Wittier Word Weavers

Writers' Club of Whittier


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Summer Vacations: The Best Times of Our Lives

About fifty years ago, after five years of college and coming to the end of my first year of teaching, I wanted my children to spend time with my mother and father, their paternal grandparents. If I could make it happen, my kids would get to know their grandma and grandpa and benefit greatly from being showered with their love. They would also meet and spend time with their east-coast aunts, uncles, and cousins. We lived in coastal California—my parents lived in a small, rural village in southern New Jersey where the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean converge, a popular vacation spot, 2,800 miles distant.

Along with being a teacher, I was also a journeyman mason, skilled at brick and block work and concrete placement and finishing, skills in high demand wherever construction was in progress. That year, in early June, my father told me there was lots of construction work in south Jersey. Although oceans apart, a plan for a summer-long visit with my folks was brewing. A working vacation for me, coupled with a summer-long visit to my east-coast family, was doable. My wife agreed, and plans were made. My kids would be spending the summer with grandma and grandpa. Hopefully, upon arrival at the Jersey Shore, I would find work.

On the last day of school, after signing out and turning in my keys, I headed home to finish packing the station wagon. At 10:00 PM, with the kids in sleeping bags and our luggage strapped on top, along with my surfboard and fishing rods, we headed east. To avoid the California desert heat and glare, I drove though the night while the family slept. They awoke in eastern Arizona and we later stopped for the evening in New Mexico

Although we drove long hours and through the nights, we made sure the kids had plenty of pool time at the motels. During the drive, I often lead the family in song. One favorite, while crossing the desert, was, Cool Water, by Roy Rogers and Sons of the Pioneers. Another was 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, great for long journeys because it had a repetitive format and took hours to finish. Although a long trip, we had fun. Coast to coast, the trip took four and a half days.

Upon arrival, I found work with a contractor I had worked for in the past. The first couple of weeks were difficult. Working as a mason, my body, soft from lack of physical work, was not ready for what was about to occur. The shock to my muscles resulted in two weeks of continuous pain. In addition, my coworkers, knowing I was a teacher, found my discomfort and inability to keep pace, a rich source of amusement. By the third week, I recovered. By the fourth week, I held my own. It wasn’t long before my fellow workers had a difficult time keeping up with me. By summers end, I had lost fifteen pounds and added muscle. I returned to teaching, tanned, lean, and fit.

My parents’ single-story, three-bedroom home was not large enough for a host of visitors. Several years prior, my mother said to my father. “You know our children will be visiting in the summers. We need more rooms to accommodate them and our grandchildren.” So, Dad built a second story, adding three more bedrooms and a bath. The upstairs became the sleeping area and in-house playground for my kids and their four cousins. In preparation for their grandkids, Mom and Dad stocked up on bicycles and beach toys.

It was a great summer for my children. Along with the constant barrage of hugs and kisses from their grandparents, they had lots of unstructured, unsupervised playtime in the small rural town, much like my own childhood. Part of my plan was for them to have that experience. It wasn’t unusual for my mother to pack them a lunch and send them off on their bicycles for a day’s adventure, admonishing them to be home for dinner. All of their daytrips included the beach. Upon their return, covered with sand, they required a rinse in the outdoor shower Dad had built for that purpose.

Weekends were my vacation time, with fishing or surfing on Saturdays and beach with the family on Sunday afternoons. Sunday morning was a time of devotion. Being a small town, there was no church. Every Sunday, fire engines were removed from the firehouse and an altar and chairs were set up. Voila! A place of worship! After services, there was a rush home to change into beach attire. A five-mile caravan to the beach followed, loaded with kids, buckets, shovels, blankets, towels, and beach chairs.

We enjoyed those summer vacations for years to come, with the dash across the desert and heartland of our country into the Mid Atlantic States and arriving at the family home. We did this for six years, until my body could no longer take the physical abuse of masonry work. Those were great working vacations. My parents loved my kids. My kids loved my parents. Ever since, both of my children have often said, “Those were the best times of our lives.” I agree.

