I’m so honored to have written the following article about Jimmy Lee, the executive director of Restore NYC, an organization that serves trafficked foreign nationals in New York City. The piece received a prize from the “This Is Our City” project of Christianity Today, and I am pleased that Jimmy and Restore NYC will receive more attention for the wonderful, life-giving work they are doing:
As a child, Jimmy Lee didn’t seem too interested in justice. By age 9, he had figured out how to win his classroom’s monthly motivational prize through a combination of cheating, stealing, and smarts. In 7th grade, he and his fellow athlete-friends would regularly morph into bullies, selecting weaker boys and girls, then knocking down their books and teasing them.
Fast-forward several decades, to a solitary, pre-dawn morning in April 2012. Lee sat down in his usual chair for devotions, thinking about a different segment of the weak and vulnerable. Just hours earlier, he had been introduced as the new executive director of Restore NYC, a faith-based organization that serves foreign nationals who are victims of sex trafficking in New York City. As he thought about what it must have been like for these women who have experienced horrific and repeated abuse, sometimes 30 times a day for years on end, the former aggressor found his defenses crumbling, and he wept.
“I sensed God was asking me to enter into their painful experience, to feel what he feels when this kind of abuse occurs,” Lee says. “To feel his sadness as well as his hunger for righteousness, justice, and restoration.”
Lee’s story is one of redemption, of a child with a limited moral compass transformed into a grown man pursuing justice, freedom, and equality for the most at-risk members of society.
From Aggressor to Advocate
Two events left indelible imprints on Lee and undoubtedly helped to shift this former child bully into an advocate for others. The first was his conversion to Christianity in early high school. The second was his decision to spend the summer of 1994 in South Africa, right after the anti-apartheid movement had reached its zenith with the election of Nelson Mandela as president. Witnessing history in the making had long-lasting ramifications for Lee: “I knew from then on that I ultimately wanted to do something with my life related to pursuing economic and social justice,” he says.
His time in South Africa also taught him about the importance of leveraging the political process to enact change. For this reason, Lee invests significant time and energy into advocating for policy decisions that will aid sex-trafficking victims. He is no stranger to press conferences and meetings with state and city officials. And the impact of Lee’s involvement in the political realm has not just helped Restore NYC, according Dorchen Leidholdt, who leads the statewide non-governmental organization Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.
“Jimmy has changed the way that key players in the system look at the issue of trafficking,” Leidholdt says. “He made the decision to formally bring Restore into the work of the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition and to join our campaign, which has been pivotal. He takes advantage of all the opportunities to advocate for trafficking victims and survivors. And male legislators can hear from Lee in a way they cannot hear from the rest of us. He demonstrates that this is not just a women’s issue.”
Read the rest of this article at the This Is Our City website:
Apologies for taking a while to post lately, but I’ve been in Scandinavia! =)
My hope for either myself or my family this year was to go on an overseas missions trip together. But in the end, what happened was something unexpected: a chance to go on a family trip to northern Europe in a once-in-a-lifetime excursion. I am not much of a world traveler outside of regular trips to Canada and family trips to Korea when I was younger. But lately, I have been wanting to experience more of what God is doing in other parts of the globe, and having my kids do the same.
During our 12-day trip, we had the chance to visit three different countries–Sweden, Denmark, and Norway–and in addition to the fabulous scenery and the novelty of being exposed to different cultures, my kids learned valuable lessons that have convinced me that we need to do more of these kinds of cross-cultural experiences together in the near future:
1. The U.S. is NOT the center of the universe.
To some extent, my kids already know this; they are tri-cultural as Korean-American-Canadians. But they still largely identify themselves as being American more than anything else, and so visiting Scandinavia was a chance to discover anew the truth that there are many other wonderful cultures and countries outside of the U.S. We were fortunate to be in a part of the world in which so many people do speak English, but at the same time we both heard and saw numerous other languages around us during our time in Scandinavia. We had to go through the process of deciphering basic words and phrases in three different languages, and the disorientation, while jarring at times, was a good experience for us all. Although our kids were relieved to come back to O’Hare International Airport (“It’s so nice to see all the signs in English, Mom!”), at the same time they gained greater perspective that the world is a big but increasingly accessible place, and the U.S. is only a small portion of it.
