What a busy week it’s been.
My brain has not stopped to rest. My heart feels as if it’s about to break into a million pieces. And my body just wants to do MORE. I want to help MORE. All of us feel this way. My friends/teammates are all responding differently:
Prudence is having dreams in Russian, which is interesting since she doesn’t speak it.
Alise keeps crying out of love, anger and empathy, which just makes me love her more.
Makeda is making up stories about addictions she doesn’t have.
Michelle keeps beating me up to prove a point… and I love it.
I want to collect all these babies and their Mama’s and just take them home with me.
Idelette carries more and more bags everyday and keeps buying fruit from vendors.
This evening, we spent some time in the Youth Center talking to teenagers. Maria talked about the hiring process for employees in the US. The kids are brilliant. They had some really great questions, and honestly… if I had a business and they were legally papered to work in the US, I would be the first to hire them.
One of the girls who was asking the most questions was sitting right next to me.
Meet Anastasia. She’s 21 and studying at the University. Isn’t she beautiful?
Her English is better than some Americans and her questions were filled with intelligence and hope. Then she said something that made my heart sink:
“I’m not so smart… but if I stay at a job and work hard, could I get an increase in pay?”
Not so smart??? This girl is BRILLIANT! You could see it in her eyes and in how she listened. But how could I say anything? I didn’t even know her.
In that moment, I prayed:
“Lord, speak Your truth into her heart. God whisper who You’ve created her to be into her ear and let it travel to her heart to stay. Block the lies of the world that have hurt her, and change her for Your glory. Let her know she matters. Help her believe!”
After the program, she turned towards me and we started chatting. She shared a little of her story and we talked about working hard for what you want but staying balanced. After a bit, she asked me a something along the lines of: “How do you stay balanced? I get home from school and work and I just feel empty!” I’m sure I said something brilliant (of course), but the only thing I remember specifically was that I thought she should write. Like how I blog, she should write and allow her feelings, ideas and discoveries to be spilled out onto the page. She seemed to cling to that idea.
Photo by PrudyChick
Then I said: “Anastasia… when you said you were not so smart… you know, that’s absolutely NOT true. In talking to you and watching you, you are SO intelligent, smart and beautiful! You can’t say things like that to yourself.” She agreed and said, “I won’t say it again!” As we continued talking, I thanked God for that moment and hoped she heard the truth about herself.
As she asked more about why I blogged, I began to share Brian’s and my story of Restoration. Never did I see any judgment in her eyes. Just understanding. We are not who we were yesterday when we choose who we are tomorrow. We continued chatting, and the crowd around us grew. Before we knew it, the rest of my team was talking to Anastasia. 10 women, pouring into 1. Then she said something profound:
“I am going to change the world. I think that we are something special. We are not our parents. We will do something better!”
We found out later that 3 years ago, she was a very different girl. We weren’t told any details, only that she went thru a very dark and sad time… and that it’s a miracle she’s alive and here with us today.
Alise cried. Prudy commented that my words may not have come at a better time. I felt amazed. Honestly, just humbled that I got the opportunity to meet such a bright and wonderful young woman. I’m glad she wasn’t taken from this world 3 years ago because she blessed me tonight by letting me remember God’s grace for what it is… AMAZINGLY MIRACULOUS.
And today, He is just as real as He’s ever been. God is still in the business of miracles, and I believe we’re watching one in the works.
Anastasia’s gonna change the world, folks. The truth is… we ALL can. One day at a time, one choice at a time. I’m truly humbled and privileged to know her.
Today, I have my friend, Makeda (who is on TeamMoldova with me) guest-posting. She and I served on the same team today in teaching English to students at a Russian public school. I thought I’d let you hear another team members voice today.
So, here’s Makeda…
Today our team was split into three teams as we had the opportunity to go into the public schools of Moldova to help the students work on their conversational English. We used a lesson created by Paul Sims, which helped make today brilliant. I was in a group with Jenni, Helen and Alise; it was definitely a highlight of this trip for me. We taught five different high school classes.
We opened up the lessons introducing ourselves and then we gave them an opportunity to ask us questions about us or America. The younger grades asked more general questions about America – our sports and life in general. The older kids, on the other hand, were definitely very quick to jump into personal questions. Twice, we were asked outright about our faith and Jenni was able to share about Christ in the middle of a Russian public school!
When the kids learned that Jenni was a singer and musician, they asked her to sing for them. She chose to sing the National Anthem and in the last stanza, the rest of us joined her. Side note: Jenni has a beautiful voice and so does Alise, these ladies voices are like angels. I was grateful to have my voice lost in the midst because I clearly would have brought them down.