To this day, even though my parents are long gone, I make the journey every year. The difference is, now I fly. My wife and I will make the trip in late September. My sisters will be there, as will some of their children and grandchildren. We will stay in the home that Mom and Dad built.


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Road Trips

We took two types of road trips.  The first one was when we drove as far as the Volvo wanted to take us.

As we traveled through the countryside I enjoyed the mountains  and the clouds until the left blinker stopped working, the freeway was downhill, rain was pouring and there were trucks in several lanes.  I set aside the California tour book and read the car manual.   My husband  was sure by wiggling some wires he could correct the problem.   We turned on the lights in a heavy downpour and the dashboard dimmed.   It was normal for our car to act up, it had over 260,000 miles.  We patiently drove in the right lane until we got to a rest stop.   We called our mechanic from a payphone.   This was the 90’s when coin operated payphones were everywhere.  Alberto confirmed that it was a bad fuse,  we should just replace it.    This was a modern rest stop with vending machines.   One of them was filled with car-parts, including a box of fuses.

The rain stopped.  As we continued to drive I was happy to hear the click-clack of the blinkers.   The dashboard lights were still dim and we decided to skip some of the sightseeing so we would get to the hotel before dark.  We adjusted our itenary for the whole trip just in case the headlights became moody.  DSC_0047-001

A year later we visited the gold rush towns in California.   I was reading about Mark Twain in Murhys  when the car started making strange noises.   Later the churning went away and my husband gave the Volvo an Italian tune-up.   He drove as fast as the car could go, to clean out the gunk.  This was Alberto’s advice before the trip.  The car was shaking, my eyes were glued to the rear-view mirror checking for police when John slowed down.  He had trouble holding the wheel because of the vibration.   He was sure the car was in much better shape now.

The hotels I booked would let me cancel till 6 pm that day.  I thought they invented this rule for people who dared to travel in old cars.  Half-way on the trip the engine got stuck in 2nd gear.   Being an automatic car, it wouldn’t go faster then 25m/hr.  We cancelled the rest of the lodgings.  The car shop in Jackson didn’t have the parts unless we waited three days.  We telephoned Alberto then decided to drive home, over 400 miles in second gear.  My husband explained that we might blow the engine then we would get towed to a local mechanic, hopefully this would happen near a bigger town.

Since we were driving 25 m/hr I could leisurely read the billboards and signs for auto repair shops and occasionally shouted over the engine noise “There! A Volvo dealer.”  The car was still moving so we didn’t exit the freeway.  The engine was rattling, I concentrated on my tongue so I wouldn’t bite it again.  I forgot to worry about the police giving us a ticket because we drove under the minimum speed limit.  We were three miles from home when the car shook and begun humming quietly.  It was shifting properly.  Next day Alberto checked out the car and couldn’t find anything wrong with it.

The second type of trips were when we followed a plan.  The hotels were prepaid to get discounted rates  and we looked for signs for restaurants and national park entrances.  We enjoyed picnics and panoramic views on mountain tops without worries of a moody car.  On these vacations we drove a Prius but that’s another story.


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Be All You Can Be

FullSizeRender (29)The future is in my hands. I am the maker of my own destiny, and it is up to me to realize it. There are the doors, and I have the master key.

Summer 1986. Vietnam was far behind–its horror, its close borders, our life on hold. I had been in the US for two years, a sophomore in college averaging 18-24 quarter units, holding a part-time job, and dating and partying. I embraced life with every breath and burned with impatience to make more of myself. At 24 years old, I knew full well I had a late start. In my mind was this constant warning that time was running out, and I’d better hurry in this order of urgency: by all means get my career going—a bachelor degree, then immediately a job so that I could have that needed health insurance to fix my cavities, then locate a suitable man to start a family. Meanwhile, I should grab as much fun as I could while discovering myself and reaching the two urgent goals above.

That summer I desperately wanted to travel out of California. The summer before an appendectomy had kept me homebound before the summer quarter started. Then school. Then work. Then school again.

