Freedom Fighting Isn’t for the Faint at Heart

It’s closing in on one year since I started working with the International Institute of Los Angeles (IILA) on collaborative anti-human trafficking efforts. As with any anniversary in my life, it’s been a period of conscious and subconscious reflection.

This journey started long before a year ago though. In many ways, this is a culmination of many events, but particularly of my experiences in seminary where I first learned about the issue of human trafficking. One of the pivotal moments in that experience was the ASHA Forum hosted at Fuller in 2009. It was an intense weekend where anti-human trafficking stakeholders came together and the event could not have been described as anything less than a “holy encounter with the things that break the heart of God.” William Wilberforce’s words lingered with me after that, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

The years (2009-2013) following that experience were intermittent with the struggle of trying to claw myself towards feeling like I was making an significant contribution to anti-human trafficking efforts. It included, but was not limited to, quitting two different positions in order to inch myself closer to the social justice world. There were more than a few broke days, lots of tears, a whole lot of prayer, and even more wondering if I was completely out of my mind, crazy.

Once May 2013 rolled around, I was beginning to feel like I knew what my role was in the movement and how I could be of service to the community. The skies seems to clear and there was a bit of reprieve, but the climb continued. The task of advocating for the creation of my role at IILA to fundraising to figuring out partners for our collaborative efforts was more than I had thought to consider. So, all of those prayers where I cried out to God asking that He use me left me wondering, “What did I ask for?!” I know that if you’ve prayed that same prayer, you’ve asked the same thing. Haha!

It hasn’t been all bad though, just long-suffering. Social justice is a long-suffering kind of love, not a hit-it-and-quit-it kind of love. A labor of love.

I’ve also had the incredible opportunity to talk about human trafficking to practically everyone I know. Whether it be on an online radio show, a Google+ hangout, a webinar, or over coffee with a friend, I like to talk and people seem to like to listen. Blows my mind. It’s a privilege, really it is.

And yet, I couldn’t seem to shake the discouragement off of my boots the past couple of weeks. Things were accelerating at my other job taking my attention from the anti-human trafficking work that I am passionate about. At the same time, the doors seemed to be closing around our anti-human trafficking collaborative efforts. Have you ever ran full-steam into a wall? Well, let me tell you, it hurts. Do that a couple of times and it will leave you feeling a little disoriented, ha.

I went on vacation, started a gratitude journal, and veraciously read two books about Jesus. Church, I was feeling desperate.

One of the books I read recently, Jesus is Better than You Imagined, really struck a chord with me in this season of life. All of the striving of the past year and it didn’t seem (to me, anyway) that I had accomplished much. What accounting could I give God for the last year? Had I not tried hard enough? Pushed hard enough? Fought hard enough? Was I even in the right place? Was I really cut out for anti-human trafficking work?

Reading Jonathan Merritt’s words about a similar season in his life gave me the first exhale that I’d had in a long time:

“For three years after I felt God’s call on my life, it seemed like every newspaper, magazine, and book publisher in America rejected me. I questioned whether I’d really understood what God was trying to say to me. Or perhaps, I reasoned, it wasn’t God’s voice at all. Maybe it was all in my head. The most difficult step in meeting God in the impossible is believing He’ll show up there.” (69, 70).

I know the feeling…

“I grow weary in waiting because I think every wait is a waste. I’m wasting time, wasting energy, or wasting my day when I could be doing something more productive. Perhaps, God sees these periods differently than I do. Maybe these times in life when I think I’m waiting, God is working. He’s forming me, shaping me, preparing me for the destiny He’s marked out for me.” (104)

Oh, yes and amen! The places that God has called me to walk are not easy places. The places where God has called you to walk are not easy places either. When I really step back and take a minute to think about it, there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with the leadership involved with what I do. There’s a lot of character that’s involved too. And it’s only in a spirit of reflection that I can see that we (aka me with a lot of God’s help) have come a long way, but we’ve still got a long way to go on this lifelong journey towards justice and peace.

Woo. I’m preaching really good to the choir now! Hang in there, freedom fighters. God’s got us. The battle is the Lord’s and we’re just joining in the march towards freedom. It’s liberating when we look at it like this. As cliché as this sounds, sometimes we really need to “let go and let God.”

You know what the best part of it is? Jonathan was right. God works on our behalf and even when things seemed like a standstill with my (our) work, God managed to breathe new life into the project. I’ll have to share more details as things begin to unfold, but I can tell you this right now: I am really excited for the ways that God is on the move. I am very much looking forward to the day when we can join together in saying, “Free at last. Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” Because that day is coming. That glorious day is coming.

As always, much love, fellow freedom fighters. Much love.

-D-

 

Introducing Malala

Photo from abcnews.com

Welcome, Dearest Reader!

