Unequally Yoked

Falling in love with William wasn’t something I expected to happen. Why not? Well, he’s younger than me, he’s not African American and he’s a Seventh-day Adventist Christian. They don’t believe in wearing jewelry and I love jewelry. I love wearing big gold and silver earrings, rings and bangles. They frown on makeup too. I don’t wear any but it’s not because of religious reasons. I’m allergic to it. So, all I wear is a tinted lip balm. Fortunately for me I have naturally long eyelashes so I don’t need Mascara to darken, thicken, lengthen, and/or define them.

Anyway, makeup aside, I was happily single, dating on and off when it suited me. Most of the men I dated were Christians but on a few occasions I dated non-Christians or men of other faiths. Well, that got my Christian friends talking. I was scolded. My friends Shirley shook her head and wagged her finger in my face. “Girl, don’t you know you’re not supposed to be dating any man outside of the church? Do you want to be unequally yoked?”

“And why would you want to date men outside the church when you have so many fine looking brothers in the church?” Rochelle piped in. “Did you see that visitor we had last week Sunday? I first thing I did when I was introduced to him was to check to see if he was wearing a wedding ring.”

Whenever they carried on like that, I would just look at them and smile. They meant well and I loved them dearly but friend or not, they had no business telling me who I should or shouldn’t date. After all, didn’t Moses marry an Ethiopian woman and Joseph the daughter of an Egyptian priest? I didn’t marry any of those men–I just dated them.

Anyway, we were out at a bowling alley one evening and having a blast when I noticed that this really good looking Asian guy kept staring at me. He was with a group of friends. He was well dressed in a crisp white shirt and black jeans. He had a really nice physique. As I waited my turn to bowl, I allowed my eyes to drink in every detail of him. Finally, I walked up to him and holding out my hand, I said, “Hi, my name’s Monique.”

He looked a bit startled. I guess he wasn’t used to being approached. “William,” he replied after a few seconds and shook my hand. His fingers were long and I could see that they were well manicured. This guy took self grooming very seriously. I like that in a man.

“Is this your first time here?” It wasn’t my first time. I had been there numerous times.

“Yes, it is. What about you?”

“No, I come here often with my friends.”

He glanced over my shoulder. “I think your friends are trying to get your attention,” he said, releasing my hand.

I turned to see Shirley and Rochelle waving wildly. I turned back to William, an apologetic expression on my face. “Excuse me.” I turned and walked over to my friends. I could feel him watching me. I knew I looked great in the red shirt and the jeans which hugged me in all of the right places. Being a Christian didn’t mean that I had to dress like a nun. I bowled and got a strike. My third in the game. Pleased, I returned to William who was up. I watched as he too made a strike. “How many have you had so far?” I asked.

“Four.”

“Good for you.”

“After we have finished our games, would you like to grab something to eat?”

“Here or somewhere else?”

“Here is fine.”

“Sure. If your friends won’t mind.”

“They won’t. What about yours?”

“They won’t mind either.” Of course they would but that was their problem. “I’ll go and finish my game and meet you right here.”

He smiled. “Okay.”

I rejoined my friends who were watching me very closely. After we finished our second game which I won, I told them that I had a date. I indicated with whom the date was and I could just hear the lectures. “Sorry, Ladies but I don’t have time right now to listen to why I shouldn’t grab a bite to eat with a guy I just met.”

Rochelle shook her head. “You really need to be careful when it comes to men,” she said. “The guy is a perfect stranger and you’re going out with him?”

“We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to have something to eat right here. And when we’re done, I’m going home–alone.”

“Well, I should hope so,” Shirley said. “You’re a Christian, remember? You shouldn’t be taking men back to your place and you should never go to theirs.”

I wonder what they would say if they knew that years ago I had slept with one of the brothers in the church. We hadn’t planned to, of course, but it happened. The following week at church we avoided each other like the plague. I just go out with men and have a good time but at the end of the evening, we part company. I try to be celibate but it isn’t always easy. I’m not a robot. I have needs.

“Don’t worry, ladies,” I said to my friends. “I’ll be good. Now, run along. I’ll see you in church on Sunday.” Then, I turned and walked over to William who was alone. I guess his friends had left. “Do you mind if we ate here?”

“No, I don’t mind at all.”

“Good.” We both order burgers–his was a veggie and mine was a cheesy cheeseburger with fries and milkshakes. We sat at a table and as we ate, we talked about all sorts of things. “Do you have a girlfriend?” I asked. He wouldn’t be the first guy to step out on his woman.

“No. What about you? Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No. I’m single. How old are you?”

“Twenty-nine.”

“I’m thirty-six.” I figured that he was younger than me. “Have you ever dated an older woman?”

He shook his head. “No. Have you ever dated a younger man?”

“No, but there’s a first time for everything.” Did I just say that? Was I seriously thinking about dating him? I must be out of my mind. He was younger than me, for Pete’s sake and he wasn’t a brother. Yet, I couldn’t deny that I was extremely attracted to him. I kept having all sorts of thoughts that a Christian woman shouldn’t be having. And it didn’t help that the first button of his shirt was undone. I tried to keep my eyes on his face. He had the most amazing brown eyes. I could drown in them. I realized that I was staring and I turned my attention to my fries.

“So, what else do you like to do besides bowling with your friends on a Friday night?”

“I like to read, go for long walks, shopping and travel. What about you?”

“I enjoy a good game of tennis, cycling, swimming and long walks.”

“What do you do for entertainment?”

“I’m not really into any type of entertainment except maybe a gospel concert or maybe an opera or a ballet or a classical music performance.”

“Really? So, you won’t go to a nightclub or a bar, then?”

He shook his head. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Those are not the sort of places that a Christian should go to.”

“So, you’re a Christian?”

“Yes.”

“So am I.” I could see the surprise on his face. “I guess it’s hard to believe that because of the jewelry.”

“Well, the women at my church don’t wear jewelry or makeup.”

“Let me guess. You’re a Seventh-day Adventist.”

“Yes. Are you familiar with our beliefs?”

“Yes. You are what I would call legalistic because of all your dos and Sony’s.  You don’t believe in having fun, do you?

“I believe in having fun, yes, as long as it is done responsibly and it doesn’t conflict with my beliefs.”

“What about being with me, a non-Adventist? Wouldn’t the members of your church have a problem with that?”

He smiled.  “Some of them might but I’m not answerable to them but to the Lord who welcomed all who came to Him.”

“I think all churches have the same problem.  They say they are the body of Christ but they have a problem with us associating with people of other faiths.  Adventists don’t seem to like being around non-Christians and non-Adventists.  My grandmother was an Adventist and when I visited her church, I felt uncomfortable.  Some of the members couldn’t hide their disapproval of me because I wore jewelry.  After my grandmother’s funeral, I never went back to that church.”

“I’m sorry you had a bad experience.  Does this mean that you wouldn’t go out with me because I’m an Adventist?”

“Are you asking me out, William?”

“Yes, I am.”

“All right, I’ll go out with you.”

“Have your ever been  to a circus?”

“No.”

He smiled.  “Good.  I’ll take you to one on Sunday and then we will go for dinner afterwards.”

