Partnership is the best way

 November 2, 2012 by glendyne

One of the greatest joys in my work is to partner with some wonderful people who are working on the same thing as me:   putting an end to the sexual exploitation of women and children in Canada.  Julia Beazley of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is one of these people.  Julia works as a policy analyst  in Ottawa, championing the needs of marginalized and oppressed people.  However, policy analyst doesn’t tell the full story.  She doesn’t just analyze policies; she is personally involved in the lives of the people she works to help.  Her up close and personal knowledge makes her a great analyst.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) hosts a day every year for the heads of all their partner denominations and organizations.  The day includes presentations on issues that affect evangelicals.  I had the wonderful privilege to present, along with my partner Julia, at this event.  The following was my part of the presentation.  Stay tuned for Julia’s presentation that will follow in this blog.

EFC

October 18, 2012

Thank you to the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada for the privilege of standing before you today and for its partnership in this issue.  Since our relationship began a year and a half ago, it has been one of the great joys of my ministry years to work alongside high caliber people like Julia, Don and Bruce on behalf of exploited women and children.

I also say “thank you” to my denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada.  The heritage of our family of churches is one of justice and compassion ministries and I’m grateful for this DNA running through my veins.

I am here today to tell you some of my story, the story of Defend Dignity and ultimately God’s story of his work in delivering the weak and the needy, rescuing them from oppression and violence here in our wonderful country of Canada.

I’m a middle aged, middle class, average woman living on an average street in Regina, SK.   I grew up in a great home, married a wonderful man and have three super kids, all grown and married now themselves.  I was never abused, had all my basic needs met as a child and was given all the opportunities and privileges of a white girl born in Canada.  Maybe except for skin color, I’m probably not unlike many of  you!

So, why have I decided to be involved in the issue of the abolition of prostitution?

My wake up call started about 15 years ago with my own quiet times with Scripture and the Holy Spirit.  Do you ever have those times when it seems as if the words were written just for you?  It often seemed to my eyes that many of the verses to do with justice were marked with a highlighter pen.  They started jumping off the pages right to my heart.  It seemed that God had a whole lot more interest in the poor, marginalized and oppressed than I did.  I knew I needed to change that.  I started to pray Micah 6:8, ….and what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk  humbly with your God.”  asking the Lord to reveal to me who it was he wanted me to show justice and mercy to.

Thinking I had lots to learn, I also started to read more books on justice like Irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborne,  and The Hole in our Gospel by Richard Stearns.  I started to keep my eyes open for a way that I could get involved in making a difference here in Canada.   One day reading our local newspaper, I saw that our City Food Bank needed volunteers in their front office.  I decided it was time to get my feet wet and put some of my head knowledge into action and   I  figured there would be poor, marginalized and oppressed people at the Food Bank and I was right.  My job at the Food Bank was to register new clients and though it was not required, often they would pour out their stories of how they ended up needing our services.  It was there I met a prostitute for the first time.  I remember being surprised that she looked like any of the other many women who came through our doors.  I also remember being displeased with the other workers who were whispering about her as she walked away.  She was simply a woman in need.

Fast forward a couple years later, and I knew that I had to use all my influence – however small it was – to make a difference beyond just volunteering at the Food Bank.  At the same time this was going on with me, our C&MA family of churches was being called back to our roots of justice and compassion ministries and all of us in leadership were being encouraged to get involved in a justice issue.  All this time, I kept praying Micah 6:8 still feeling like there was more God was wanting of me.

Then I met Trisha Baptie through a mutual pastor friend in BC.  Trish is a former prostitute from Vancouver’s DTES with a winsome personality and an incredible story of tragedy and triumph.  Trisha worked with many of Robert Pickton’s victims.  You don’t hang around Trisha for long before you’re compelled to consider the realities around prostitution in Canada.

As I read through reports and stories she sent me, especially as they related to First Nations women, the Spirit convicted me personally that as a leader within our denomination this was an issue I needed to get involved in, that our Alliance churches needed to get involved in and Defend Dignity was birthed.

God had answered my prayer in response to Micah 6:8.  This is who I was to show justice and mercy to.  Be a voice for the women in prostitution here in Canada.

Psalm 82:3,4 says,

Defend the weak and the fatherless;

uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.

Rescue the weak and the needy;

deliver them from the hand of the wicked

A few weeks ago, I was standing on a street corner in my city of Regina in the neighborhood called North Central, talking to a young, cold, and hungry woman.    She was hoping to sell herself that night in order to make enough money to return to the city she came from to see her children again.   She had been robbed and the only recourse she felt she had to earn money was to sell herself.