2. You don’t need a car to survive.
The Europeans have done a great job at making their cities so accessible with public transportation; my kids did more walking and public-transit riding in 12 days than they had ever previously experienced. Of course, this was something for my kids to also grumble about at times (especially my 5 year old!), but it such a great contrast to their mobile, suburban lifestyle and a good reminder of the reality that so many people in the world do not have access to a motor vehicle. I enjoyed both the challenge and the freedom of being without a car, not to mention the exercise we did with all the walking–which helped to balance out our daily intake of breads, cheeses, and croissants!
3. Life cannot always be comfortable.
Compared with traveling in a majority-world nation, in which basic needs such as sanitation and transportation might be much more undeveloped than what we experienced, our time in Scandinavia was not uncomfortable in the least. But yet, the boys still had to go through the discomforts of not being able to have what they typically expected or wanted when they wanted it, whether it was familiar foods, time to vegetate and relax when we were in full-tourist mode, or having to go along with mom and dad when we were headed to a museum instead of a park. It reminded me of how fortunate and comfortable our boys are at home, with more than all of their basic needs met and plenty of luxuries that come with the middle-class American lifestyle. And I realized that having more experiences out of their comfort zone would better prepare them to live missional lives in the future.
4. Wherever you go, you can find God’s people.
One of the highlights for me towards the end of our trip was visiting Immanuel Church in Stockholm, which had services in Swedish, English, and even Korean. We headed to the English service and were blessed to worship with an incredibly diverse congregation, yet the style and setting of the service was utterly familiar. My kids had the chance to meet, worship, and play with children from all around the globe. It was a wonderful reminder that the spirit of God knows no boundaries, and that anywhere in the world you go, you can find the people of God.
Our time in Scandinavia was definitely far from the missions experience I’d hoped I’d have some time this year. But at the same time, it gave me a small taste of what to expect when traveling overseas with children, which will help prepare us for the time when God does call us to our next trip abroad…which I hope will be sooner rather than later!
If you’ve traveled abroad with children for leisure or for missions, I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on how to prepare kids for the experience!
While having dinner with a family who lives in Manhattan, the parents told me about their daughter’s saga of testing for kindergarten admission into New York’s notoriously selective Hunter Elementary School. The parents are two of the brightest people I know, and their four-year-old daughter is fluent in at least three languages so far (Mandarin, French, and English). Her test results placed her in the impressive 98th percentile. And yet, she hadn’t made it past the first round; only kids who scored in the 99th percentile and above advanced.
My friends took it in good stride, shrugging off the results. “I look on the bright side,” said Jennifer. “At least she scored in the 98th percentile! I just wasn’t willing to do all the test prep that everyone else does.”
Test preparation has become the norm for many Manhattan families wishing to give their children that extra boost needed to gain admission into these very competitive public school programs. The New York Times recently reported that, despite education administrators’ efforts to downplay the impact of test preparation, an impact clearly seems to exist. The well-prepared child is one whose parents have the resources to afford the many tutoring services that have emerged to meet the demand of today’s anxious parents.
Thinking about the situation of my well-educated and intelligent friends and their precocious daughter, I have to wonder what hope there is for kids from families that are not as well-resourced. Pundits and politicians have dissected the increasing “opportunity gap“ that exists between the upper and lower classes, with conservatives and liberals both pointing fingers at the other’s flawed plans to bring more parity to our society. Unfortunately, policies can only go so far. What we’re seeing in our culture is not just an opportunity gap, but a moral and spiritual one as well.
Part of what Christian families can bring to the conversation is an awareness of this disparity and a willingness to stand against cultural norms to carve out a new pathway for themselves and their kids. I’ve been heartened to read more stories lately of Christian parents who are taking an approach to their children’s education that is clearly not based upon an individualistic desire to see their own kids succeed, but instead, seeks to lift the quality of education for all of the children in their community.
(Read the rest of the post at the Christ and Pop Culture blog.)