“Sounds good to me.” I glanced at my watch.  It was getting late and I had had a long day.  “Well, it’s time for me to head home.”  

He looked disappointed.  “Do you have ride?”

I nodded as I stood up.  “Yes, I drove here.”

He stood up.  “I’ll walk you to your car.”

We walked to my car and before we parted company, I gave him my address and number.  “See you on Sunday,” I said as I got behind the wheel.”

“See you on Sunday.”  He waved as I drove off.

Sunday came and we went to the circus where we had a blast.  Afterwards, we went to a Thai restaurant.  Over mouth watering food, we made plans to see each other again.  Then, we started dating.  It wasn’t long before I realized that I was falling for him.  That scared me.  I have been in love before but this was different.  I was actually thinking of marriage.  Marriage!  Me.  The woman who liked being single.  I wasn’t sure how he felt about me.  I knew he wanted me–the kiss we shared the other night made that crystal clear to me.  If I didn’t break off the kiss, grab my jacket and hightailed it out of his apartment, who knows how things would have progressed.

We are walking in the park now, holding hands.  We draw a few stares but I’m used to it.  We come to a quiet, secluded spot where we stop.  We face each other.  He has a very serious expression on his face.  I swallowed hard, my heart racing.  Is he about to break up with me?  The thought terrifies me.  I’m so crazy about this guy.

“Monique, we have been seeing each other for a while now.  You must know by now how I feel about you.”

“How do you feel about me?”  I wanted him to come right out and tell me.

“I love you.”

Relief washed over me and I smiled.  “I love you too.”

“I know that we come from two different denominations but I can’t give up on you, on us because of that.  I want to marry you, Monique.”

“Marry me?  Are you sure?” I wanted to be sure that was what he really wanted.

“Yes.”  He released my hand and getting down on one knee, he reached into the breast-pocket of his jacket and took out a little red box.  He opened it and removed a beautiful diamond ring.  “Monique Charles, will you marry me?”

Tears sprang to my eyes and for a moment I was too choked up to say anything.  “Yes!” I managed to gasp and he sprang to his feet and pulled me into his arms.  He hugged me tightly about my waist before he leaned down and kissed me.  When we finally broke apart, we went to our favorite place to celebrate–the bowling alley where we met.

Two years have passed.  William and I have moved into a nice, residential area just outside of the city because we have a son and another one is on the way.  I’m no longer a Pentecostal Christian.  My friends, Rochelle and Shirley were upset at first but they decided that it was my life to do what I wished with it and besides, they could see how happy I am.  While we were dating, I began attending William’s church and after a lot of prayer and fasting, I got baptized and became a member.  This means that I’m no longer wearing jewelry and believe it or not, I don’t miss it.  I love my new life with William and I’m thankful to God for bringing us together.  We are equally yoked in every way now.

Source: Pinchasers

From Self-harm to Self-love

39a1ef3b-4d0c-44bb-ad22-cd952e418c41Neeha always wore long sleeves even when it was hot and humid outside because she didn’t want anyone, especially her friends to see the ugly cuts on her arms.  She wanted to stop cutting herself but she couldn’t seem to.  It started when she became pregnant and told her mother who said, “Unless you get married or give up your baby for adoption, I won’t have anything more to do with you.  What you have done is a disgrace to the family–getting pregnant before you’re even married.”

Neeha was devastated.  She needed her mother but was rejected–shunned.  Marriage was out of the question.  Her baby’s father was already married and he didn’t even want to acknowledge the child.  He had even suggested that Neeha have an abortion which he was willing to pay for but she refused.  The thought of killing an unborn child horrified her.  So, she decided to go through with pregnancy.  When she started to show she would wear loose clothing.

When things got really bad and she felt there was nowhere or no one to turn to, she began to harm herself.  She used a pair of scissors to do it.  Soon, the beautiful, clear skin on her arms was covered in red, ugly welts.  What she was doing to herself horrified and repulsed her but she couldn’t seem to help it.  It was better than turning to drugs or alcohol or even committing suicide.

At the office, she would go into the bathroom and cut herself and when she came out no one suspected anything.  She kept to herself because she feared the backlash from her mother and the rest of the family.  This kind of behavior wasn’t something one would imagine would happen in an Asian family.  It wasn’t something that they would want to acknowledge or talk about or want their white friends and neighbors to know about.

One afternoon, she was flipping through the channels when she came across a program.  It was a sermon.  She decided to watch it.  It was about a demon possessed man who was living among the tombs.  He was naked and in chains which he broke.  What got her interest is that the man cut himself with stones.  When she heard how Jesus freed the man from the demons and clothed the man, she began to cry.  The man was in his right mind and no longer hurting himself.  She heard the preacher say, “Jesus can help you just like He helped this man.  Whatever you’re going through, come to Jesus, fall at His feet and He will free you.  He will heal you.  You don’t have to go through what you’re going through alone anymore.  Jesus can help you.  All you have to do is to cry out to Him and He will hear you.”

At the end of the service, there was a free offer of a book, entitled, Hurts So Good: Exposing the Lies of Self-Injury.  She quickly scribbled down the information and sent for a copy.  Afterwards, she cried out to Jesus whom she had heard so much about.  Now, she needed Him.  She wanted to believe that He could help her.  Tears poured down her face as she asked Him to free her from this cycle of intentional self-injury like He freed the demoniac.

When she was finished, the tears subsided and she felt a peace she had never experienced in her life before settle over her.  She knew then that Jesus had answered her prayer.   With the nine action steps outlined in the book, she was on the path to hope and healing in Christ.  She replaced the knife or scissor blade with the Bible and its promises.  She gave birth to a healthy baby girl and called her, Prutha which means “daughter of love”.

Neeha found a church nearby and began to attend their worship services every week while her best friend, Farha took care of Prutha.  There at the church, Neeha met Safal, a widower with a five year old son.  They struck a friendship which soon blossomed into a romance.  Two years later, they got married.  Neeha’s mother attended the wedding.  She apologized to her daughter for the way she treated her.  Neeha readily accepted her apology.  She was just happy to be back on speaking terms with her mother.  Prutha never knew about her biological father.  As far as Neeha was concerned, Safal was her father.  He was happy to adopt her as his own.  He doted on her and she adored him.

Neeha is currently expecting another child and she is ecstatic.  Prutha is now six and is excited about having a baby brother or sister and Taj, Safal, son, whom she adopted, was looking forward to the new addition to the family as well.  Neeha is thankful that she watched that Christian program.  It changed her life in so many ways.  She is a volunteer for an organization called, Samaritans, a unique charity dedicated to reducing feelings of isolation and disconnection that can lead to suicide.   Some of the people she has helped were victims of self-harm and a few of them have requested prayers.

Self-harm is a very serious issue.  If you find it difficult to speak to a family member or a friend or even a co-worker, here are organizations you can reach out to for help:

  • Samaritans – The Samaritans provide a free anonymous helpline. Someone will listen and help you, 24 hours of the day on 116 123. (UK)
  • Harmless – A user-led organisation for people who self-harm, and their friends and families.

