“Weren’t you afraid to travel to Africa?”

“It turns out that the more you watch TV, the more you believe that the world is dangerous. It turns out TV watchers believe that an astonishing 5% (!) of the population works in law enforcement. And it turns out that the more you watch TV the less optimistic you become. Cultivation theory helps us understand the enormous power that TV immersion has.” – Seth Godin

I took a trip to East Africa this summer

It wasn’t all that surprising, I guess, for those that know me. Last year I went to India and China, and you can often find me exploring big cities in America’s sea to shining sea, and taste-testing every ethnic restaurant that catches my fancy. My friend group in Chicago includes a wide range of color, culture, and country of origin.

And I love it.

I love it because there’s no structure or paternalism. There isn’t one side of giving, and one side of receiving. It’s mutual. It’s authentic.

It is always easy? Not really. Sometimes I’m embarrassed I forget basic things — like how to pronounce the name of my friend from Iran who I met for the 2nd or 3rd time, or have to ask my friend why African Americans never learned to swim, or ask the girl with Indian heritage if she was a vegetarian (yes, oh yes, that did happen).

It’s hard because you want to be a part of the group, to be included, but the lack of knowledge exposes the breach of integration and your often complete ignorance.

I’m used to it now, used to the tension and the vulnerability of outsider-ness.

I even lean into it all. You see, it was really through that bumpy path that I found a lot of meaningful relationships, understanding of how people relate to each other, and what’s actually most important in this world.

Which leads me to the topic at hand:

Why were Americans concerned for me when I traveled to Africa?

I mean, did you forget that I live in Chicago? The city ravaged by gun violence like that of a war-torn country?

But let’s talk about that as it illustrates a similar vein: people across the country are scared of Chicago . . . until they really get to know me. They see how interesting my life is, all the fun places I visit and bike by on a daily basis, the generous and smart friends I have, the ground-breaking anti-trafficking work the city is nationally known for, and the beautiful gems in parks all around the city.

And, wouldn’t you know it, by the end of our conversation it seems like the narrative in their mind has changed a bit. “Hm, maybe Chicago isn’t that bad . . . I think I want to visit someday.”

Amazing how getting to know someone is so completely transformative.

So how do people get scared of places like Chicago? like Africa?

At some point information was passed on. And it was communicated in a way that best benefited the sender of the information.

Because those in power get to tell the stories they way they want to.

If money and ratings are the top motivator, then the human instinct to tap into is obvious:


It pays. And it pays well.

Biologically, our minds and bodies respond much more strongly to fear because fear helps motivate us to protect ourselves in dangerous situations. We are conditioned to react intensely, fight or flight. We literally stop thinking with any sense or logic. The current situation triggers the mind to do one thing at the expense of all others in order to keep ourselves alive.

Are you afraid of the Boogie Monster?

We feed ourselves a constant flow of fear, which rarely depicts the reality of the world. We power up the computer and switch on the television, and then sit back for our daily dose of a hot cup of fear.

Television and internet articles bait us into fear, paralyzing fear. And we eat it up — it tastes so good, and so bad. All senses are heightened and triggered. Over time it becomes an addiction. Like a battered woman tied to her abusive husband, the trauma bonds entangle her in ways so deep it seems impossible to escape.

It’s hard to get used to normal when you’re always high on afraid.

I find it fascinating that so many people are afraid of something or someone they’ve never even seen or experienced. 

Like the Boogie Monster hiding under the bed. Your 6-year old self has never seen it or experienced it, but your older brother has fed you terrifying stories for months and now you live in it’s reality.

The invisible Boogie Monster now controls you. And it’s not even real.

Do you think Africa is the Boogie Monster?

When you talk about Africa as an American, are your illustrations and references all about war and killings and terrorism and violence?

And maybe that really is all you know about Africa. Not all of us get the opportunity to live next door to foreigners or travel internationally in a culturally engaging way. But at least preface your perspective by saying, “But you know, the only source I’ve gotten my information from is television, popular media, and American missionaries– I’ve never actually visited or talked to Africans about this. And I could be wrong, but this is my perspective from where I stand.”

Television and articles gives us the illusion that we experienced something firsthand . . . when in reality we really haven’t. Yes, I know research is good and important and it’s often combined with “eye witnesses.”

But seriously take the time to read sources that are African-led and narrated, and then make some personal relationships that are mutual.

If you can’t do any of those things, I understand. We’re all busy. But don’t control and direct the conversation. You are more than welcome to listen and observe.

Let’s be friends

I’ve been on my own journey through this fear mindset. At one point I really did believe what everyone was telling me on television and articles and platforms.

And then I traveled. And was positioned in a place of non-authority where all I could do was listen, observe, and serve.

And I was shocked by how still and quiet it was.

There was no lizard-brain, fear-controlled actions. It was peaceful, and enjoyable, and full of connection.

That’s when I realized that media outlets and popular speakers and religion can heartily take advantage of your ignorance to keep you tied up and coming back for more. More television, more clickbait, more crazy headlines, more one-sided stories.

That’s when I decided to learn this for myself, to see the real story as much as I could.

Are there dangerous, evil things happening around the world and in Africa?

Absolutely. I just wrote about the tragic and rampant problem of child sex trafficking in Mombasa, Kenya; I visited the brothel districts in India that are trapping girls and women for generations and it’s backed by both culture and police; I see Chicago’s gun death tolls continue to rise at record lengths.

Yes, we acknowledge the danger. Yet refuse to be controlled by it. Once we welcome fear, then we have no option but to obey it.

And once we obey fear, we can never impact our environments. Because it’s already impacting us.

So the greatest lesson here? It’s not just that we shouldn’t be afraid of places like Africa due to emotionally-triggered news. It’s also not simply just that we should expose ourselves to more people and relationships outside our own culture.

It’s that fear has got to go so that we can impact our cities, and countries, and the world.

Because I bet you never read a world-changer’s autobiography that concluded with, “And then I cozied up in my overstuffed chair, turned on the television, and posted articles about the unbelievably terrible things happening in the world.”


New friends I met during tea time in downtown Nairobi

Staff from Christ Hope International making chapati for lunch in Kampala, Uganda

Mothers of the some of the children at Christ’s Hope International sharing their stories in Mwanza, Tanzania

My new friend Lucy showing me around her family’s tea farm and property in Kenya

The vast, beautiful tea farms in Limuru, Kenya

Talking with women from the brothel districts in India

Hanging out with children at a daycare in Nairobi

Exploring the streets of Hong Kong

Give as you have been given

It’s been almost a year and a half now since I began going on outreach to Asian massage parlors.

We were the first New Name route to start in the city of Chicago so this was breaking new ground. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but, knowing it was led of God, I plunged ahead in the way I only know how: full of ambiguity and a hope that eventually we figure this out.

It’s been a bit simpler, and a whole lot more complex, than I imagined. Simple in the fact that as a team we have no hidden agenda. We really do simply have conversations and develop relationships with the women in the spas. In fact, the whole agenda list is as follows:

We see you, we care about you, we are here for you. And, by the way, we aren’t going anywhere.

We’ve pretty consistently gone to 4 massage parlors in my neighborhood. And one in particular sits on my mind today.

Early last Spring I noticed “Grand Opening” signs for a massage parlor right around the corner from me. Whenever I would drive or bike towards Wrigleyville, I noticed the new spa. Even without going online to scope out reviews, I could tell it looked a little too similar. Neon signs, blinds in the windows, tacky massage stock images on the outside. I knew we needed to start going there for outreach.

So about 7 months ago we began visiting. Of all the spas we go to, this one has been the most odd and peculiar. In the few months we’ve gone, they have cycled through 3 sets of women. I’ll never forget one woman in particular who I felt I really connected with. Something about her was really. . . sad, yet beautiful. I hesitate to use “pitiful” because of course she is full of dignity.