Photo credit: http://www.istockphoto.com/abalcazar
We recently hosted friends from New York City for dinner, who came with their two young daughters in tow. The elder, a precocious four-year-old who can easily speak three different languages (Mandarin, French, and in last place, English), had taken an entrance exam to attend kindergarten at one of the city’s notoriously sought-after schools. She’d done well, scoring higher than 98 percent of all applicants.
But apparently, being in the top 2 percent wasn’t good enough; she had to score well above 99 percent of all applicants in order to have a chance of admission. “Well, at least we know she scored pretty well on the test,” my friend Jennifer said with a shrug.
These are the times in which we live, that pressures begin for parents of children even in the supposedly innocent years of preschool. As Jennifer shared how many of their peers had “prepped” their precious four-year-olds for the exam, I found myself wondering what good could come from a society that is pushing even our littlest ones into academic success at such a young age.
(Read the rest of the post at the What to Expect When You’re Expecting blog.)
Photo credit: Wayne Yuan Photography
As I was browsing through Facebook last week, I noticed that my friend DJ Chuang had posted a photo on Facebook about the upcoming Urbana Student Missions Conference, as he was running a contest to encourage pastors to win a free pass to the conference. (DJ is on the “Social Media Squad” for Urbana to help cover and promote the event.)
Interestingly, though, it wasn’t the contest that seemed to generate any attention, but the photo that DJ posted (which you can see on his website); he had created a montage of the current lineup of speakers for the “Pastors and Church Leaders” track, and although the 12 people portrayed reflected ethnic and racial diversity, the glaring reality that only one was a woman (Jeanette Yep, missions pastor at Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA–and a dear friend of mine) hit a nerve with the Facebookers who saw it. “What?? Where are the women?? This is an outrage!!” was the immediate outcry.
Lost amidst the momentary buzz was the reality that Urbana as a whole actually does a great deal to pursue and uphold the contributions of women amongst the conference leaders, plenary speakers, worship leaders, and workshop speakers. According to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) vice-president Tom Lin, director of missions and Urbana, “More than 60% of Urbanaâ€™s Program leadership is comprised of women, including Nikki Toyama-Szeto (program director), Sandra Van Opstal (worship director), Lindsay Olesberg (Bible Study Manager for the Conference), Diana Collymore (Afternoon Programs Manager), Alison Siewart (Theatre and Arts Director), and Lina Sanchez-Herrera (National Prayer Co-Coordinator).”
Nevertheless, the comments came flying, with varying degrees of frustration, concern, and disappointment, from many who are InterVarsity insiders. It was a moment of InterVarsity family business, so to speak, but on display for the world to see. I, too, initially felt disheartened to see only one woman on that track, fabulous a selection though she is. But as someone who thinks highly of both Tom and also of InterVarsity in general, I was certain there was an explanation, and I did not want to comment until I’d heard it.
And there was: according to track director Donna Wilson, the track’s speaking assignments are not yet complete, and the Urbana team is still waiting to hear from other women who have been contacted to speak in this track. The photo montage was not an official photo created by the Urbana team, but one that DJ put together out of a desire to make it easier for people to see the information about all the currently confirmed speakers in this track. And I have absolutely no doubt that the Urbana team will find more women to help balance the gender gap currently present in this track.
Urbana and its parent organization, IVCF, have demonstrated their commitment to diversity in more ways than one, both in terms of gender representation at major events like Urbana, as well as in its well-documented commitment to multiethnicity and multiethnic ministry, well before doing so was considered necessary or important. Through its publishing branch, InterVarsity Press, IVCF is the organization responsible for publishing numerous books affirming the value and role of women in ministry (Discovering Biblical Equality, Women in the Church, Living on the Boundaries, and More than Enchanting, just to name a few.) It features women involved at all levels of leadership and ministry. If what happened with the Pastors and Church Leaders’ track was an oversight, then believe me, they are doing everything they can to rectify the situation.
In this instant-feedback culture we live in, in which it’s easy to offer up our immediate reactions and have those reactions be validated in real-time by others who think similarly, we sometimes forget that before we react, it makes good sense to pause or to pursue an explanation first. This is true both in the old “think before you speak” adage, but even more true online, where our immediate reactions are now visible for all to see. Was it wrong for people to make a comment about the seeming lack of gender diversity in the Pastors and Church Leaders track? No. I think we need to speak up when we see inequalities that need to be addressed.
