Hey American Girl, Lighten Up!

Note: I started writing this on Friday, but got busy and didn’t finish it until today.

Yesterday I learned that there would be the screening of a documentary about human trafficking in Bologna: Nefarious.  Human trafficking is an issue that I have been intensely interested in ever since attending an International Justice Mission informational event at the University of Texas.

I was an usher with the Texas Performing Arts Center.  I had become an usher because a dear friend is an usher at the San Francisco Opera House.  About 6 months after my divorce, I went to visit her, and she arranged for me to work as a guest usher.  I handed out programs at one of the main doors, and got to watch La Traviata for free.  I was hooked.  Since I don’t own a television, it was a good way to get out among people and see some entertainment for free.  TPA, which is on the campus of the University of Texas, hosts operas, ballets, plays, musicals, concerts, etc.   They required that all ushers work a variety of events, and not only “entertainments.”  These included student events like commencements, workshops, and informational events like IJM, all of which we are free to choose.

When I learned that IJM was a Christian event, I signed up, even though I didn’t know what it was.  The auditorium was packed out, so I stood at the back, fascinated and horrified, and heard story after story of women kidnapped and put to work in brothels far from their homes; men who had been tricked into working off bogus debts while living captive in squalor; and even children sold into the sex trade.  There were success stories of people liberated, but clearly the vast majority had not been affected yet.  The most encouraging thing about that evening was seeing the response of the students.  I realized that only young, idealistic, committed people could ever make an impact on the trade in human trafficking.  Most people my age feel bad about the situation, but never do anything, having had our idealism beaten out of us by life.

It was only after returning to Europe as a missionary that I became aware of the prevalence of human trafficking here.  I started educating myself on the subject, reading as many books about human trafficking as I could get my hands on.  Over time, I started to notice just how many people in my city, and even in my own neighborhood, have probably been trafficked here.  It’s shocking.  A few times I have had the opportunity to talk frankly with these trafficked people, but mostly it’s not possible because they speak neither English nor Italian.  Here are a few of the different slaves I have seen:

  • The girl from China who cuts hair 15 hours a day in a busy salon that charges prices so low they can’t possibly pay her a living wage
  • The man from Sri Lanka who goes from restaurant to restaurant selling flowers, bringing all the proceeds back to his “boss”
  • The teenaged girl from Romania standing on the street corner waiting for a man to pick her up in his car and take her away for sex
  • The man from Vietnam who washes dishes in a restaurant for 12 hours a day, every day, with no day off
  • The woman from Thailand who works all day sewing, weaving, and mending in the dingy room in the back of the tailor shop

If any of these people sound familiar to you, understand that their fellow slaves are in your town, too—yes, even in the United States.  Check out the Slavery Map: www.notforsalecampaign.org/slavery-map

So that is how I became interested in human trafficking, and why I’m going to Bologna to see the screening of Nefarious.  The friend who told me about the screening is Annie, a missionary from the US.  In fact, we decided to go together.  So I booked us a hotel room because our friends there all have full houses because of the screening.  In trying once again to buy train tickets on the internet, I found that the website still didn’t work right.  I don’t live terribly far from the train station, but I am busy enough that I wasn’t happy about having to go down there to do something that, in theory, I should be able to do online.

At the first opportunity, I went to buy train tickets.  Usually I buy train tickets from the machine so that I don’t have to stand in the long line.  The machine also wasn’t working, so I went into the ticket office.  One big improvement is that there is no line now, but a machine that gives you a number instead.  That’s nice.  Now if they would just give us some chairs, things would be even better.  When my number came up I went to the window and asked for my trains.  I found that the price was slightly higher than the internet price, which might be due to being closer to the date of travel or the special priced tickets having been sold out.  Still, it wasn’t much higher than expected.

As we finished the transaction, I asked the ticket seller why the train company’s website never seems to work when it comes to buying tickets online.  He said, “If everything worked as expected, then there would be no surprises.  We Italians have learned to live with these inefficiencies.”  I replied, “I’m American, and we expect things to work as they should.”  He just smiled and said, “That’s your problem.  When things don’t work as they should, it’s trouble and chaos for you.”  That’s when I realized that God was speaking to me through this man.  It’s the same lesson He’s been teaching me since I began the Faith Trip almost 2 years ago: relax, don’t worry, and remember that God is in control of it all.

How embarrassing to have to keep learning the same lesson again and again!  I was so sure that I knew it!  In fact, I have written about not being worried about missing trains, buses, or planes: A-DivineAppointment and I-missed-the-train-but-made-it-to-the-divine-appointment, and older posts.  But I do intend to make it to the train (and the film) on time.

Thank God that He’s so patient with me!  God is good!

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