By Jessica Pittman

Sometimes no story is really the best story we can tell

– Ryan Townsend

Yesterday one of our staff participated in a round table discussion for caregivers of foster youth. She discovered that one of the people at the discussion had been trained by us about two years ago when they were on staff at a local middle school.

This person shared that thanks to the staff training and youth programs that we’ve been consistently running at their school, that year they immediately started to see an increase in kids recognizing red flags before they turned into exploitation. 

Several kids told the staff that they had planned to meet a person they didn’t know at a bus stop. They had met this person online. However, because they were in our youth program #Not a Number, these students realized the potential danger and chose not to go.

This is a huge win! This means what we’re all doing together MATTERS. And we know without a doubt there are many many stories like this, probably more than we know.

We are now entering the final week of our Freedom Fund and we need your help to run more programs and provide more training in the future! Every dollar up to $22,000 is doubled so now is the time to give and maximize your impact. Every gift, large or small makes a difference. Every dollar counts because every person is valuable and deserves to be free!

Check out the infographic below to see how the impact of Freedom Fund during the last five years.

Recently when preparing to co-preach on a Freedom Sunday, I was asked, “How have you sustained this work the past twelve years?” In preparation to respond to this during our message, I spent time reflecting on this familiar passage. I’ve known the story for years, since I was a kid. Now, it speaks to me in a deeply profound way; a new way that only comes when God’s Spirit is moving…

In Exodus 14, we find the story of the Israelites, recently freed slaves from Egypt, camping out in the desert. Plague after plague had finally driven Pharoah to free his workforce and allow the Israelites to escape, so they could find their own land, and worship their God. But, right after freeing them, Pharoah changed his mind.

“We have let them get away, and they will no longer be our slaves!” (Exodus 14:5, CEB)

So Pharoah sends all his chariots and all his horses and pursues them relentlessly. He remembered what he’d known all along; the thing that kept him from releasing them sooner: How would they profit as a nation without exploiting the Israelites?

So these people, the Israelites, having been through years of trauma from their slavery in Egypt, were finally free, but it was a fresh, raw, new freedom that hadn’t even really begun to sink in yet. In this moment, they look to their past, back towards the place they were exploited for years, and see their former slaveholders agressively chasing them. With hundreds of the best chariots. With way more wealth and resources than they had. (They had basically nothing. They were camping, completely homeless in the desert…)

The scripture says they were terrified. Understandably so. The word vulnerable almost seems to be an understatement of their situation – following Moses in the desert into an unknown land with no food, no home, and no protection against their enemies. They were so afraid that they blamed Moses (who led them into their freedom) and accused him of bringing them into the desert to die.

It would have been better for us to stay slaves.

And what did Moses say in response to this, to these accusations and to them chosing slavery over the risk of true freedom?

“Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the Lord’s salvation…”

I think Moses knew this would be a difficult, near impossible journey. I am certain he knew that without God they would never find freedom – they would easily be captured again. They weren’t strong enough on their own to step completely away from their former life into what God was planning for them. Moses’ words to them in Exodus 14:14 is a constant reminder to me that God is the one who ultimately does the fighting. He is the one who leads us into true freedom from whatever it is that keeps us enslaved.

For those of us who are fighting human trafficking, we can work ourselves to exhaustion fighting this global issue. It never stops. Around the clock, people are treated horrifically. If we want to change that and be part of bringing freedom, it takes a level of energy and effort that is supernatural. I believe it only comes from God.

We can sometimes start to think that we are the ones leading the fight, or even that we’re alone in our fight. But God invites us to be still. In that stillness, he reminds us that he calls us by name and loves us with a radical love beyond our comprehension. He invites me to clear space in my life so he can speak and bring true freedom – for those enslaved, for me, for you.

It’s our 6th year inviting people – you! – to join us by giving your own money so we can continue this freedom fight.

When we come together and generously release our own financial resources, we share our freedom. We are part of what the Lord uses to fight for others. He is always doing something, and I believe this year, during #FreedomFund2019, he is inviting us back into the desert, to clear some space, because he’s doing something new….

Do you see it?

written by Jessica Pittman, photos by Jessica, Ryan Townsend, Christa Wiens and Brenda Zavala (Justice Coalition Mexico Team)

I’ve been thinking about this trip, this 4 day whirlwind in Tijuana Mexico, and how to make sense of it all. Our team went to train the Border Church in our preventing trafficking workshops. We went in as professionals in human trafficking education from the Central Valley, but simply as learners in the nation of Mexico, especially in this border city. We sat with migrants seeking asylum and talked with people who were deported just two days before with no money or job or way home. We put politics aside (because I for one know I don’t have the answers to those questions) and went to love people, to share what we have learned and see where that took us.

preventing trafficking and exploitation in Mexico is not like it is here, and yet, it totally is.

How is it different? Even though I traveled overseas regularly in my 20s, it has been about ten years now since I’ve left the United States. Although I absolutely know better, I easily take our priveledge here for granted. In regards to our Coalition’s prevention work especially, it was the reminder that I need once in awhile. “Does the Mexican government help with any food, resources or cash aid for the people who need it in Mexico? What about for the some 8000 migrants seeking assylm who end up living on the streets in Tijuana, because they cannot return to their homes and have no where else to go?” The Pastor, who has worked in Tijuana for almost 9 years, and now runs a day center on the border, laughed. “In our dreams!”

