This was a powerful weekend at Marble. Rev. Becca Stevens was here, along with one of her staff members and two graduates of her Love Heals program. We were reminded of a couple of undeniable realities this weekend. First, we were reminded that many people live in unimaginable circumstances, usually not of their own making. The evils of the trafficking and sex-for-sale industries are rampant, and the victims exist at our doorsteps. We too often think of it as something that happens “over there.” And it does. Every day innocent children (ten and eleven year old little girls) are being sold by ISIS and Boco Haram to wealthy buyers who want child sex slaves. It also happens in Cambodia and Thailand. It happens in Eastern Europe, as well. But, it also happens here – in our five boroughs – and even in quiet small towns in the Midwest and Bible Belt.
What also happens, as we heard over the weekend, is that some sort of sexual abuse affects 1-in-3 preteen girls and 1-in-5 preteen boys, and 90% of the time the children are victimized by someone they know. Then there is the whole new wave of entrapment and abuse that is occurring because of the Internet and things like Snapchat and Instagram. Young children can be enticed into sending an inappropriate photo to someone. And though they “think” the photo ceases to exist after seven seconds of posting, that is simply not the case. Once they click “Send,” it belongs to someone else who (a) can distribute it and (b) can demand more photos or videos with the threat that, should the victim refuse, the original will be sent to her parents or school friends.
Pimps prey on runaways. Additionally, often the sex industry also involves the drug industry as young people are involuntarily drugged to make them succumb to otherwise intolerable acts. Or, the young people being to take drugs as a way of self-medicating, trying to numb themselves to the abuse of the pimps and the clients. And a life created in the image of God is tainted and stained until that image is hidden beneath years of layers of pain and pathos. All that is one undeniable reality.
But, there is another reality we experienced – one filled with hope and promise. This was Pentecost Weekend, a time when we remember that in a world of fear and fragility God’s Spirit descends in unexpected and victorious ways. And that’s what we heard about and witnessed during this incredible two days. Becca told us about her Love Heals program and how it is always too early to give up on anyone else, and how it is always premature to give up on ourselves. Why? Because God’s Spirit turns desperate yesterdays into beautiful tomorrows. The women who accompanied Becca to Marble were visible and verbal witnesses of that. They told their stories – stories of abuse and abandonment, stories of journeying into far countries of addiction and dehumanization from which there appeared to be no return. But then, something happened... Love happened. God’s love happened. God’s healing, repairing, renewing, restoring love happened. And it happened because of a community of people at a place called Thistle Farms, a community of folks who refuse to be defeated by the pains of the past and instead envision the promise of the future. It happened because God loved people through other people. God embraced broken people through people who had once been similarly broken but are now made new. And lives the world had given up on became, in Jesus’ words, born all over again. In a very real way, those lives are resurrected. This weekend a Spirit moved in our midst, like Pentecost of old, reminding us that there are no dead ends when we allow God to lead us on life’s roads.
So, I came away with renewed hope. There are things we can do to help victims of abuse and trafficking. There are things we can do to renew hope, restore dignity, and regenerate lives. There are agencies throughout our city whose mission is to do those very things – agencies with whom we can partner, as a congregation and as individuals. We experienced two realities this weekend: the reality of this world’s pain, but also the greater reality of God’s power to transform. I think all of us were inspired to be part of the process that brings healing and wholeness to people who have been broken. If we were so inspired, then God’s Spirit did move among us and will continue to do so, and therefore Pentecost happened on the corner of 29th and 5th!