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 who had no where else to go, and talked with people deported just two days before 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!)

Central Valley IICF presents us with an $8000 grant

Yesterday, March 12, we were presented with an $8000 grant from the Central Valley Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) at our office in South Central Fresno. The money will help us with our prevention programs for teens and adults for sure, but it is also a huge encouragement to know that hundreds of people from the insurance industry gave to make this grant possible! Valley businesses that provide opportunities for their employees to give charitably to local organizations are a vital part of our collective work to prevent human trafficking and exploitation.

We would like to thank the Steering Committee for the Central Valley Chapter of IICF for their hard work and dedication to raising funds to provide grants to local Community Benefit Organizations like ourselves!

Central Valley Steering Committee Leadership

Diane Carpenter, Zenith Insurance Company
Ed Clark, The Hartford
Jennifer Donato, Markel
Bob Funnell, Liberty Mutual
Sheila Ghimenti, Travelers
Christina Gomez, Relation Insurance Services
Diana Granillo, Hanover
Jody McTavish, TheHartford
Michael Osmer, SCIF
Greg Patton, Valley Regional
Tom Powell, Cal Valley Insurance
Kathy Schroeder, Sierra Specialty
Marcia Shafer, Zenith Insurance Company
Rene Swan, United Valley Insurance

The founding division of the IICF, the California Division was launched in 1994.  In 2008 the Division expanded and became the Western Division serving the Western United States. Each division determines its own grant focus areas, grant guidelines, events, and volunteer activities. The Western Division’s grant focus areas are Children at Risk, Education and Human Services. To date, as a whole organization, IICF has contributed over $31 million in local community grants!

The Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation (IICF) helps communities and enriches lives by uniting the collective strength of the insurance industry in providing grants, volunteer service, and leadership. You can find out more by visiting their website IICF.org or by searching the hashtag #insurancegivesback on social media channels.

We weren’t excited to leave our office at 487 W Shaw. We had it pretty good over there! Although less than two miles away from our previous space, we were hidden and this can be helpful in our line of work. Our gracious hosts at Aplos were growing quicker than they expected and simply needed the space they so generously gifted us, so the search was on again! Despite our reluctance to pack and haul our stuff again, we sensed God was up to something and we were on a mission to figure it out!

join us for monthly prayer!

Eventually we called Zack Darrah, Director of Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM). Fun fact – Zack and I shared an office at Fresno First Baptist for about two years, while CVJC was just beginning, and had no name…

Zack Darrah and Bounkham Nounvilaythong. Before launching CVJC, I served as a Board member and visited Laos three times partnering with Pastor Bounkham (Director of Southeast Asian Friendship Ministries, SEAFM). SEAFM and FIRM started as one organization in the 80s and divided to conquer – SEAFM focusing work in Laos and FIRM in Fresno.
2008 trip in partnership with SEAFM

Today, FIRM works with well over 10,000 refugees a year. This includes about 100 unique walk in clients a month in addition to case managers who see 500 clients a month. Although we do not know all the ways our work will intersect as we share a space off McKinley and Fresno Street, and do know a few things about how this all connects to our work as a Coalition. . . for starters,

Trafficking is an exploitation of someone’s vulnerability for personal profit.

I have had the privilege of sitting with several refugees and hearing their stories – friends from Laos and from Syria. I certainly can’t imagine a more vulnerable situation than fleeing from a war torn country, often with young children, and entering a new land where you don’t speak the language, don’t have legal status or much money, and know little about system you suddenly rely on for basic life necessities.

Zack shared from his almost five years of working with the refugee community that there are many taboo topics, and human trafficking is certainly one of them. The issue is often not discussed. Like many cases we see, people may know something unfair or bad is happening to them or those they know, but they need context. He and I worked together on a case a few years back. Zack believes that if that if he hadn’t attended some of our earliest trainings years before, he may have just thought to himself, “This guy this lady is describing is a jerk.” With education and context, he knew it sounded a lot like labor trafficking.

“We need to create pathways to services for people who do not have open doors to have these conversations in a safe place,” Darrah said.

We are honored to partner in seeking justice with the FIRM, and with the many other partners we work with.

“Justice is at the heart of why we exist,”

Darrah said. It sounded rather familiar…

Thank you for being a partner who seeks justice with our Coalition and is bringing oppression into the light!

Already over 1300 students have been educated about the dangers of human trafficking and equipped to be difference makers in their communities. Presentations at Edison, McLane, Sunnyside, Fort Miller and more have been possible thanks to your support of Central Valley Justice Coalition.

Who do you know that needs to be part of the conversation?

Send us mail! Permanent address?

Central Valley Justice Coalition

PO Box 6099
Fresno, CA 93703