Walking The Streets With Sanchez Fair – An Interview – Part 2

Click here to read Part 1

 

The Jewish scriptures of the bible always bring attention to the cry of the oppressed. As a pastor of a local church, and a pastor of the city, what connections do you make between the cry of the oppressed in the scriptures and the cry of injustice taking place in our city and our nation today?

The cry of injustice is something that I wrestle with on so many levels. It’s hard because I naturally want to cling to the hope we have in Jesus, however, it’s not that easy. I live in a world and world of systems that weren’t created for folks like me to really thrive and be true to who I am.

Oppression looks very different. Am I enslaved and beaten? No. Am I poor and hungry? No. Am I free to be myself and valued for that? No. Am I known for being Sanchez, or have I learned the game and art of being what my surroundings dictate? Yes. Have I learned to say the right things and use the correct language in order to be heard and accredited? Yes. Do I still feel like African Americans have to give 200% to Caucasians 100%? Yes. Do I feel like this is reflected in the church and government? Absolutely. The church and government, during the reformation particularly, paved it to be this way. It’s unfortunate that the two most influential and powerful entities paved the way for this chaos.

From what you can tell, how has the local church responded to the racial tensions and social crisis? How can we improve/change our response moving forward?

I think that for the first time some churches realize that it’s an issue. The local church has responded better, but if I’m honest, it’s not been a great response. Have we focused so much on “reaching the lost” and becoming “seeker sensitive” that we have ignored the voice of those hurting in our care? Do we truly get discipleship? Do we get the simple things, like loving your neighbor as yourself? Do we get what it means to be a “mother and father” to those who have no home? Have we chosen us for them? Have we made what was once a conviction our comforts?

It’s easy to share the gospel, but to mean that and exercise that on a practical level is another thing. It’s time for us to do less preaching and more living. I don’t see many churches giving up their program to walk the streets or get in the trenches. It’s time to wake up and get dirty!

It’s time for us to do less preaching and more living. It’s time to wake up and get dirty.

Looking at the scriptures again, the Gospel of Jesus Christ affirms the equality of all humanity and the power to rise from the grave of struggle and suffering with hope and courage. How does the Gospel influence your current outlook and future dreams for the city?

The gospel is everything and the only thing keeping me in this fight. It keeps me loving the poor, homeless, and broken well, while tolerating and loving church people. I know that’s harsh but the gospel points me to the brokenness in myself and it motivates me to fix my attitude. I have to allow love to be unconditional and let it lead me. Love is the only answer to mending the hurt and pain that runs deep.

What are some simple actions steps we can take as individuals and churches and neighborhoods for healing and wholeness?

We have to display unity to this world. How will they know what it’s supposed to look like if we don’t lead them? It starts with us uniting with other churches locally. Challenging our people to build authentic relationships with people different than them. It doesn’t have to start with skin color. When we address the pattern and fix that, then will we see change. We, as the Church, need to be the voice that changes some of the systematic racism, meaning we get it out of our institutions that are supposed to be churches. Church should be a safe place where ALL people are welcomed, not just the ones that look and act like us.

Unity is the key that unlocks healing and blessing for our community.

-Anonymous

///

Sanchez is one of the pastors at Center City Church in Charlotte, NC. Visit their website at centercity.church or their new location at 2225 Freedom Dr. Charlotte, NC 28208.

Bonus Plug: Sanchez just dropped a new EP, One Voice, a couple months ago and you should check it out. It can be purchased wherever good music is sold. Here’s the title track, a powerful vision for a people and city unified with God and one another:

Bringing Injustice Out From Under The Rug: An Interview with Hollis Johnson

 

As a parent I know a thing or two about sweeping things under the rug.

Legos.
Puzzle pieces.
Books.
Action figures.
Play dough.
Dirt.
Pets.

Even though this is typical household behavior, the practice extends beyond the confines of the living room. It takes place in our lives, relationships, governments, and businesses. Instead of toy parts and game pieces, it’s issues of injustice like corruption, slavery, discrimination, and malpractice that get brushed under the rug and out of sight of the public eye.

It hides in the shadows of our cities. Threatening the soul and virtue of our civilization.

Especially when it comes to the issue of sex-trafficking.

This particular form of injustice runs deep. It is sinister and complex. It leeches our global community, draining our dignity and humanity.

Sex-trafficking is a massive transgression against mankind. A giant evil that is easily swept under the rug of society.

I am privileged to work at a church that is working against sweeping these things under the rug, with people who are fiercely committed to bringing the light of justice into the dark shadows of our world.

