This here bringer of the pooper to the fun party

Oh no, dooce found Jesus

My jet lag upon returning from Southeast Asia has been much more difficult to combat than when I arrived on foreign soil, something I attribute to the excitement of the trip and adrenaline-laced trepidation at what we might witness. All four of us—Roo, Kristen, Jamie and myself—had weeks of conversation leading up to the trip, and now that we’re back I am so grateful for the friendships we forged as we help each other process not only the fatigue but the emotional kick in the face. What downtime we thought we were going to have on the ground got consumed by meetings, appointments, and debriefings that popped up unexpectedly, traffic that sprawled miles in every direction, and some uncomfortable powerpoint presentations that had a few of us averting our eyes.

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We saw and heard and smelled and feasted on so many experiences in those five short days that part of our communication now involves tracking where we were on what day, what town we were in on a certain night, the hard details about minimum wages, hourly fees, and laws about prostitution. Kristen has already written an excellent account of the night we hired two sex workers to interview them about their lives, and Roo’s piece on going to a brothel and exchanging a bracelet with a sex worker named May is simply heartbreaking. Jamie’s post on the delicate line we walk when writing about what we saw captures so perfectly how each of us wants to honor these victims and the people we met who are fighting to free them in the most powerful yet reverent way possible. I think that even in these initial posts you’ll understand the scope of what we’re trying to wrangle.

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……

I mentioned when I announced that I was going on this trip that I was worried about the Christian beliefs of its founders, not in the sense that I don’t want to be associated with Christianity, no. I was worried that this organization might be one that offers its humanitarian services only in exchange for listening to their Christian message, a practice I regard, frankly, not only as distasteful but downright repugnant. That worry couldn’t have been more unfounded. In fact, The Exodus Road does not subscribe to that model in any way. On the last day of our trip I was talking with the founder Matt Parker who articulated exactly what I had witnessed the previous four days. He said, “If you read the Bible, if you study the person that Jesus was when he walked the earth, you’d understand that there was never a trade or a cost for his service. He fed and he clothed and he healed because he loved. He didn’t require anyone to accept a message or make a promise before he administered any help. He served because that is what good humans do for other humans.”

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And then I, the atheist, offered to him, “I think that if the Jesus you read about in the Bible were on the earth today he’d be doing the work that your team is doing. His message is that agnostic undercover investigator who collects evidence in brothels, it’s that Buddhist man housing 40 abused children, it’s that Hindu counselor who offers psychotherapy to rescued girls. I can tell my readers I found God.”

……

Last Saturday afternoon we toured a house furnished and run by Jeremy and Jen Kraus of Thrive Rescue that offers safe refuge to girls and boys under the age of 18 who have been sexually trafficked and exploited. The Exodus Road invited them to join their coalition because of the way they approach this aspect of search and rescue: aftercare.

Aftercare is the less glamourous, less thrilling side of search and rescue. There are no car chases or raids or undercover operations. There’s no high-tech equipment or close calls or covert photography. In fact, there’s a lot of boring administrative work, forms to fill out, permits to file. But its importance in the overall fight against human trafficking is just as vital. In fact, its importance cannot be overstated. What happens to the girl who can’t return home because her mother was the one who sold her into slavery? What happens to the boy who was sold by his father into child pornography at the age of seven? What happens to the girl who has no education and whose only job opportunity is the commercial sex trade?

Thrive believes that caring for these individuals is about so much more than offering a place to sleep. It’s about offering them hope as well, and they do so by providing education, ongoing therapy and counseling, job training, and community outreach. In sum, they aren’t just offering a roof to keep them dry, they are offering a loving family.

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Jeremy and Jen used to run a ministry back in the states, and after a few hours of talking to them about their work, about how they are striving to raise the quality of aftercare throughout the region by example, I got an itch that just had to be scratched and asked if they required the children in their home to study Christianity.

I was grateful that neither of them were offended by my question and was even a little surprised by Jeremy’s proud response.

“We are here for one reason: freedom. Freedom.” He held up his index finger to emphasize this. “These kids… before they came to live in the home, they had none. If we forced any of them to study a certain religion we’d be taking it away from them again, and we just will not do that. We do not believe that’s right.”

