Today, in the Salvation Army we observe Human Trafficking Sunday. It’s a day when, as a whole church we talk about and pray about human trafficking.
It’s one of those difficult Sundays for me, with all my openness about homelessness and poverty, there are still some things I don’t talk about. I sit through these services and listen to people talk about trafficking. Some are talking as volunteers for the Army and how they work with the police and move rescued people to safe locations. Others talk from fact sheets and show videos on slavery, while others read prayers written by some church member in the London office.
When we, as a church, talk about trafficking its about people from other countries, brought here with hope of work and travel, promised the world and yet stuck in an inescapable prison. Human Trafficking is the illegal movement of people, typically with the aim of forced labour or sexual exploitation. You think it can’t happen to nice people, that it must be only the desperately poor and vulnerable families that this kind of thing happens to, but it happens to nice families, educated women, men with learning difficulties and people from the UK.
I don’t know what it’s like to be taken from this country with the hope of an adventure and a job, to be caught by a scam that leaves me trapped in a country I do not know. Where I don’t know the language, or the culture, or the law. Where I don’t know the difference between the people who can help and the people who are trapping me further.
But I know what it’s like to be imprisoned, to have no escape. To have no choice in who you sleep with and know the beating a refusal can bring. This Salvation Army officers daughter, who attended church every Sunday, did ok in school and didn’t really get into trouble knows the despair and devastation of having no hope.
My church is a short walk from the red light area, where women charge the price of a basic restaurant meal for sex, but where I’ve heard of some women, those who don’t know the language or the UK currency charge the price of a coffee, not through choice, but because the man who owns her values her life as nothing.
The rest of today I spent with a heavy heart.
William Booth once talked of a vision of the lost, this video is a little bit corny, but it tells the vision…
I grew up believing that you are saved to serve, you became free and instead of running you turn around to help free someone else.
I’ve been feeling a little lost recently, the setting up my business thing is going great, I’m not struggling to survive like I was a few months ago, but something is off-kilter. I think, for the first time in years I am not doing something for the benefit of others.
Before university I volunteered for the joanna project, before that I volunteered for Inkwell Arts, before that I worked for The Salvation Army… during my whole non-messed up life I have spent part of it benefiting others and now my whole life is about me. And it hurts.
This evening, after church, I found myself in a cafe having a text message conversation with a friend, and I realised the problem. I need to do something for others, it’s what keeps me functioning, it’s one of the things that keeps me turning up to the Army every week, this need to be in a church that thrives on serving others. It’s what keeps me valuing my own freedom.
In my first year at University I came up with an idea for a quilt of hope. It was a simple idea of a handmade quilt that contained little messages of hope within the squares. I was thinking of the women who come to the joanna project house. Some of the women have been so demoralised, so inhumanised, that the thought of being hugged is too much. My idea was to make a quilted blanket that a woman can wrap herself in. Filled with messages and prayers from people who are praying for her, even though they might never meet her.
It was a nice idea and one I somehow keep coming back to.
Then at the end of last year we had a project handmaking a quilt. I spent several hours sat around a simple wooden frame, hand-stitching a simple pattern into a quilt with a small group of young students. There was something magical about it. Something disarming about the simple stitch and our heads bowed looking at the quilt that allowed people to open up in a way two years of uni had never done. In those hours I became to understand my fellow students, to learn fears and experiences they normally wouldn’t share.
I later thought again of the deep communication that group quilting created and imagined what it would be like to have a quilting group in church, where we made banners and quilts as a group, sharing with fellow Christians and non-Christians.
Tonight again, as I text messaged my friend I thought of my quilting ideas, my need to be doing something for others and decided it might be time to think seriously about the quilt project.
There are things to work out, things to organise, I need a place we could meet and sew, I need materials, but most importantly, I need volunteers.
In January I appealed for people to stand with me for Daria, and again I’m asking for help. I want to make a quilt of hope, first for the Joanna project, then perhaps quilts of hope for the Salvation Army human trafficking unit. To be used by those who need to be wrapped in arms of love, hope and prayers, but are too fragile to allow human touch.
I’m going to be putting together simple sewing kits (It might take me a little while to make them) which I will sell to raise money for the materials, but the kits will be the squares to make the quilt. I’m hoping people will buy a kit, sew a simple (or detailed) message or image of hope and send them back to be included in the quilt.
But I’m also looking for local people, folks who live in Leeds or close enough to meet regularly to make the quilt. Experience not needed, but just a love for others.
If that’s you, then get in touch. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you need some more convincing, here’s a video of the Salvation Army’s human trafficking unit at work.