With no money to begin with, I had to be creative. One day, on my way to class I walked by a sign. It said, “Be All You Can Be.” I was fascinated by what I read. That was exactly what I had been wanting. Below the sign was this picture of a soldier dressed in a camo fatigue uniform. Hmm! That wasn’t in my plan, but…, it wouldn’t hurt to inquire. I pushed in the glass door to sit down across a desk from a black man in army uniform. He flashed his teeth and extended his hand, a very American gesture that I wasn’t yet comfortable with, but we shook hands nonetheless, or he shook mine. After the mutual introduction and I was to call him as Sergeant X (I can no longer recall his name), he described to me in length what the program was all about. It was called ROTC, and it trained college students for later recruitment into the US army. As of immediately, I could sign up for the summer basic training, and the US Army would give me a free medical evaluation and if I qualified, would send me all expenses paid to Fort Knox, Kentucky for a six-week stay. Afterward, I could choose to return straight home, or go on to another destination of my choice, and the ticket would be provided.

I didn’t share it with him my ulterior motive—it wouldn’t be wise to do so, but the sergeant has just described my summer travel plan. In my mind it was an excellent opportunity to travel, live among “real’ Americans, earn some money as I would be getting a stipend, and to top it off, being given six full weeks of free workout. Sergeant X could call it an army training if he wanted. For me, it was a dream vacation. I walked out of the ROTC office elated.


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Summer Travels

The highlight of this summer’s vacation was cycling 300 plus miles under rain-filled skies surrounded by verdant green forests and raging brown rivers. What a treat to leave drought-ravaged southern California and see not only mud but also puddles. Flashes of lightning and the crashing thunder underscored the power of vacation to reawaken sleeping senses.

We started with a visit to the mother-in-law in Massachusetts. This afforded me the opportunity to swim in Walden Pond’s 60 degree deep waters. An hour communing with Thoreau was worth the amount of life exchanged for it. Did I mention state officials warned about high levels of potentially dangerous bacteria? I swam anyway. Can you say civil disobediance?

From there it was off to Buffalo for the wedding of a friend’s daughter. Given the distance, they were surprised we chose to attend. So was I.

The bike ride started in Buffalo, the Sunday morning after the wedding. The forecast was afternoon rain and thundershowers. The hotel had some plastic shower caps. We each had a set of regular clothes and a second set of riding gear, all packed in plastic bags. Off we rode along Lake Erie into a gray upstate New York cloudy day. The heavens let loose that afternoon.

We took shelter in what we thought was a restaurant. It was a bar filled with folks who seem to start their daily drinking well before noon. As we stood outside on the veranda, the patrons came out to console us as they rotated for cigarette breaks. Finally, we realized there was no way to stay dry for the hours we had yet to ride. Off we went navigating by gps and local redirects.

Bed and breakfasts were our general choice of lodging. There were also a few motels during our six day trip. We rode through New York’s Amish country where we passed several horse-and-buggy rigs. In Pennsylvania, we rode on the Allegheny River Bike trail, a conversion of a former railway. The sensory deprivation experience of riding through a dark dank tunnel was unparalleled. Not knowing when the tunnel would end was part of the thrill. Rolling fast down the hills helped balance the work to climb them.

PA-hills

We didn’t get wet everyday, but we learned no matter how wet we got, it didn’t take long to dry. Finally, we arrived in Pittsburgh where our oldest son attends college. Showing up at the high tech company where he works was interesting. His boss said, “So these are the crazy parents you were talking about.”


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Chasing Butterflies by Sherry Novak

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Saguaro National Park campgrounds were empty when we arrived on a steamy August evening. Apparently everyone else knows to avoid summer in Arizona. My friend and I figure it’d be wise to get the tent up before dark; we don’t camp often and it’s borrowed gear. But, first, we have to take pictures of the covey of quail bobbing around the bushes and the lizards skittering with their tails up like scorpions. The fiery sun dips down silhouetting giant cacti against a shamelessly pink sky. A couple cowpokes on horseback would complete the wild west picture. Two motorhomes lumber into camp, air conditioners humming. Night falls fast.