When we first met her our 2nd time at that spa, everything about her was dissonant, confusing. She was probably early 30’s, thin, wearing odd clothes, too skimpy and mismatched for her countenance. Though slightly nervous, she quickly befriended us when she realized we were “safe,” especially having Cindy with us as an interpreter. How do I explain it? It was as if she was starving for acceptance and care.

She had recently arrived from China, perhaps only 3-4 months earlier. We found out about her 11 year old son and ailing parents. When we asked what she used to do for work in China, she hesitated then simply answered, “Nothing,” with a forced smile. Based off Cindy’s conversation with her, we came to understand that she came from a very poor village.

The more I looked at her, the more out of place she became. She had so much innocence about her; it was obvious she hadn’t been there long. We kept conversations light and superficial, talking about family and weather and travel. I walked out of there wondering if truly we were the only caring, interested conversation she’d had in a long time.

The next time we visited she was the only one in the front room, and I was overjoyed when we had an opportunity to talk more in-depth with her. Though our interpreter wasn’t with us, I had learned the power of translator apps while in China and India earlier that month. This was powerful because we kept our conversation quiet as we typed in the app and away from the ears of the security camera.

She believed that the only work she could do was massage (for those unsure of why this is a problem, Asian spas are often fronts of labor and sex trafficking), and she had to send money back to her very ill mother. We tried to communicate best we could that there are other ways to work here and that we could help if she needed. In fact, we could get her to immigration lawyers who would assist her in any way she needed, free of charge.

I again couldn’t help but notice how lost and out of place she looked, wearing this short dress and colored tights yet with body language that had almost a child-like presence. She kept smiling at us with her slightly crooked teeth and pretty eyes, even looking hopeful. She agreed to take my email address and we prayed with her before we left.

That was the last time I saw her.

New faces of uncertainty

We walked into this same spa the next month expecting to see the same women, but we were met with two unfamiliar faces, and they were immediately almost frightened of us as we walked in confidently and started chatting with them. It was a quick reminder to me that although our team is used to doing this all the time, it’s not normal at all for these women to have visitors that aren’t there as customers. It’s like, “Who the heck are these people and what do they want from us??”

After assuring them that we weren’t trying to sell anything or wanted to get information from them, they relaxed a little. We simply came to bring gifts and talk.

“Ok, ok, “ they said, with plenty of unconfidence.

I sat next to one girl, we’ll call her Sally. She hugged a pillow to her chest most of the time and didn’t engage. Whenever I looked at her she seemed far away, a tinge of sadness and fear. She really didn’t want to talk. The other woman opened up a little bit, especially since Cindy could communicate with her in her own language. We found out then that they had just arrived to this spa and didn’t know about the women who had been there previously.

We left knowing that was more or less a typical first encounter. A mixture of surprise, insecurity, fear and the most dreaded basic small talk conversation ever. But that’s the reality — it takes months of consistency and commitment before we gain any openness.

And now we come to last weekend, our Christmas outreach. Friday night we stuffed stockings with various gifts and candy for the women in the spas, and on Saturday Cindy and I headed out armed with these love bombs.

Because of travel, it had been two months since I had been to Sally’s spa. We had been praying frequently over this one because many sketchy details had surfaced in the few months we had been going compounded with information I found online. I wasn’t even sure if the same women would be there.

When we walked in, we were immediately welcome by Sally herself. And boy, was it a night and day difference!

She ushered us to the couch, sat on the other, and chatted away with us. At one point the conversation was so comfortable I felt like we could’ve stayed for hours, which, as you may surmise, is very unusual for our outreach. She seemed so young and cheery. It totally brightened my day to see her so comfortable with us.

We showed her the stocking and the gifts inside for her and her coworker. She was amazed.

“It’s incredible that you are so kind and give gifts to us. That’s so unusual.”


Give as you have been given.

I took a breath in, a breath out. In that moment the past year flashed before my eyes.

Just a week earlier over Thanksgiving I decided I needed to take time to write down all the ways I have gained in the previous year. Name all the gifts. I found that I get caught up with achieving the next goal or getting tied down with struggles that I forget what has even transpired in my life.

For me, moving to Chicago and the first few years here held mostly loss, it seemed. Or at least consistent inconsistency. It seemed like I could never get ahead and on some sort of stable footing in any part of my life. Though it was the least of my concerns, I didn’t have many possessions or home furnishings. I never had much money or a stable income. My community shifted constantly and my relationships seemed just as fluid. I was trying to dream but mostly it felt like I was just trying to survive. Add on to that emotional upheavals time after time and there you have the perfect storm.

But in the whirlwind of this past year I forgot about the gifts.

Upon gifts.

Upon gifts.

Upon gifts.

Actually around 67 to be exact. Yes, I counted.

And those aren’t just all minor ones, I might add. Some of them were dreams and prayers years in the making.

Like how I got to begin teaching entrepreneurship classes and connect women in the adult industry into this course.

Like how I traveled out of country to Hawaii, India and China.

Like how I was able to reach out to women and children in brothels in India.

Like how our outreach team went from 1 to 4 routes in the city in one year.

Like how I have a fully furnished home when one year ago it was pretty close to empty.

Like how I have money in my bank account and don’t have to agonize over every dollar I spend.

Like how I’ve been able to host 4 people in my home who needed a place to stay intermittently.

And many more. So many. Overwhelming many.

And I couldn’t believe how quickly I forgot. All of a sudden I look at my full life and it looks worlds away from my move 2 1/2 years ago.

But what I do know is that I didn’t create all of that. It was all given. It’s all been gifts, all of it.

I think God needed my self-sufficiency to be brought to the end of myself so that He could show up and stand out without me getting in the way.

Because now I know, and now you know, that this was a work of God Almighty alone.

Give as you have been given.

Shifting back to reality, I looked back at Sally, mulling over again what she had just said,“It’s incredible that you are so kind and give gifts to us”, knowing how bewildering it would be to take that credit.


I leaned in. “Sally, we give to you because we have been given so much. It’s just the overflow of our hearts. God has been so good to us.”

Nothing about that was cliché. It made a lump form in my throat in a surge of overwhelmed gratitude.

Sometimes I wonder if this is the only way to give, when my “enough” has run out and his abundance can pour in.

“Sally, have you ever read the Bible?”

She shook her head. “No, I never have.”

“If you want, we can show you more about God and how much he’s given to us.”

Cindy reached over and showed her how to download a Chinese/English Bible app, walking her through how it works.


What can I give him, poor as I am?

Dwelling over that day, I think, “All we gave her was just a stocking!” Seriously, it was so simple. Nothing earth shattering or even majorly sacrificial.

Maybe generosity is more about the heart and less about the gift.

Intuitively, we all know and feel the difference. Even at Christmas.

There’s the standard gifts. And then there’s heart gifts. 

Normally those are unexplainable and kinda uncomfortable. Those make us feel vulnerable because they come from a place of genuine, unconditional love.

“I require nothing from you as you receive this gift. I love you because I love you because I love you because I love you.”

Christmas schools us in this, that a Child in a manger is the gift that never stops giving. He has the most joy because he’s always given the most love. And that, my friends, is the best and only example to follow.

At least, that’s what Christmas means to me.

The Most Imperfect Triathlon

I think a lot when I swim.

I think a lot about not drowning.

With this triathlon journey, I could’ve made a movie called, “Finding Myself,” and subtitled it, “Just keep swimming.

Let’s start at the beginning . . .

The Inspiration

While in Hawaii this past February, I finally got the opportunity to get destroyed by the ocean like I’ve always wanted. This is called surfing, I suppose.


I always wanted to try my hand at it, but I realized that you had to have proper gear.

Like a swim shirt.

Because of the endless paddling on top of the board to catch waves, you need to cover your arms with a good swim shirt to save yourself from some serious chaffing.

So I found a purple one I really liked. I figured I’d rock my favorite color AND look like a pro.



Hello, I never spend $50 on a shirt. Much less for a shirt that I would wear once while on an island I will visit rarely in my lifetime.

I was devastated.

