Restoring Dignity in the Midst of Poverty and Human Trafficking

Shirley, an employee at Dignity Coconuts. Photo courtesy of Dignity.

I love the story of Shirley. Her family was struggling to survive in the Philippines—a nation plagued with poverty and modern-day slavery. Her husband Ramir took whatever small jobs he could to help the family, but without land, his only options were to work helping on a rice farm or a fishing boat. The pay was irregular and unsustainable, so he made the tough choice to look for work in a bigger city and send money back to Shirley and their three kids. Shirley applied to work at Dignity. She was skeptical as she had never worked with a team and doubted her abilities. When Dignity hired her, it changed her life and her family. Shirley was able to make a consistent income from Dignity. The cycle of poverty and human trafficking was stopped in its tracks.

Men: Take a Stand to End Gender-Based Violence

Male and female symbols. Image via Babii Nadiia /

The roots of violence against women lie in gender inequality and the abuse of power, which in turn shapes our understanding of masculinity and femininity. What does it mean to be a man or woman in the 21st century? Many Christian authors argue that men should demonstrate leadership and competitiveness, often at the expense of women. Instead, we need to emphasize understandings of masculinity that recognize the diversity of men and allow space for women to also exercise leadership and fulfill their potential.

For Christians, our most important model of masculinity is that of Jesus Christ. As a leader and a compelling speaker and debater, Jesus demonstrated traditional masculine characteristics in his era. His miraculous powers put him in a unique position of authority. And yet he chose to live as a servant, to be nonviolent and to respect women, including relying on them for financial support. His life shows us that:

  • all men and women are worthy of respect;
  • masculinity does not need to be characterized by violence; and
  • power should not be abused, but used in the service of others.

Fighting Human Trafficking...and Learning to Love Myself Along the Way

Vintage Typewriter. Photo via Micha /

Today, I am the Managing Director of Freedom a la Cart, a social enterprise that offers employment, workforce development, and supportive services to local, adult survivors of human trafficking. The women that I work with are victims of unimaginable trauma and abuse. They are also the strongest, most resilient women I know. Through their words and actions they continue to teach me the power of loving oneself.

Because here is my deepest, darkest secret—the one that I never speak about. The one that I shove deep down and hope that no one ever learns about.

I struggle to love myself. 

I am the boss, the director, a caretaker, an advocate for social justice. But I don’t love myself, and I struggle with self-worth daily. I am a perfectionist and constantly feel that I am “not enough.”

It wasn’t until my 30th year of life that I realized how broken and human I was. Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. I was doing a terrible job of loving myself and realized I could not truly love these survivors until I loved myself.

All too often, advocates and activists present themselves as superheroes, rescuing the poor and defenseless. We hide our fear, our guilt, our shame, our self-loathing, because we are supposed to be the strong ones. We are supposed to have all the answers.  And yet what is demanded of us isn’t perfection, but rather our faithfulness and willingness to be vulnerable. 

A Journey to Full Restoration

Silhouette creating the shape of a flying bird. Photo via Shots Studio /

Mint's life has been changed since working at NightLight. Having an economic alternative is an essential part of bringing liberation to women who have been trafficked or prostituted. The exit or rescue is only the beginning of freedom. At the same time, a job alone does not restore a woman to her true identity and humanity. There is a well of pain and trauma that lies beneath the surface.

Most organizations that provide after care for survivors struggle to support the financial burden of restoration. When the rescue is over, the support often dwindles before the woman is fully restored and ready to thrive on her own. Without intentional and holistic after care, victims who are rescued often find themselves vulnerable again. Left alone, the familiarity of their slavery can begin to look like the best option for survival.

A successful business can provide the wages and benefits needed to sustain a woman while giving her the opportunity to reach full restoration. When the greater community invests in freedom products, we can help vulnerable women reach their full potential.

For Mint’s sake and other women and girls, may it be so.

The Evolution of Cody ChesnuTT

PRIOR TO MY conversion to Christianity, I was the roving reggae reporter for High Times, a magazine dedicated to marijuana culture. I also wrote music reviews for NY Press, Virgin Records, and various other publications.

One of my favorite artists from the early 2000s was Cody Chesnutt (he spells his name with two capital Ts at the end), an independent recording artist popularly known for his hit song “Seed 2.0,” a soulful rock and hip-hop hybrid released in 2002 with The Roots.

Chesnutt’s musical debut was a lo-fi soul and rock-and-roll album titled The Headphone Masterpiece. It was a double disc (this was still the heyday of compact discs) that he recorded on a 4-track recorder in the bedroom of his Los Angeles apartment. He played all the instruments—guitar, bass, keyboard, and organ. The sound quality and lyrical content are both intentionally gritty.

