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Don’t turn away now: how to help with peacemaking in Iraq

 

Go read this dispatch from Iraq by Ann Voskamp, my fellow Canadian and dear friend. Go on now, I dare you.

You can walk into any mall and buy a pair of NIKE running shoes for what they are buying a Christian or Yezidi girl from 1-9 years of age — $172 dollars. And she’s yours. For whatever you want, for as long as you want, to make do whatever you want. Sit with that. Yeah, we’re all done living in a world where a pair of shoes can last longer, have more worth, be treated with more value, than a fondled, raped and discarded 9 year-old-girl.

The United Nations reports this week that at least one young girl’s been “married” over 20 timesand forced at the end of each violation to undergo surgery to “restore” her virginity.

So it could be ripped open and destroyed by the next highest bidder.

LookWe’re all done with keeping up with the Kardashians or whatever flash of skin is being flaunted on red carpets — when there are little girls being devoured on bare concrete floors and we will keep company with Jesus and be the ones who do something about the things that breaks His heart.

I sit with 4 Yezidi mothers in a shipping container where they sleep.

They need someone to have enough courage to not turn away.That is us.

That is us.

It sure as hell will be me. My nearly nine-year-old daughter woke up this morning and wandered into the kitchen, her childish voice asking for porridge and a hug. I wanted to clutch her to my chest and howl: now I know. Oh, my God, what if it was you? Now I know what is happening to her sisters in Iraq, to the their mothers, and then I made breakfast and I nursed the baby and I made beds and the whole time my gut was boiling with anger and grief and the need to DO SOMETHING.

I refuse to do nothing.

I won’t turn away and I beg you to stay awake to the pain of it, too.

Let yourself feel it. The howl is caught in your throat, I know.

Don’t turn away now. And for God’s sake, don’t numb yourself to it. Don’t inoculate yourself to this.

You are waking up now. Stay awake! 

Channel that rage and grief you feel, that sisterhood rising, and push it straight into peacemaking and into prayer.

 

And again from Ann:

It begins to end when the world lives what we actually are: We are sisters. We are a sisterhood. We belong to each other. We belong to the women who can’t read, we belong to the women who have been stripped of every hope, who are being sold in slave markets, whose daughters are coming back to them with ripped apart virginity. ISIS doesn’t own these women — they belong to us. They belong to the sisterhood of the world. When we live like we all belong to each other, we answer much of the longing in the world. 

When we understand that we are all made in the Image of God, the Imago Dei, we stand with each other and for each other and about each other. What ends the apathy and the trafficking and the racism and the fighting everywhere — is when we start seeing the Imago Dei in everyone.  

When we don’t belong to each other, we participate not only in the devastation of the world, but a desecration of the image of God.  

I’m going to lend whatever small voice I have to the peacemaking and the healing, to the long-term vision of Iraq through empowerment of women and the education of children.

I’ll be resourcing the peacemaking and I will be praying earnestly.

I’m joining with Ann to ask you to help defy ISIS by JOINING WITH PREEMPTIVE LOVE.

Here is the request:

1. Empower one woman to defy ISIS & start her own business: If we don’t help Sozan, Leyla, Mawra — these women have no help coming. Preemptive Love Coalition wants to empower women like Sozan and set these women who ISIS would like make invisible free to care for their kids with dignity and long-term security, so these mothers can provide food, water, shelter, clothes, and healthcare for themselves. $1,000 will give Sozan a business startup grant. How many women together can we empower? Our sisters are literally counting on us to give anything, something. 

2. Defy ISIS and give these kids the power of an education. Mohammadin with his red pen? Preemptive Love Coalition aims to put 22,000 kids like him back in school by this Fall. If a child loses more than one year of school, we know their chances of ever succeeding are severely diminished. Girls are especially vulnerable — invisible inventory.And boys who are not in full-time school are vulnerable to further radicalization by groups like ISIS. We can put 10 kids back to school this Fall for $100. How many kids together can we put back into school and defy ISIS?  