Because of my chagrin, my sister-in-law Kristin recommended other ways I could use the shirt again, perhaps a sport or activity that included water.

So I signed up for the Chicago Triathlon.

Well that escalated quickly.

I have a relatively athletic history. It includes sports like volleyball, basketball, softball, and kickboxing.

You know what activities I have shown the least amount of athleticism in my lifetime?

Swimming. Biking. Running.

I thought, “Ooh, I have a great idea — why don’t I do all of those . . . AT ONCE??”

Off To A Rough Start

Biking – Of the three, this is probably the one I enjoy the most. However, in my mind I feel like I can defy the laws of bike shorts, to my tail bone’s demise. Sure, riding around town a few miles at a time isn’t too bad. But when you ride longer distances without proper gear or hydration, it’s an equation for a perfect (painful) storm.

Running – I don’t know if you can interpret my form as “running.” Probably more like, “Creative trotting.” For example, during my last 5k race, I was feeling really proud of my run when I was halfway through– my best one yet! And then at mile 3 I caught up to this 67 year old man. I proudly paced with him through the rest of the race (I mean, who doesn’t need a little motivation?).

Swimming – I love swimming. It’s a blast. I grew up in a pool my whole life and our family frequented the beach. However, my version of swimming includes doggie paddling, inner-tube waves, and Marco Polo, of which things I am the real MVP. But real lap swimming? I think my first time in the big kids pool I embarrassed the entire YMCA.

Those first few swims I learned a lot, like . . .

  1. Real sports bathing suits are a necessity (semi-strapless is a semi-terrible idea)
  2. You’re supposed to breathe
  3. You’re not supposed to breathe under the water
  4. Kicking is supposed to work in conjunction with stroking
  5. Breathing is supposed to work in conjunction with kicking AND stroking
  6. I always knew where the lifeguard and defibrillator were located

I had a little bit of an episode the first time I went all in. I finally had goggles and tried the whole head-in-water-while-stroking deal, but couldn’t figure out when to breathe. I may have flailed and spewed, causing the lifeguard area to think they may actually have to do work during their shift.

Guys, this is serious. Especially when you start crazy things like training in Lake Michigan and you can’t see the bottom. It get’s pretty scary. And you realize, you can’t stop. You have to keep going. Or you will sink and die.

Fear of the unknown

That was my start.

Impulsive. Rough. Unprepared. Unprofessional.

And my finish?

The day of the triathlon came and I still didn’t have any real triathlon gear, I was one of the few without a wet suit, I nearly started going backwards at one point during the swim because of disorientation, I had to rent a bike because my own weighed more than a large dog, I didn’t have bike shorts, I had to Gorilla Glue pieces of my shoe to the bottoms to keep from flapping, there was a hole in one of my socks which made my foot burn, and I had no watch to keep track of my time (phones were not allowed).

I was completely under-invested and totally not prepared.

But get this.

I finished.


I started this whole thing with a pretty wild, uninspiring, and even bad, reason: a purple swim shirt!

To top it off, I hadn’t thought through the future. I wasn’t prepared for the struggle, for the near drowning experiences. I didn’t know that the investment never ends. I wasn’t ready for the sacrifice and commitment, of early mornings, long weekend trainings, and freezing Lake Michigan swims. I didn’t know how bad I was at swimming and how humbling it was to ask for tips and help. I didn’t know I would be out of country on a missions trip for half the month of August and would miss 2 important weeks of preparation and training.

I felt weak often, and sometimes wanted to just skip the swims, or not run as far.

And I had bad training days, when I felt like my lungs would burst, when my feet were burning from worn shoes, when the wind along Lake Michigan made my biking dreadful, when I skipped a workout because I didn’t feel like it, when I ate the wrong foods because I lost self-control.

I wouldn’t consider myself a role model.

But honestly, who is?

When we miss perfection

I think we have this idea of what kind of “role model” we should be, or how our situations should develop. It involves the unlikely word: perfection.

As an idealist, I have an idea in mind that makes me and my life work really well, it’s pain-free, and I always come out on top. And if I could control it that way every time, it would.

But then . . . Life. People. Situations. Crossroads. Hurts. Disappointments. They all happen, and it makes for perfectly imperfect journeys.

And that scares me. Why would I do something when I know that down the road I’m eventually going to lose control and I’m at the mercy of a situation or another person?

I think about my friend Emily, who moved to Chicago with a little bit of money and a dream — to bring economic development to her neighborhood by employing the people. So she started a business with no idea what she was doing and no textbook. There were many what we call “throw up in your mouth” moments, when the step was too big and the fear outweighed everything in sight.

But I am so inspired that she never quit, never lost sight of the goal, even though it seemed to get delayed all the time.

I’m in my own start-up and I’m like, “Really? 5 years and we’re still trying to go this launched? This is not the MBA-method.” It always takes too long, costs too much, and, on top of all that, each of us 3 founders live in different states. Very unideal. But, we’re launching it soon. These messy 5 years produced something.

With my first townhouse out of college I had a huge heart for hospitality and hosting people, but I came to find myself in an empty, cockroach-interested house with a couch affectionately called The Rock and 10 plastic Starbucks cups. I collapsed into tears. It didn’t get better anytime soon. And just this month I look at my home and see some sort of decency, the picture I had in mind 5 years ago. But I also look back and count the number of people who I’ve hosted when they needed a place to stay, somewhere around 10.

Maybe . . . maybe you can make it when you seem to have the worst end of the stick and it seems there’s no improvement in sight.

I can’t think of any significant accomplishment in my life where I didn’t have “throw up in your mouth” moments, unreal anxiety, troubling depression, and massive heartache.

Sometimes all we get in life is what we have, the falling-apart shoe, the sock with a hole in it, the bulky bike– or even more difficult, the missing arm, the crippled legs, the damaged eye.

And we starting hating our life because of the hand we’ve been dealt. It’s so unfair.

But it’s never fair.

We never get fair.

But we get life. We get a Life-Giver.

Is it worth it?

At one point during training I really wondered if it was worth it. This seemed like an awful amount of work and training for one day.

I’m not ready enough, I’m too tired, I have all the wrong clothes, I’m not fit enough, I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m not good enough.

But I kept repeating something during the race . . .

“I’m a triathlete, I’m a triathlete, I’m a triathlete.”

I kept imagining crossing the finish line and saying those words.


Yes, it was inspiring and awesome and exciting . . . and worth it. But sometimes you have to imagine the “worth it” before you cross the finish line, or you’ll never get there.

Our endeavors, our dreams, our hopes? Worth the time, worth the sacrifice, worth the love, worth the pain, worth the obstacles.

It’s those wide open spaces, the “great unknown where feet may fail,” where you find something worth living for, worth giving your all, and, at times, worth losing it all for the gain and the promise.

I don’t think I would have felt the same elation if had decided to skip the training altogether, and just walked up to the start line, lifted a 5lb weight over my head, and said, “IT’S WORTH IT!”

Sorry, you need to go through it, the long training and the struggle.

Otherwise, you’re never grateful.

Or strong.

Or real.


And hey, if I can decide to do a triathlon because of a purple swim shirt, please, tell me your excuses.

(and by the way, that $50 for the shirt I was trying to justify? Turned into $120 for the race registration, $15 for the goggles, $10 for the swim cap, $45 for the bathing suit, $50 for the bike rental . . . )


The Prostituted Asian Massage Parlors: Don’t look, don’t listen, don’t tell.

She’s just a girl.

Not too different from you and I.

Or your daughter, or your mother, or your sister, or your niece, or your granddaughter.

Well, there are slight differences, but nothing so significant that separates her humanness from that of our own women.

For starters, she’s from China. And some places in China, and many people in China, do not have the same access to opportunity that we have in America. The same money, jobs, loans, protection, freedom. It’s just not the same, and we have to start there because we often judge this girl as if she made her decisions having had our own lives and opportunities. She didn’t. She had a different life.

It’s not that one life is better than another. It’s simply different.