After buying her dinner and hearing more of her story, I pled with her not to return to the street corner but allow us to drive her to the home she was staying in, praying with her before we dropped her off.

While a meal, a hug, a prayer and a ride home are something, it really felt like I was applying a tiny bandaid to a case of terminal cancer.

How is it that only 15 minutes away from my front door in a comfortable neighborhood, a woman sees herself as a commodity to be bought and sold because she has no other option?  How is it that our laws in Canada on this issue do not protect the most vulnerable and marginalized?  How is it that the global issue of human trafficking is gaining air time in our churches, but the same issue here in our own country receives little attention from evangelicals?

Part of my work to raise awareness in our churches across the country is to network with as many leaders of non profit organizations, researchers and government personnel working on the issue as I can.  These front line workers and educators are invited to participate in the Information Forums we are hosting in churches.  Defend Dignity has built bridges to these people in every province except the Atlantic region so far.  A few weeks ago in Winnipeg, I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with Diane Redsky who is the Project Chair for the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution in Canada.  I sat on the edge of my seat as she listed off the members of the task force, hoping I would hear the name of a church or faith based group that would be at that table.  It saddens me that I didn’t.  You see, I believe – and I know you do too – that Jesus is the hope of the world and the Church, empowered by the Spirit, is sent to penetrate the dark places.  We need to be part of the solution.

I am so grateful for the favor God is giving us as we dialogue with stake holders on the issue.  I am working with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, having met with the interim provincial Chief and the head of their Women’s Commission.  They seem eager to partner with us as they are fully aware of the magnitude of the problem with their women and children being the most victimized.

On October 30, I will have a meeting with the MB Justice Minister, a man who has championed the needs of sexually exploited women and children in his province.

These meetings and those we have had in partnership with EFC in Ottawa with MPs from different Parties are bringing good results.  As church people hear of this work, they are becoming engaged by writing letters and visiting their MPs and considering ways they can be part of the solution in their communities.

The Information Forums we host provide opportunities for people to actually write letters to their MPs at the end of the evening.  One of the MPs we met with on Parliament Hill in March admitted he was uninformed about prostitution realities and our laws until meeting with some of our Alliance people in his constituency office and then with us in his Ottawa office.  He has become convinced that Canada needs law reform and actually stood to his feet at the parliamentary breakfast hosted by Defend Dignity and EFC a few months later and encouraged his colleagues to get on board.   Our work of raising awareness in our churches is working.

Here’s our latest in a series of videos.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Wwlsm7V-RY&feature=player_embedded. This one is about the Forums.

The Forums are gaining support and we hope you & the denomination that you represent can attend one of these Forums in the coming year.

We are currently producing a church tool kit which will provide further means to educate and engage our churches.

My prayer is that the evangelical organizations represented in the room today will join us in defending the dignity of every woman and child in Canada.  If we hope to convince parliament that Canada needs prostitution law reform, we need all of us to get involved.  The videos, website and all the resources we’ve produced are yours for the taking and using.  We have purposely made them as generic as possible so that people outside the C&MA can find them useful.

In my husband’s role as District Superintendent for our part of Canada, we get to travel to some faraway places like Nunavut way up north.  The 2nd largest town in Nunavut is Arviat, right on the shores of Hudson Bay where we have a growing Alliance congregation.   You can only fly, snowmobile, or dog sled into this community or when the ice is out for a few months of the year, take a barge.  It is a trip I will not soon forget. Visiting this church 2 years ago, I met one of many women in this town who are prostituted by family members.   You were introduced to her in the video you just saw by the name of Sarah.

Joanne and her sister, Sarah come from a poverty stricken home.  Joanne was taken from her parents earlier in her life by her grandmother, but Sarah lived with her mom and dad.  When her dad needed money, Sarah would be offered to people over the local CB radio.  People would pay for her to have sex with them, and her father would take the money.  Now that the father is dead, Joanne and Sarah’s younger brother has carried on the family tradition.  He sells his sisters over the local radio and if they refuse he gets angry and yells at them until they comply. Sarah had her new house destroyed by this brother.  Sarah and Joanne keep part of the money, but most of it still goes to their brother.

These stories and so many more like them call out to us as Christ followers.   Who will stand up for what is right if we don’t?  They call out to us as the church.  We cannot walk away.   Who will stand up for what is right if we don’t?  Would you consider what your denomination can do?  Will you join me and defend the dignity of the least of these?