Heat lightning and the low rumble of distant thunder add more sultry to the air. Only a sprinkle is forecast. Coyotes howl from a faraway canyon. We lay out our cots and sleeping bags, unzip all the “windows.” There isn’t a breath of breeze. I rustle out my small flashlight for a trip to the bathroom. I make my tent-mate escort me. Not two feet from the flap door something scuttles under my light — a tarantula! First I want to scream, pack up and look for a motel, on second thought we get out our cameras and take pictures. In the bathroom, thank goodness not an outhouse, I find a big, fat frog and a couple praying mantises.

Back at our nylon abode my roomie crashes out immediately. I wonder how I let myself get talked into this. What’s an insomniac to do in a dark tent? It feels so vulnerable having only a thin piece of cloth between you and the wilderness. Throughout the night the wide circle of howling coyotes grow closer and closer. Have any campers been eaten lately? Bugs chirp, twigs crackle, night birds call. At one point I hear something sniffing next to the tent. The lightning stops, the sky clears and I can see the Big Dipper through the net window. Stars blaze deep and infinite.

The next morning we decide to go peruse the welcome center and come back later to break down our tent. There’s the spectacular panoramic window view I remember. A lady ranger asks what we like to photograph as we have our big cameras hanging around our necks. Birds, bugs, butterflies, most anything we say.

“Have you seen the sulphur butterflies?” she asks. “They’re right down this path in the sugar bush.”

A desert turtle is sunning himself on the sidewalk, so lazy he doesn’t bother to move. Twenty paces and down a few stairs we enter butterfly paradise. Cream-colored sugar bush flowers and blooming cacti are aflutter. Besides sulphurs, we count at least ten varieties. We photograph for hours and decide to stay over night. Happy campers, we come back again the next day to chase butterflies. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMEuedrVb6E


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Rock-a-Bye Baby

I see the pair of shoes perched on top of it before I see the rock. I hear the voices amidst the leafy trees before I spot the people. Clusters of young people. One group sits in a semicircle looking up a boulder teetered on the down slope of a hillside. As we walk on I discover another crew on the move, each person carrying a large black mattress on their shoulders. Then we find them, our kids, our own three children and their group of college-aged friends.

Finally, our destination!

Even armed with three GPS, the dash mount Garmin, plus his and my smartphones with our map apps on, it has taken us a while to locate the right place, and the climbers. During the car ride, my mind was assailed by the terrible images involving bodies and boulders—bodies tumbling down; limbs crushed, twisted in odd angles, or severed from their sockets; my babies condemned forever from ever playing any musical instruments again.

They had left with their dog and a few friends in three separate cars a few hours before us. We were supposed to “chill” at home, meaning my son’s apartment, or go downtown sightseeing, or whatever. Each time a text message “ding” in, my heart jumped. This was the younger brother’s and his sister’s first outdoor climbing. But “Everything’ s cool, Mom. We’ve been practicing at the climbing gym. And we’ll be uber-careful!”

The call for help came in soon enough. “Come get Tanty. Dogs aren’t allowed here.” It was all we waited to jump into our car to join them. Our life had purpose again. We couldn’t be happier!

Garmin directed us to an address given by Google. We veered off the road to nowhere, even as Garmin clearly intoned “Your destination is to the right” then “You have arrived.” It couldn’t be, because to our right was a wood, all barricaded in. Perhaps they walked in after having jumped the fence. After all, they were looking for places to climb. A fence was one such obstacles.

“I hope we have cell connection,” I said, before punching in my son’s name. We established connection, thank Heaven, and I quickly told him there was no park at the address given by Google, unless….

“You sure there is only one Castle Rock Park in this area?” I remembered a Castle Rock park in my own home town, 400 miles away. Oh God almighty, don’t tell me we are making this mistake.

“You are perfectly fine, Mom. Just drive on for, uh…ten minutes. We are in an area a bit past the park. You’ll see.”

We climbed back into our car and drove on as instructed, this time ignoring Garmin. Then we spotted them, cars, then more cars, then people, more people, people with families and kids—but no dogs–walking along the road, past a tiny parking space already filled up. More cars waited in a line off the road.

“They aren’t here. I don’t see his car,” said my husband.

“Perhaps they drove inside,” I suggested, but already hitting the call button to our son.

“Where are you? Your car isn’t here. And the lot is full,” I said all at once, frustration mounting.