She has a family, perhaps a job, often education, dreams, talents, aspirations, and, above all, dignity.

There may come a point of crisis, or need, or dream, to provide more for her family, or for herself — to earn more income, to have more opportunities and achievements. Not every economy has a “career path.” She goes only to work in a clothing factory from sunrise to sunset and walks away every month with maybe $200. Not enough to live on. And definitely not enough to live up to her aspirations — perhaps as a doctor, or accountant, or fashion designer.

When you live on the edge of survival you can’t afford the luxury of dreaming.

But she hears about a job, and it looks like a pretty good job. Doing hospitality work for an upscale restaurant or 5 star hotel. And the pay would start at $2000. $2000 a month! That’s 10 times what she makes how! Imagine if she did that for just 2 years — she could save up so much to pursue a real education and career path in the land of opportunity. Which, of course, is America.

The land of the free, the home of the brave.

So she makes the incredibly difficult and courageous decision to leave what’s familiar in hopes for a better future. She finishes the job search online, as we all do these days, deciding between job postings, applying to some, having phone interviews, video interviews, job offers, and then even learning that the future employer may offer to cover travel costs and even costs of a visa to get to America.

She leaves.

She arrives.

And what she thought was a decision to move into the free pursuit of happiness turns into a living nightmare.

She has just walked into the sophisticated network of international human trafficking.

When she arrives, her papers are taken, she is moved to certain spots and areas, often not knowing where she is. Her entry level job, which may have been high end domestic work, a restaurant manager, or hotel housekeeper, is actually now one of hundreds of Asian spas in Chicago.


And it’s no typical massage job. This one she finds she must perform sexual services as her job requirement.

What she ended up in was a front for prostitution.

But — but she’s only 19. She came here to grow and give and learn and excel.

This though — this is not what she came for. But now she’s lost and vulnerable — someone else is controlling her: her money, her security, her housing, her information, her everything. This may include physical beatings and rape as a way to “breaking her in” so that she knows who’s boss. Not enough customers coming in? Using her to create online porn is a solution. Gotta make money somehow off her. Resisting isn’t really an option, because her owner controls her money, food, and security.

Nobody would come looking for her if she went missing.

Of course she wants to escape — there’s no way America could really endorse this behavior. But there’s cameras everywhere in the spa, she can’t communicate herself or learn her rights because she is not given the chance to learn the language, she knows the police won’t help because illegal immigrants are not offered the same kind of protections and representation as citizens, and, quite frankly, no one knows and no one really cares about the immigrant prostitutes.

It’s the most overlooked square footage in our city. They’re poor, they’re foreign and they’re women.

She hopes that she can get out quickly, maybe just bide some time before getting enough money to move back to China. Her owner says she needs to work to, “pay of the debt you owe me from me bringing you here.”

But 1 day turns into a week, and 1 week into a month, and 1 month into a year.

And now it’s 14 years later. She’s 33.

“What do you want to do with your life? What’s your dreams?” I ask her this past Sunday while on outreach at her spa in my neighborhood.

She looked back at us with an empty stare.

“No dreams. There’s nothing I want anymore.”

We were all quiet as we let that admission settle into the air.

That was it. No hiding, no putting up a front to keep herself protected, protected from wanting something too much and not ever receiving it.

Her brokenness was real and we all felt the weight of it.

It all feels a little hopeless. An emotion a little too familiar, a little too acceptable.

I mean, she can’t speak English very well despite living here for 14 years, she hasn’t had a day off in a long while, and it looks like her desire is dried up.

But dried up flowers are pretty too.

They’re a little more fragile than full bloom flowers, but they’re not gone, and they’re definitely not useless.

I sit here wondering now if perhaps at some point Sonya* prayed to God, a God she doesn’t yet fully know, and asked for help. I wonder if one of her many desperate prayers was that he’d send some sort of relief and and freedom, giving her a chance to rekindle the fire of lost dreams.

I wonder if we just walked into an answered prayer.

I wonder if we just participated in a miracle, a 14 year-long dried, weary prayer.

I think 2 thoughts: first, that what an honor to be the carriers of light and hope, to be an answer by participating in others’ miracles.

And second, does not God also hear the prayers of his own children, of us, of me, and already has an action plan all set up for our help and deliverance and good? Do we not have our own miracles to walk into?

Though this story I piece-worked together isn’t solely Sonya’s, it’s a mix of a myriad of stories, articles and research told about immigrant trafficking and the Asian massage parlor facades. It’s such a complex, wholly difficult world to understand, mostly because there’s so much silence around it, from both those within and those of us without.

Though that conversation with her on Sunday may have been a difficult thing to hear, we were actually celebrating. Most conversations are superficial as it takes a long time to build trust and hear more of their story. Sonya in particular had been very distant and even at times hostile. But this time was different – she was open, kind, conversational, and allowed a deeper conversation than we’ve had with her previously.

We don’t always pray in person with the women, but this time we felt led and she welcomed us to pray with her in a circle, arms around each other. It was very simple, but so powerful. Her countenance was so different this time and she couldn’t stop thanking us and expressing gratitude. We were seriously ecstatic with praise for this breakthrough!

And her story is just one of thousands of those quiet and hidden Asian immigrants among us.

Be aware that these massage parlors exist not just in the Chicago city proper, or in any major city in America. Actually, of all the teams in Chicagoland, Napperville, a somewhat wealthy west suburb, has some of the most notorious parlors. Our teams are met by managers and bouncers at the doors who won’t even let them speak to the women. There are cameras outside the building as well as inside. Often the women work and live inside that building, never allowed to leave, and may not even know what state they’re in. To make sure they aren’t tracked, owners will move girls from parlor to parlor which are a part of a larger network of international trafficking and crime. They are very dark places.

However, that doesn’t deter New Name. We are a group of loved ones telling these women that they are loved, seen and heard. We don’t know their stories, how they got to that spa, and all the obstacles they have faced. But we know that if we are loved and forgiven, we have every right and place in the world to offer that to them.

New name home page

We have teams all over the Chicagoland, from Wheaton to North Shore to all the way in the city, and we go into the spas bearing gifts and offering friendship.

We also live and breathe prayer. If there isn’t prayer, nothing happens. There is no hope, protection, or relief without God’s intervention.

Yes, not all massage parlors and Asian spas are fronts of prostitution. But we target our spas based off of online research where Johns (those who purchase sex) will review their experience with the businesses and the women. The reviews are explicit and include checklists of their masseuse’s body and how they would rate their performance. Johns use these reviews to decide the best places to go with the kind of woman they want for the right price.

But we believe there is hope and freedom in this industry, for the survivors, the Johns, and the traffickers. All are offered a place to the table of Jesus.

Here’s what we don’t do: We are not rescuers. We believe that each person has an infinite amount of dignity, worth, and value. They are intelligent, capable, smart, and have had to learn how to survive in ways that many of us will never have to. It’s incredible. We have much to learn from them.

We have no agenda but to love.

New Name also reaches out to all women in the adult industry which includes women at strip clubs and prostitutes posting services online. We do call centers and follow-up in order to help each individual take the next step in life.

Often, when a women decides that she wants out, there is an immediate need for a safe place before moving her into a longterm aftercare facility. Often these are trafficked victims. Since safety is the first priority, we have created an initiative called the Safer Place.

Our Safer Place Initiative quickly transitions a woman out of the adult industry to a safe place until we are able to get her to a long-term care or healing facility. We started the Safer Place because we were meeting with women who were interested in getting out but were discouraged by their boyfriend, pimp or even family members from going into a restorative program. We’ve found that when we take a woman a significant distance away from where she’s been working, she is able to have the separation she needs from her environment and can take some deep breaths, relax and process her decisions.

So get this: It’s my birthday today and I unashamedly admit my exceeding jubilance for birthday food (hot fudge brownie sundae, anyone?), as well as celebrating with good friends with some serious swing dancing tonight. And I may have a Stitch Fix box waiting for me downstairs — gah, happy birthday to ME!

