Friday, December 21, 2012

Setting Prisoners Free

The Spirit of the Lord is on me
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Luke 4:18-19 

Jesus read these words from Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth and told the people: "These words have been fulfilled today." The response was nothing short of outrage. Essentially the people responded saying, "Isn't that the kid of the carpenter down the road?" Jesus claimed Messiah-ship in saying this, but also revealed a bit about the heart of God.

If we are really and truly honest with ourselves (and I'm all about honesty), looking at Jesus' claim that he fulfilled those might make us question as well. I still see so many poor. There are still blind waiting for sight. Oppressed, waiting to be freed. Where is this fulfillment, Jesus?

I believe that honestly asking questions of God is a good thing. Look at the Psalms--David, a man after God's own heart often asks where God is and why he is not doing his job. Generally by the end of the Psalm, God has changed David's heart and understanding, even if not his circumstances. This tells me that God welcomes our questions and the honest cries of our hearts. When something like Newtown happens, we can ask God, "Where were you? Why? How could this happen?"

I have seen through my life that God can hold up under our weighty questions. He has held up under my doubt, my unbelief, my bitterness, my confusion, my outrage. When we turn away from God because of those things, they can fester and poison. When we bring those honest feelings to him, I believe that he can change our attitudes, our feelings, our understanding, and even sometimes our circumstances.

So today, I ask--if you came to set the oppressed free, Jesus, why are there something like 27 million human slaves today? 

I take comfort in Luke 4:18-19. Jesus did proclaim the good news and healed the blind. He set free the spiritually oppressed. There is much work still to be done--we are in a fallen world, and until Jesus returns, we won't see complete literal fulfillment of those verses. But we see God's heart, and it is one that concerns itself with hurting, oppressed, and broken people. I think this gives us an idea of the things our own hearts should be concerned with.

A few weeks ago, I took the boys to something called Playdate with a Purpose at our church. It was put on by Elijah Rising (formerly Exodus Cry), a prayer and worship organization focused on Biblical justice, with specific emphasis on ending human trafficking. I really didn't know what to expect--how would they talk to my 2 and 4 year olds about human trafficking?

 It was an amazing morning. There was a fun singing and worship time for the kids, a craft, a message geared towards little ones, and a time of prayer. Though this was the first time they had done anything like this for the age group, everything was perfectly age-appropriate. The message was honest and talked about the fact that there are bad people who are hurting others, especially women and children. We should pray for God to help them, and also pray for those who are hurting them. They had a great visual with a heart missing a piece in the middle. God fills that space, they told the little ones, and we need him to fill it in our own hearts as well as the hurting people and those hurting others.

The prayer time, in which the kids were encouraged to pray as they wanted was as raucous and loud as you might imagine a room full of 20 preschool-aged kids to be. We pray with our kids at home, but hadn't really done a corporate group prayer. Mostly it involved shushing my boys, but both of them also wanted to pray out loud, and Sawyer prayed for God to heal the bad guys' hearts. I think his prayer kicks my prayer's butt.

I really would like to get more involved and wanted to share info with you guys as well, so I did a little email Q&A with Cat French, Executive Director of Elijah Rising (formerly Exodus Cry).

Q: For people just tuning in to hear about the problem of trafficking, what are some of the things that are important to know or that might be surprising?
Cat: Surprising to note that at the apex of the Transatlantic Slave Trade there were about 10million slaves ... and they fought a war over it! Today there are nearly three times that number (27 million,conservative estimate) and there is no outcry! It is important to note that it is as much a domestic problem as it is an international problem.

Q: How can the average everyday person get involved with this battle?
Cat: Elijah Rising (Formerly Exodus Cry Houston) is a prayer and worship movement, so we advocate prayer, prayer and more prayer. Between 2004 and 2010 the task force averaged 29 case resolutions per year. We started a prayer meeting in 2010. Between 2010 and today the task force averaged 112 case resolutions per year. Prayer is the main thing.