You can also ask your GP to give you advice and direct you to the best place to get help, whether it is counselling or some form of treatment.

Self-harm is something that can happen among Christians as well.  Read this story of a Christian student who struggled with self-injury.  Please reach out for help.  Don’t let fear or shame prevent you.  Take the first step toward healing.  Take the path from self-harm to self-love.

Source:  Desiblitz; Samaritans; Blue Letter Bible

Sophia’s Secret

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Jamie Grill/Tetra Images/Getty Images

My name is Sophia.  I have been living with a secret since I was eight.  It’s a shameful thing and every-time I think about it, I feel sick and I wish I could curl up and just die.  No one at school knows but I keep wondering if they could tell just by looking at me.  Do I look different?  They don’t treat me like I am but I feel different.  I feel that there is something wrong with me because of what’s happening to me.  Maybe if I were ugly or fat, he wouldn’t trouble me.  Every-time we are together, he tells me how pretty I am.  I don’t want to be pretty.  I don’t want him to notice me.  I wish I were invisible.

I wish I could tell somebody but who would believe me?  He keeps telling me that this is our little secret and not to tell anyone.  He warned me that no one would believe me anyway.  So, I keep quiet.  I lie there, staring up at the ceiling and let him do things to me.  I hate it but what can I do?  He’s my uncle.  He was my favorite uncle until he started violating me.  It happens whenever we are alone in my grandparents’ house.

During the day, I try to keep busy so as not to think about it and at night, I cry myself to sleep.  Whenever I visit my friends’ homes, I envy them.  They seem so happy.  They are not orphans like my little brother, Tony and me.  Our parents died in a car crash ten years ago.  We are living with our paternal grandparents.  I love my grandfather because he reminds me of my Dad whom I loved very, very much.  My grandmother and I aren’t very close.  She complains that I’m too much like my mother whom she never accepted.  She had wanted my Dad to marry an Italian woman.  My mother was Puerto Rican.  My grandmother is more partial to Tony because he looks more Italian and a lot like my father.

I wonder what she would say if she knew what her favorite son was doing to me.  One evening, I found out.  My grandfather and Tony had gone to a Baseball game and my grandmother had gone to visit a friend.  It was after seven when she got home.  She was at the end of the corridor when she saw Uncle Matteo coming out of my bedroom.  He froze when he saw her.  Then, he recovered, smiled and said, “Hi, Mama.  Sophia was just showing me the school project she’s working on for school.  She needed my input.”

My grandmother believed him.  She smiled as he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  “Have you eaten?” she asked.  “I can fix you a nice bowl of Tuscan Soup.”

He shook his head.  “No, Mama.  I have to go.  I have Maybe next time?”

She looked disappointed.  “Where are you off to in such a hurry?” she demanded.

“I have a date.”

“Who is she?  Do I know her?”

He shook his head.  “No, Mama.  One of these days, I will bring her here and she can have you delicious Tuscan Soup.”

“All right.  Run along.  Whoever she is, she must be special for you to pass up my soup.”

He kissed her on the cheek again.  “Ciao, Mama.”  He turned and hurried down the hall.  “Ciao, Sophia.”

I didn’t answer.  I stood there, happy to see him go.  I wrapped my arms around me, feeling dirty.  I felt so ashamed.  I wanted to run away and go where he couldn’t hurt me anymore.  I thought of my mother’s sister, Aunt Teresa.  I’m sure she would let me live with her.  Taking a deep breath, I turned to face my grandmother.  “Nonna,  I want to go and live with my Aunt Teresa.”

She stared at me.  “Why?” she asked.  “Aren’t your grandfather and I taking good care of you?

“I’m not happy here.”

“What do you mean?” she demanded crossly.  “We feed you, put a roof over your head and we let you do what you like as long you follow the house rules.  Do you think your Aunt Teresa can do a better job raising you?”

“Nonna, I’m not leaving because Nonno and you.”

“Well, it’s up to you.  I wouldn’t stop you.”  She turned and walked away.  I could tell that she was upset and I was sorry but I had to leave.   And I did that weekend.  My grandfather dropped me off at Aunt Teresa’s house.  He was sorry that I left because he would miss having me around but I think he understood.  He knew that my relationship with my grandmother was strained.  He promised that he would visit me with Tony every other Sunday.

My Aunt Teresa was more than happy to have me.  Her daughter, my cousin Natalia had moved out and into her own place so I got her room which was much nicer than the one I had at my grandparents’ house.  I settled in very quickly.  I helped with chores as I did at my grandparents’ house and I did some of the cooking too.  I wasn’t as good as my grandmother but I was improving.

One night, I had a nightmare.   I dreamed that I was back in my grandparents’ house and Uncle Matteo was in my bed.  His mouth and hands were all over me.  I woke up, sweating and shaking like a leaf.  The next morning when my Aunt Teresa and I were alone, sorting the laundry, I told her about the abuse.  She was visibly upset.  She hugged me tightly and I began to cry.  It felt so good telling someone.  I felt as if a heavy burden had been lifted off me.  When she drew back to look at me, she said, “The Bible clearly says,  that no one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations.  What your uncle did to you is criminal and he should be reported.”  And she reported him.

My Aunt Teresa had a friend who was a social worker come and see me.  She told me that I wasn’t to blame for what happened to me and that I did the right thing telling someone.  That made me feel better.  I started to live again and I began to read the Bible my Aunt Teresa gave me.  I started to go to church with her and I loved it.  I met wonderful people and made new friends.

My grandmother was angry with me and doesn’t want me over at the house anymore.  It’s on account of me that her son is in jail.  My grandfather was broken up about it and he apologized to me for not being there to protect me.  He swore that if he had known, he would have reported the abuse himself.  He and my grandmother are no longer together.  Tony has moved in with Aunt Teresa and me and my grandfather is living with Uncle Alberto and his family.

It wasn’t my intention to cause any trouble for my grandparents but I had to tell someone my secret.  And now I’m a part of a Youth Program called Give Voice.  It encourages teenagers and youth to break the silence about their own abuse or to report to someone they trust when they suspect that someone they know is being abused.  It’s a support group where we feel safe talking about our experiences and there’s also a mixture of fun and other activities.

I created a pamphlet for Give Voice which we hand out at schools, colleges, universities, libraries, shopping malls, on the streets, subways, bus stations, doctor’s and dentist’s offices, hairdressing salons, barber shops and other public places.  We want to get the word out that there is help out there.  Don’t suffer in silence.  Tell someone you trust.  Put your abuser where he or she belongs:  behind bars.

When it comes to any type of abuse, silence is not golden.  Tell, cry, yell, do whatever you have to but don’t keep silent.  Abuse should never be kept a secret.

Sources:  Government of Canada; Bible Info; Bible Gateway

Carmela’s Story

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Carmela sat in the empty church which was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  She was on her way home from the salon where she worked when she decided to stop in and pray for her brother, Guido who died five years ago from a heart attack.  She hoped and prayed that he was no longer in Purgatory because of all the prayers she and the rest of the family had made on his behalf and that he was in Heaven now.  Still, it didn’t hurt to still say prayers for him.

“Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace.”

After she finished praying, she said this prayer for her deceased parents whom  she knew were in Heaven.  “O God, Who hast commanded us to honor our father and mother, look in the tenderness of Thy mercy upon the souls of my father and mother and forgive them their sins, and grant unto me the joy of seeing them again in the glorious light of everlasting life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

She hoped that one day soon, Guido would join them. She remained kneeling for a while longer and then she made the sign of the Cross.   She rose to her feet went to the front and lit three candles, said a prayer and then left.  Outside it was a bit nippy and drizzling slightly.  She stopped at the supermarket to pick up a few items and then went to the modest apartment she shared with her teenage daughter, Maria.

The place was quiet when she opened the door and went inside.  Maria was still out with her friends.  She said that they were going to hang out at the mall for a while and she should be home by seven. The clock on the wall in the living-room struck five.  She went straight into the kitchen and set the grocery bags on the counter before she removed her jacket and hung it in the hall closet.  She washed her hands and got busy making her famous Manicotti Italian Casserole.

While the Casserole was in the oven baking, she went and took a quick shower.  By the time she was done, the Casserole was ready.  She removed it from the oven and shared it out.  She waited until the oven cooled a bit before she put the plate with Maria’s food inside the oven to keep it hot.  She sat down at the kitchen table and ate hers.  She hadn’t made it since Giuseppe died.  It was his favorite dish.  He always used to boast, “I got lucky when I married you.  You make the best Manicotti Italian Casserole on the planet.  Even better than Mama’s.”

Carmela smiled.  He was such a good husband and father.  It was hard to believe that ten years had passed since he died.  She visited his grave every week and put fresh flowers on it.  And she prayed for him every night.  She couldn’t imagine marrying again.  Giuseppe was her first and only love.  She wanted to remain his wife for the rest of her life.

After she finished eating, she got up from the table, washed the plate and the dirty things in the sink.  She fixed herself a cup of a cup of coffee and took it into the living-room.  She turned on the television and watched the local news.  When it was over, she turned off the television and went to the kitchen to wash the cup and saucer.  It was Friday so she went to get the dirty laundry.  She went to Maria’s room first and as she was about to pick up the laundry bin to take it to the washer, her eyes fell on a booklet lying on top of the bed.  On the front there was a picture of a man stooping down in front of a grave with a woman dressed in white standing behind him.  Over his head were the words, Are the Dead Really Dead?

Heart pounding, she dropped the laundry basket on the floor and picked up the booklet.  She sat down on the bed and began to read it.  She was half way through when she heard the key turn in the lock.  Maria was home.  Closing the booklet, she hurried into the living-room.  Holding the booklet up for her to see, she asked, “Where did you get this?”

Maria looked at the booklet.  “I got it from Anna who got it from her cousin, Lucy.”

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“Is Lucy the one who is a Seventh-day Adventist?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I want you to take this and give it back to Anna.  I don’t want this kind of literature in my home.”

“But, Mama, I read it and it makes so much sense to me.  I never believed that you can talk to and pray to the dead.”

“All my life I have been a Catholic and I believe what the church teaches.  The dead are in Heaven or Purgatory or Hell.  They are not sleeping in their graves as this claims.” She shoved it at Maria, shaking her head.

“They use scriptures to back up what they are saying.  Why is it such a bad thing to believe that the dead are in their graves?  Would Heaven be a happy place for them when they see their loved ones suffering?  Take Amy’s mother for example.  Would she be happy in Heaven if she can see Amy’s brother, Michael getting bullied at school because he has a learning disability?  What about Grandpa and Grandma?  How would they feel if they saw Uncle Guido struggling with alcohol addiction or how painful it was for us when Daddy died?  I thought Heaven was supposed to be a happy place but how could anyone be happy there when they can see so much suffering here on earth or their loves one burning up in Hell?  No, Mama, I can’t believe that God who is love would have people burning in Hell forever or stuck in limbo in Purgatory, hoping that the prayers of their loved ones will get them into Heaven and afraid that they might end up in Hell.  I believe what this Study guide says about death.  It is more in line with God’s loving and compassionate character.  I am going to ask Anna for more these study guides so that I can learn more of what’s in the Bible.”

Carmela stared at her.  “So, you’re going to turn your back on your Catholic faith?”

“Mama, I was never a devout Catholic like you and the rest of our family, except Uncle Guido.  I never felt an emotional connection to the traditions and teachings.  I went to Anna’s church last week Saturday and I felt so connected to the people and was so moved by the sermon that I was sorry when it was over.  I felt this hunger to know more.”

“You went to a Seventh-day Adventist Church?” Carmela demanded, incensed.  “How dare you go there without my permission?”

“Would you have let me go if I asked you?”

“No! And for good reason.  Maria, they teach all sorts of negative things about our church such as the Papacy is the Anti-Christ and that the church is the whore of Babylon mentioned in the book of Revelation.  They claim to be God’s remnant church because they keep the Ten commandments which were nailed to the cross and because of some woman named Ellen G. White whom they say is a prophetess.”

“Mama, I really want to go to Anna’s church this Saturday.  The youth are doing the worship service and afterwards there’s a lunch and–”

Carmela’s mouth tightened.  “Forget it.  You’re not going.”

“But, Mama–”

“You heard me.  Now finish taking up your dirty laundry and put it in the washer.  When you’re finished have your dinner.  It’s in the oven.”  She turned and walked out of the room, livid.  “Ragazza sciocca. Tornando indietro alla sua fede. Beh, non ce l’ho. Non finché vivi qui.”

Maria didn’t go to church on the Sabbath but she watched the service on line the next day while her mother was at Sunday Mass.  She did that every Sunday and when she turned 18, she decided that she wanted to be baptized and be a member of Anna’s church.  When she broke the news to her mother, she yelled, “Se ci riesci, voglio buttarti fuori da questa casa” before she stormed out of the apartment.

After she left, Maria went to her room and knelt beside her bed and prayed.

Carmela took the bus to the cemetery and she hurried towards Guiseppe’s grave, tears of anger streaming down her face.  When she got there, she knelt down.  “Oh, Guiseppe, your daughter will be the death of me.  Do you know what she is planning to do?  She’s going to get baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist church, of all the churches.  I warned her that if she goes through with it, I will throw her out on the streets.  I don’t know what else to do.  Guiseppe, what do I do?  How could I let her turn her back on our faith?  No one in our family is a Protestant.  Per favore, caro mio, dimmi cosa devo fare.”

She waited for a reply, her hands clasped tightly in front of her and her eyes squeezed shut.  There was silence and then she heard a male voice ask, “Why do you seek the dead on behalf of the living?”

Her eyes flew up and she looked wildly about her but she was alone.  No one else was there.  Trembling, she asked, “Whose voice did I just hear? Was it the Lord’s or an angel’s?”

“It is I, Jesus.  Maria has chosen a good thing which will not be taken away from her.”

“What should I do, Lord?”

“Do not cast her out.”