But what would be the most incredible gift is to see our new Safer Place be completely prepared for the welcome of our first woman. One of our team leaders has renovated her and her family’s home to offer our first Safer Place.

Check out the Amazon wish list where there’s a list of items that are still needed to furnish the home. Could you participate in another woman’s answer to prayer, participating in her miracle?

It’s beyond totally worth it.

*Sonya is her pseudonym 

10 ways you may not realize how your life is affecting sex trafficking

Exactly 5 years ago I began down a path of connecting with people who I thought were vastly different from me. This began with those who were in drug addiction, then those who were homeless, then those in prostitution, then those in domestic violence, and eventually those in human trafficking.

You know what happened as I met them?

It stopped being “them.”

And it became “us.”

First, I found that many of my own hurts and wounds were very emotionally similar to those in the “broken” culture. Hey guess what? I’m just as broken! And I think we’re all there– we just have various ways of coping or covering shame.

Second, the economics of my life choices became increasingly obvious. You see, I realized, as in Economics class, that making one choice is a choice for something and a choice against something else. All of our choices and actions and voices and thoughts affect those around us. We affect our culture by the choices we make and don’t make.

And I’ve come to find some very clear ways we contribute to sex trafficking around us, though normally unknowingly. However, ignorance is not bliss. So here are some ways you may not realize that you are contributing to sex trafficking around you.


1. Calling prostitutes “sluts” and “whores.”

This unfortunate name-calling is perpetuated not just in our culture’s movies and music, but also in passing comments from average people and saintly church-goers. It’s a way of removing someone else’s lifestyle from our own connection so that we aren’t also soiled.

This practice also gives us permission to look at a woman who has on provocative clothing as someone we have permission to denigrate and look down on. “She dresses like a slut,” or “What a whore” are phrases that stiff-arm women far away from ourselves and “normal” people, and then categorizes them as simply sex objects who want to express their physical power.

Which, my friend, is far from the truth.

And it totally overlooks the reality that in the sex industry there is often very little choice involved, which brings us to the next point.

2. Believing that those in the sex industry are there by choice.

Prostitution is simply the exploitation of vulnerability. Statistics show that up to 95% of those in the sex industry have experienced sexual abuse in their past. Why do you think the correlation? Think about it— growing up, these children never understood the right they had to their own body. Then, when they grew up, all of a sudden someone offers money for what others have taken freely. It was a natural progression, but only because exploitation has been their normal expectation.

Another aspect of this lack of choice is the reality that most women chose this work because they didn’t have any other options for income and were in extreme circumstances. Funny how that works– they chose sex work because they didn’t have a choice.

This is a hard one to explain, because many of us do not understand what it means to be totally and wholly lost and without hope, to deal with not just having no way of taking care of yourself, but also dealing with emotional trauma and deep soul wounds. It must take a lot of courage to decide to perform sex acts with someone you don’t know in order to pay the bills and put food on the table.

I’ve talked to strippers, high-end escorts, street prostitutes, and massage parlor escorts, and every one of them said they were there for the money because they didn’t have another way to bring in a real income. And once they were in long enough, it was an endless cycle and nearly impossible to get out.

3. Having a limited, “slavery” view of human trafficking.

Yes, trafficking is a form of modern day slavery. But it’s slavery with a different face.

Slavery simple means forced against their own will. And many in prostitution are forced and exploited outside of their will.

But they are not in physically chains. Yet you can be certain to know that the emotional bondage is very real and controlling.

I had a friend who came to live with me for a while who was escaping her boyfriend who had literally beaten her with hangers, burned cigarette butts into her skin, stabbed her multiple times, and she still defended him and blamed it all on herself. You see, the chains we need to be aware of are the chains of mind control, brainwashing and manipulation.

And those kind of chains are the most frightening and most damaging.

4. Not being aware of children.

It’s hard to hear, but children are being used as sex objects. In America. In our cities. In our neighborhoods. On our watch.

It’s easy to overlook kids as just tiny humans and not take their non-verbal and verbal cues seriously.

But here’s the reality: the U.S.Department of Justice states that the average age of entry into prostitution is 12-14 years old.

And that’s trafficking. And it’s happening to at-risk children as well as not-at-risk children everywhere. Be sensitive to the children around you, especially ones that may be “acting out.” It may be for a reason.

5. Watching “free” porn.

It’s a sad fallacy that just because you don’t pay for porn, then of course you’re not actually supporting the industry.

The reality?

Somebody pays, and it’s typically the girl behind the camera.

You see, the fact that trafficking exists means that there is more demand than there is supply. The more clicks, the more proof to the leaders and marketers of the sex industry that the demand is still there. And they will do whatever it takes to supply that demand.

6. Thinking, “Well, she likes it.”

We may think that a prostitute or porn actress really loves her job.

Think logically about this for a moment: Why would she say she doesn’t like it (to you or anyone else)? If she doesn’t feel safe around you, if she doesn’t trust you, if she knows she’ll get beaten if she doesn’t perform or bring in enough customers, then of course she’s going to tell you whatever you want to hear. Of course she’s going to act like this is the best life ever. Because she knows to be honest would mean losing her income, or losing her health, or coming to grips with her hurt and trauma beneath the surface.

Which brings me to the next point…

7. Being brutally insensitive to trauma.

Here’s the thing about trauma— when you try to explain your feelings and hurt and then someone blames you for it or gives a pat, sympathetic answer, it’s a slap in the face and a trigger to run and not trust anyone ever again with those feelings.

Those that have experienced varying versions of trauma (whether verbal, physical, sexual, emotional, etc…) are in desperate need for help and sometimes that plea for help may come out in odd ways or with unexpected reactions.

But often what they need most is for someone to empathize and just be with them in the moment.

We continue to perpetrate survivors of trauma by not listening and by walking away in their deepest hour of need.

8. Expecting survivors of trafficking to be OK with simply attending a community group and reading their Bible every day.

Survivors need therapy. Though many won’t say that or admit to it (who wants to admit they have serious issues? Yeah, me too), they’ve been through mental warfare and need emotional intensive care. This is not church small group stuff. This means professionals and years of work and tender care.

9. Taking people at face value and assuming you know their story.

You may be surprised to realize how many prostitutes, strip club dancers, and abuse survivors there is living inside your inner circle. We all have hidden lives, do we not? And often by not being vulnerable ourselves, we place this plastic film over our lives that looks like strength but smells like shame. It keeps us protected, but also keeps others at bay.

If we’re not vulnerable about our pain, then why would anyone else share with you about their hurts? or their struggle with sex? or their shame of prostituting?

10. Trying to rescue those who are being trafficked.

This is the one I’m the most guilty of (though believe me, I have been guilty of all of the above at one point or another). It’s easy to see this huge problem and decide to go on saving campaigns and rescue the victims from destruction.

The reality? This is just another power play.

It’s yet another way that these women are experiencing control from yet another person or group.

It’s deciding, “Hey, what’s happening to you is bad, so here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to make a decision for you that is obviously the best choice for your life. I know this is best. We’re going to do this.”

That friend I mentioned earlier? I was incredibly overwhelmed with feeling the responsibility to save her from this terrible man and terrible mental state. And it was seriously stuff.

But all I did was push her farther away, because then she was the victim and not the friend.

I’ve had a change of mindset. As Bob Goff says, “I used to want to save people. Now I just want to be with them.”

I used to want to fix people

So how can you make a difference today?

First of all, think through your thoughts. How do you think about those in the sex industry?

Secondly, think about your choices. How are some of your seemingly small decisions contributing to human trafficking?

Lastly, support one of these anti-trafficking organizations today. It’s Giving Tuesday and after days of shopping, make a real effort to give directly to help survivors of human trafficking.

Here are some organizations that I have personally worked with and/or volunteered with in Chicago. They are all doing amazing work in our city.


