by jessica pittman, founder

This is the time of year that I love because we intentionally slow down our presentations and classes and do what only a certain type of person likes to do…PLAN!!! (Color coded excel sheets make this type of person happy…) This year we find ourselves in a unique season.

If you haven’t heard…as we enter a new decade in 2020, our Coalition is turning 10! We will soon be in the double digits! (The awkward pre-teen years…)

It’s a bit confusing at times, so quick history lesson. In 2006, I began planning a trip to Prague and Amsterdam with some women at my church to visit one of my favorite leaders ever – Lauran Bethell, Global Human Rights Consultant. As we planned, we looked locally to ask what was happening in Fresno in regard to this global pandemic of human trafficking. From 2006-2009, we prayed, researched, and invited experts to speak to us at ‘justice focus groups’. We led Bible studies, read International Justice Mission books together, and led round table discussions in the community and at churches. By 2010, we had a core group of passionate people who had volunteered quite a bit of time seeking to understand human trafficking in our region. But we didn’t want to just understand it – from the beginning we were action driven. We were inspired by our freedom, and distraught at the exploitation we were seeing and hearing about from people in our own neighborhoods. We could not ignore it or let it be a phase of our focus. So, we named ourselves the Central Valley Justice Coalition and began planning our first major community event, We Are One, for National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on 1/11/2011. (THROWBACK: You know you want to see this one minute video of Ryan Townsend giving you directions to the event!

We are One, 1.11.11
Artwork for our first event courtesy of Jarod Rocker

So here we are, about to enter our second decade. Ryan is on a sabbatical for a few months and we are so thankful he has this opporunity to take a breath and a break. Earlier this year, we spent a good amount of time envisioning the next five years for the Coalition. We created the first draft of document that we may eventually release publicly, sharing our bold ambitions, our hopes and our plans for 2020-2025.

By God’s grace and provision, the Coalition has been on a growth trajectory since we began. But for the first time ever, we didn’t make our $50,000 #FreedomFund19 goal. And, not by just a little….by a pretty LOUD $13,000. This will have an impact on what we can do in 2020, depending on how our year ends financially. (You can help on this one, by the way!)

“We may make our plans, but God has the last word.” (Proverbs 16:1, GNB)

We had the most speaker requests, the most students go through our programs, and great momentum in almost every area of our work, but the funding didn’t all show up like we planned, hoped, timed and prayed this October. We heard a few more no’s than we’ve heard in the past. But we heard many, many more yeses, and we are so thankful. So we’re not stopping yet, because there are over one million people in Fresno County alone who need to be empowered through education and given tools to prevent exploitation. Will you join us? Those one million people were created to be free.

As we’ve planned, prayed and listened to what we discern God to be saying for next year, we received an unexpected word.

We think it’s counter cultueral. It’s even Christ-like. Going small doesn’t mean our impact is necessarily small. It means our work is deeply rooted, sometimes it may be a bit harder to see, especially at first.

I’m thinking about a man I know with a not-so-small impact who focused on the smaller number of twelve. He changed the world.

It’s with anticipation and curiousity that I am embracing this idea. Our Coalition will shift our focus to smaller events with some new themes and activities we haven’t done yet. We’ll do some things we have done for years. But one thing we won’t do is dream small.

I hope you join us!

by Vanessa Mahlmann

I began my time with the Coalition as a volunteer 2 years ago and it has changed my life. 

I wasn’t involved with any groups or organizations at the time. I knew about the Coalition, but I did not take action until the Lord spoke to me. I had no idea what God had in store for me.

I was a homebody and allowed life to pass me by for quite some time. I grew up involved with the Salvation Army, as my grandparents were ministers for the Salvation Army. I did a lot of volunteer work in my youth and I loved it. There really wasn’t a feeling like it. To give, to receive nothing tangible back and wanting to continue doing it because you know it is the right thing to do. Somewhere between getting married, starting a family, going to school, and getting MY “priorities” in order I forgot to serve. Not just my community, but my Lord. 

And, even if you do not believe in God, you can believe that volunteering and serving others is important and good! We need to serve and give with a cheerful heart. Not just our finances (which is helpful too) but with our time. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7) The blessings that we can give and receive are innumerable as well as unimaginable. I know, because it has and still is happening to me.

Volunteering gives us a sense of purpose. Nothing brings people together like fighting for the freedom of others!  The work that Justice Co volunteers provide is essential to everyday processes. Running errands, stuffing envelopes, data entry, outreach,  teaching classes, all which gives volunteers a sense of purpose. Some of these things may seem inconsequential, but they are what it takes to prevent human trafficking. 

Volunteering may reduce stress levels. By enjoying time spent in service to others, individuals will feel a sense of meaning and appreciation, which can have a stress-reducing effect. I love, pray for, and trust our volunteers. I do my best to make sure they know how much I appreciate each and every one of them.

Volunteering ignites passion and makes us happy. Research has shown that the “feel good” hormones and brain activity spike during volunteer activities. Volunteering is also a good way to explore different interests. The Justice Co has many ways individuals can use their gifts and talents. Graphic design, mentoring, education, and event planning are just some of the ways our volunteers can serve. 

For those of you who are reading this that have helped the Coalition in any capacity, thank you! If you can’t give your time right now, when you give financially you are sharing from what you earn…every hour and every dollar matters. It’s in fact multiplied – even doubled through midnight tomorrow! Will you join us?

http://justiceco.org/donate

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

 1 John 3:18

Vanessa Mahlmann, Office Administrator

ps. volunteer orientation coming Nov 14th! Save the date!

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