I had at that point participated in two days of undercover operations in brothels and had spent one long evening on a surveillance mission. Rarely had any of us gotten to bed before 3AM, so I was a little tired and emotionally raw, enough to turn to both of them and apologize in a hoarse and teary voice. I was sorry that I had come to them with a stereotype in my head, sorry that I had toured their home with even the slightest lingering doubt. I was sorry, so sorry, and so humbled that there I was sitting next to them, people who are actually changing the world for lost boys and girls, people who are restoring dignity to children who aren’t even old enough to understand the loss of their own innocence. How honored I was to witness that level of love and devotion.

……

I still have so much to write about and will continue to tell these stories (plus I took over 80 gigs worth of photos), but this is what came out of my fingers when I sat down today to type. I know many of you are wondering what you can do to help, and I am going to offer some very specific ideas early next week.

Some of you have also wanted me to address the human trafficking that happens on American soil. Laura Parker wrote specifically about this issue last week on the blog at The Exodus Road, and her knowledge of this issue both globally and domestically is well worth a read.

So much more to come.

  • Danielle

    That was the most refreshing thing I have read in a very long time. Coming from a similar background as you, and wary of all forms of Christianity, you articulated what belief should mean and what I haven’t been able to express before. Its love, and freedom – and knowing there are people out there making such a difference to peoples lives is incredibly humbling and inspiring. Thank you.

  • Thank you.

  • Carolyn Wiley

    The words you write the things they said, the work being done, resonates with real Love. Thanks for sharing so honestly. What you saw/ experienced dovetails with the documentary/book ‘Half The Sky’ by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Explosive stuff.

  • Amy Gomoljak

    Thank you Jeremy, Jen, Matt, and everyone at Exodus Road and Thrive Rescue, for giving so many people the opportunity for a brighter future. And thank you, Heather, for sharing your experience with us. It’s so inspiring to see how these people are changing lives.

  • Leigh

    I’ve been following your journey and those of the women who went with you, and all of it has been touching and sad and eye-opening, but the picture of the bunk beds . . . with the princess stickers and cartoon sheets . . . my heart just broke in a thousand pieces. Thank you for bringing our attention to these wonderful resources, to these amazing people who live to serve, and to these precious children who deserve the best life.

  • Laura M.

    Heather, you are my hero.

    I have a new found level of respect for you for doing this at all, let alone with two young daughters of your own. It’s got to be a sucker punch that hits way too close to home. I honestly can say I don’t think I could have done anything like this when my kids were young.

    The part that really puts a smile on my heart in the example you are setting to us your readers. Instead of sitting at home behind a computer and judging the world from your keyboard (something I have NEVER done :-), you are doing something. And though this process you are changing you. You can’t help but grow into a better person because of this. What greater gift can you give than to share your struggles and transformation? It teaches others that they can change themselves and in doing so make the world a better place one person at a time. Which is the only way the world can change.

    By being compassionate, you teach compassion. I guess much like your friends Jeremy and Jen. Thank you for that.

  • Dana B

    Thank you to everyone mentioned in this post for being an example of what all humans should strive to be.

  • I love you so much.

  • GP

    Heather, I admire you so much for using your blog as a platform to advance this group’s mission! For a long time I have wanted to get involved with an organization that does this type of work, but have always been hesitant because I don’t really know how it’s run behind the scenes. Your inside look has given me enough information to set aside those concerns and get involved. I am very much looking forward to hearing how I can help early next week! Again, THANK YOU. The world needs more people like you!

  • I absolutely love that you gave such attention to the ministry of aftercare, despite its lack of sexiness and adrenaline. The rescues are in vain if we don’t help these precious people heal and create a new life that’s safe.

  • Lovelyn Palm

    i came here to learn more about The Exodus Road and what they are doing. i appreciate what i’ve learned so far and i look forward to continuing to read your accounts. just wanted to say though, that i’m inspired by your graciousness and humility.

  • Roo Ciambriello

    What Jamie said.
    Seriously, Heather. Incredible. xoxo

  • Heather, your grace and compassion and vulnerability are inspiring. INSPIRING. Thank you for giving such honor to these stories. We are so grateful to be walking alongside people like you in this.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing this to light.

  • Miranda Lawrie

    Freedom. That brought tears to my eyes. Thank you. A thousand times, thank you.

  • Jan

    That picture of the bunk bed hit me hard. That is a bedroom for a little child. Oof.