“Where are you,” he asked. I remembered the little boy who repeated after my words, “Are you my mother?” when I used to read to him from a picture book, “Are you my mother,” pointing at the words as he repeated after me.

“We are right in front of the park. Should we find a place to park or not?”

“No. Drive on down further. Look on your left for a group of cars, the second group, not the first.”

And so it went. The minutes stretched into a quarter hour. By the third U-turn, I turned on the map on all our devices, just in case.

But finally, here they are, our hillbillies and their large boulders, and tall leafy trees reaching up to the blue beyond, and the aroma of hamburgers grilled on a portable propane stove perched atop a rock. And dogs are fine here. Perhaps they just want us to be here with them. I smile at the pleasant thought.

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One of them is scaling a monolith that brings in mind the Obelix of my youth, while several of his peers huddling about with arms outstretched, clearly ready for any mishaps. Two black twin-sized mattresses placed end-to-end graced the jungle floor, “to cushion the fall,” explains my son, the younger one, while his older brother reads from a book, seemingly evaluating the difficulty of the climb.

“It’s a V3, you guys,” he yells out to the climbers, clearly happy.

It will take a few more books to learn what V3 means, and the history behind that V. Or you will have to do your own googling for a shortcut and get sucked down the rabbit hole right beneath that majestic boulder.

PS: No rock climbers would take a short cut.


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Two Days Living With Sex Trafficking – Part 3, Pictures on the Wall. Churches that Aren’t.

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This is the third post in a series.
Part 1. Two Days Living with Sex Trafficking
Part 2. Meeting the Girls

Albert Einstein said nothing happens until something moves.

Apparently that’s true in physics as well as human trafficking.

The thing that’s killing Steven Cass, and I agree, is everyone seems to be talking about awareness now. Trafficking awareness is really a hot topic, not just in churches, but the news media in general. Everyone’s having meetings and seminars. Awareness is important, certainly. But almost NO one is actually DOING anything.

Thing is, in Mexico at least, and Latin America, things ARE moving. There is no end to the number of girls that could be saved and rescued. Right now. This minute. If we were willing.

There are no secrets, no methods, that have to be discovered. There’s no learning curve to climb.

After four years Steven has learned how to do it, where to do it, and what to do afterward—after the girls are rescued.

After rescue, you simply introduce them to Jesus. It’s the most important thing, and the ONLY thing that makes it all come together, and allows the rehabilitation phase to work.

The Son of God promised to give life, and give life more abundantly. I can’t think of anything these Twilight Treasures want or need more.

I’m sure Steven would be the first to tell you the Holy Spirit is the only person that makes the rescue phases work as well. (Even though he’s survived multiple stabbings, beatings with a baseball bat, and has a bullet fragment still imbedded in his body!)

There’s only one problem here.

At the time of my visit, there was only room for two more girls at the Rosarito safe house. Steven could go into town and “grab” FIVE more girls, or a hundred, but there’s no place to put them.

Sadly, it always comes down to money. In the end. We talked a lot about this. There are no solutions on the horizon. Other than God providing day to day.

But I have to say I was shocked to learn how much we’re supporting Breaking Chains. Financially. Did you know the ENTIRE Body of Christ has pledged to support Breaking Chains to the vast sum of 750 dollars a month?

Shame on us!

And shame on me!

An innocent little 7-year-old girl is being repeatedly raped right now on a dirty bed while you’re reading this—and she will be raped repeatedly, day in and all night long, 24/7, until we, you and me, care enough to stop it.

You! Me!

The church.

All of us.

Whoever.

Anyone, for God’s sake!!!

And we CAN do it.

After our talk up in his room, Steven went back over to the girl’s house. I stayed in his room, musing over our conversation.

I couldn’t get over the seeming hopelessness of what he’d been sharing. At that time he’d rescued around 400 girls, but there were thousands more who were waiting. And helpless—until we did something.

So how can we get involved here?

I began walking around his small room reading all the news clippings and thank you notes from Steven’s girls that are plastered all over the walls.

Tons of photos. Some were smiling, happy faces. But TOO many little faces were filled with pain and anguish.

There were some bloody bodies.

