Dear Family and Friends,
I am writing you this letter today because I wanted to get the word out before my birthday (next Wednesday) in case you were thinking about getting me a gift. I will give you a quick version and a long version, so you can decide for yourself how much information you want to read. 🙂
The Quick Version: For my birthday I am asking for money towards a special trip. I need to raise $1000 from friends and family. The trip itself will cost $3000, but the cost is divided into thirds. I paid $1000 as a personal commitment already. I am to raise an additional $1000 through friends and family (or make up the difference myself) and I am raising the last $1000 through fundraising efforts with the group I will be traveling with.
I will be going with a group from my church on a two week long short term missions trip to a country called Moldova to witness and assist the work of a ministry called Stella’s House. (You can read more about the situation in Moldova and Stella’s House in the long version below.) Moldova is a small European country sort of squished in between Romania and Ukraine. We will be traveling at the end of June and beginning of July. Don’t worry, I will be back in time for Dan and Chelan’s wedding. 🙂
The good news is that even though I am asking for the money as a birthday gift, I don’t need all of it right away (although the sooner the better, just to ease my personal stress of planning). I will have a ‘Moldova Money Jar’ at my birthday party this Saturday night (if you’d like to come there is a facebook event with info). Or you can give me money later, or a post dated cheque, or whatever works. I can take cash. I can take a cheque (best made out to Gateway City Church). If you would prefer to come into the church, we have a debit machine that you can use. You can even send an e-mail money transfer to me right at the church office, email@example.com (that e-mail address goes directly to me, by the way). If you want to receive a tax receipt for this ‘charitable donation’ just let me know and I’ll make sure you get one at tax time next year.
Thank you thank you thank you!
The Long Version: This is for anyone who wants to know a little bit more about the situation in Moldova, the work that Stella’s House does, or how I came to be involved in this trip.
Moldova is a very small country, and the poorest in Europe. Moldova is a hopeless place. It is the biggest hub for human trafficking, and particularly for the sex-industry, in all of Europe. 40% of the victims are children. Moldova is full of state-run orphanages, and often times parents who cannot care for their children chose to abandon their kids at the orphanages. The orphanages are over-run and the children are viewed as a drain on a society that is already hard-pressed. Orphans have social stigmas such as being worthless, wasted space, and as they get older, lazy, stupid and unemployable. At the age of 16 they are turned out from the orphanage onto the street to fend for themselves with $20 in their pocket, if they are lucky. They are easy targets for being picked up by people who want to ‘help’ them and who can offer them ‘good jobs’ in other countries. They are fed, clothed and exported. Most don’t know they are being trafficked until they reach their destination. In some cases orphanage directors have business arrangements with the traffickers where the children skip the street and are sold directly into slavery. Most girls are sent into the sex trade, and boys can be trafficked this way as well. Others are also sold into the labour force and are mainly exported to Russia.
Stella’s House was opened in 2006 as a refuge home for girls coming out of orphanage. It is 15 km from Moldova’s capital, Chisinau. It was opened by a man named Philip Cameron who had been working with orphans in Romania and Moldova for some time. There are now 3 Stella’s houses and a home for the boys called Simon’s House, and each house about 25 teenagers. The teenagers who live there are loved and assisted as they build strong and healthy lives for themselves. There are strict rules for those that live in the houses. They have to be in school. They are not allowed to use alcohol or drugs. They are not allowed to get involved with men because they are still very vulnerable and often people are trafficked through people that they know, friends or lovers. I found the following excerpt about how the ministry started:
Before opening Stella’s House, for many years Philip Cameron raised funds to aid and rebuild government-run orphanages in Moldova. He specifically began raising funds to help a very poorly maintained handicapped orphanage in Hincesti, Moldova, where he met a young girl named Stella. Stella suffered from epilepsy and was paralyzed on the right-hand side of her body. After visiting the orphanage several times, he became friends with Stella and she later called herself “Philip’s assistant”. Later, Philip returned to the orphanage to discover she was no longer there. When she turned 16 she was too old to stay and was forced to leave the orphanage. After searching, Philip learned that Stella was abused and died of AIDS from being sold into human trafficking. This motivated him to build homes called Stella’s Houses for young orphan girls to be protected from sex trafficking predators.
Why I want to go (the really long version): When I became a Christian I knew right away that I wanted to go out and do some kind of foreign mission some day. I felt quite intense about it, but looking back, I don’t recall why I felt that way. It just seemed like the right and natural thing to do I guess, although now that I’ve been a Christian for so long I have learned that not very many people are inclined towards that kind of opportunity / work / adventure until God specifically calls them somewhere. All I know is that I wanted to go right away and have been waiting for this chance for a long time!