Headphone quickly became the soundtrack to my college years. I was a reveler, filled with hypersexual bravado and abundant egotism, and Chesnutt’s music reinforced and undergirded my misdirected youthful zeal. His lyrics were unrepentantly misogynistic, and his strong sense of self pervaded each track. He exploited his infidelity and womanizing in his music, at times in a prophetic way, such as in “My Women, My Guitars,” which he opens with incredibly crude lyrics, but later croons with utmost vulnerability: “Man, something’s been killing me. My women, my guitars. I’ve been living hard. My breakdown is on the way. I know my breakdown is on the way. So I get up on my feet. Falling back on my knees to pray.”

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Turning Toward Home

WHEN SHE’S TRAVELING around her north-central Detroit neighborhood, Lucretia Gaulden likes to carry her digital camera with her.

The 39-year-old lifelong Detroiter trains her lens at scenes that represent health—such as an outgoing person she admires, for example—as well as images that represent sickness and danger, such as vacant buildings.

That’s the assignment she’s working on in her photography class at the Bell Building. Until Lucretia came to the Bell Building 17 months ago, she never had a chance to participate in a photography class. When she was homeless, attending a weekly class of any type, even owning a camera, might have been out of reach.

Orphaned at 13, pregnant at 16, she found herself in prison at 25 after being convicted of being an accomplice to a crime committed by an old boyfriend. When she got out, she bounced between halfway houses and friends’ couches.

But since she’s arrived at the Bell Building, she’s been able to focus on what’s more healthy for her. In compliance with her lease, Lucretia pays rent every month on her own furnished one-bedroom apartment. She serves as a floor captain, with responsibilities for maintaining order and community among her immediate neighbors. She’s also part of the building’s Tenants Advisory Council and is a member of the speakers bureau, a group of residents who do public presentations and speak with the press. Their work is meant to help put a human face on the issue of homelessness.

Homelessness is an enormous problem these days in Detroit. As many as 25,000 of the region’s residents are chronically homeless. But when someone like Lucretia arrives at the Bell Building, just like that, the ranks are reduced by one.

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Five Questions for Katerina Friesen

Katerina Friesen

Bio: Katerina Friesen is studying theology and peace studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind.

1.  How would you describe your current vocational role?
I see my role as both revaluing what has been cast down and degraded and building resilient communities. So far this has taken shape through land-based ministries of farming and community gardening, inviting people to work together and celebrate the sacramental in soil, food, and one another.

2. You spent several years with the Abundant Table Farm Project in Santa Paula, Calif. Can you describe the project and your role there?
The Abundant Table Farm Project is a working farm and young adult internship program that has evolved into a Christian community. I joined the project in 2009 and lived in community with four other women. My daily work of farming gave me a bodily understanding of farm workers’ labor and the need for justice and wholeness in our incredibly disconnected food system.

3. What is unique to the theology of farming—particularly for women farmers?
Women are growing in the field of agriculture in the U.S., especially at the margins of the industrial food system, and they’re doing farming in a very different way. Many talk about their labor as a form of love. Their theology of love is not some abstract idea; it’s an embodied force that feeds them in their struggle for justice, since their work brings them into tension with the dominant food system as well as with patriarchy. I think Jesus’ incarnation challenges us to know love as personal action for the restoration of life, as doing and not just being.

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Washington National Cathedral Wins $100,000 in Preservation Funds

RNS photo by Annalisa Musarra

Scaffolding now crowns the central tower of Washington National Cathedral. RNS photo by Annalisa Musarra


The Washington National Cathedral, still recovering from a rare 2011 East Coast earthquake, has won $100,000 in preservation funding after being the top vote-getter in the “Partners in Preservation” campaign.

The cathedral will receive all the money it requested from the campaign sponsored by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It will help pay for inspection and repair of its nave’s vaults following the quake that hit the Washington area.

“We are overjoyed by this vote of support for our restoration efforts,” said the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of Washington National Cathedral, which sustained $20 million in damage.

Yoga As a 'Connection to God'

Morning meditation, Vinogradov Illya /

Morning meditation, Vinogradov Illya /

Class began at dusk in a dimly lit studio facing Pacific Coast Highway as the yoga teacher appeared, adjusting the shawl draped around his shoulders, and took his seat on a quilted meditation pillow.

Because the sun was setting behind him, the teacher appeared in silhouette. I could only hear his voice as he guided us through the 90-minute Kundalini yoga class – a series of meditations, chanting, vigorous breathing exercises, and asanas (or postures).

“I want you to know that this is a safe place,” the teacher, Cole “Raahi” Jacobs, told us midway through class. “You can feel whatever you need to feel. You are safe here.”

I did. I was.

At the beginning of the year, I embarked on a two-month sabbatical to recover from a rough 2012. I needed to recharge, and resolved to rest, spend time with the people I love most, and find some kind of physical practice that would be restorative.