This is all our possible choice. 

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Continue Reading · Iraq, social justice, women · 7

Why not have a woman preach

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Why not to have a woman preach. It’s a statement, not a question. Here’s why not. Here’s all the reasons why not. Here’s why women should not preach. Or teach. Or lead. Or pastor. Or prophesy. Or exhort. Let’s parse it, narrow it, nitpick it, label the functions so that we can figure out the line and walk it well. Here’s one verse and another and another. You can’t argue with the Bible, after all.

***

But more and more I see people adding a question mark to that statement and that question mark gives me hope.

Why not?

Well, indeed. Why not have women preach? It’s a question that many devoted disciples have asked through out the ages – long before the 70s and 80s – and it’s a question that was resolved in the early church, in the practice of Paul’s leadership, in faithful followers of Jesus through the ages. There isn’t anything new under the sun, it’s true, and the use of Scripture to silence the witness of women, to sideline the gifts of half the church, isn’t new either.

Why not have a woman preach? Why not have a woman at a pulpit, teaching the Scriptures, proclaiming the Gospel, leading others in the way everlasting?

Sometimes the Spirit’s movement begins with the question mark instead of the period.

***

Why not? Well, because the Bible says so.

Oh, really?

There are many ways to read and understand Scripture. For instance, some read Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:11-12: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” and then they silence women in the church … in a well-meaning way. It’s couched with gentle language like “different roles don’t mean difference in value” and a paternalistic ideal. But in some extreme examples, these passages have been used to justify spiritual, physical, and emotional abuse towards women. (Don’t ignore that fact just because it isn’t pleasant.)

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But we’re missing a few important things in that understanding of Scripture: translation, context, interpretation, let alone communal understanding and practice. Allow me to point you to some wise and mature teaching on this subject: Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb and “But What About 1 Timothy 2:12?” – Ten Talking Points, both by Gail Wallace for The Junia Project.

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There’s a hopeful and inclusive answer to that question and many of us have already answered it. We’re living into the answer already.

There is Scriptural justification, historical justification, Spirit justification, traditional and communal justification for women preaching and pastoring and leading.

You can’t really argue with the anointing. God anointed some to preach, be careful not to stand in the way of that. I’d think long and hard before silencing someone speaking words of life and fire and Spirit.

 

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I am always so appreciative of scholars and academics and theologians. I love to learn, theology is my geek-out place (well, that and Doctor Who). I love to read and to learn, I love to study, I’m profoundly curious about Scripture and God and how we live out the hope of glory in the world.

I’m also wildly in love with Jesus, convinced that he is he answer, and I want to be faithful to follow well, I want to glorify what I think I know about the Spirit of God, I want to see prisoners set free, deserts bloom, beauty for ashes, life for death. I have a high view of Scripture and the Spirit. I am faithful to the Church and to my little “c” church.

So these things matter to me. And they matter to the church. And they matter for a world caught in the crossfire. Are we benching the answers? Are we silencing the ones who would cry out for freedom and wholeness? Are we minimizing the wild inclusive counter-cultural dream of God?

I needed to see her preaching, the people of your church and community likely need to see it, too.

***

Women are preaching already.

I hate to break it to you. Women have always preached, just as women have always worked, always taught, always discipled, always followed Jesus. Right from the days of Jesus until now.

We’re getting on with it. We kept walking from the statement to the question to the answer and now we are living within the freedom of Christ.

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Preach! Preach! Cry out in the city gates and in pulpits and online and in classrooms: we bring you tidings of great joy! However you preach, whatever your method or place, proclaim it: the year of the Lord’s favour has dawned! Beauty for ashes! Resurrection is real! Life and life more abundant!

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Women are preaching and, did you know? Chains are being cast off. Fear is running away. Deserts are blooming. The Gospel is being proclaimed. The dead are coming to life. People are being born again and set free.

Jesus is working through and in and with women, just as he is working through and in and with men. And wouldn’t you know it? Women and men are working together, beautifully, in what Carolyn Custis James has christened the “blessed alliance.” It’s not either-or, it’s both-and.