Having a young family to care for and restricted finances meant that this was one of those ‘one day’ dreams. I thought, ‘maybe this is something I will do when my kids are grown.’ Through reading and learning about the terrible situation in Thailand I became quite horrified and riled up in my spirit regarding the scope of child sex trafficking. Of all the injustices that occur in this world, that just makes my heart break and my blood boil, and I am convinced that God’s heart is also broken by this great darkness. I believe that as His children, Christians are meant to be his helping and healing hands, the ‘light of the world‘ so to speak. If I am to consider myself a child of God or a disciple of Christ, then I cannot just sit back and benefit from all the goodness that comes to my own life because of that relationship (and it is good). I must also go out into the world and do the hard work of taking God’s love into places where there is none. Jesus is love for the loveless and hope for the hopeless. I’ve known for a long time, probably a decade now, that if I ever did any kind of mission work, child sex trafficking would be my field.
But I was impatient. I wanted to do something. My desire to do something has pushed me to volunteer for all kinds of things locally, whatever pops up. Over the last five or so years a number of opportunities have come up for other short term missions trips. I made a few efforts to go. The first few fell through, and mostly from seemingly run of the mill reasons, usually for a lack of money and the complications of juggling our crazy school and work schedules and not wanting to leave the kids for too long. I kept hoping that God would supply the resources I needed, because God often does things like that.
I remember a lesson I learned one spring, just a couple of years back. My third opportunity to go on a trip came up. I knew that none of the usual things would be a barrier. The trip wasn’t going to be very long. The timeline fit well with our family schedule. And while the financial commitment would still be a stretch for us, it was completely doable. With an incredibly smug attitude, I remember thinking that I didn’t need God to pull any strings – I could make a missions trip happen all on my own. With Matthew’s agreement, I signed up. I don’t even remember where we were going to go, that’s how unimportant the actual trip was at that point. For me, it had all come down to being able to go, and nothing else.
A few weekends after I made that commitment, Matthew and I were away somewhere. I remember sitting on a hotel bed, reading a Max Lucado book, and the author was talking about the apostle Paul. If you don’t know, the apostle Paul was one of the very first Christians and he was a missionary who traveled all over the middle east teaching about what Jesus had done for us. Paul wrote a decent chunk of what we now call The New Testament (the second half of the Bible) in the form of letters full of teaching and encouragement to the churches he had started, visited, and had friends at. Paul wrote several of these letters from jail cells. He was imprisoned for his faith on a regular basis. So the author of the book I was reading was pointing out how frustrating it must have been for Paul to be stuck in a jail cell when all he wanted to do was go out on missions. Imagine giving your life to God, to want to do nothing more than His work, but to be stuck in a cell like that, wasting precious time, and literally praying to get out so you can get going. Imagine knowing full well that God has the power to get you out of jail, but chooses not to. Can you imagine the doubt? The frustration? You probably can. We all have prayed prayers that haven’t been answered. But as he sat in jail, biding his time, Paul wrote letters that God would eventually use to reach far more people with the gospel message than he could ever reach in person. Paul never knew what God was going to do with those letters while he was still alive on earth, and certainly not while he was sitting in jail writing them. He just knew he was stuck in jail, and that God was in charge.
I sat on that hotel bed. I thought, ‘Wow. That’s a really powerful story.’ And then I thought, “Oh, crap.” Was God trying to tell me something? I had a little talk with God that day. I apologized for my attitude, but I also felt a profound sense of peace, that even if I was ‘stuck at home not doing something,’ that God could somehow use what I was doing – in my family, in my social circles, by learning random stuff at school, by serving at the church and in the city – that He could somehow use all of this for His good purposes on the earth, in time, whether I knew it or not. Sure enough, when we arrived home a few days later, there was a bill waiting in our mail box for some uninsured dental work for the exact amount of money that I needed for the trip. I had to cancel my commitment. But I wasn’t disappointed and I even had to laugh because I now knew that God had done it.
And that is pretty much the attitude that I have carried on with. So I sort of gave up my little dream, but I also thought that God couldn’t have put this desire in me for nothing. So it’s pretty much been my ongoing prayer to say, “God I trust you. You know what you’re doing. My life is yours to use as you see fit. You know what my family needs. I do want to go on a missions trip sometime, and I think you must want me to go too, otherwise you wouldn’t have given me this desire. I know you have the power to make it happen or to not happen. So I will keep making attempts to go, and I just ask that you either close the door or open it according to what is best. Thank-you Lord!”