These issues are the same because whether a person is vulnerable because they are fleeing a war torn nation, gang violence or poverty in Central America, or they are running away from gang violence, poverty and abuse in the Central Valley of California, they all end up dangerously vulnerable. They don’t know who they can trust. They have to take a risk, it’s their only hope for a better life. Sometimes it’s their only hope for survival. Sometimes they risk it all and lose, and not just money or time, but their own lives. After living through trauma, we sometimes end up searching and risking it all for something better, so we can find freedom and bring hope to our kids. Many have been abused or exploited for so long so the trauma is normal, and freedom is a dream they know is worth risking everything for.

esperanza

Sunday morning, we gathered and were part of leading the service at the San Diego/Tijuana Border with the Border Church. They meet every Sunday during the last thirty minutes that the wall gates are opened. The service is bilingual, faciliated through translation on the USA side and Mexico side at the same time. It was simple. It was powerful. Tears flowed freely, because as humans we find much to divide us. In Christ, we are one.

la sangre de Christo, dada para ti | The blood of Christ, given for you

Jesus is the hope of the world.

today, i ate lunch with a survivor of human trafficking here in Fresno, and i shared with her some of what i learned in Tijuana. That many say the women caught in human trafficking in la Zona Norte (the red light district where prostitution is legal) really have no way out if they want to survive. My friend asks the obvious question.

how can you begin to make a dent in a problem like that?

– local human trafficking survivor

#love resists

I’ve been wondering and contemplating what #loveresists meant to person who wrote this. For me now, it reminds me how to make a dent.

Love resists. It resists letting our differences divide us. It resists us letting the humanity of others in desperate crisis be irrelevant to our lives. It resists being so comfortable in our own homes, our own churches, our neighborhoods and our own jobs that we forget the brokeness of our neighbors. It resists deciding who our neighbors should be, when Jesus has already told us. “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).

They will soar on wings like eagles. (Isaiah 40)

So to our partners who are doing the work, day in and day out, in a neighbor country that is forever connected to ours, you are the ones we honor, celebrate and thank.

As for the problems?

“it is too much”. -local pastor.

I heard those words and saw it in your eyes. I feel it. Know that we are with you, and we commit to not forget what you have shown us. (We confess we are human and we will struggle to remember sometimes.) And for you we pray, “Those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strenght. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31

reflections from Jessica Pittman, Founder

“Often you learn the most from people you have absolutely nothing in common with.

Although it’s now been a good fifteen years or so since I started working with youth in challenging neighborhoods in Fresno, nothing reminds me how privileged I was growing up than spending evenings at the juvenile justice center. I spend it with these incredible young women who are resilient and strong in ways I hope I never have to be. And so yes, as an adult now I’ve experienced some trauma and have my own stories, but I can never underestimate the value of a safe and love filled childhood. I wasn’t the girl being described to me recently who would sometimes hide in a closet and cry and cry and cry

wanting to end my life before it even began because I didn’t know what else to do after being beaten so many times by my parents. The parents, the ones who define normalcy for a child too often tragically take it away, because it’s all they know how to do as well, and their tears and this fear becomes these kid’s earliest memories. It becomes their reality, their space in which they are trapped and all they want to do is escape.

And so they find themselves locked up, time and time again, and they can verbalize it: all they still want to do is escape. The pain is not immediate and physical now but it runs so deep that it’s part of them and all they’ve really known.

So we did this session called “My Life, My Choice” with these girls for about eight weeks. The title is ironic when you really consider how few real choices these kids have had in their short lives. Where they grew up, how their parents (if they knew them) treated them, if they had food in the house to eat, who came in and out and taught them about exploitation and survival at an early age using a very different language than the way I just wrote it.  But we tell them what they also already know; they do have important choices to make, and what they don’t always realize is how much each one matters.

There are these brilliant smiles and sparkles in eyes. There are outbursts of laughter and while often at the wrong moment, completely and ridiculously inappropriate, it’s contagious! It’s a release of this powerful energy of girls who are now being poured into, empowered, and given tools so they can change the trajectory of their future. Let’s be honest: the odds are completely against them. Many of them, stepping out of juvenile hall, are immediately worse off, in more danger, and sent back to the ones whose relationships may seem like love but are toxic.

On the days when I think clearly, I take comfort in the fact that I cannot solve these problems. They are too enormous. I have for two decades wrestled with poverty and injustice and how it manifests in Fresno. How it discriminates. And not just in Fresno but in this huge world…and the more years I live the more questions and the more ideas I have about how we as a church can live our true identity as Light.

So today, I am so proud and grateful to be part of a team that has, after a two-year involuntary break, re-entered juvenile justice center to humbly offer hope.

To talk honestly about the choices kids do have and how they can really use them to their overall advantage, for their future.  To look directly into their eyes and say, “you’re too valuable for this, you’re worth more, and don’t ever forget it when you leave these walls”. To write in their journals about what gifts and beauty I have seen glimpses of in a few short weeks and to leave a phone number that if and when they choose to use it, I know they will find help. The help won’t come as a simple solution, but it can be found.”

If you want to pray specifically for this team, please email me at jessica@justiceco.org. We are planning to share specific weekly requests for our next session, and desperately need a team of prayer people to join us!

We are also looking for donations and sponsors for these programs going as well, specifically for our youth programs we need pizza, candy, and snack donations. If you can help or want to know more please contact marissa@justiceco.org

would you like to sponsor our next pizza party or know a pizza place that would? contact Mariss@justiceco.org (we have two more on the calendar for 2019!)