We are made in the image of God, watch us walk on water together.

Men and women are receiving steady and sober, wild and holy teaching from women, too. People are being healed, the Spirit is baptizing many. Women are leading in the curve of the globe in business, medicine, technology, academics, sports, and yes, religion in ways unique to their temperament and anointings.

***

You’re missing it. Don’t miss it. Open your eyes and see what the Spirit is birthing in these days, watch women rising up to reclaim their communities for peace and wholeness, watch women laying on hands and proclaiming the Gospel with their lives and their voices and their writing and their songs and even, yes, in their quiet. Watch women raising their children, gathering the lonely, loving the unloveable, building up the church, watch the world change.

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Why not have a woman preach?

Continue Reading · faith, Jesus Feminist, women · 60

The Story that Makes Room for All of Us

Sarah Bessey :: The Story That Makes Room For All of Us

You’re here to be light, bringing out the God colours in the world. Matthew 5:14

A few years ago, as I wrote Jesus Feminist, I found myself struggling to land the book – and my own self – in the hinterland between “Everything is getting better! Girl power forever!” and “It’s a cesspool of despair, we going to need way more sackcloth and ashes!” which so often permeates discussions about women in the church and in the world, particularly for people of faith.

For every woman I found who had been empowered, there was a woman who had been terribly silenced. For every woman who had a beautiful and redemptive love story, there was a woman who had been terribly and horribly abused. For every “win” there is a “loss.” For every church that affirmed women in leadership, there was a church that did not. For every story of global women who rose up together to end war or deforestation or cultural evils, there were women who died broken, alone, and unmourned by the world due to civil war or systemic injustice and evil. It’s so complex.

The temptation is to listen to only one perspective or the other. We choose sides, and often that “side” depends on the place from which we engage life. Whether it’s to do with women’s issues or race or religion or whatever.

The temptation is to say that our own narrow experience trumps all other evidence or the experiences of others.

The temptation, particularly for those of us who operate from a position of privilege, is to gravitate towards the good and ignore the very real and true cries of the oppressed and marginalized or even just-plain-different-from-us of our society, to retreat into the worlds of our own making and the brightly lit aisles of a shopping centre, and then point to the good stories as good enough for us. We seek our convenience and comfort and safety. Surely these stories of abuse or injustice are anomalies, right? And we carry on.

Or the temptation is to gorge ourselves on sorrow and anger and victimhood, to fill our hearts and minds only with the tales of hate and evil and horror, until we forget the beauty and peace and justice growing and rising like yeast among us. We keep our face towards the darkness, weeping or raging, and we miss the candles bravely flickering around us.

And then our temptation is to turn the other side into a straw man argument to blithely ignore or burn in effigy. (Either way, we don’t have to listen to a straw man.)  I don’t think that this is unique to women’s issues or to the Church or to the Internet: we do it in every corner of our life or with any issue.

Yet the word “right” or “wrong” isn’t the proper word for our human experience. Whether it’s a story I love or a story I hate, whether it’s a story that grieves me or a story that angers me, whether it’s a story that inspires me or a story that sickens me, whether it’s a story with a happy ending or an unresolved ending, we often don’t get to decide whether or not it’s right, it is simply what happened. It is the story.

It is real. It is true.

In our broken world, injustice is just as real as justice.

They are both true: the darkness and the light along with the reality that most of our lives reflect both. There is no consistent either-or or even if-then to real life.

I find comfort that in Scripture, we don’t see the typical Christian-bookstore version of redemption and justice with tidy bows and fairy tale endings. No, we see the mess of the truth of redemption and restoration.

It’s all true. The beauty and the pain, the suffering and the overcoming, the defeat and the victory, Friday and Sunday and the life lived between, the Now of God’s Kingdom and the Not-Yet of that same Kingdom.

The hard work of peace making takes place in the tension between both stories. I want to be a better listener, a both-and listener, because I believe that listening is an underestimated expression of love.