I’ve asked my co-worker, Hollis Johnson, to do just that.

Hi Hollis, share a little bit about how you got involved in fighting sex-trafficking, and the work you’re a part of now.

I first came in contact with this issue in Thailand while working with a ministry in the red light district in 2010. During this time I realized that God was going to use the most broken and shameful parts of my story to help redeem myself and other women. And that’s what God does. He uses our brokenness to make something beautiful and show his goodness and glory. Since Thailand, I have been to several other parts of the world and right here in Charlotte to minister to women who have been sexually exploited. I am also finishing up my masters in counseling so that I can further assist those coming out of the sex trade.

About two and a half years ago, I was given the opportunity to start an anti-human trafficking ministry at Forest Hill Church and the church has been so incredibly supportive of this work. Every time things get hard and I think it’s time to walk away, I just can’t. God has burdened my heart for his people, and I will continue to fight however I can for their freedom.

Before we get too far, define human-trafficking for us.

Human trafficking is broken down into two categories, labor trafficking and sex trafficking. While both are an issue and there are reportedly 20.9 million people enslave in the world today, my focus is on sex trafficking.

According to US federal definitions to be identified as a sex trafficking victim there must be these two things present:

  • Evidence of force, fraud, or coercion
  • Exchange of goods for a sexual act

Now, if we are talking about minors, any exchange of goods for a sexual act is considered sex trafficking. There does not need to be force, fraud, or coercion. When we use terms like child prostitute and child bride, we are talking about sex trafficking victims.

Another important thing to note is the blurred line between prostitution and sex trafficking. I have yet to meet a woman who has prostituted herself who has not already (and usually starting as a child) been sexually abused. This is a MAJOR problem! There are so many factors that contribute to someone entering into the sex industry, so the question, “did someone really choose this life,” seems rather subjective.

According to womenslaw.org, “Women in prostitution have a death rate that is significantly higher than women who are not involved in prostitution. One small study of 130 prostitutes found that 68% of the prostituted women interviewed met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which was in the same range as combat veterans and victims of torture.”

With the Super Bowl a few days away, I’ve heard mixed opinions about sex-trafficking activity and the Super Bowl. From your perspective, how are the super bowl and sex trafficking connected?

First of all, I want to say that this is not just an issue that arises with the Super Bowl and that this is something that happens everyday. The more we can raise that awareness, the better. Men and women are falling victim to sex trafficking every day, and that is what we need to highlight.

But yes, this problem gets worse when more people are present. So take the Super Bowl, really any large event with a lot of people and the demand for sex trafficking will increase. Escort services, after parties, strip clubs and cabarets, these all usually entail sex trafficking as people are looking to have a “good time.”

I have always been curious to understand how sex-trafficking appears to go unnoticed, yet it permeates our country and world.

People see what they want to. If people don’t want to talk about the problem of pornography, prostitution, and strip clubs then we are not going to ever fully address and recognize the issue of sex trafficking.

We are talking about the use of people, the sexual exploitation of another human being – and whether they are a consenting adults or not – we as a society should not accept that this is okay. The woman standing on the street corner selling herself or turning tricks in a hotel room all night (yes, this happens in Charlotte, North Carolina), the young boy being exploited on the other side of your computer screen (yes, child pornography is on the rise), the massage parlor in that strip mall offering sexual services on their menu (yes, this place exists in Charlotte, as well), none of this is okay and yet we so often CHOOSE to look the other way, or do things when we think no one is watching, or avoid certain areas of town.

We have put a price tag on people, and somewhere along the line we decided that this was acceptable. The last I heard, sex trafficking was a multi-billion dollar industry (see Polaris Project link below). This is only possible because there are people willing to pay for these services.

How is sex trafficking harming us socially, morally, and spiritually?

Look at our relationships, look at the decline of marriages and rates of divorce. This issue does not just harm the victim of trafficking, but it hurts us all. Research is now coming out about the harmful effects of watching pornography. People are paying for a fantasy that only hurts them in the end.

And the music industry and celebrities endorsing this idea of “pimp culture” Words like “pimp” and “hoe”, these are real terms that our culture throws around not realizing that this is a harsh reality for some.

We are talking about people’s worth, their value, and their identities. Sex trafficking strips this away from its victims – literally as traffickers often take any form of identification away from their victims and then put a price on what they can offer customers.

What is being done about sex trafficking locally, globally, at the government level, and through the local church?

So much has happened over the last few years, that while it still feels like there is a lot to do, Charlotte has really stepped up. When I first moved back to this city four or so years ago, there was maybe one anti-trafficking agency in existence. Now there are at least ten agencies or ministries directly involved in awareness campaigns, providing services to survivors, and regularly doing outreach.