Carmela made the sign of the cross and stood up.  She went away, her heart racing and the words of the Lord running through her mind.  When she got home, she called Maria.  “I’m sorry about earlier,” she said.  “If you’re serious about getting baptized and joining Anna’s church, I’m not going to stop you or kick you out but I won’t be there.”  And she walked past her and went to her room, closing the door quietly behind her.

Maria raised her eyes heavenward and gave thanks.  A couple weeks later she was baptized and Anna’s parents invited her to their home to celebrate.  Maria became a member of the church and involved in the Youth Ministry.  She even taught Sabbath School sometimes.  She became a literature evangelist and handed out tracts.  She became a vegetarian much to her mother’s chagrin but there was no opposition.  Maria cooked her own meals.

Carmela saw how happy her daughter was and she stopped lamenting about her leaving the Catholic church.  She continued to attend Sunday Mass.  One Sunday after Mass, she was talking to Father Ricci and she mentioned something about Eve.  One of her regular customers at the salon had lent her the movie, Genesis: The Creation and the Flood which she watched on Saturday.

Father Esposito’s expression changed and he said, “Mrs. Romano, the story of Adam and Eve was not to be taken literally.  It was merely a story in the Bible and should not be taken as fact.”

She stared at him, stunned but didn’t get into any further discussion with him.  “Thank you, Father,” she said.  “Good-day.”  She turned and hurried away, her mind reeling from shock.  She went home and opened her Bible to Chapter Three of the Gospel of Luke where the the Genealogy of Jesus was.  There was Adam’s name and he was called the son of God.  How then, could Father Esposito claim that Adam was not a real person?  And Jesus Himself alluded to both Adam and Eve when He said, “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.”

She closed the Bible and sank heavily down on the sofa.  Why would Father Esposito claim that the story of creation was just a story?  What else in the Bible should not be taken as fact?  She went into the den and logged on to the computer.  She did several searches until she came across a site called, Steps to Life and a book called, Is the Virgin Mary Dead or Alive by Danny Vierra.  At first, she didn’t want to read it but she felt strongly impressed to.

She read the first chapter and her heart lurched when she read the part about the priest who taught his religion class telling him the same thing Father Esposito told her about the story of Adam and Eve.  Heart racing, she continued reading.  She read a few chapters that evening and every evening until she was finished reading the entire book.  Afterwards, she did the online Bible Studies by Marshall Grosboll

By the time she was done with the Bible Studies, she knew that she had a choice to make.  She could remain in the church that she had been born and raised in or she could leave.  As she prayed earnestly about it,  the words, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” came to her.  She had discovered God’s truth and she had to embrace it.

She told Maria everything and her daughter was thrilled.  Together they went to Anna’s church and one Saturday, Maria watched with tears in her eyes as her mother gave her life to Christ.  The following month, on Carmela’s 45th birthday, she was baptized.

Carmela thanked Jesus for talking to her that day in the cemetery and her customer for lending her the movie about Genesis.  Those two events changed her life.  And she was proud of Maria for choosing that “good thing”.

The way to God’s truth is always there.  Some find it sooner and some later.  The important thing is to find it.  And when you do, it will set you free.

Sources:  Our Catholic Prayers; Town and Country; Catholic News Herald;

Janco’s Story (Part One)

kult_model_Geoffrey_Camus_209680I’m a Literature Evangelist and youth leader in my church.  I’m on fire for the Lord so I leave tracts on buses, trains, taxis, the waiting rooms of doctors, dentists, on sidewalks, streets–yes, I drop them as I walk.  Sometimes I would stand on the sidewalk and hand them out to people as they walk by.

Just recently, I left a couple of tracts in the changing rooms of a few department stores.  I’ve left tracts on the table before leaving a restaurant and in public washrooms, believe it or not.  Every opportunity I get, I make sure I leave or hand out a tract.  I take being a Literature Evangelist very seriously because eight years ago, someone left a tract on the a park bench which turned my life around.  You see, I was heading in the wrong direction.

Eight years ago I was 17 and living with my mother.  My father was a deadbeat who abandoned us when I was seven.  I haven’t seen or heard from him since he left.  My older brother, Jacquan was arrested and convicted of dealing drugs.  He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.  My mother was an alcoholic.  She had fallen on and off the wagon since she first started drinking after my father left.  I was going to school and working at the same time. It was tough.  I had no life.  I couldn’t hang out with my friends because after school, I had to show up for my job at the grocery store close to school.   I did different things such as bagging groceries, stocking shelves and working the cash register.  I worked for six hours and by the time I got home it was almost nine-thirty.

I was tired but I had either had to do my homework, work on a paper or study for an exam.  I had to fix myself something to eat because my mother was passed out on the couch.  An empty bottle of Vodka lay on the carpet.  The room reeked of alcohol so I opened the windows to let some fresh air in.  I took up the bottle and cleaned up the room before I had something to eat.  Then, I took a quick shower, went to my room and spent two hours doing my school work.  After I was done, I went back to the living-room to check on my mother.  She was still passed out.  So, I got a blanket and spread it over her, turned out the light and went to bed.

That was my life.  I was tired of my mother being drunk and having to clean up after her.  It was like I was the parent and she was the child.  I was the one who cleaned the house on the weekend, went to pick up groceries, did the laundry and the cooking.  By the time I was done, I was too wiped out to go anywhere.  And when I did, my buddies complained because I didn’t want to do much.  If we went bowling, I would sit it out or if we went to the mall, I would find a place to chill because I was too beat to walk aimlessly about the place.  I dated a few times but whenever the girl found out that my brother was in prison they would act all weird and I wouldn’t hear from them again.  So, my social and love lives were suffering because of my dysfunctional family.  I started to get angry and resentful.  Sometimes, I found myself wishing I could just get up and leave but I couldn’t do that to my mother.  She needed me.  So, I stuck it out.

My mother was sober on the day I graduated from high-school.  She threw a party and invited family and friends over to celebrate.  Later that night, she got wasted and while she was passed out on the couch, I cleaned up the place.  After I was done, I went for a long walk, trying to figure out what to do with my life.  I wanted so badly to run away.  I was tired of dealing with my mother and her drinking problem.  I had tried many times to get her to go for help but she always promised that she would stop.

I walked and walked until I got tired of walking.  I went to the park which was nearby and found a bench under the light post and sat down.  I sat there for a while, my mind spinning.  The resentment for my mother and the bitterness toward my father filled my throat like bile.  Dark thoughts filled my mind.  I wanted to lash out at them because they had ruined my life with their selfishness and self-destructive ways.  At that moment, I wanted run away and leave my mother to drink herself to death.  Yes, I thought, why should I continue taking care of a drunk?  I was young.  I had my own life to live.  Why shouldn’t I go somewhere else and start a new life.  I decided right then and there that I would pack up and leave this wretched place.

I started to get up when my eyes fell on something beside me.  It looked like a pamphlet.  I picked it up and looked at it.  It was titled, Talking With God.  I was interested in reading it.  I knew about God but I didn’t know Him.  My parents were never religious.  I was always curious about religion but never pursued it.  I got up from the bench and went home.   I went straight to my room and lay down on my bed to read the tract.  I just ate it up and I wanted more.  I got down on my knees that night and prayed to a God I didn’t know but wanted desperately to know more about.