I thought I’d heard everything, but when I read about the little 7-year-old, and about a tiny torn and bloody infant who died in one journalist’s arms after being anally sodomized, I lost it.

I fell on my knees, sobbing, crying out to God. Show us what to do!

My sobbing, wracking pleas slowly evolved into hot anger at the Body of Christ. Because we, of all people, should be the ones who care enough to end the problem—or at least rescue the children.

Then, because our great God is all powerful, and all knowing, I got mad at Him next: WHY don’t you DO something!!!

Or at least change us enough to care more.

These extreme emotional responses to child trafficking had been going on for some time. Long before I went to Rosarito. But the two days at the safe house, and what I observed there, and was blessed to be able to participate in, exponentially exacerbated these emotions.

On the drive back north from San Diego to Los Angeles, I had to pull off the freeway at Dana Point.

I had a serious need to grab a cup of java and sit out on the marina’s breakwater, look out over the supposedly peaceful Pacific, and try to decompress and process everything I’d seen and experienced in Rosarito.

It wasn’t meant to be.

There was a huge Pacific tide rolling in, slamming and crashing against some large rock outcroppings out in the surf line. The rocks were holding their own against the breakers, but the birds perched on them were looking a tad nervous.

I kept wondering if there was supposed to be some spiritual meaning for me in all the majestic wet violence. Perhaps one of those cool, Ah ha! moments. But after twenty minutes I realized I was just forcing it and gave up.

God’s creation is magnificently beautiful but it’s also cruelly violent.

For now at least.

I took the rest of my coffee and drove on home.

Even before my visit to Rosarito, I realized I could no longer in clear conscious give ANY money to the established organized church.

Not mine (a really good one), not yours, not anyone’s. No more. No longer.

According to an article in Reject Apathy magazine by Nathan George, entitled “Fair Trade Churches”, there are about 138 million church attendees in the USA. They have a collective income of $2.5 trillion. If they were a nation, they’d be the 7th richest. They give just under 3% of their income in church offerings. Of that, only 4% ends up outside the church walls. (0.12%)

It’ll be a great day for the Kingdom of God when every last one of these mausoleums shutters their doors and goes out of business. And their professional staffs have to find real jobs.

Maybe then, the Body of Christ will discover the excitement and joy of being led by the Holy Spirit who resides in all believers. And not some man, creed, tradition or institution. Maybe then we’ll change the world in one generation like the first century church.

End world hunger. End human trafficking.

My gifts and offerings to God now go directly to Him. (Actually to little brown hands in this case.) Not to professional intermediaries, no matter how good and useful they may be.

The trip to Rosarito only confirmed and ratified that decision.

So, today as I write this, I’m swinging helplessly back and forth from uncontrollable sobbing on one extreme to near-violent rage and anger at the Body of Christ for allowing trafficking to continue. To continue while we spend God’s money and our offerings to Him on building programs, staff salaries, and all the attendant “Christian” ministries and programs that are so urgently necessary and essential to our faith. Yeah, right!!!

I know most people will not agree with me about this. You too, perhaps.

Personally however, after the last abortion, and the last hungry child in the world goes to bed with a full stomach, and the last little innocent girl is anally, vaginally, and orally raped and sodomized you can do whatever the hell you want to do with your money and I won’t give a damn. You can pay your professional priests and spiritual guidance directors, sports and music pastors as much as you want, but first, PLEASE, let’s join together and get that precious, innocent little 7-year-old girl out from under that rutting bastard.

Let’s give (at least some, and preferably a lot) of our money-to-God offerings to Steven and Breaking Chains.org and rescue the rest of his “daughters” from the streets and brothels of Latin America.

Oh my, my, my… Will they ever rejoice and be glad. Like the Twilight Treasures in that house in Rosarito. I wish you could see their faces and listen to their joy! Especially the four-year-old. There’s a father that loves them! Well, two, counting Steven.

Remember two things if you’re fortunate to go down there. One, listen CAREFULLY to Steven. (Ha.) And, two, hang on to your heart. If that four-year-old gets it you’ll never see it again.

God bless you!

Remember to the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.

So be it!