Local agencies are taking curriculum into schools to address this issue. They’re participating in helping shape legislation and local response to this issue. They’re also offering direct services, aftercare, and housing to survivors.

Other local efforts involve the North Carolina Coalition Against Human Trafficking (NCCAHT) , the Human Trafficking Roundtable, Charlotte Metropolitan Human Trafficking Task Force.

At the government level the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was the first federal law to address issues of human trafficking. Since then it has been reauthorized through the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013.

In 2014 North Carolina passed the SB 683 Safe Harbor/Victims of Human Trafficking Act, which:

  • Protects victims, especially minors (consent of minor is not a defense)
  • Increases penalties for perpetrators (pimping is now a felony, engaging in sexual acts with prostitute is now a felony)

How is the effort making a difference?

I could tell you about the larger effect that is happening, the awareness being made, the conversations in churches happening to address these problems, the growing number of organizations offering housing and recovery programs to survivors…

But instead, I focus on the one. The one story I heard where a woman made it out the industry with the help of law enforcement, went through a recovery program, and is now a survivor advocate for this issue. The one young man I know who was trafficked as a child and is now working for the very agency that helped him leave the sex industry.

Numbers and statistics don’t mean that much to me. But I have met real men and women with real stories of unimaginable pain and horror, and that was enough for me to take action. And what keeps me going, what tells me that we are making a difference is just one story of someone’s freedom. If we can help just one person than we are making a difference and we are having an impact.

How can readers get involved?

The first thing I tell people is to educate yourself on the issue and pray. The only way we are really going to make an impact on the fight against human-trafficking is if we do it with the Lord. So pray hard for the agencies trying to make a difference, for the men and women being trafficked daily, for the traffickers that they would have a real heart change and stop, and for the customers that they would seek help instead of buying sex.

If you are ready to take action, contact a local anti-trafficking agency and see what they need help with. All of them could use financial support, as well as volunteers who don’t mind doing the unglamorous jobs (administrative, driving clients to and from appointments) or someone who is willing to really walk alongside a survivor as she chooses daily to stay out of the life.

Local Agencies/Ministries:

On Eagles Wings Ministries
Redeeming Joy
Justice Ministries
Present Age Ministries
Lily Pad Haven
Compassion to Act
Market Your Mind
Neet’s Sweets
Fashion & Compassion
Vigilante Truth
Salvation Army
International Justice Mission
Libete Honey

Hollis Johnson works with the outreach team at Forest Hill Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her focus is on identifying ways for the church to engage in local anti-trafficking efforts and how we can best support those in our city already fighting this issue. Her previous work experience includes working for a missions organization, volunteering with both local and global anti-trafficking ministries, and joining a small film team in Southeast Asia for a documentary on sex-trafficking. After encountered the issue of human trafficking in Thailand in 2010, she has since traveled to over 30 countries, mostly for volunteer work. She has had stories published on Halogen TV, Speak Up Magazine, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Contact Magazine. She has two blogs, http://hollisjohnson.theworldrace.org and https://holliscarling.wordpress.com.

References

  1. https://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking stats on labor and sex trafficking
  2. http://sharedhope.org/the-problem/what-is-sex-trafficking/ great link from Shared Hope International that further breaks down the definition of sex trafficking
  3. Mortality in a Long-term Open Cohort of Prostitute Women, Potterat, Brewer, et. al. Am. J. Epidemiol. (2004) 159 (8): 778-785 (2004)
  4. Melissa Farley, et al. 2003. “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Journal of Trauma Practice, Vol. 2, No. 3/4: 33-74
  5. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/fbi-trying-new-approach-to-crack-down-on-super-bowl-sex-trafficking/
  6. http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/get-the-facts/ harmful effects of pornography

How To Handle The Trump Card – Part 1

 

Let’s talk about Donald Trump.

Think of one word to describe ‘The Donald.’

It’s hard, isn’t it? To think of just one word to describe him. I can think of 10 words without even thinking, 100 more if you gave me 10 seconds to think. There are a lot of words that we could use to describe him, some supportive, some disapproving, some disrespectful. I have my own words that I’ll keep to myself, but the honest-to-God first word that came to my mind was:

Polarizing.

From his promises regarding deportation to his views on Muslims to his statements about other politicians to his ‘New York values,’ he sets people on edge and causes others to practically salivate. He’s an object of political lust for some and a backdrop for dartboards for others.

