-jessica pittman, founder
On National Human Trafficking Awareness Day last year (January 11, 2020), I spent my time quite differently than usual: I was out of town, helping at a funeral. I was in charge of Skyping in my friend’s family, located in Cameroon, into a funeral in Turlock in honor of Margie Edmiston. (Not my “normal” funeral role, you see. Not that I have one…)
I had known Margie since I was four; she was mother of one of my life long friends, Stacey Hare. It was a beautiful service, and to appreciate it you need to know a bit about my friend Stacey. She and her family live in Cameroon and are church planters / Bible translators for the Bakoum people. This group of about 10,000 people are in a rural area of the country, and until Stacey and her husband Dave arrived several years back, did not have a written language. Now they have not just a Kwakum alphabet, but also the beginnings of a church, and Jesus is transforming their community. Stacey and I try to talk every few months and have been prayer partners intentionally for the past twenty years or more. Sometimes, I get off the phone with her and am so burdened by the stories she shares…the rape that is normal as soon as a young girl begins to hit puberty, the violence against women that is an accepted part of the culture in general, the children who are exposed to the darkest parts of humanity at way too young an age. There is a lot of brokenness and it’s been passed down for generations. Yet now they are seeing another way to live. They are are hearing of and learning to read about a God who loves them in radical ways. In their own language.
In this place, as I believe is true of every place on this planet, there are beautiful people filled with resilient joy. Beautiful like the women, men and children who have survived trafficking and exploitation; some who I’ve been walking along side for over a decade.
When Stacey’s mom passed away this past year after a 3 1/2 year struggle with cancer, Stacey traveled back to the Central Valley, where we both grew up, and spent two weeks here for the funeral. As she processed and grieved, she also happened to find out that her mom left her possessions entirely to her.
Two days after the funeral, Stacey called and asked me if we could use any clothes, jewelry, shoes (oh so many shoes) for the people we work with affected by human trafficking. In honor of Margie Edmiston, she drove down to our office in Fresno and donated all of them to the Justice Coalition and our partners. Because of so much untold history, and my friendship with Stacey and her family that led to this happening, it is hard to put into words the incredible honor and and humility I felt.
This is the way God orchestrates his kingdom work. Margie and Dan raise a daughter who dedicates her life to following Jesus. She and her husband Dave adopt four children, and become literacy workers and Bible translators in Cameroon. God uses them and a team of local leaders to bring education and hope to a village in Africa. And in the midst of this, they circle back and provide for women here in the Central Valley who have lived through trafficking and exploitation.
I started this blog about a year ago right after this all happened. I’ve returned to try to finish it a few times. We’ve managed to survive this crazy year, and lo and behold, tomorrow is National Human Trafficking Awareness day, again.
(Side note?! This one is also special, for different reasons. It’s been exactly 10 years since the Justice Coalition’s first major awareness event – Make Slavery History, our debut as an Coalition on January 11, 2011.)
I just spoke with Stacey last week, and we were talking about a few small yet meaningful ways our work has intersected. Aside from the fact that we have prayed for each other for years, the impact is also tangible. Many women I don’t know, and a handful that I do, have received something from Stacey’s mother that has in some way has made their life better. A warm, well kept jacket. A piece of nice jewelry. A dress for special occasions.
Everyone in Stacey’s community knows that after Margie passed away, her possessions were not sold for profit or put into storage somewhere. They were donated to provide for and bless women who have been bought and sold. Stacey has shared with people who are just learning about Jesus of our work here in little Fresno. She has shared why pornography is dark and harmful to everyone, and that it both fuels and masks human trafficking. She has taught others that followers of Christ live differently, and respect all men, women and children, in real life and on screens.
Hours of labor and prayer from people all over have enabled the Hare’s to start this life long work they are committed to in Cameroon. It is reaching far and wide affecting tens of thousands of people. Hours of labor and prayer from people all over have enabled the Coalition to grow from a tiny volunteer group of pastors and activists into an organization reaching tens of thousands of people.
We can do so much more through partnerships that God in his wisdom has orchestrated to grow his kingdom. He’s woven together pieces of our stories, and created new ways for those who are most vulnerable to hear about hope and freedom.
So, as you look go through your things and take donations somewhere this year, do it intentionally. (Let me be clear, the point here is not necessarily to call us!) As you think about how to use the stimulus check you may have received, pray about how you can use it to help someone else. As you wonder what you can really do about the trauma happening everywhere due to Covid-19, systemic racism and injustice, and extreme global poverty…
take a deep breath.
And then take a step, even if it seems tiny. Do one thing.
2021 has started off in our nation in a way that again highlights the dark side of humanity within our own history. Through the events that happened at the Capitol Hill (and elsewhere) this past week, we witnessed once more the behavior of people in a society that has been built upon the exploitation of others. This is not unique to the United States, friends. But, it happens to be where I live, and it’s happening now. So in more ways than one, I am responsible. WE are responsible. My hope is that as we continue living in this reality, we muster every bit of strength and courage we have and we lean in. We lament, grieve, and work to be part of real solutions. We seek God.
We ask ourselves, what does it truly look like to follow Jesus at such as time as this?
And, what does it mean to be aware of slavery and human trafficking in such a time as this?
With no easy answers,
Jessica Pittman, Founder