You are truly in for a treat. I do not say this because I boast of my own writing or storytelling abilities. Rather, I am excited for us to take a journey together around the world to meet some of the people who are working to improve the lives of women and girls. A better world for them is a better world for us all.

This first series of blog posts will focus on a very special young lady named, Malala Yousafzai. It is my hope that you fall in love with her and her story as much as I did. May we also be inspired to take action on her behalf– and all of the others girls just like her.

Why Malala?

When the news broke that the Taliban had shot a young girl because of her advocacy for girls’ education in Pakistan, I wanted to know more about her. I had to know more. My initial questions included:

Who is she? What is her story? How can a 15-year-old be such a threat to the Taliban that it warranted shooting her? How did she become such a threat? What does her family think of her advocacy and desire for education? What is the government doing about it? What about the international community at large, including the United Nations (UN) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)?

These are the questions that guided my research into her life—and resulted in hours of reading academic journals, newspaper articles, various reports, and watching videos. I did my best to immerse myself in her world in order to better understand her and to make sure that I gave her story the dignity that it deserves.

What I have compiled here is the “tip of the iceberg” of the reality of girls’ education in Pakistan. This post will focus on introducing the macro (“big picture”) issue of educational adversity for Pakistani girls. This backdrop will be important for better understanding  the specifics of Malala’s story, which we will look at more closely next week.

The Problem

“From January 15 [2009], girls will not be allowed to attend schools” (Khan 2009). 1  This was a radio address transmitted by the Taliban’s second in command in Swat Valley, Mullah Shah Doran. In the midst of an already violent and adversarial climate, this radio address was disheartening news, especially for the Yousafzai family. Malala’s father, Ziauddin, had dedicated over a decade to educating girls. He summarized the issue this way, “In the area where I live, there are some people who want to stop educating girls with guns” (Ellick 2009). 2

This announcement came on the heels of an already diminishing female enrollment. In 2006 and 2007, more than 30 percent of girls had dropped out as a result of the radio broadcasts of militant Taliban leaders; half of the remaining girls dropped out or could not go to school because of the subsequent attacks on their schools and colleges (Khan 2009). 1

The most recent reports from Unicef and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have shown that the problem of girls’ education in Pakistan persists. Pakistan has the second largest population of children out of school—approximately 5.1 million (Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work  2012, 9). 3  On average, the poorest Pakistani girls are educated three years less than their male classmates and one year less in urban areas (Children in an Urban World  2012, 7). 4

Why is Education for Girls so Important?

In 1989, the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) established education as a basic human right. Article 28 recognized the right of every child to primary education and accessibility to secondary and higher education (Convention on the Rights of the Child  1989, 13). 5  Fundamentally, girls’ education is a human rights issue.

Research since 1989 has indicated it is not only a matter of human rights, but economic welfare as well. This type of investment in girls is considered to be profitable by those in the global community– ranging from leaders at the World Economic Forum and World Bank as well as prominent businesspeople (Murphy, Belmonte, and Nelson 2009, 4). 6  The return on investment is proving to be significant and to have far reaching effects. Today’s girls will shape the competitiveness of tomorrow’s labor force (Levine et al. 2008, 1). 7

UNESCO statistics show that Pakistani women with a high level of literacy earned 95% more than women with no literacy skills; the differential for men was only 33% (Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work  2012, 17). 3  Pakistan’s future economic growth hinges on how well it can utilize the female work force during its productive age (Levine et al. 2008, 1). 7  When girls are denied access to education and skill building, girls are not the only ones who are disadvantaged.

What is good for Pakistani girls is good for everyone in Pakistan.

Until Next Time…

This was merely a snapshot of the “who” and the “what” questions concerning Malala’s story. I hope this post whet your appetite to learn more! Next week’s post will focus on “how” and “why” she became a notorious target for the Taliban. Our understanding of all of these questions will serve to inform us on how we can best aid Malala in her fight for educational equality in Pakistan.

  1. Khan, Nasir. 2009. Taliban Bans Education for Girls in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. The Washington Times, January 2, 2009 [] []
  2. Ellick, Adam B. 2009. Class Dismissed. The New York Times []
  3. Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work. 2012. In The EFA Global Monitoring Report, edited by P. Rose. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization [] []
  4. Children in an Urban World. 2012. In State of the World’s Children, edited by A. Aslam and J. Szczuka. New York: Unicef []
  5. Convention on the Rights of the Child. 1989. United Nations []
  6. Murphy, Shannon, Wivinia Belmonte, and Jane Nelson. 2009. Investing in Girls’ Education: An Opportunity for Corporate Leadership. Cambridge: Harvard Kennedy School []
  7. Levine, Ruth, Cynthia Lloyd, Margaret Greene, and Caren. 2008. Girls Count: A Global Investment & Action Agenda. Washington D.C.: Center for Global Development [] []