Based on recent polls he’s the current front runner for the GOP. The polls don’t make him a shoo-in, they just indicate where he stands among the other candidates in the race for presidential nominee. We’ll see how things unfold.

The loudest critique I hear of Trump’s candidacy is that he doesn’t have a clear plan of action. This may be true, but he does have a massive platform. He knows it, too. While speaking at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina he emphasized his ability to pack out arenas. He recently received a rowdy endorsement from Tina Fey, I mean, Sarah Palin. And it’s becoming more evident that he’s won some sort of support from a few religious leaders, like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham.

This doesn’t guarantee anything, but it does warrant a couple questions.

What should we do if Donald Trump becomes the President of the United States of America? (Maybe a more pertinent question would be, what should we do with Trump in the meantime?)

As people for the well-being and thriving of humanity and the world, there are a few practices we must embrace no matter who’s in charge, or in office.

Remember The Powerless

When someone in leadership, at any level–social, educational, professional or presidential, overlooks or neglects the marginalized: the poor, the refugee, the disabled, the orphan, or the widow, we have an obligation to raise our voice on their behalf.

A voice of awareness.

A voice of compassion.

A voice of justice.

A voice of hope.

A voice to assure them that even though some may have forgotten them, we have not.

Proverbs 31:8-10 could not be more straight forward regarding this issue,

Speak out on behalf of the voiceless,
    and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.
Speak out in order to judge with righteousness
    and to defend the needy and the poor.

These verses imply that we’re paying attention. That we notice the voiceless members of society all around us: the vulnerable, the subjects of injustice, the poor, and the needy, so we can speak on their behalf. To affirm and defend their rights, and their existence.

One of the most outstanding personifications of these verses is a man named, Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. Stevenson represents children in prison and people on death row. The voiceless. He still believes they deserve a chance. For many, a second chance. A second chance for freedom and dignity. A chance for redemption.

I’ve come to understand and to believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I believe that for every person on the planet. I think if somebody tells a lie, they’re not just a liar. I think if somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to them, they’re not just a thief. I think even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. And because of that there’s this basic human dignity that must be respected by law. I also believe that in many parts of this country, and certainly in many parts of this globe, that the opposite of poverty is not wealth. I don’t believe that. I actually think, in too many places,the opposite of poverty is justice.

Bryan Stevenson, TED2012

It can be hard to believe, but one voice can go a long way for the powerless. Imagine what more than one voice could do.

Pray For The Powerful

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:1-4

This has to be one of the most outrageous scriptures in the bible. It can feel almost as improbable as Jesus’ instruction to pray for our enemies. If we have a problem with authority in general, or a leader from a certain political party specifically, prayer is nearly impossible.

The writer of these verses, the Apostle Paul, brushes our preferences aside and makes prayer for all those in authority about more than what we want, or what we like. He says that our prayers for presidents (and presidential hopefuls) can actually save people. The interesting thing about the word saved is that it is traditionally understood as eternal salvation. The word can also mean to save a suffering one, or to save from destruction.

A legitimate task for any president.

To be frank, some of Donald Trump’s statements are threatening. Even though he wants to make America great again, his declarations have the potential to cause more harm than good.

I had a conversation with a good friend of mine who is a missionary that travels regularly across the globe. I asked him how things were around the world and how the rest of the world views our presidential candidates. He responded by explaining that many global citizens tend to view U.S. citizens through the lens of our leaders and celebrities. If our leaders and celebrities act and speak one way, they reason, the rest of us must as well.

The categorization feels unfair, but the criticism and condemnation we have for them seems merited. If that’s accurate, cursing our country’s representatives will never produce the results that prayer has the potential to.

Prayer has a way of working on us personally, more than it appears to work on those we’re praying for. That may exactly be the point the Apostle Paul is making.

Live At Peace With Everyone

In a country obsessed with dualism–us versus them, who’s in and who’s out, drawing lines and picking sides–it’s natural to live at odds with others. Most of our nation’s division center’s around team rivalries, social, racial, and financial status, religious superiority, and, yes, political affiliations.

Disunity has the potential to breed dehumanization. When we view others as better and worse, valuable and worthless, loved and unloved, we will automatically treat people as less than us, or less than the group that validates us.

Romans 12:18 calls us to elevate our actions above the categories that divide us:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

We can’t force others to live at peace with us, this scripture has nothing to do with that. It has everything to do with us doing everything in our power to live at peace with those around us.

Those on our team and those on the other team.
Those who believe what we believe and those who believe in something else.
Those who dress like us, look like us, think like us, and act like and those who have nothing in common with us.
Those on our side and those on the other side.
Those who vote like we do and those who vote for the other candidate.
Those who love Donald Trump and those who hate him.

