words and firm arms won’t make this right. Nothing will make this right because this is not right. I should never, ever be okay with this reality. No one should be okay with this reality.

The tears were like a lance to a wound. Painful, yet relieving.

I dust off my sword. I pick up my shield. I roll up my sleeves to reveal the bruises and scars. I live to fight another day. I fight, but only because the One who will save them goes before me.

***Please, please join me in fighting through prayer for the disabled and vulnerable people who live and beg on the streets of Phnom Penh. Nothing will change until enough people care to change it.

My WHY

IMG_5681 I am in the final stages and preparing to release my first published book! My publisher (Aloha Publishing) recently asked me to put down the “WHY” behind this incredible true story. After five pages of mind mapping and weeks of edits, I present, my WHY:

“How we walk with the broken speaks louder than how we sit with the great.” Bill Bennot

Papua New Guinea is known as the “Land of the Unexpected.” I marveled this truth as our zodiac zipped across the open sea. Shouting to be heard above din of motor and wind, I conversed with a former Australian Parliament Member and a former Prime Minister of PNG. They gripped tightly to the side of the vessel as we approached Daru, Western Province. On the edge of one of the world’s last frontiers, I rode an inflatable dinghy with two influential political leaders.

Just weeks earlier, the same zodiac transported me to the muddy banks of the poorest regions in the entire world. Poverty does not diminish a person’s value. Yet, so often we shrink lives down to mere numbers and statistics.

Whether I sit at the feet of the destitute, impoverished, marginalized, and unseen or in the halls of the prominent and important, birthed in me is the gift to convey truth, bridge understanding, inspire action, and preserve. Words are power. They wield life and death.

With this power is great responsibility. It is an honor and privilege to handle people’s stories. My desire is to use this gift to bring life. I do not write for the masses, the numbers. I write for the individual; the individual who deserves a voice, the individual who needs to know about them, and the individual who quietly forges his/her way into a dark corner and lights it up.

In Papua New Guinea’s delta regions, swamps, and expansive mount ranges live over 800 people groups and languages. I knew there were incredible stories in each of them, but I never knew where to start until I came across a remote, faded hospital exuding hope, resilience, and a raging battle with medical victories, losses, and every struggle in between.

If you read this book and never remember my name, but fall in love with the people of Papua New Guinea, then I will have done my job. Just remember, love involves action.

I write because I love.

The Single-Person-Food-Cycle

As I sat down to eat my 4th night in a row of the same dinner, I thought I would share what dinners are like for a single, 31-year-old woman.

As it is with many full-time volunteers, my support from donors comes in once a month. This means I have to budget everything out for the month.

I break the monthly amount for food down into 4 parts usually. While the intention is always 25%-25%-25%-25%, somehow reality is more 50%-30%-15%-5%. It is a vicious cycle. You just checked my math, didn’t you?

Week 1: The previous month ended with me barely having enough to eat, so now that I have plenty of money in the envelope. I am going to treat myself for “suffering” through last week. Plus my self-inflicted fast left me with no energy or motivation to cook. Therefore, I eat out or get take-away and go out for coffee with friends. (Keep in mind, I live in SE Asia, so eating out is not horribly expensive, however, it still more expensive than making small meals at home.)

Week 2: I feel guilty and realize how much of my food budget I blew in my first week. Additionally, all that Pad Thai take-away and coffee gave me the energy to grocery shop. I proceed to the 4 different stores and markets Cambodia requires to find all I need for a well-balanced, beneficial week. I spend my entire weekend cleaning, chopping, cooking, and making a four-star chef feel inadequate with the healthy gourmet food I “whipped up.” However, it is just me to eat this meal made for a family. So I eat a small portion of it and either freeze or refrigerate the rest. For this week, I eat the delicious, nourishing meal every… single… night.

I no longer like this meal.

Week 3: The budget is almost shot, but there is some salvage. I decide I want to accomplish something other than spending my weekend cooking and doing dishes, so I only proceed to one grocery store on a tight budget. $5 for a box of cereal, that can make at least 3-4 meals. Or I opt for the rice crackers and quickly blended hummus for dinner. Sometimes oatmeal with some frozen fruit does it.

Sitting on my couch*, I munch happily on this plain meal in a bowl that only took me a few minutes to put together.

*Keep in mind, I have a table. Week 3 meal just doesn’t merit a table.

Eating peanut butter on a long, wintery hike when I was back visiting in the States.

Eating peanut butter on a long, wintery hike when I was back visiting in the States.

Week 4: I search every bag and pocket for money. Scraping it all together, I determine I do not have enough except to replenish my toilet paper supply. Then, I go through my cupboards and try to get creative with frozen fruit, dried black beans, and peanut butter. I also lament how low my coffee bag is getting. I may not survive this week.

God forbid it is a 31 day month… I may go hungry a few evenings or stave off the hunger with a few tablespoons of crunchy peanut butter (I really don’t like peanut butter much, yet somehow I still buy it and have it for emergencies.)

I endure because I know I will start the singles-food-cycle all over again and feast like a queen in a week.

I realize in these moments, I am grateful that I do not have to be accountable for feeding a husband and child cereal for 3 nights in a row.