After the first class, our translator “encouraged” EVERY class to ask us to sing. So, we were incredibly patriotic today as we sang the National Anthem FIVE TIMES! It was a lot of fun actually. For the last few classes we asked the kids to sing the Moldovan National Anthem. Here is a video of one of the classes singing the anthem; they were so good:
Part of our time with the students involved us playing a game with them called “Future Me”. Looking 10 years into the future they had to introduce their future selves to the class. A couple of things stood out for me about these kids. First up they are really smart and very sharp. But what struck me most was that each of them was able to dream, on at least some level, about a future.
In their words was hope that they would be successful, have families and enjoy life. When asked what their proudest moment would be, more than one young person mentioned raising a good family and/or being a good mother/father/wife/husband. How fabulous is that?! It was inspiring to hear them talk. One student stated she wanted to be a receptionist in a hotel. In America that might not seem like a great job to aspire to but in Moldova is actually quite reputable. One must be able to speak English very well, be good at math and have great inter-personal skills; it’s a wonderful thing to want to be when one grows up.
My favorite person from today was a young man who said his proudest moment would be enjoying every day and being thankful for each new day. Despite the odds, this young man was choosing joy in the middle of his circumstances. I don’t know his story but I do know that he lives in the poorest country in Eastern Europe with very little chance of being really “successful” and yet he chooses joy. It was this kind of hope that I saw in teenager after teenager today.
It is clear that the odds are stacked against them but what wasn’t as clear to me is whether or not they know it because, despite everything, they are holding onto hope and choosing, for today at least, to believe that life can be better for them. It is this belief that is driving the work of Beginning of Life in the school system and once again I was inspired to see the work they are doing.
It was such a joy to get to spend the morning with these young people, who are not so different than American teenagers. I think the other ladies would agree with me in saying that we had a lot of fun today hanging with those students. It was a spot of light in the middle of a dark space and it was good to breathe in that light today.
Today is only the second day of our seven day mission… and I already feel as if I’m mute, incapable of expressing my heart with words. I wish you could be here to see what I see, to hear what I hear, to feel what I feel. Obviously, you’re not, so I’m going to try my best to describe today.
This morning, our group of 10 women divided into 4 groups to visit former or at-risk human trafficking survivors.
Amanda Sims and I were paired with Natalia & Serge. We went to visit two different families. Natalia, who speaks Romanian, Russian and English was our
primary translator and guide.
Our first family lived out in the country in a small village. There, we met Iliona and 3 of her 5 children, Tanya (7), Maria (4) & Anna (1). Her two older children were at school. Iliona is 28 years old with kind eyes and a beautiful smile, but at first glance, you would think she was in her late 40′s. This Romanian speaking family quickly invited us into their small, yet cozy 300, MAYBE 350 square foot home. This home houses, Iliona, her husband, their 5 children & her mother.
Natalia, Amanda and I spent time chatting with Iliona and played with her children. No one in this immediate family had every been trafficked, but BoL is a part of their lives because they are the prime candidates for trafficking. They are considered an “At Risk Family” because with 4 extremely beautiful young daughters at the poverty level (they bring in between $1,000 to $2,000 dollars a year) the chances of at least ONE of the girls being trafficked is highly probable.
Fortunately, Iliona’s husband works IN the country though he works two jobs. His night job is security at a local village plant and his day job is at a wood cutting factory. However, his day job doesn’t pay him in Leu (Moldova’s currency)… they pay him in wood. And he takes it because that’s how he keeps his family warm.
The second family we visited weren’t so lucky. Tatiana (36 year Russian speaker) was trafficked. She was married and had her first 2 children with a man who couldn’t make ends meet. She received a job offer in Turkey from a friend who offered $2,000 a month and quickly jumped at the opportunity. As her mother cared for her two babies in Moldova, Tatiana, found herself sewing during the day hours and prostituting herself in the evening hours for nothing close to eighth of what she was offered. Somehow, miraculously, the police broke into the establishment she was forced to work and and rescued her. They sent her back to Moldova.
Soon after her return, her oldest daughter and nephew were brutally killed in a car accident (on a road we actually drove on today). Her husband couldn’t handle tragedy after tragedy and the marriage ended.
Tatiana currently lives in a 400 sq ft “studio” apartment in a condemned building with her second husband, son and youngest daughter, Michaela, who’s 3. A small wood stove sits in the middle of their apartment that always has a fire burning inside & a pot of water heating on top for baths, dishwashing and clothes cleaning. They live in a neighborhood where known social “sinkers” (ex-convicts, drug addicts, etc.) reside.
This building is nicknamed The Titanic.
Isn’t that nickname just full of hope and second chances. If that isn’t bad enough, the only people who know about Tatiana’s trafficking experience are the staff at BoL. She hasn’t told her husband and family in fear of social isolation. If it weren’t for BoL staff, she would be living her horrific past alone in her own mind.
But thankfully, because of BoL & HopeChest, these families know they are NOT alone in this horrible and terrifying journey. I am proud and humbled to be on this trip.
And at this time… I don’t know what else to say. But if you’d like, you can read Amanda’s post from today over HERE.