I don’t want to ignore those who are happy and settled, who are empowered and strong and thriving.

And I don’t want to ignore those who are angry and hurting, who are disempowered and marginalized and yearning.

We can learn from each other. This isn’t a story of one side “saving” another side or of one side “opening the eyes” of another.

The tensions of holding the word “Both” in my heart has changed my definition of a “right” story – not only for women but for a lot of the tensions we see around us in the world today. All stories matter because all people matter.

Listening to both of their stories and holding them all gently with intention – and hopefully a bit of grace – has transformed me because it’s made me realise that the right story is always the real story, God’s overarching story that Love wins.

Love has won, love is winning, and love will win. Hope does not disappoint. Faith comes by hearing or listening to the right story, it’s true: and the story that I look to for context for it all is the story of redemption and renewal, of restoration and hope that rests only in Christ.

To me, the right stories are in the Word of God – Jesus – as revealed by Scripture, by the community, and by the Holy Spirit – and He is a story of life and love and hope for us all, for all the Boths and the Ands and the Neithers and the Eithers. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one!

The right story is the old, old story of heaven breaking through, of redemption arching, of justice rolling down, of deserts blooming flowers, of exiles planting gardens, of swords into ploughshares, of life instead of death.

The right story is the one to listen to because it’s the one that makes room for all of us, this is the story that holds all our stories with the promise of life and hope, joy and renewal.

I don’t want to be swallowed by the darkness. Nor do I want to be blinded by the light. No, I want to be part of a people who see the darkness, know it’s real, and then, then, then, light a candle anyway. And hold that candle up in the winds and pass along our light wherever it’s needed from our own homes to the halls of legislation to the church pulpit to the kitchens of the world. We’re a people who build bonfires outside on the shore and send up a few signals to light the way for the ships still coming across the water and the pioneers weary in the walking from the east. We set up tables in the wilderness and invite everyone to come, we’re the people who listen.

As Michael Gungor wrote in his book The Crowd, the Critic, and the Muse, faith comes by listening to the right story.

It’s true. And the right story for me, the ones I turn towards when I’m tempted to choose one side or the other, is the Great Story that holds all of them as precious and worthy of love.

It’s the story that ends with these words: “And then all things were made right.”

*image source: Lightstock.

edited from the archives.

Continue Reading · social justice, women · 20

Here’s why I don’t feel guilty about being a work-at-home mum

 

There was a bit of a movement underway a few years ago: Christian women were signing pledges saying that they wouldn’t let their tinies see them on the computer. I think their intentions were mostly good – they knew they were distracted by social media in particular, perhaps, and so they wanted to give their best and primary attention to their children. That idea continues to hang on somehow, particularly in my line of work.

I understand it. Of course, 8 hours of Facebook or texting to the exclusion of fully being present with our families is damaging. And so I am wise with my time on social media, not only for their sakes but for my own creativity, health, sanity, and proper sense of perspective. (For instance, when my husband gets home and asks me about my day, I don’t like for my first answer to be, “well, you wouldn’t BELIEVE what this one guy said on Twitter or how many likes this Instagram picture of the kid I neglected all day received!” Not exactly healthy.)

But here’s the thing: I work from our home on a – wait for it – computer. My husband works out of our home full-time in a pretty demanding job with irregular hours occasionally. I am the primary caregiver for our tinies. Granted, we have a (very beloved) baby-sitter for two mornings a week while the older ones are at school, so that I can make phone calls, do interviews, try to catch up on email, and work uninterrupted for a bit of time, but usually I am at home, trying to get in a full-time job at the edges of our life.

Being a work-from-home mother can feel like a very inefficient juggling act, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love this choice.