  • Jen Wilson

    It brings me joy to see people shining a light on human trafficking so that we can rescue these girls and boys. Thank you for your willingness and open-mindedness. I look forward to reading more of your posts about your experiences there. 🙂

  • Leona Laurie

    I can so relate to your worries about enforced Christianity, Heather. I think I was past 30 the first time I met a Christian activist whose passion for community building and healing her home town were motivated by her faith and whose demonstration of Christianity in action actually looked like she was following Jesus’ example without an additional agenda. I would have brought the same prejudice to that home, and I would have cried the same repentant tears. Thanks so much for sharing your experience & the good work that’s being done. And thanks for contributing to the good work!

  • Saskia Wishart

    What Joy said – it is so refreshing when individuals focus less on the ‘sexy’ side and more on acknowledging the reality of the day-to-day hard work that comes with the job. Building a life after the drama of rescue, that is a long and difficult road but so needed.

  • Constance Hammond

    Jesus Christ is real, and is returning soon. I also once believed that God did not exist. Yet, once a person feels that overwhelming love in their heart, there can be no denying. Keep up the good work.

  • Lauren3

    Heather, The Exodus Road could not have picked a better person to chronicle and bring attention to their work and the circumstances of the women they’re helping. I can feel the reverence in your words. To say I’m inspired is an understatement. And I’m learning so much. I’m on the edge of my seat. Much love to you.

  • Karen

    Thank you for having the courage to rethink your own stereotypes. We could all stand to do this.

  • Chantell

    May you find Jesus at least once more, on the day when he brings his justice to bear once and for all on the evil that drives this darkness in the first place.

  • scoutsadie

    One can feel “overwhelming love in their heart” and still “deny” (or better said, not believe) that there are any gods. I do, after years of being a Christian.

  • @BiancaOlthoff

    I work for The A21 Campaign, a global anti-trafficking org, and I’m SO grateful for your voice. Thank you for using your words for good… for freedom. (With my index finger in the air) FREDOM.

  • Ashley

    Thanks so much for this post. I’m so encouraged to hear the hearts behind The Exodus Road. This is a mission that is very important to me as well and I’m eager to find ways to get involved . Thank you for telling the story beautifully and honestly. This is just the sort of work that Jesus did while on earth.

  • Beautiful, Heather. <3

  • chiquita

    Wow, Heather, thank you for bringing us into this world in your trademark honest and open way. What makes me so full of rage and sadness is that we live in a world where girls/women have so few options that they can get caught in a web that they see no way out of. In an ideal world, these amazingly giving people who are working to pick up the pieces would not be needed.

  • Tami in NY

    Me too….These posts are very hard to read but I will continue to educate myself and those around me. Keep up the good work Heather!! You are touching so many more than just your readership as we go out and talk about this to our friends who may not read your blog.

    I also feel the same way about Christians preaching when they should be leading by example instead.

  • This brought me to tears, Heather. Thank you so very much. Kristen Howerton & Jamie are personal friends of mine. I love them. I love what they do in this world. I’m proud of all of you for working together on this project. THANK YOU.

  • This is a church I want to belong to: striving to be a good human that helps other humans. The end.

  • Kate

    Exactly. That picture truly is worth a thousand words. Heartbreaking.

  • Love this!

  • Crystal M

    So I am a little confused as to whether the Gospel is shared with the people you are helping.

  • BradBuenov

    I used to think Jesus would come back and magically make everything OK, and send all those nasty non-Christians to hell for eternity. I still believe in Jesus, but I no longer concern myself with some magical mystical future. I’m concerned about here, now, today. I think Jesus wants US to be justice, and serve others. What happens in the future is not my concern.

  • BradBuenov

    Who cares if Jesus is coming. The problems are here, now, today. If your love for Jesus means anything, focus on today, not some pie in the sky. Love isn’t a future event.

  • BradBuenov

    Was thinking the same thing.

  • A dear friend, nickname Pu, works with Thrive Rescue now. She used to be a working girl, and now she goes back all the time to work to get other girls out. Thank you for telling their story.

  • John

    I am so happy you found them in line with your standards.

  • Dandru

    “Roo, Kristen, Jamie and myself”

    That should be “Roo, Kristen, Jamie and I.” People misuse the word “myself” all the time. It’s a reflexive, so it can only be used reflexively.

  • Jessica

    Heather…these posts about your experiences with the sex slave industry are the most moving posts I’ve read here in the more than 10 years Ive been reading your blog. Thank you for the work you are doing.

  • Karen

    It appears that you have grown so much in the past, couple of years. To have an open mind and an open heart is a wonderful way to live your life. I have really appreciated all the womens’ posts about their experience with Exodus Road. I plan to read every, single word and not turn away.