Q: What would you think is the best way to start for someone who is local?
Cat: Find some people to pray with!

Q: What are the biggest needs your ministry has right now in terms of support?
Cat: In terms of manpower, we need a police liason who will represent us at the community police meetings, and we need someone to handle follow up on hotel outreach. In terms of donations, we could use a sound system, and we need a bed for the middle room of the safe apartment. In terms of money, we have about 27k saved up for a safe house, but we always need general operating funds. Our biggest expense is paying stipends to the people who are really laboring hard in the ministry. My goal is to pay about five youngsters somewhere between $250 - $350 per month each. So far we have met this goal through van tour donations alone ... so that's good. We are going to the Abolition Summit in KC and that will be about $300 in gas. Those are the most immediate needs.

Q: What are some ways that we can be praying for your ministry and this larger issue?
Cat:  For the ministry ... I will be quite honest with you ... I am completely unapologetic about this ... I want to be the gateway for everyone whose heart gets awakened to this issue because we are the only prayer based ministry. I want to hook people's hearts to Jesus on this issue ... and not just have them start doing stuff. Y'know?I also have set a goal of a five million dollar a year operating budget. I have big plans! Presently we average about $3,000 a month.

Q: How did you become involved?
Cat: I was a sociology professor so I always taught it from a strictly academic perspective. In 2007 God sovereignly grabbed my heart and I went to a two-week immersion program at the urban studies institute at U Cal San Francisco. Then I came back and started working with others on the landscape but I quickly realized the need for a prayer based ministry.

Q: Can you share any stories of how you've seen God work through the ministry this year?
Cat:  We have been working on our year end report so I will just paste it here: Elijah Rising equipping justice warriors for prayer, awareness and intervention in the spirit of Isaiah 1:17 which says, “Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.” 

Prayer 
-Spent 178 hours in corporate musician-led prayer, including 48 hours in corporate musician-led prayer in a sex club in the heart of the Galleria commercial sex trade district. The “5806s” to the north and south of us are now closed!
-Met with a citywide prayer coalition 9 times to help establish a righteous network of abolitionists in Houston.

 Awareness 
-Shown Nefarious 18 times, helping mobilize more than 1,000 people into the fight to end trafficking. 
-Held 24 mobilization events helping mobilize more than 1,200 people into the fight to end trafficking.
-Given 90 van tours showing 1,080 people firsthand high probability trafficking sites.
-Met for lunch or coffee 85 times to individually mentor 113 people on their personal journey into the war to end trafficking.
-Taught 200 hours of bible study, helping 1,250 justice warriors become better equipped and more lethal to the kingdom of darkness.
-Trained 20 little justice warriors in our Playdate With A Purpose monthly program launched in December.
-Made contact with 32 hotels, training desk staff on the basics of sex trafficking and opening the doors for future trainings. Intervention
-Given 11 outreach trainings helping equip more than 132 people for direct initial contact with the commercial sex trade.
-Conducted 12 outreaches to women sold on Backpage.com.
-Lead 10 Midnight Missions, delivering 250 chapsticks printed with our local rescue hotline.
-Went on one mission trip to Zenica, Bosnia, the site of The Whistleblower.
-Helped send one abolitionist to Cambodia and one to media school in Phoenix.
-Leased and moved in to one safe apartment, a place where girls can safely transition from the commercial sex trade.


I will be sure to post info on future Playdates with a Purpose so if you want to join, you can.  I also would love to get a group together and take a van tour, which travels to high probability sites while explaining the logistics of human trafficking. They call it a 90-minute Human Trafficking 101 class on wheels. If you're interested in taking one, perhaps in February or after, shoot me an email so I can get numbers! kirstenoliphant at gmail dot com.

It's Christmas time, and Jesus came to set the oppressed free. I long for the day we will see the complete fulfillment of this promise, but for now, I'd like to join in the causes on God's heart.

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