The next day, I showed my Christian friend, Gidea the tract and he recognized it.  “That’s one of the GLOW tracts,” he told me.  “I can get you the rest of the tracts if you want.”

My eyes brightened.  “Please get them for me.”

He smiled and promised that he would.  A few days later, before we went to our classes, he gave the tracts to me.  I put them in my knapsack, anxious to read them that night after I got home from work.  “Thanks, Man.  I really appreciate this.”

He clapped me on the back.  “No problem, Bro.”

I finished reading the tracts in a few days.  When I saw Gidea again I asked him if I could go to his church.  He was delighted and I went on Saturday.  The people from his church were so warm and welcoming.  I couldn’t wait to go back the following Saturday.  I met the pastor and his wife and I was given Bible Study guides which I devoured.  I got baptized a couple months later.   Unfortunately, my mother was too drunk to be there.

I first learned about Literature Evangelism from Amiri, another church member and I told him that I was interested in handing out literature.  And he helped to make that possible and I’m indebted to him.  When my mother was sober, I gave her the Breaking Addictions and Steps to Health tracts to read.  I invited her to come to church when the guest speaker was a former alcoholic.  She came and afterwards she spoke to the speaker who prayed for her and gave her the name of a social worker at a Drug and Alcohol Rehab center in Cape Town.  After some persuasion, I convinced my mother to check it out.  I went with her and a week later, she moved into the guest house.  I visited her every weekend and she’s doing well.  She looked so much better.  It was strange and good seeing her sober all the time.

I know she has been reading the tracts I left with her and the Bible.  I can see the changes.  I encouraged her to pray and I prayed with her.  I can see God working in her life and transforming her.  And she started going to church every week and it was the greatest moment in my life when she was baptized.

I’m still living at home.  I got rid of all the alcohol.  In my spare time, I do things around the house such as repainting the walls, polishing the furniture and making repairs.  I want my mother to come back to a nicely fixed up home.

The last time I visited her she asked me if I had visited Jacquan in prison as yet.  When I said no, she urged me to, saying, “God loves him too.”  That got me.  I needed to humble myself, swallow my pride and go see my brother.  The following Sunday morning, I went to see him.  He looked terrible and he hardly said much.  I told him about Mama.  “That’s good she got help,” he said.  A pause then, “No word from Dad yet?”

I shook my head.  “I don’t expect to hear from him again.  How are you doing?”

He shrugged.  “Surviving.  How come you’re here?”

“Mama encouraged me to visit you.  She reminded me that God loves you too.”

He looked surprised.  “God?  Don’t tell me that Mama has gone all religious.  How did that happen?”

I told him and showed him the tracts.  “I will leave these with you.  It’s up to you if you want to read them.  I hope that you do.  Do you mind if I prayed for you?”

H shrugged.  “Suit yourself.”

I prayed with him and promised that I would visit again soon.  I saw him take up the tracts before he got up and left.  I left the prison hoping and praying that he would read them.

I was standing on the sidewalk one day handing out tracts when I saw Nata, a girl who attended the same high-school I did.  She was in grade 8 when I was in grade 12.  Just recently, I found out that after she graduated, she run away from home.  Gidea told me that he saw her on the streets.  african-girl-portrait-scarf_iphone_750x1334

She saw me and smiled.  I watched as she approached me.  “Hi,” she said when she reached me.  “What’s that you’re handing out?”

“Gospel tracts.  Would you like one?”

She shrugged.  “Sure.”

I handed her the one about Connecting With God.  She took it.  I hope she reads it.  “How are you doing, Nata?” I asked.

“Surviving,” she replied.  “I hate to ask you this but could you give me some money?  Someone the money in my bag while I was sleeping.”

“When and where did this happen?”

She hesitated.  “Last night on the street.”

“Are you living on the streets?”

She nodded.  “I have been since I left home.  Things got so bad at home that I had to leave.”

“Nata, do you know how dangerous it is for a girl to be living on the streets?  So far you’ve only been robbed but something worse can happen.  You can’t stay on the streets.  Isn’t there a relative you can stay with?”

She shook her head.  “No.  My relatives have their own problems.  They wouldn’t want me around.  What about you?  Can I stay with you until I can find a job?”

“I’m sorry but that wouldn’t be possible.  I’m a Christian and it wouldn’t look good for me to have a girl I’m not married to living with me.”

“All right.  Do you have money you can lend me?  When I get a job I will pay you back.”

“I have a better idea.  There’s this house for street children.  I know the woman who runs it.  She goes to my church.  I can take you there and she will help you.  You can stay there until you decide to return home or find a place.  While there you can continue going to school.”

She considered it for a moment.  “My parents wouldn’t find out that I’m there?”

I shook my head.  “No.  Not unless you want them to.”

“All right.  I will go to this place but if I don’t like it, I’ll leave.”

“Fair enough.  I will take you there right now.”  I stuffed the tracts in my satchel bag and we headed for the bus stop.  In half-hour we were walking into the shelter.  I introduced her to Amahle, the church member I told her about and waited until everything was sorted out.  “Thanks, Amahle.  Take care, Nata.”

She stared up at me.  “You will check up on me, right?”

“I will.  And don’t worry, you will be well taken care of here.”

The anxious expression on her face faded.  “Thanks for the tract.  I promise I will read it.”

“Good.  The next time I come, I will bring more.  I’ll see you soon.”

She didn’t answer.  I could feel her eyes on me as I turned and walked away.  I knew I had done the right thing bringing her here.

Sources:  Ixande; SA News; Kindernothilfe;

Mia’s Story

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Ours isn’t your typical love story.  I was a victim of human sex trafficking and he’s an FBI agent.  My name is Mia and I’m 28 years old.  I was 18 when I ran away from home.  I was having problems with my mother who always made me feel like I was no good and that she was sorry that she had me.  And my father who was hardly around and when he was, he fought with my mother and ignored me.

Life at home was hell and sometimes I just wished it was a nightmare and that I would wake up in a different house and with different parents–people who loved and cared about me.  It got to the point that I knew that if I didn’t leave, I would kill myself.  One night after my parents had gone to bed, I grabbed my knapsack and sneaked out of the house.  I had some money which I took from my mother’s purse and my father’s wallet.  I didn’t have time to count the amount but it looked like it would last me for a while.

It lasted for a couple of weeks and then I was broke.  I had no idea of what to do.  I had no where to go.  I refused to go back home.  I called other family members but they hung up when they knew that it was me.  I was too ashamed to call my friends.  So, I decided that may be I should find a job at McDonald’s or some other fast food place.  It was better than staying on the streets or going to a homeless shelter.

I stood there trying to figure out where the nearest MacDonald’s was when a really cute guy came up to me.  He had the most incredible blue eyes and an amazing smile.  “Hi,” he said.  “Are you lost?”

“I’m trying to find a McDonald’s,” I explained.  “I’m looking for a job.”

“I see.  It just so happens that I work at a restaurant just around the corner and the manager is looking to hire a cashier.  Are you interested?”

My expression brightened.  “Of course!  I’ve worked as a cashier before.”