Peace is willing to accept our differences and bless unconditionally simply because we all are human.

Whatever you do, use all the energy you can muster, to live at peace with one another.

These three practices are not exclusive to ‘The Trumpster,’ they’re necessary whether
Hillary

Sanders

Cruz

Rubio

Carson

Bush

or Christie gets elected.

Political despair is not a helpful response, and uncooperative disrespect will get us nowhere. Wherever you stand and however you vote:

Remember the powerless.
Pray for the powerful.
Live at peace with everyone.

Hungry & Persecuted: A Tribute to MLK

 

Few people inspire me as much as Martin Luther King Jr. A man of faith, conviction, nonconformity, and action. A catalyst for change, motivated by the audacity of hope and the power of a dream. Idealistic, yet realistic. Living proof that social renovation is possible, with a willingness to look fear and opposition in the eye to see it unfold. An unshakable soul, offering his energy, his resources, and even his own life for one of the most beautiful, risky, threatening, counter-cultural, improbable, and transcendent visions for human thriving in history.

Martin Luther King was hungry for justice.

He had a hunger for the equal rights every race deserves.

Dignity. Opportunity. Civility. Security.

Human rights.

He was persecuted for his hunger for justice as well.

Hostility. Hatred. Harm.

His legacy exposed the harsh reality that everyone on the path of social justice will encounter injustice, personally, along the way. It has been true throughout history, on the grand scale and the overlooked moments of obscurity, as brave women and men have strained to do their part to set the world right. The road to justice is not easy. Justice is a sacred cause that always comes with a price.

Jesus revealed this reality approximately 2,000 years ago in his teaching from the Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.

You pursue what you hunger and thirst for.

Just as hungry teenagers pillage pantries and thirsty travelers guzzle water, if your soul growls with hunger and pants with thirst for justice, your mind and body, your actions and efforts will seek to satisfy the hunger and quench the thirst.

Martin Luther King Jr. had an insatiable hunger and thirst for racial justice, and it dictated his actions and determined his steps. Moving him to expose the sinful and ignorant roots of injustice, while elevating the necessity of compassionate intelligence and goodness–the union and product of an open mind and an open heart. He didn’t just speak out about injustice, he literally pursued justice. I would describe it as the integrity of word and deed.

The stomach of his soul ached with hunger for justice. The tongue of his soul was parched with thirst for a world set right. And he was filled with it.

He was also persecuted for it.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Whenever you mess with the way things are done, whenever you challenge the process, whenever you expose injustice you will meet opposition.

Jesus saw this anytime he violated a tradition or acted out of religious order or associated with the ‘unholy.’ Whenever he challenged the religious establishment or social injustices of his day he was treated as a heretic, a lunatic, a nuisance, and a threat. He was ultimately murdered for his message of good news for the poor, freedom for the prisoner, sight for the blind, and favor for all mankind. He became the recipient of injustice because he wanted to rescue others and set things right.

Jesus was crucified.

Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

When we act justly we may not die, we might, but we most certainly will suffer and struggle. Seeking justice for others is only ever birthed by making a sacrifice ourselves.

We will be persecuted for this hunger and thirst to rescue and set right. The message from the Sermon on the Mount appears to affirm that persecution is an indication that we’re doing it right, that we’re possessing the very nature and atmosphere of the kingdom of heaven. God’s realm of everlasting justice, harmony, and freedom. God’s realm that we can bring into our world–heaven on earth.

One point that must be noted about this part of Jesus’ teaching. He doesn’t say, Blessed are those who are persecuted for self-righteousness. Whenever our faith leads to injustice toward others, in any form such as hatred, pride, racism, bigotry, sexism, or dualism, we must do the hard and mandatory work of reevaluation and repentance. Reevaluating the object of our worship (because it’s probably not truly Christ), and repenting of our personal acts of injustice.

If Martin Luther King Jr. showed us anything, it was that the way of Jesus is most certainly possible. It is life-threatening, but it is also life-altering and life-giving.

Do not hesitate to hunger and thirst for justice. It will align our lives with the Spirit of God in surprising, and vital, ways.

And do not withhold justice from others for fear of persecution. Human thriving is always worth personal discomfort.

There are few causes greater than those to rescue and set right.

Martin Luther King Jr. said it better than I ever could:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life.                           –MLK, On Loving Our Neighbor

In our present time of challenge and controversy, may we find our lives in tune with heaven through the noble work of justice for all people; and may we find a deep and lasting satisfaction in our contribution to a world set right.

Justice is a blessed way to live.