Through trial and error, we’ve learned that our family works best in this way with one parent more fully engaged during the day, but I know that I am privileged to be a work-at-home mother. I work hard and we have made sacrifices so that this choice is feasible. I do not take it for granted, even though there are occasional afternoons when I pick up the tinies from school and then turn on Wild Kratts, hand them a plate of apple quarters with goldfish crackers, and then sit down to answer emails for an hour before supper. There are mornings when the baby and I take the tinies to school, and then come home to a wide-open toy box for her and an open laptop for me to write an article to deadline. When I am interrupted, there are times when I put my work aside, absolutely, but then there are times when I hand her a book and say, “Mum is writing, we’ll go to the park in an hour.  I’m not your cruise director, darling, find something to do.”

Early into our family arrangement, I had to take a long hard look at the narrative that it was a shameful thing for my tinies to see me on the computer.

And then, thoughtfully, prayerfully, we decided to call complete and utter crap on any more needless mum-guilt.

Here’s why:

I don’t feel guilty when my tinies see me cooking supper. That’s part of our life – and in fact, it creates a great opportunity to be together, to prepare them for life, to teach, to have fun.

I don’t feel guilty when my tinies see me cleaning the house. Keeping our home clean and tidy is part of my life – and it is part of theirs, too, unless I want to have lazy and entitled teenagers someday. Can I get an amen?

I don’t feel guilty taking them along when we get groceries or pay bills or drop off library books or help others or any other of the chores and tasks and work that goes into running this little family.

Why not? Because work is honourable. Paid or unpaid, it’s good to work.

Maybe my prairie kid work ethic is showing. My grandpa raised our clan to know that truth: work is honourable. Now I’ve rounded that out with the belief that work is also a gift from God, part of our heritage as co-creators with God. Particularly when our work – paid or unpaid – is personally fulfilling, an act of creativity or beauty or usefulness. What a gift to be able to work!

So, is it a shameful thing for a mother to work on the computer while her children are present? Nope.

Not only is it not damaging to my tinies to see me – gasp! – working on the computer while they’re here, I believe it’s downright good for them.

Yes, it is good for them to discover right now that they are not the centre of the universe. To let them discover ways to entertain themselves – I’m not their cruise director. To let them see their dad choring around on a Saturday, make sure they grab a broom and sweep up drywall dust alongside of him. To let them grab a rag and a bottle of vinegar to pitch in with Thursday cleaning. To let them learn to fold socks. To let the tinies sweep the floors.

Welcome to being part of a functioning family, for heaven’s sake.

(This home doesn’t run by magic or pixie dust: welcome to the real world, darlings.)

In addition to that, we have decided it is GOOD for the tinies to see me loving my job, loving my work, being good at something, and actually doing it. To let them see me being faithful to my calling, let them see their dad empowering me to do it with his enthusiastic blessing, let them see it as part of our family’s gift to the world.

This is what we do in this family: we support each other in our work and in our callings and even in the things we just plain love to do.

Mothers are people, too.

(And, very quietly, I’ll also gently point out right here the privilege inherent in the idea that we can choose whether or not our children see us work.)

Let the tinies learn what it looks like to be a person, made in the image of God, working – no matter if our work happens on computers or at the laundry or on the job site or a pulpit or the classroom – as unto the Lord.

My tinies are proud of us for our work. They think it’s good and important.

 

Let them see us working: work is a honourable thing.

 image source

edited from the archives

Continue Reading · parenting, women · 18

The Women of Haiti

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A woman passed me on the sidewalk with an entire table on her head. It looked like she had put everything she wanted for her journey onto a table, crawled underneath it, and then stood up. She moved down the street with her neck straight, her eyes forward, because carrying the burden takes focus. Nobody seemed to think she was remarkable.

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Little girls balance bags of rice, women twice my age carry full washtubs, men carry bananas in baskets. The movement of goods happens on the streets, resting just a head above us.

Everywhere we go, I have found the women of Haiti to have incredibly straight posture. They move with dignity and steadiness. Perhaps it’s because they have spent their lives achieving the balance required to transport their lives on their brow, and this is no metaphor. Blessed is the woman who carries the burden.

The women of Haiti are straightening my spine.