“Good.  I’m heading there now so I can introduce you to the manager.”

“Okay.”

“What’s your name?”

“Mia.”

“I’m Joe.”  He held out his hand.

She smiled and shook it.  “Nice to meet you, Joe.”

We headed in the direction of the Space Needle.  I promised myself that one day I would visit it.  As we walked we talked.  He was so charming and easygoing.  I found myself hoping that he didn’t have a girlfriend.  About ten minutes later, we stopped in front of a restaurant.  It was packed.  He pushed the door open for me to enter.  The smell of fried food assailed me and reminded me that I was hungry.

As if he read my mind, he asked, “Are you hungry?”

I nodded.  “I haven’t eaten all day.”

He took me by the elbow and led me down a long corridor and into a room.  “Sit here while I go and get something for you to eat.”

I sat down, grateful for his kindness and to be able to sit down after being on my feet for so long.  Fading light streamed through the windows.  The sun would be setting soon.  I hoped that Joe was right about his manager and that he would hire me.  It would be so cool working there with Joe.  I was feeling a little hot so I removed my jacket.  I pulled my hair back into a ponytail.  I was about to get up and walk over to the window and look out when Joe came in carrying a tray with a burger, fries and a soft drink.  He set them down on the table.  My mouth was watering.  “Thanks, Joe.”

He smiled.  “No problem.  When you’re finished just come to the front where the cashier is and I’ll be there.”

“Thanks.”  I waited until he left before I wolfed down the burger and fries.  They were sooo good.  I drank the Ginger-ale.  It was nice and cold.  I was half-way through it when I started to feel dizzy.  The room started to spin and I squeezed my eyes shut.  When I opened them again, I was in another room and there was a strange man standing over me.  Was this the manager?  Had I passed out or something?  Did I eat too fast?  All sorts of questions whirled around in my mind.  My head was pounding but at least the room wasn’t spinning and the dizziness was gone.  I tried to sit up but the man pushed me down.  Panicking, I cried out but he put something over my nose and mouth and everything went black.res

When I regained consciousness I was alone and I realized that I was lying on a bed.  I managed to sit up and I screamed when I saw that I was wearing red lingerie.  How did I end up here?  Who removed my clothes?  Where are my clothes?  I looked wildly about the room for my clothes.  I tried to get out of the bed but the door opened and Joe came in.  He grabbed me and tried to force me to lie back down.  I struggled wildly and he struck me.  I was so shocked that I fell back against the pillows.  Joe looked like a different person.  His eyes were cold and his expression impassive.  “You’re not going anywhere,” he muttered.  “You’re going to be here for a long time.”

“Where am I?” I asked, tears streaming down my face.  “Who are you and why are you doing this to me?”

“I don’t have time to answer your questions.”

“What is this place?  Why have you brought me here?”

“You wanted a job, remember?  Well, here you are.”

I struggled to get up.  “You told me that it was a cashier’s job at your restaurant.”

“You’re far too pretty to be a cashier.  You will make more money on your back.”

Then, it hit me.  He was forcing me into prostitution.  I felt sick.  I clawed at him until he clamped his hand over my nose and mouth.  Everything went black again.  I don’t know how long I was out but when I came to, I heard Joe say to someone, “She’s all yours.  I broke her in for you and she’s nicely cleaned up.  Remember to wear a rubber.  We practice safe sex here.  She’s no use to me if she gets pregnant and I’m not to spend my hard earned money on an abortion.”

I heard the door open and close.  Then silence.  I opened my eyes and I saw a man leaning over me.  I felt his hot breath on my face.  I struggled to get up but I couldn’t move.  Then, I realize that he was on top of me.  I pushed at him but it was no use.  I lay there helpless while he raped me.

When it was over, he got off me and I heard him moving about the room as he got dressed.  Then, I heard the door open and close.  I lay there for a long time, too terrified to move or make a sound.  Then, I pushed myself up and got up from the bed.  I put on the lingerie bottom which was lying on the floor and stumbled towards the closed door.  It was a washroom.  I felt for the switch and flicked it on.  I went over to the mirror and stared at my reflection.  I didn’t recognize myself.  My eyes were puffy, my jaw was bruised from where Joe struck me and my left shoulder had a bruise as well.  I turned on the tap and splashed water on my face.  I had to get out of there.  I went to the window and opened it.  I pushed my head out.  Outside was a fire escape.  I raised the window higher and climbed onto the ledge.  I reached out and pulled myself onto the fire escape.  I made my way down to the street below and ran as fast as I could.

When I was as far away from that place as possible, I flagged a cab down and when it stopped, I begged the driver to take me to the nearest hospital.  When I got there I went straight to Emergency and told the triage person what happened to me.  I was ushered into a room where I was told to wait.  Minutes later a nurse came in and asked me “Did anyone you worked for or lived with trick or force you into doing anything you did not want to do?” and other questions.  Then, she left and returned.  She asked me to get undressed so that I could be examined and left.  After the examination, I was given a gown.  I sat at the edge of the bed and waited.

The nurse who examined me came in and told me that I was a victim of sex trafficking.  There was evidence of forced penetration and bruising on my wrists as if I were restrained.  She asked if there was anyone I needed to call or somewhere to stay.  I shook my head.  I was in a daze.  I still couldn’t believe what had happened to me.  I had fallen for a pair of blue eyes and a charming smile.  The nurse told me that the hospital would help me with housing, transportation and any necessities I may need.  That was a real load off my shoulders.  I spent the night in the hospital.  I had trouble falling asleep because every time I closed my eyes I saw either Joe’s or that strange man’s face.  And I was afraid that I would wake up and find myself back in that room.

The next day, I was visited by two FBI agents who wanted to question me.  One was an older man with sandy colored hair, sharp eyes and a portly gait.  The other was tall, dark and very handsome.  The older one asked most of the questions and was very quick and direct.  Then, the other one said, “You were lucky to get out of there alive.  You did the right thing coming here.”

“I hope you catch Joe,” I said.  “I wish I knew the other man’s name.”

“It would be very helpful if you can give their descriptions to our artist,” he replied.

“I can,” I assured them tightly.  “I will never forget their faces.”

“Thank you, Miss Bautista,” the older one said.  “We will be in touch.  Good-day.”  He left the room.

The other one lingered for a moment.  “Good-day, Miss Bautista.”

“Good-day, Agent Fowler.”  I watched him leave.

I left the hospital that afternoon and was placed in Catalyst at Straley House where I can stay for 18 months while I work with my case manager to get connected to school and employment, and transition into permanent housing.   It turned out to be a really nice place.  I met a lot of great people.  My case manager, Rita was a tremendous help and support for me.  Before leaving home, I had graduated from high-school with honors but I hadn’t applied to any university.  After my ordeal in Seattle, I decided that I would move to another city in Washington.  I googled the best cities there and chose Spokane.  I applied to Gonzaga University and was accepted.

