From Bystander to Advocate (Part 1): Stepping Out
Do you ever feel like you have sat on the sidelines for too long? Wondered what it would take to jump into a big mess of wrong and somehow make it right or restore the order? This next series of blog posts will (1) give an example of what that jump looked like for me, and then (2) tackle the idea of moving from bystander to advocate in a different way: responding in the moment, when help is an urgent need.
In the spring of 2009, in Austin, Texas, I learned children were being sold for sex...in America. All it took was a four-minute video during a free concert to flip a switch in my soul. Like I later read in Wilberforce’s writings, I could have looked away, but I could never again say that I did not know. I’d prayed just a few months prior for a burden for a people. This was my answer. God was telling me to raise my voice for the enslaved.
But then what? How would I go from being a concerned citizen to making an impact? From being a bystander to an advocate?
I had to learn more. I immersed myself in the topic of slavery, read dozens of articles and books, watched several great documentaries (like Nefarious, Merchant of Souls) and that September I registered to walk my first awareness-raising 5k. Austin was on fire that year with the cause of fighting sex trafficking. My spirit was set ablaze.
In the winter of 2009 my husband quit his job. We missed Oregon, too, so the idea of moving back, even without jobs, somehow made sense. God gave me the idea to research if the nonprofit that created that four-minute video and organized the 5k needed a city ambassador for Portland. Turned out they did. She had just moved to Seattle, with no replacement.
Fast forward to the summer of 2010. We made the move. We sold or donated everything that couldn’t fit into or on top of our Scion XB and I applied for the position of Portland Ambassador. I would raise awareness about sex trafficking in my own home state. It was a risk for them to take me on, but I was accepted...three weeks after we arrived in Oregon.
That July, I was tasked with the organization of my first 5k walk. It was my first large event ever. God knew I didn’t have all it took, but Picasso said something I can relate to: “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”. So God led me to several key friends who rallied around me to form a team. As a team, with His undeniable favor and guidance, we held our first of three annual 5k walks, that collectively brought in an estimated $71,000 and 1,150 participants.
Connections made at events turned into friendships with both advocates and survivors who I still keep in touch with every month. I love it. I get so much joy from offering a prayer, suggesting a financial advisor, buying a winter coat - anything I can do - to help. And it is also my joy to learn fromthem.
I didn’t set out to become an advocate for human trafficking. I asked for a burden for a people. But God has this way of exposing our potential the moment we step out.
It’s all through the Bible. Look at the Israelites stepping toward the Red Sea, Peter stepping out of the boat, Esther stepping into the throne room to approach her King. I see it also, woven throughout my anti-trafficking work. It is when we see a need and step forward to meet it that He shows up. We may lack, but seeing our lack, He swoops in to fill the gaps, to fill the need.
In these last five years of raising my voice I’ve often wondered what I would really speak up if I saw a possible victim in need of assistance right away. I watched the show, What Would You Do? and respond with each segment, “I would so say something!” but really...would I? It’s easy to think so, until you find yourself in that awkward situation, with heart pounding and mind racing. In Part 2, I will tell you about one such situation I found myself in, and how I responded.