Unexpected by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

Today’s post is by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year.

The scourge of sex trafficking

My year of prayer is taking an unexpected turn. Or maybe the turn started last Easter, in my first year of prayer, when I felt prompted to learn more about human trafficking, particularly of young girls for sex. What I learned horrified me, to say the least, and I began to write about it. With the help of several generous friends, I raised over $1o00 for International Justice Mission (IJM) and Love 146, two organizations working hard to combat sex slavery.

As a result of my research and writing last year, I signed up for International Justice Mission’s weekly prayer update. Every Thursday I’d get an email with a half dozen or so requests for their work around the world. I confess, I’d usually read through it and say a couple of yes, God’s or thank you Jesus’s before deleting the email.

In the intervening year, though, I’ve learned a lot more about the work that IJM does—and the prayer that undergirds it—and I’ve been stunned buy the stories I’ve heard and read of God’s providence and provision and care both for the justice workers and for the people on whose behalf they’re working. God really does answer prayer.

And that makes me want to pray more.

So, much to my surprise, my year of prayer—which I originally envisioned as being somehow about me—is turning out to not be about me at all. (Shocking, I know.) God is slowly calling me out of myself; calling me to pray beyond the borders of my small house, my big family; calling me to set aside my doubt and my questions for a few moments and just. pray.

In the past several months, I’ve become more intentional about praying over IJM’s requests. Thanks to my iPhone, I can read the email anywhere, so I recently started pulling up the IJM prayer requests whenever I’m standing in a line. This means I now pray over them multiple times each week—at the grocery store, the post office, my favorite coffee shop, even the library.

The more I pray, the more I want to pray. I confess that the cynic in me expects that this is just some sort of honeymoon phase. Yeah, I’m all gaga about Jesus and prayer right now, but it’ll fade. The rest of me hopes my inner cynic is wrong. I pray about that, too—that when my googoo eyes wear off, I’ll still love Jesus, still love prayer, and that if I don’t, I’ll still practice it anyway.

The funny thing about all this—at least to me—is that I am one of those people who’s always buried her head in the sand. I never wanted to know about the awful things happening in the world. I didn’t want to feel the pain of other’s suffering. I didn’t want to feel the guilt of not doing anything about it. And I certainly didn’t want to risk hearing God call me to some far-off place without indoor plumbing.

Yet here I am, eagerly awaiting the next prayer email from IJM, emails that frequently break my heart and make me weep for people I’ve never met. I’ve even started fantasizing about maybe going on a mission trip someday. How is this possible? Who is this person I’m becoming? I don’t know.

What I do know is that I want to do something about the horrors in this world, and prayer is doing something. As Bethany Hoang says, “for every follower of Christ, being obedient to God’s commands to justice is….a daily, on-the-ground, person-by-person work of prayer.” Prayer is the fundamental work of a Christian.

I don’t understand how prayer works any more than I did a year ago. But I’m starting to see that how it works is less important than that it works. And that my work is to stop thinking so much about prayer and actually pray.


Today We’ve Disappeared by April Yamasaki

Today’s post for the series Return to Our Senses in Lent is written by April Yamasaki. April is a pastor and writer who blogs on spiritual practice, faith, and life at http://aprilyamasaki.com. Her new book is Sacred Pauses: spiritual practices for personal renewal available from Menno Media/Herald Press, Amazon, and your local bookstore.

A year ago, I was pretty much a stranger to social media. Once upon a time, I had joined Facebook to see some pictures sent by a friend, then promptly hid my profile since I hadn’t wanted to take the time to fill it in or find new friends. I had several invitations to LinkedIn that I had dutifully saved instead of deleting. Every so often, one of my sisters would send me an email signed from “your Facebook Liaison,” so I wouldn’t miss out on any family news.

But last May, I finally followed up on my LinkedIn invitations–and yes, they still worked even though they were a few years old. I signed up for my own Facebook, then Google+. I started blogging. By Christmas, I had signed up for Goodreads and Twitter too.

As Lent approached, I learned that one friend was planning to give up Facebook for his Lenten practice. “That’s not for me,” I said to myself. The world of social media was all still new to me. It was something I could dip into or out of at any time. I wasn’t immersed in it every day.

Then a Twitter friend said he was going to “disappear” for just one day on Feb. 27 in honor of the 27 million men, women, and children who’ve disappeared in slavery around the world. I decided to follow suit—no Facebook, no Twitter, no LinkedIn, no Google+, no Goodreads, no blogs. I posted this on my own blog the night before:

Today We've Disappeared

I didn’t think anyone would miss me. After all, I don’t blog every day. I don’t post something on Facebook or Google+ every day. Even my daily Twitter activity was just a few tweets. Who would notice?

As it turned out, I noticed—much more than I thought I would. I thought about the millions of people who have disappeared. I wondered about the people they were missing and that were missing them. I held them all in my prayers: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. That was the reason I had “disappeared” from social media that day. But I also discovered that I felt more focused. I felt freer from distractions. I felt less pressed for time.

I’ve been reflecting on that experience as I’ve been reading chapter 9 of Return to Our Senses on “Facebook, Blogging, and Go To Prayers.” Is social media “a wonderful tool, or a terrible distraction”? I can see the potential for both.

And so even as the end of Lent is in sight, I’m making a new commitment not just for Lent but for the future: for a once-a-week, social-media-free day, Saturday 6pm – Sunday 6pm, and I’m coupling that with a commitment not to look back endlessly through everything I’ve missed.

The truth is, a person is always missing something. It’s not humanly possible to know everything about everything. And that’s okay. God knows. God is sovereign. I’m resting in that thought.


Women of Purpose

On Saturday I had the opportunity to attend the World Concern Women of Purpose tea.  I was challenged deeply by the stories I heard of the plight of women in many parts of the world.  Women make up the largest group of oppressed people in the world, with laws and customs putting them at a distinct disadvantage. From the villages of Kenya to the slums of Bangladesh, desperately poor women and girls are vulnerable to starvation and illness, loan sharks and traffickers. Seeking to feed their families, they can be conned into promises of quick loans and well-paid factory or domestic work. Sometimes they even send their young girls off with strangers so they can benefit from these “opportunities” for a better life. But this is often a lie, and women and girls can be caught in a nightmare of exorbitant debt, blackmail, prostitution, and even slavery. Even when women and girls escape this fate, oppression and extreme poverty can crush their spirit and potential. When food, medicine and education are scarce, women and girls are the first to go without. Not surprisingly, females have the highest mortality and illiteracy rates in the world.

This has always been an issue that I am passionate about but hearing these stories rekindled my desire to be more deeply involved in reaching out.  Women of Purpose links Christian women in America with groups of women in Kenya, Bangladesh, Haiti and Bolivia, providing them with microloans and business training through World Concern. Women in sister groups benefit from your prayers and financial support – and the support of one another – as they learn how to run businesses based on the values of honesty, honor and integrity. Women of Purpose also provide scholarships for girls, in communities where only the boys are seen as worthy of the privilege.  Check it out

You might also like to check out the Viva Network and the Asha Awareness video on child trafficking that was shown at the tea,  It is one of the most compelling videos on this issue that I have seen