Before I left to go to live on campus, I received a visit from Agent Fowler who informed me that thanks to my descriptions Joe Cartwright and his cohorts were arrested.   The man who raped me was a prominent businessman who was a regular client.  Joe was a pimp and his victims included under-aged girls.  It turned out that Mr. Murphy had no clue about Joe’s nefarious business dealings.  Joe had used Mr. Murphy’s job posting to gain my trust.  I was very grateful to Agents Fowler and Benson for investigating and catching those monsters.  I hope that they will spend the rest of their lives behind bars.  I told Agent Fowler that I was moving to Spokane.  He smiled and shook my hand.  “I wish you all the best, Miss Bautista.”

As I watched him leave, I found myself hoping that I would see him again.  Years later, I did.  I had graduated from Gonzaga University and was working as a Youth Program Assistant which I loved.  I was on my way to lunch when I saw someone walking in front of me.  From the back he looked very familiar and then I realized who it was.  I quickened my pace until I was right behind him and I called out, “Agent Fowler.”

He stopped and turned to face me.  I could see that he recognized me.  Smiling, he held out his hand.  “Miss Bautista.  It’s good to see you.”

“I didn’t think I would run into you.  What are you doing in Spokane?”

“I’m here for my nephew’s wedding which is tomorrow.”

“Did you fly or drive?”

“I flew.  I didn’t feel like spending over four hours behind the wheel. Are you heading somewhere?”

“I was on my way to lunch.”

“Do you mind if I tag along?”

“I could do with the company.  There’s a bistro right up the road.  They serve the best comfort food.”

“Sounds good.”

We walked to the bistro.  Over local beef and regional fresh fish, we talked.  When it was time for me to head back to the office, he came with me.  As we stood outside the building, he asked me to have dinner with him.  I gladly accepted.  After that first dinner, we made arrangements to see each other again.  He spent the week in Spokane before he flew back.  We had a long distance relationship and saw each other in the summer, at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s.  Then, one day when we were Riverfront Park, he told me that he was moving to the FBI office in Spokane.

I stared up at him.  “Why?” I asked.  I was thrilled, of course but taken aback.

He reached for my hands, his expression serious as his eyes met mine.  “I want to be where you are, Mia,” he said quietly.

I swallowed hard, my heart was racing now.  “Why?”

“Simple, I love you.”

“I love you too, Nathan.  And I’m happy that you’re moving to Spokane.”

He leaned over and kissed me.  I felt my head explode.  We drew apart several minutes later and holding hands, we continued our walk.  The following spring, he moved to Spokane and following a very short engagement, we got married in September.  The attendees were Rita, my case manager, my friends from Catalyst, my co-workers and his FBI friends and family.  My parents weren’t there because I didn’t invite them.  They are a painful part of my past which I want to forget.

Ten years have passed since my ordeal and what thing that I have learned from it is that “Our pain can be turned into purpose”  This March, I started a support group for former sex and human trafficking victims.

While Mia’s story is fiction, it is real for many.  Trafficking of any kind is an evil that must be wiped out and those responsible for it must be brought to justice.  Check out this video for a grim glimpse into the world of child sex trafficking and what is being done to save victims.

Here is a list of non-profit organizations fighting against Human Trafficking:

Let’s work together to stop trafficking and exploitation.  Let’s fight for freedom.

Sources:  FBI Video; Nurse.com; Nurse.org; FBI; YouthCare; Yelp

An Invitation

“So, what are your plans this weekend?” Vihaan asked Leona Friday morning when she was at her desk having a cup of hot chocolate.

His question caught her by surprise.  It was the first time since she had been his secretary that he had asked her such a personal question.  She pondered it for a moment and then replied, “I’m going to a friend’s bridal shower tomorrow and on Sunday, I’m going to church.”

His eyebrows rose.  “You’re a Christian?”

“Yes, I am.  Why are you so surprised about that?”

He sat on top of the filing cabinet.  “I’ve met Christians before and they’re nothing like you.  There are three things I have found about Christians which put me off and I’m not alone in this.”

She put her cup down.  He had her full attention.  “What are the three things?”

“Well, first, Christians and preachers always tend to condemn and criticize people for their sexual habits and preferences, life-style choices and even political views.  Second, they are hypocrites.  They oftentimes don’t practice what they preach.  Doesn’t the Bible say something about gossip and yet most of the people who are guilty of gossiping are so people who say that they are Christians.  And they talk about the sins of others but what about theirs?  And third, it’s hard to have friendships or relationships with Christians.  The things I like to do they look down on.  They try to make me feel bad because I don’t go to church or read the Bible.  You, on the other hand are not at all like them.  You’re laid back, not uptight, you socialize with non-Christians and you don’t act like you’re better than the rest of us because you go to church every Sunday.”

Leona had heard this before.  Sometimes, Christians were their own worst enemies.  They were so caught up in not being like the world that they forget that they are supposed to be the lights that would bring non-believers to Christ.  They forget that He they were once like those whom they look down on.  They forget that Jesus died for everyone and that God doesn’t want anyone to perish.  “I know that some Christians are judgmental and critical of those outside of the church and even of other Christians.  With regard to sexual immorality, that is addressed in the Bible but sexual sin isn’t the only thing Christians are warned against.  We are warned about wild living, worshiping false gods, doing witchcraft, hating, making trouble, being jealous, being angry, being selfish, making people angry with each other, causing divisions among people, having envy, being drunk, having wild and wasteful parties, and doing other things like this.  And you’re right about gossiping and we are told not to associate with a gossip.  And some Christians are hypocrites.  They are quick to point out someone else’s fault but ignore their own.  Jesus talked about that.  He called the religious people out a lot and even called them hypocrites.”

“Jesus loved everybody, didn’t He?  I mean He didn’t look down on certain people, did He?”

“No.  He ate with tax collectors and sinners, society’s undesirables.  Today, that would be the homeless, prostitutes, drug addicts, drug dealers, prisoners, anyone who need to know about God and His love and mercy.  Jesus likened Himself to a doctor.  Doctors are in the business of healing. They would send a sick person away because of who they are.  It the same with Jesus.  Whoever went to Him, He didn’t reject.  He showed them the same love He would show to anyone.”

“So, He was not particular about who His friends were?”

She got up and went over to the filing cabinet to do some filing.  He shifted so that he was facing her.  “He didn’t turn anyone away because of their lifestyle or situation but He did tell them not to continue sinning.  Jesus showed everyone love and compassion but He still wanted them to turn away from a life of sin.  It’s like our parents. They love us but when we do wrong, they correct us.  They don’t ignore what we are doing because they love us.  Only an unloving and uncaring parent would allow his or her child to continue doing what is wrong even if it ruins that child in the end.”

“This is very interesting.  I would really like to continue this conversation.  How about having lunch with me at one.  We can grab some take out at the bistro around the corner and then go to a quiet spot in the park.” Corporate-Headshots_4812-500x1000

She smiled.  “That sounds good.  And if you’re not doing anything on Sunday, maybe you can stop by my church and meet other Christians like me.”

He slid off the cabinet.  “I just might do that.”

“Good.”  She watched him walk away.  I’m glad I had the opportunity to offer him an invitation to come to my church and see that there are Christians out there who have the heart and mind of Christ.

Sources:  ; Bible Gateway;