We arrived safe and sound (well… partially sound) in Chisinau (pronounced Keesheenow) at around 1:30pm Chisinau time. From wheels up in Washington DC to wheels down in Chisinau (with a short layover in Munich, Germany), our travel time totalled about 14 hours. Not horrible… but none of us really slept in the plane. By the time we adopted Moldavian time and went to bed in the evening, most of us had been up for over 24 hours.
But a full nights sleep sure was a blessing.
As we were landing in Moldova, we saw an expansion of green frozenness. All the water masses were completely frozen over. Of course I thought of ice skating on them. You would have too.
Upon landing and receiving our first Chisinau stamp in our passport, we were quickly greeted by our host, Vladimir & Benjamin. Vladimir is the co-founder (alongside his beautiful wife) of Beginning of Life (BoL) here in Moldova. Benjamin is one of their valued staff. The two of them are the very few Moldavians who speak English.
Because of where Moldova is located and due to the confusing past of the Soviet Union, about 60% of the country claims Romanian as their home language and the other 40% claims Russian. However, about 70% speak both. Our shuttle driver, Michael (pronounced Meekhaal) is one of the 70% who know very little English. It was fun TRYING to communicate with him because you can tell he has the most amazing heart and spirit, but language made our conversation more interesting. My team members kept saying that if we got in an accident, it would be all my fault for distracting him. I say if we get in an accident, it’s because of how people drive here… IT IS NO JOKE!
Michael is married and has two children. His son is 23 and his daughter is 21. He and his family are one of the few here intact and “family-like”. In our orientation with Vladimir last night, we learned staggering and heart-breaking numbers. Allow me to share them with you:
The population in Moldova: 350,000,000 :: That’s the equivalent to some cities in the US, yet the most heavily human trafficked country on this continent.
300,000 Moldavians have been trafficked.
100,000 men leave the country and never come home. They have HAD to find work in surrounding countries. Moldova is the poorest European country so the job opportunities are few. In an effort to support their family, men seek out work (mostly construction) in surrounding countries so they can send money home. Unfortunately, “employers” of other countries know their desperation. On top of low pay, they are left penniless and without a way home after a project is finished. Many of these men who left home in search for a better life for their family end up never coming home and find themselves begging and stealing in order to survive.
30,000 women have vanished into thin air. VANISHED. This is not counting the girls that have been sold by their families. Vladimir told us a story about a girl (we will be working with) who was SOLD by her mother for a bottle of vodka. She was 8 at the time. When Vladimir and his team found her, she was 16. She is now 18. She was one of the lucky ones who are accounted for.
Many of the girls in rehab at BoL were stolen or orphaned. We learned that many orphanages here are a part of the Trafficking Mafia and serve as a draft of some sort. The “pimp” will come in to scout out the most desired 6-8 year olds. These chosen orphans are fed a better diet and groomed in prep to work at one of the brothels here or in other surrounding countries. Despite prostitution being illegal here, there are 250 brothels just in this cities capital. Can you imagine your 8 year old going “off to work”?
My oldest son, Chance, is 7.
Every family in Moldova is affected by human trafficking. EVERY.SINGLE.ONE. Not one family escapes wondering where a daughter/niece/cousin/friend has disappeared to. That breaks my heart in ways words can never describe.
Today… our work begins.
This morning, we are going to meet and spend time with families who have been affected by human trafficking. These are either families who have recovered their daughters or they are women who have successfully “graduated” out of BoL’s Restoration program. Then, this afternoon, we are headed back to the Restoration Home (where the rehabilitation and reintegration takes place). Our team is going to teach the girls how to cook, craft & art journal. Just looking at some of the art and dolls they’ve handmade makes me wonder if we can offer them anything at all.
I’ll be honest. My heart is broken. This crap SHOULDN’T happen. Especially not to children. We have strict instructions of what we can and can not do while we’re at the Restoration Home. My job is to hear God and extend that to girls who ask “WHERE WAS GOD WHEN I WAS RAPED?”
I am totally out of my league here… but I’m willing to anything for them at this point.
Stay tuned. My goal is to post something here every day. You can also read what the rest of my team is writing too. You can find them HERE. And please… pray for our team. What the world has made evil, God can restore. We are here to be a part of the solution.
I’d love for you to pray over our days before we journey them. So, I’m posting our schedule for you.
• Visit families in neighborhoods – former or at-risk groups of human trafficking.
• Share skills with the girls in Restoration Home
• Dinner with the girls in Restoration Home
• Teaching in public schools
• Share skills with the girls in Restoration Home
• Crisis pregnancy center visit
• Escape presentation
• Youth training in Community center
• City tour
• Share skills with the girls in Restoration Home:
• Dinner in the Restoration Home
• Monastery tour
• Youth club in church
• Activities at Restoration Home and party
• Evaluation (BoL community center)