But if and when we do, I think it is wise to reserve judgment until we are well-versed in the facts. Otherwise, all we’ll do is perpetuate an outrage or an outcry that may not have had a reason to be perpetuated in the first place.
(Photo: Nancy Kaszerman/Newscom)
Perhaps you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about “Gangnam Style,” the latest YouTube video-gone-viral with more than 220 million views to date. If you are one of the few remaining inhabitants of the planet who haven’t seen the video, then let me bring you up to speed:
• The rap/song features South Korean pop star Park Jae-Sang, who goes by the name “Psy” (short for “Psycho”), accompanied by a cast of South Korean celebrities who most of us will not recognize, all dancing to a driving, ear-catching techno beat.
• Unless you are fluent in Korean, you can expect to understand none of the words in the video except “sexy lady” (and of course, “Gangnam style”. By the way, “Gangnam” is pronounced Gahng-nahm “” not “gang” rhyming with “bang” as I continue to hear many American media types pronounce it.) You can find a translation of the full song all over the Internet; here is one example.
• “Gangnam” refers to the wealthiest, most opulent district in Seoul, South Korea; it’s an area that is only 15 square miles but holds nearly as much of the nation’s GDP as New York state (that’s state, not city) does in the U.S. You can look at this infographic for some more details.)
• No horses were harmed in the making of the video, but they do inspire the dance move that is taking the world by storm.
So is “Gangnam Style” worth watching? I have seen it a few times now, and I admit the tune is catchy and the video visually arresting (albeit occasionally bizarre; Psy breaks down the song scene-by-scene here). I’ve now also seen countless clips of Psy’s appearances on the gamut of American television shows, from Ellen to SNL to the MTV Video Music Awards, each time with Psy doing his signature horse trotting from the song, each time with an exuberant audience laughing and loving every moment.
Yet with each time I see the spectacle of Psy, I feel like my soul dies just a little bit.
This post originally appeared at UrbanFaith.com. You can read the rest of the post here.
Photo by: http://www.istockphoto.com/geopaul
Yesterday, I was talking with one of my sons about friends who are planning to enter into the mission field soon. I was sharing my excitement for their decision when my son interrupted me. “Will we be moving to another country, too?”
His voice reflected anxiety, not excitement, worry clouding his face. “I don’t know,” I told him. “I don’t know if that will be God’s call for us. But whether he is calling us to the mission field or not, he is still calling for us to be missionaries wherever we are.”
“So, we don’t have to move anytime soon?” he pressed. “That would be really hard.”
I could completely relate to his feelings. I am a homebody, someone who has rarely traveled outside this country (unless you count Canada), and after moving six times during the first decade of our marriage, when we arrived in our current home the last thing I ever wanted to do was to move again. Anywhere.
As the years have gone by, I’ve realized the challenging truth that the longer we stay in one place, the harder it is to have any desire to leave. And yet the God I see in Scripture, the God who calls us to go make disciples of all nations, is not one who seems to reward inertia. Is missional living incompatible with settling down?
I told my son that we have to be open to whatever path God sets before us, whether that means staying where we are or going somewhere completely different. One day, God may very well be calling us to a completely different city or country as missionaries, and as Christians we want to remain open to whatever God’s mission might be for us.
On the other hand, as God expresses in Jeremiah 29 when he tells the Israelites to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you to exile,” there can also be purpose in staying in one place and seeking to bring God’s blessings to those around us.
The challenge when we settle is that we tend to direct our energies inwardly, toward the building of our own homes and families, and in the process we forget that God desires for us to channel our energies outwardly, to “go” and find ways to have a positive impact in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our workplaces and communities, to find ways to make disciples of all nations while living in just one.
As in so many areas of the Christian life, there is a paradox here, a healthy tension to balance. We have to invest in people and places where we are, while simultaneously being open to the possibility that at any time, God could be calling us to go elsewhere. When I think of the stories from Scripture of so many people who were called to “go”, there was often very little advance notice. Abraham, Jonah, Ananias, just to a name a few, were all called to pick up and leave their current lives for a future one without any guarantees for safety and security.