Almost as if in direct answer to prayer, another opportunity opened up fairly quickly. I okayed it with Matt. I made the commitment. And not too long after, the BC Children’s Hospital called with our first appointment date to see the surgeon for Adora’s scoliosis. We had been on the wait-list for that appointment for over a year. The date of the appointment fell in the exact middle of the dates for the missions trip. Door closed. Thank you Lord. I pretty much laughed out loud.
Now I have to interrupt this narrative. (Did you know I was going to send you a whole novel?) (If you know me at all, you probably suspected.)
I first heard of Moldova and the human trafficking problem there about three years ago through a blog I followed at the time. I was really impacted by that story and it stayed with me, just sitting there in the back of my mind. Then, about this time last year, we had a speaker at church who works with Next Level International, an organization that we as support some missionaries through. This speaker comes to our church regularly, but last year he told us about a new ministry they were partnering with in Moldova – Stella’s House. I was just so excited I could hardly contain it. A few months after that, I heard through the grapevine that the leadership of our church was considering sending a team to work with Stella’s House in the future. My ears perked up and I have been praying about it ever since. I kept praying, “God, I know that You and I have this arrangement, and I am trusting you and if you say no I accept that no, but God I really really want to go. There. Moldova. I want to go there!”
The rest has come together fairly quickly. Last summer our Lead Pastor, Len, and his teenaged son Mark went to Stella’s House together to sort of scope it out. Upon their return there was suddenly talk that the mission trip would be an opportunity specifically be for the grade 12‘s in our youth group. This is not something our church has done before, although the youth have had opportunities to go with other groups. Coincidentally (oh wait, I don’t believe in coincidences) God had surprisingly gotten me involved with the youth group over the course of the last year. He just made me suddenly fall in love with the teenagers (that was weird) and want to hang out with them whenever I could. And so I have been. When the Youth and Children’s Pastor (my friend Marshall) put out the official announcement for the trip last fall, he included the information that there was only room on the team for two adult leaders – himself and one woman leader since most of the teens going are girls. I sent Marshall an e-mail straight away letting him know of my interest. Unfortunately, although he would love to have me along, he had already said yes to someone else, and had had a number of others ask to go as well. So I was in line, but probably not going. I let him know that I wanted to go, and would get ready to go, fundraise etc, but assume I probably wouldn’t be going. That way, if the opportunity opened up last minute, I wanted to be sure that I had done my due diligence and would be ready, but that the go would have to come from God. I opened a bank account with the intention to start tucking money aside and I started to really pray. Because it just felt right this time. And this trip isn’t the same as the other opportunities. On those ones I was willing to go anywhere, but this time Moldova is the place I want to go. Within just a few weeks I received another message from Marshall. The woman leader who was going to go suddenly dropped out, as did all the other ladies but one – my good friend Tanice. And, another spot opened up, so if we both wanted to go, we could go! And so I paid my first $500, and at the end of this month I’m paying another $500. I checked my passport. Tanice and I have chatted a bit about where our hearts are with it and we’re both pretty excited. I asked Mark if he would teach us some of the Russian and Romanian phrases he learned on his first trip (he is going back with us again). I keep going to God with my trust. I know that we still have several months to go before our departure, and that He could shut it down at any time. I trust Him. I trust His will. I will just keep getting ready to go. And so I’m asking for your financial support.
(And finally…) What I’m expecting: I have no idea what to expect! I’ve been thinking of this a lot as the last few weeks have unfolded. I still am not sure exactly what we’ll be doing with our days in Moldova although I heard that we might be helping to put on a kids’ program at an orphanage. Those details are still to come. In terms of what I think God will do with our efforts – well, God only knows! When I consider the scope of the problems and the evil that we want to come up against, I feel very small. Being that we will be there for such a short time, I feel like my role will be mostly that of a witness. This time feels more like a go-and-see trip than a go-and-do trip. I want to see what God is doing there. I just said that I feel small in the face of such great evil, but I also know that such great evil is small compared to an ever greater God. The fact that God has used, is using, and will continue to use such small things as willing human hands to work out His good purposes in the world is a mystery to me. But that’s exactly how He has chosen to do His work, and I just can’t wait to go and see how that’s all playing out. Love. Service. Rescue. And I’m hoping that maybe after I go and see, He’ll give me something more to go and do.
Thank you for reading my very long letter. I sat down this afternoon and meant to type out two quick pages or so, but here it is 10:00 pm and I’m finally wrapping it up on page six. If you didn’t feel like reading it all that is okay! I just thought that some people might want more details.