What I love about CAASE is their focus on Ending Demand. They have an educator who goes into local high schools and middle schools to talk with boys about the realities of the sex industry and the fallacies they are seeing and hearing around them.

They also take the lead with legal advocacy in Chicago and Illinois. At the end of the day, if the laws don’t change, then longterm change is not possible.

New Name

Through New Name I have been able to do outreach in massage parlors in my neighborhood and come to a better understanding of international sex and labor trafficking. Massage parlors are very difficult as there is a huge language and cultural barrier. But New Name has a fantastic approach and view of these women and we are there to love and support and help however needed.

If you want to donate to New Name, please mail a check to PO Box 632, Glen Ellyn, IL 60137.

The Dream Center 

Last year I spent a lot of time with the Dream Center and was able to get involved with a street prostitution outreach. This was my first time “on the streets” and I was very humbled by my lack of understanding and lack of sensitivity. I found so much of this life is about survival and control. The women and men who work in the Dream Center are truly some of the most courageous people I know.

They have housing and after-care for girls who have been trafficked and women who have been in the sex industry and/or drug addiction. This is a place absolutely over-flowing with love and care.

So if this article has been helpful in your understanding at all about human trafficking, please share. Also, please feel free to email me or comment with questions or additional insights. This isn’t about pushing my opinions; I want this to be all about starting conversations.

So let’s have conversations that love and help people.


Making Judgements About The Moon


The bright moon is rising

Captivating only my quick glance

Before I move on

Because I think I understand it,

That just because I see it

Means I “get” it.

But if only I studied– if I distrusted my initial judgment–

If only I dug deeper than my first impression

I would be floored and humbled

By my arrogant assumptions.

To think I know anything about the moon

When I never heard it’s story

When I only read books about it

When I only listened to gossip about it.

It seems that my perception could be vastly different

If I changed my method of judging.

If I stopped and considered the moon’s realities, I would see that

It’s closeness is great only because of it’s sheer mass.

It’s light is not selfish, but simply reflective.

It’s marks are not defects or self-inflicted, but massive craters

That tell of depth and time and beauty and experiences.

I think I can hold it

But I cannot.

I think I can define it

But I cannot.

I’m starting to realize the uncomfortable truth that

The only way to have intimacy of the moon

Is to visit

And listen

And discover

And study

And commit

Over a long period of time.

Only then do I dare tell you

What I think the moon is like.



Sometimes I think we make experiential assumptions about people around us.

Sometimes I think we make educated guesses about cultural issues.

Sometimes I think we try to figure out someone else’s story through the lens of our own.

Maybe it’s time to meet the person behind the statistic.

Maybe it’s time I need to stop thinking my story is “best of many” and starting thinking it’s “one of many.”

Maybe it’s time I commit to one concern, one group, one person, instead of trying to be an authority on all.

I’m starting to understand that it’s vastly unfair to speak my opinion with authority when I have no intimacy with what I’m trying to speak for or represent.

I also had no idea that this internal confrontation would happen when I sat down to watch the blue moon last week.

You never know what will trigger new questions and realities.

And sometimes they happen only once in a blue moon.

An Open Letter Of Apology To Black America

Dear Black America,

IMG_8300One week ago I had already decided to go to South Side Chicago on Friday night and attend the Peace Rally and March at St. Sabina Church, as well as attending Progressive Baptist Church, a historical black church in south Chicago, the following Sunday morning. Little did I know that the massacre in Charleston South Carolina would set the stage for me as I would awaken into a new reality and inner brokenness.

For myself, I was born in Joliet, a suburb of Chicago, yet moved to several different states with my family. Many of these places had opportunities of diversity: Virginia, St. Louis, and Orlando, to name a few. I also lived almost 9 years in South Carolina before moving to Chicago exactly a year ago.

I know Charleston very well. It was one of my favorite cities. I knew it so well that I would often act as tour guide when I took my friends there.

Yet at the same time, I didn’t know– didn’t know the hate.

But even so, as I’ve come to realize…

I could have known.

I just didn’t think it was as important as my comfort.

At the Peace Rally Friday night I entered into a world that was far from my own, but ironically only next door. A door I and many others in white America have never walked through, but had access to.

I saw a loving, heart-full people that are literally dying for peace.

They read the names of 100 Chicago youth who have been killed during the last school year. They had 23-year old guys talk about their lives being changed from guns and violence to faith and freedom, but also the realities that many of their friends were now dead or in prison. They talked of doing everything they could to make their neighborhood a safe place for their children to play.

IMG_8306When asked for a show of hands of how many people have had a loved one killed as a result of violence, I looked around and saw most people in the large crowd raising their hands.

But not me.

I didn’t live in that life. Sure, I was born just a city away, in a town that had the 2nd highest crime rate in America while I was growing up. But I didn’t know anyone injured or killed through violence.

“How did that happen?” I wondered.

One older black man put his hand on my shoulder during the march and said, “I’m glad you came.” We talked. We held hands and prayed. And afterwards we all hugged everyone else around us and verbally affirmed, “I love you.”

IMG_8310In the face of terrible violence and poverty in their neighborhood, this was their expression.

Love was their rally cry.

My white friends, or privileged class, never rallied like this together to overcome impossible odds.

We never had to be uncomfortable like this.

We never had to be strong like this.

Another man struck up a conversation with me and joked about how hot it was in the unusually chilly 50 degree summer evening. I laughed back, “This is hot?? I know heat. I just moved here recently from South Carolina…”

And I nearly choked. I almost apologized, “And– and I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

And that almost-apology hasn’t left me.

Look at us. We are all applauding the open, public demonstration of forgiveness from the families of the Charleston massacre towards Dylann.

“How strong. How forgiving. How beautiful,” we admire.

We’re so happy to see a spirit of forgiveness in a racist situation.

God help us.

We are so blind.

We should not be expecting your forgiveness to offenders.

We should be asking for yours.

Where were we when your families were bought and sold like cattle? Where were we when your basic human rights were intentionally denied? Where were we in 1822 when multiple church leaders of Emanuel Methodist Episcopal Church were executed by the governing authorities? Where were we when our politicians and businesses and families decided that you were less than worthy of the kind of life we lived? Where were we during Selma and L.A. and Baltimore and Ferguson?

Where were we?

Sitting on our privileges, that we knew wouldn’t change whether we acted or not.

You have never had that luxury.

As a young white educated privileged American, on the behalf of those like me who have lived a brutally insensitive life,

I am so sorry.

Like Nehemiah when he learned of the corrupt deeds of his people and nation and came to God and said, “We have sinned against you,” even so I now realize that the sin of Dylann is the reflection of a culture that turns a blind eye to racial hate and next-door poverty. The weight of the harm is heavy. My heart is broken. I am hurting to reconcile.

His sin is our sin.

Is my sin.

And so, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for not listening.

I’m sorry for claiming the colorblind Gospel of Jesus but not seeking community in faith with you.

I’m sorry thinking that I wasn’t prejudice because I had several token black friends.

I’m sorry for not laying down my rights so that I could advance yours.

I’m sorry for not being a voice for your injustices to the ones in power that I had access to.

I’m sorry for being afraid of what other people would think of me.

I’m sorry that we avoid poverty and violence like the plague, that we warn each other about going to the South Side, or the West Side, or whatever side of the city is the impoverished side, thinking that somehow it would make us dirty.

I’m sorry for discriminating, for judging you by what you say or what you wear or how you look or what music you listen to or how you live because it looks different from me.

I’m sorry for using my privileges to make myself more privileged.

I’m sorry that we viewed Ferguson and Baltimore as a boy crying wolf, and that it took 9 innocent black lives being murdered to realize that there is a race problem, and that it is black and white.

I’m sorry that it’s taken an event like this to make us care about you, that makes us come together and unify.

I’m sorry for arrogantly saying things like, “The Civil War is over. Slavery is in the past. Get over it.”

I’m sorry for dismissing our nation’s historical past acceptance of slavery as “It was just the culture then,” instead of saying, “It was an evil culture.”