Even the Israelites were not meant to stay in Babylon forever. Wherever you find yourself rooted today, may you both be thankful for where you are and also open to being sent somewhere unknown and unexpected, whether it is the next block, the next town, or even the next country over.
And as we seek the welfare of the cities we inhabit, and of the people God has called us to invest in, we must still hold loosely to the homes and lives we build, remembering that the essence of being mission- and Spirit-led people means that this world is meant to just be a temporary residence, that ultimately there is only one Home into which we will permanently settle.
A few days ago, I had about 90 minutes, maybe 2 solid hours if I was lucky, to do as I pleased. My youngest son, who requires the most hands-on care, was blissfully asleep. My 6-year-old was out of the house and my eldest was reading, which he can do for an entire afternoon when given the opportunity. So what would I do with this unusual bounty of time? My mind was spinning with how I could use it, what task I should attack, whether I could get most of it done in two hours. Before this point, I had been cleaning the kitchen from the morning aftermath, then doing non-stop loads of laundry, then feeding my kids lunch, then cleaning up that aftermath (am I the only mom for whom mealtimes result in “aftermaths”?).
Two hours. More clutter around me than could be handled in that time. But surely, I could make progress somewhere. The pantry, the laundry room, the refrigerator, the still-disastrous office. All were clamoring for my attention–I had no lack of options.
But then my oldest son came bounding down the stairs, wondering what I was doing, why I was so quiet. He is used to commotion around him when I’m in the house; for the past few minutes, I had been thinking of what to do and the stillness had surprised him. “Mom, what are you doing? Do you want to do something together?”
He is turning 10 in just a few months, undeniable evidence that I have been a parent for nearly a decade and I still can’t believe it. I took in his near-tweenage 80-lb. body, growing by the minute, his face which still held enough sweet innocence to keep the thought of impending puberty at bay.
I smiled at him as I made my split-second decision. “Let’s play something together. I challenge you to a duel. These moments don’t happen often, you-and-me time.”
His grin was wide and instant. I made no progress with the clutter that day, during those precious two hours. Instead, I played games with my son and even did some pleasure reading. It was not yet officially the Sabbath, but in the end, what I realized I needed was rest, a break from trying to impose order on a house that constantly moves towards disorder. And I needed a chance to have fun reconnecting with my son; despite constantly being around one another we don’t always manage to do so.
We can’t always choose to capitulate to the messes in our lives, but when you have a chance to challenge your 4th grade son to a game of Wii swordplay instead of beating down the clutter, then take it. Even if you lose, you win.
A quick post tonight, because I am busy de-cluttering the re-cluttered areas of my house in preparation for guests tomorrow! A few more things I have learned from this process:
- The process of de-junking one’s life is a discipline just like any other. It requires a sacrifice of time, leisure, and in my case, a personal preference to do anything else other than neatening our living areas. In this regard, it has been a good experience during Lent, a time in which experiencing some sort of sacrifice feels appropriate leading up to Holy Week.
- But we’ve hit a plateau. We’re barely managing to maintain that small area of space we have de-cluttered; progressing any further will require a significant investment of intentional time and energy. I need to devote an entire day, maybe more, to really start chipping away at other areas of disarray. This makes me think about spiritual growth, and how we often hit those plateaus, then hope that going through the normal motions will propel us further in our relationship with the Lord. But what we actually need is to be carving out more significant time and space to do the work of relationship-building with God that he always desires from us. I can pray and read the Bible every day, but that will just barely keep my spiritual clutter at bay.
- Clutter is just the first and most superficial level of getting one’s life in order. It’s easy enough to create the appearance of neatness and cleanliness, when your house is actually anything but neat and clean. I can so easily throw junk into a bin and hide it away, which maintains my uncluttered kitchen island, but doesn’t actually address the habits and ongoing messes of my life. How often do we project the appearance of spiritual health and cleanliness, when our secret closets and rooms house more messes than we ever want to show the world? I confess that I do this way more often than I should.