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A young woman stood at the pulpit at church. Beautiful in her white suit, she lead us in worship, singing strong like Exodus’ Miriam. No whispering, no false shyness, her back was straight, her face was forward, the microphone was on, and she sang the roof off that church. We followed behind her, straight into the throne room of God.

The front two rows were taken up with the women’s choir, all in black business suits. When they got up to sing, they moved easily through their steps, singing Hosanna for Palm Sunday. I sat in the wooden pew and tears filled my eyes. Erika leaned over to me and said, “I bet the angels wish they were here for this.” But I’m not convinced they weren’t there. Blessed are the women who sing.

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The rows of the school are filled with boys and girls. Together. Same classroom, same opportunity. The blue satin hair ribbons, one after another, crowded onto benches, just about laid me out on the dirt with their beauty and determination.

These girls are getting an education. These girls will be able to read a deed to make sure they aren’t getting swindled. Their backs are straight on those tiny benches. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we ask. Nurses. Teachers, Singers. One dream after another. These girls will lift Haiti, I think.

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These two women cook for 150 children every single day. Think about that for a hot second. For many of the kids in Drouin, it’s their only meal of the day. The conditions are primitive to my eyes – water must be fetched and carried and then boiled before use. The tin cooking pots are four times the size of my kitchen sink. There is no light and no fan, just a cook stove and the women.

But those fresh beans and rice, straight off the stove and ladled into a tin plate were the best meal of the week. She grinned at me, her sinewy arms stirring, her headscarf a gleaming white. I thought of Proverbs 31 – she rises while it’s still dark to provide for her children, this virtuous woman. Blessed is the woman who provides for another woman’s child.

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Rosna grew up in a girls’ orphanage herself and then she went on to become a nurse. She got married and her husband planted a church in the same town where she grew up. And now she is the director of Ferrier Village. The first “family style” orphanage in the area, there are five homes filled with 26 children, all of them rescued from trafficking, under her care. Each home has a mother and four or five children. Their mother makes sure they are clean, they are fed, they sleep well, they are seen, known, loved here. Rosna is three years younger than me. Her back was straight, her floors were swept, her work is done well, and her children are healthy.

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When the children first arrive from their rescue, they are often malnourished, their black hair the colour of dried orange straw. But give Rosna a bit of time, because look – this rescued baby’s roots are coming in dark. She’s going to be well because Rosna is a high-capacity leader with hustle and peace for days. Blessed is the woman who leads.

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Wherever I go, children burrow into my mama-belly. It’s a bit soft, never recovered after those three babies in four years, but when I’m around children, I’m thankful for my softness. We mamas from the north, we stood around with their children in our arms, toddlers balanced on our hips. The sway of a mother’s axis crosses cultures, it seems. We met eyes over whiny toddlers who won’t cooperate and shrugged with a grin – we’ve all been there, we’re mothers.

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When we gathered around the women to express our thanks for the meal. “Thank you for cooking for us,” Amber said with a smile. “We have a lot of children and we’re mothers and nobody ever cooks for us!” They laughed and said they understood that.

One woman after another, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes in the pulpit, sometimes in a home, sometimes singing a song, sometimes on the street with her stand of mangoes to sell, sometimes at the blackboard wearing a blue uniform, sometimes sitting in the classroom.

What a privilege to witness these women work.

What a privilege to talk in their kitchens, hold their babies, hear their stories.

What an honour to learn from their leadership.

Blessed are the women who remain unbowed.

 from the archives

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It’s been a year since I was last in Haiti. I had plans of returning again this year but then along came little Maggie Love and so travel is at a stop right now. But in the meantime, the work continues – my presence certainly isn’t required by anyone – in Haiti.

Want to help?

You can be a child sponsor in Drouin whose kids are vulnerable to trafficking and or host for a Garage Sale for Orphans to build a preschool for children who have been rescued from trafficking.

And as always, pray for our sisters worldwide who are quietly doing the work.

 

All these photos were taken by Scott Wade and are used with permission.

Continue Reading · Haiti, social justice, women, work · 5