I’m sorry that when you reached out to us in your most desperate hour that we said, “Keep calm and carry on” when there was in fact everything to be enraged about.

I’m sorry for my brutal insensitivity.

I’m sorry for avoiding you.

I’m sorry for Facebook posts and tweets and conversations that made assumptions without having actual real relationships and experiences with you.

I’m sorry that our public, private and Christian educators don’t talk about civil rights or the civil rights movement as something that is important to our culture and identity as a nation.

I’m sorry for South Carolina specifically, that we could produce a generation of activists against blacks, that it did not happen on accident and was bred with a twisted value system that of course nobody claims but doesn’t really question.

I’m sorry that our churches use the words, “Us” and “Them” and not “We.”

I’m sorry that our churches don’t actively seek reconciliation with you.

I’m sorry that I have waited for you to come to me first.

I’m sorry that I would weep about the vast need of the unreached nations and how I wished I could go, but then the next moment watch the news get annoyed about another black protest to violence.

I’m sorry for our white flight and shamelessly running in retreat from the inner cities.

I’m sorry that our churches would bring in organizations to fight poverty in West Africa but never went to the “bad” impoverished parts of town to feed the hungry children.

I’m sorry for the death of your children, your fathers, your mothers, and your friends through violence that could have been prevented.

I’m sorry for those nights you sobbed yourself to sleep, wishing someone would believe you, praying that someone in a place of power would fight for your cause, but we saw it and ignored.

I’m sorry for being part of the reason for many days and nights of rejection and hopeless feelings.

I’m sorry for the name calling we have done, denigrating your value.

I’m sorry that this has gone on for generations.

I’m sorry for assuming everything was a political move.

I’m sorry for my injustice against you.

I’m sorry for my faith without works.

I’m sorry for thinking of myself more highly than I ought to think.

Before everyone I want to make a stand and declare that you are valuable, you are beautiful, your spirit is strong, your voice is heard, your cause is real, your mission is just, your people are our people, your dreams are our dreams, your struggle is our struggle, and your victories are our victories.

Since I was silent, ignorant and insensitive for so long, I want to honor you and humble myself by making this public.

Will you forgive me?


This is very personal to me. It’s an overflow of my heart that somehow made it’s way to an open letter and blog post. You may understand me, but you also may not. That’s ok, because it’s been a long process for me. However, if this is your confession and you want to express your sorrow over any of our ignorance and insensitivity, please leave a comment and then share. Let’s do this together and take a real step towards reconciliation with our brothers and sisters.


**Read more about our country’s historical injustice in an article by Lecrae

Broken, But Not Destroyed

I’ve been here one year, one whole year since moving to Chicago and totally starting over.

I came with a lot of hope, but inwardly carrying so much pain. So much pain from a betraying relationship in my personal life, and a verbally abusive power in my work life.

But even in my walk of hope into the future, in hopes away from the past, I had no idea the amount of resistance I was about to face.

You see, previously at one point in all my hope as I left to start a new season in my life, I thought I could do anything, accomplish whatever I set my heart on.

But instead of encouragement, I faced the betraying, abusive voices: “Who do you think you are?? What do you think you’re trying to do? You are nothing. You are completely unvaluable.”

The people of power and influence in my life had bullied my spirit almost into the ground.

I feel like I’ve lived with the humiliation of my hopes being dashed, and ashamed I was ashamed.

And yet– how can I say this– I knew.

I knew that I was supposed to step into a role of helping businesses be successful. I knew it was also time to partner with non-profits to build sustainable business models for them to help provide work opportunities for trafficked and abused women, to teach these beautiful women that they are more than their bodies, that they are full of potential and skills and opportunities within business.

This kind of work, this kind of “helping businesses” is otherwise known as consulting. And I thought this was it, this was my calling.

But the oppressive cloud hung over my head all year, and I couldn’t get the ridiculing, scoffing voices out.

“Who do you think you are? A consultant??”

At times this past year I have felt that all was lost.

I have had total meltdowns more than I care to recall.

I have felt like I’ve been on the verge of complete disaster continually.

I have faced very real injustice, betrayal, and brutal insensitivity.

I wanted to walk away. But I didn’t quit. I couldn’t quit— how can I explain it? I knew that I knew I was supposed to pursue this calling.

For so long I knew that God’s love was for me, and I was down with that. But I really didn’t think his justice applied to me.

Oh, but little did I realize that justice is love in action.

It’s really powerful love giving really powerful purpose. It’s hope wrapped in a gift.

It’s real. It’s received.


Here it is. A kind way God has worked justice for me.

Today I started a job as a small business consultant for a reputable consulting firm in Chicago.

Who… me??

How was I to know that they would need a consultant that specializes in marketing and non-profits, which are both my favorites and my passions.

And folks, that’s when I knew that the only voice that matters is the one that created me.

Others can point and scoff and even in pious judgment say to God, “Who does she think she is??”

And he simply smiles and answers, “The best. The most awesome. The biggest world changer. You see, she’s with me.”

It brings to me to tears, that it all had a purpose, that following a very small seed of struggling faith was much bigger than any other opposition.

Sometimes it takes being broken to realize that you can’t be destroyed.


What I Learned From An Ex-Pimp’s Story And How It Relates To The Riots

There’s a soul behind the face.

There’s a heart behind the actions.

There’s a story behind the violence.

I had a major realization a few weeks ago while watching a documentary about sex trafficking in Chicago. The statistics were mind-blowing. I have learned a lot about trafficking, prostitution, and the sex trade in the past few years, but I had no idea how pervasive it was amongst the youth, specifically in Chicago.

childThat the average entry age for prostitution (i.e., trafficking) is 12.

That the average age for boys to start buying sex is 14.

That mothers sell their daughters to drug dealers to pay off debts.

It starts making you really angry at the money-handlers, the dealers.

The pimps.

Behind the face of every child and women trafficked is a pimp that is controlling and dictating every move and action.

The pimps are typically men that are extremely manipulative, controlling, narcissistic, abusive, and greedy. His women are his property, his means of support.

What’s equally mind-blowing is when a pimp leaves that life and is truly a changed person. It’s radical and can be sometimes hard to process. Such an evil person now changed? It’s only possible through life-changing redemption.

Very few pimps leave that life, but I came to hear the story of one.

In a documentary called “Dreamcatchers,” I heard the story of Brenda. She is from South side Chicago and lived in prostitution and trafficking for 25 years. After escaping from that world, she dedicated her life to helping youth and women ensnared in the same world she had been.

In the middle of the film entered a new character, Homer.

Homer, now an ex-pimp, had been the best friend of Brenda’s former pimp. Homer controlled, abused, and sold women just like the rest.

Years later, he changed. Radically. He left behind everything and became an advocate against the street life he used to live, now championing women and the cause of anti-trafficking.

But it wasn’t the incredible life change that grabbed my attention the most.

It was his story, his past.

Homer grew up with a terrible family life. He watched his mother be physically abused by his dad. He knew growing up that this probably wasn’t right, but because his mother never left, he began to believe that this was the way to love. So it was at home that his world-view of people and women evolved.

His dad was always a very angry, resentful man. His dad, now elderly, was actually in the documentary. He was talking with Homer in their home, and his dull, seething anger was incredibly obvious. You could see the dysfunctional home life in real time, though years later.

As Homer talked in an interview later, he described how his father’s anger and home life directly influenced his own life. Homer succumbed to anger and hatred as he himself was physically and sexually abused as a child by people in his life.

With this skewed world-view and mental disorientation, he ran headlong into drugs, alcohol, and sex. It moved naturally into violence, theft, and using prostitutes. As he observed the “benefits” of pimp life, he went full throttle. Women ceased to be people. They were now objects, his property.

Did he ever think that he would be a pimp? “No,” he said. But it was a path, a road that the culture around him gave as an opportunity to find his identity.

But the most telling point of all of this was when the interviewer asked him why he thought his father was so angry and abusive. “Well,” Homer replied, “My father’s father treated him the exact same way.