- Lastly, having the accountability of friends coming over to visit is a wonderful motivator to action. This is a reminder to me that we need the community of God to spur us on to good deeds and help us go a step further in our spiritual lives than we would without that accountability. Most of the time I would rather keep my spiritual life and the failures I experience as a Christian to myself. But I’m reminded that God never intended for us to walk our journeys alone, but to share our struggles and ask for the larger body of believers to provide support, insight, and assistance–if we have the humility to ask.
If I were really courageous, I would let my friends into my office and ask them to help me sort the disaster that it is. Perhaps a baby step for now is asking for help in organizing my junk bin. Every little bit of progress is worth celebrating, as I said in my previous post! (Or check out the first post on this topic here.)
How are you doing with your Lenten disciplines so far and what have you learned? Just remember, it’s 29 days until Easter!
We are a little over a week into Lent, and in this post I wanted to address some of the lessons I have begun to learn as we have been pursuing this particular choice of discipline. And, let me also answer some questions, such as, “How exactly is this working for you? Did you go through an entire decluttering of the house first?”
Uh, no. That would have proven nearly fatal for us to try to execute, such is the extent of clutter in our house. In fact, the enormity of the task has proven in the past to be the cause of my not addressing it; it just seemed too hopeless to make much of a dent in all the clutter, so in the end, why bother? But as a result of taking on this Lenten discipline, we have started chipping away at different trouble areas in our house, and as they become de-cluttered, we seek to keep them this way for the remainder of Lent (and hopefully beyond!) There is a practical element to what we are doing, as well; our house will play host to five additional family members who will visit on the Monday of Holy Week, so if all goes well what we accomplish in the de-cluttering will dovetail nicely with the arrival of the relatives! In any case, here are some lessons we’ve learned thus far along the way:
1) Involve the kids! We began by encouraging and helping our older boys, who are 9 and 6 years old, to organize and clean their rooms, to a greater extent than they were doing on a daily basis. So, they are joining with us in this exercise by maintaining clutter-free rooms and helping us with the public areas. This doesn’t mean that their rooms don’t get messy during the course of a day, but once a day they strive to return their rooms back to neatness. What I have really enjoyed about this year’s Lenten discipline is that we are doing it together, as a family. So often we privatize our faith journey, when God clearly indicates that we are to live out our faith in the context of community. Joining together to do a Lenten practice, and spurring one another on to higher standards (both from parents to children and from children to parents!) has been a much more enjoyable endeavor than the years when I’ve given up something on my own.
2) Celebrate even the little successes. Our next goal was to work on our main floor, which in our split-level house includes our living room, dining room, and kitchen. These areas are constantly used in our house, all day long, and contain two clutter hot spots–the top of our grand piano, and our kitchen island. Once we neatened those areas, though, the question was, what next? Some days we haven’t had time to tackle any big projects, but we’ve done a closet, or a cabinet. And each time we successfully improve on an area that was previously a mess, we take a moment to enjoy it and affirm those who were involved. This makes me think of how so often we avoid tackling the big spiritual problems we have in our lives because they seem too overwhelming. But perhaps if we can just start taking those baby steps, however small, we become emboldened to continue to strive for more and more ways to improve. Which brings me to the next point.
3) Improvement begets more improvement. The fascinating thing about this exercise is how, as we have become more intentional about de-cluttering, we have experienced the gratification that
comes from these little successes, which only motivates us to keep on going. This is the exact opposite of how I felt before we began Lent when it came to our cluttered house. Now, even though there is still a sizable area that needs to be neatened, when I look around I no longer feel defeated. I feel they are opportunities. Perhaps the same applies as we start taking a focused, intentional look at areas of sin or struggle in our life. Perhaps, if we see them less as burdens that will never change, and more as opportunities for us to let God’s grace shine in and through us, we may actually begin to see real change occur. Maybe, at the end of the day, an attitude welcoming God to do His work in us, coupled with trust and faith that he will come through and bring his good work to completion, is the most important element that actually catalyzes those changes to happen in our lives.
So that is what we are learning thus far. Next post: is there potential for legalism to set in with this Lenten discipline? In order to keep things ordered, are there things that have to be let go, and if so, what?
(And check out my previous post if you haven’t already done so: “Why We’re Giving Up Clutter for Lent.“)
Thanks for visiting and for your comments!