“I knew my grandfather briefly. He grew up in Alabama and later moved to Chicago. And he was seriously full of anger and wrath. He took it out on his family and was abusive.

“In fact, I believe that if my grandfather had the same opportunity as I did with violence, drugs and pimping, he would have done the same things. He would have been a pimp. He would have been violent in community. I know he would have.”

When I heard this, my mind just froze.

Something clicked. Something I didn’t even wanted to think about or consider.

Perhaps you can’t separate history from hurt.

Perhaps the sins of your fathers could be your sins.


Perhaps there’s a historical root cause behind all the displays of anger, hatred, abuse, and violence.

Maybe the best way to help Chicago’s violence and trafficking issue dissolve is to help individual people be set free from their anger, which stemmed from pain, which stemmed from a deep wound…

…which may have been injustice.

I believe this ties in directly to all the talk and conversations around race and riots and protests that is getting media attention right now.

And I feel like something needs to be said.

White friends, here’s a word for us: we vastly misunderstand the struggle.

We think, though may not say, that the most violent parts of our cities are where the population is heavily black or minority, so they are the cause of it. It’s just their nature.

And if it’s just their nature, then the solution doesn’t involve our empathy. So we don’t have to feel sorrowful– simply offer pat solutions that gives us the sense we’re involved without actually struggling through the emotional issues with them.

And we act on it.

Sure, maybe not outrightly. That would be hypocritical to our loving, accepting, and religious culture.

But our lives speak louder than words.

Our friends aren’t black (Don’t agree? Scroll through your Facebook friend list right now)

Our churches aren’t diverse (Should not my church reflect the racial percentage of my city or community? Or at least talk about pursuing that?)

Our businesses don’t want to sell to blacks (What I learned from conversations at one of my jobs)

We (might) invite black friends to come into our world instead of us going into theirs.

We make light jokes about, “The war is over. Slavery has been illegal for a long time. That was resolved years ago. You should be over it by now.”

And by say that we’re basically saying, “I don’t care what you feel. You should not feel that. Since I think you should be over it by now, then I don’t have to care about your struggle with it.”

Wait a second, Angela,” you may interject. “You’re saying that the black culture is still hurting from the slavery that was ended after the Civil War way back in 1865?? C’mon…”

I’m saying that I realized that Homer’s great-great-grandfather could have been alive around the time of the Civil War. And the way he could have been unjustly mistreated may have been the seed of anger that grew into abuse. And abuse is proven to pass from generation to generation. Just like it has in Homer’s family.

Yes, I am drawing conclusions and making some assumptions and trying my hardest to understand people’s actions based off their past. And it seems logical, that part of the issue of trafficking I see in Chicago is stemmed from a dysfunctional family life.

Does that give excuses to those that come from dysfunctional families? NEVER! I would never look at the women that Homer prostituted and say, “Well, he was simply a result of his family’s anger which was incited by injustice several generations ago. He shouldn’t be held liable.”

Obviously not. I think you and I both get that.

But I think we need to think a little more before we post and blog and discuss. I think we need to work hard to be intentional about how we diversify our minds, and then our speech, and then our actions.

Guys, it’s really uncomfortable. But get over it. Living this way is meaningful and may not just change you; it could change your community and our entire national culture.

I don’t have any to-do lists for you or how I plan to solve these problems, both of the white misunderstandings or the black realities. I’ve probably offended someone on both sides by making some generalizations.

Yet I believe that dysfunctional can become functional and it can happen in a kind process. Wouldn’t it be great to have someone walk with you through your struggle and say, “I hear for you, I want the best for you, and I empathize with your pain, even if I don’t totally understand it.”

And don’t think I’m really good at this. Do I struggle with discrimination? Have I discriminated before? You bet.

But I’m becoming more aware. More aware of myself, more aware of the struggle, more aware of the past. And being aware makes me fight against my tendencies to only be around people who are just like me and make me feel really comfortable and good about myself.

I think we all need to hear this and ask ourselves the question,

“Am I the one that needs to change?”


Don’t Hit Your New Year’s Goals And You Might Accomplish Something Great

I’m not the best at setting goals and actually accomplishing them.

Like the one time I got a couch from Craigslist and put the old one, affectionately known as “The Rock,” on the back porch with the goal of hauling it to the dumpster?


The Rock before the degradation by earth’s forces

Yep, it sat outside 2 years.

It became the hideous, unmentionable skeleton in the closet.

You thought I was accomplishing something with my life?

Until you looked out the back door.

Ah yes, the dilapidated, infested, weather-torn, demon-possessed Bel-rock couch from a budget horror film sat there in complete defiance to my highly ambitious life.

Goals mean NOTHING when you have no real intentions to making yourself uncomfortable to make them happen.

Would it have been uncomfortable to walk out to the back porch and carry the potentially (and highly-imagined) spider-infested, disease-carrying, snake-pit couch to the dumpster?


But I chose the easy route. Leave it there. Pretend like it’s invisible. Let “time” take care of it.

It’s easy to not do anything. Or to make someone else make you do it.

Last year I sat down and wrote a lot of New Year’s goals for myself. Yes, many of them, like the trashing of The Rock, never came to fruition.

New Year’s Goals I didn’t accomplish in 2014:

Pay off all my credit debt

Pay triple my minimum monthly payments on college debt 

Run a 10K

Write one morning a week consistently for my blog

Go to 5 states I’ve never been to before

Participate in a flash mob

Go to a third world country

Go to a variety of cultural places of worship

Date regularly

Yeah, these things didn’t happen.

But let me tell you some things that did happen in 2014.

New Year’s Goals I accomplished in 2014:

Move to a different state

Live in a big city

Not use any credit card or incur further debt

Salsa dance regularly 

Hang out with people of different skin color

Hang out with the poor and homeless

Get involved with anti-trafficking in a big city

Be in a church that is highly diverse

Be in a very intentional community of discipleship

Have mentors

Workout at least 3 times a week

Looking at what I’ve been able to accomplish is neat, but sometimes if I write out all the things I accomplish it ends up not even being what I actually want, what I want my life to look like.

I don’t think it’s bad to look at the things I didn’t accomplish or the goals I didn’t hit. In fact, I need to look at those. If I ignore it, then I forgot my purpose and my dreams. Seeing what I haven’t been able to do allows me remember where I want to go and how I can make some decisions today that will allow me to keep going in the direction.

You see, you have to remember– this is about the journey. As you set a goal or start down a path, it’s really just amazing that you actually started! What happens next is bonus material.

Reaching the goals, missing the goals… it’s all a discovery process. Through it all I have learned who I am unlike any other time in my life. Because I had great expectations for myself and decided that uncomfortable was a greater risk than chilling out, making everybody else happy with my life.

It’s funny, though, because as I look back at this year sometimes I feel guilty that at this moment I’m genuinely happy and hopeful, because there were so many moments of hurt and despair.

But I also choose to think on the moments of “Ah, this is it!” Those aren’t moments you can dream up or put on your goal list. You think it’s a certain paycheck, or marriage, or babies, or promotion, or destinations?

It’s not. The moments I have found where I think, “This is what I want my life to look like,” happened as I was walking along daily life and was surprised. It happened around a table, during conversation, in an unlikely friendship, in a situation that was counter-cultural, in a moment that involved giving of myself to people.

Those moments had everything to do with love and being uncomfortable, to walk into a situation that I had no idea how it would pan out, and be at risk.

I had to pick up my own Rock Couch and move it on.

I think that’s what I want to do every day.

Not try to hit these New Year’s Resolutions necessarily.

But to walk into the uncomfortable. Embrace the awkward.

Try it. I can’t explain it, but it’s very freeing. And it will open you up to experiences of “Ah-ha, this is it!”

I’ve already written my New Year’s resolutions with every intention of not hitting many of them, but hopefully I’ll stumble into greatness on the path there! So any New Year’s goals you want to journey on to in 2015?