 

Coming next: Breaking Chains.org Updates. New paradigms in the fight against sex trafficking.


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Two Days Living With Sex Trafficking – Part 2, Meeting the Girls

This is the second post in a series that begins HERE.

It’s possible you could stumble across ‘My Daughter’s House’ in Rosarito and never realize what it was, or who these young ladies and children are who live there, where they’ve come from, what they’ve survived.

Because they’ve been redeemed! They’re filled with hope. Their new life in Christ has replaced the scars of abuse.

In spite of what man did to them, they’re now innocent and pure again.

Someone poetically referred to them as Twilight Treasures. It’s sooo apropos.

This installment is the story of my two day visit with them. How they changed my life.

The girls love volleyball. They have a dirt court in their back yard. We played for hours one day.

I don’t speak Spanish, but it wasn’t necessary in order to get caught up in the competition, the laughing, jesting and ribbing we enjoyed together.

When I thought about whom these carefree laughing girls were that surrounded me, shrieking with glee, I teared up a couple of times. It was impossible not to. Not when you envisioned them scant months ago, their bodies for sale, 24/7; some coerced by family or relatives, others as slaves in brothels.

I don’t think anyone noticed the tears.

A few years ago I made several covenants with God. Some things to help keep me reminded about poverty, the poor, and injustice in the world.

One of these (perhaps the dumbest) covenants was to no longer swipe away my tears. Any kind of tears. Whether they be joy, sadness, whatever. I thought it’d be helpful.

I also thought (and this is perhaps really dumb) it might be nice if folks could see not everyone who called themselves a Christian was an uncaring, unloving, cold-hearted, right-wing neo-con. Forget religion. I just wanted to try and follow Jesus. That’s hard enough. I’ve since discovered, not swiping away tears is nearly impossible also. Swiping seems completely unconscious, reflexive.

So, yes, I believe I escaped the volleyball game without anyone noticing or wondering why their old bald-headed, bearded visitor was emotionally overwhelmed.

But it got progressively harder throughout the two day visit.

I stayed with Steven while I was down there. He had a small room on the second floor of a vacant unused building across the street from the girl’s house. It had just enough room for a desk and a small murphy bed, one of those cool old-fashioned things that fold out from the wall. It was barely large enough for Steven, let alone his Irish Setter bunkmate, Cabo.

I slept on the floor nearby. It was either there or curl up under the sink in the ensuite.

When you stay with Steven you rise at 4 a.m. That’s only shortly after Cabo wakes you at 2 a.m. for his mid rat feeding. His bowl was right next to my sleeping bag.

Guy eats like a starving dinosaur.

Then he chases his midnight snack down with a quart or two of water, drinking like a horse.

Steven was laughing the next morning; said he wondered if I was getting splashed!

During the night, Cabo, the consummate host, padded over several times to check up on me. It was a little disconcerting, waking in the dead of night with these huge brown eyes looming over your face. Probably just making sure I was okay. Or more likely, wondering if I was supposed to be there.

The room was too small for a suggestive fire hydrant. Nevertheless, I was a little worried he might be disposed to nocturnal leaking; but my bag was dry the next morning.

He’s like the official mascot for the safe house. The kids love on him, and vice versa. He’s a huge huggable hunk of dog.

As mentioned, Steven’s day starts early. Coffee, Bible, pipe and prayer.

The four traditionally essential ingredients for a truly spiritual morning evangelical quiet time.

As an honored guest, I was offered one of his vintage pipes. I declined sucking on one of his vintage stems, opting instead to suck on one of his fine Cuban cigars.

He chides me, rolling his eyes, when I try and convince him Swisher Sweets (my favorite) are the greatest. They’re certainly cheaper. He admits, living in Cuba got him addicted to the finer sticks in life. I mean, we’re talking fine sticks, here. Supremo sticks. 2013 06 10 -- 999375_863228781127_1950421983_n

On subsequent visits, he always tried to corrupt me, offering me one of his private Cuban selections. One day he handed me this gnarly looking thing in a plastic food baggy. It looked like one end had come unwrapped or someone had seriously stomped on it. He assured me that’s the way it was rolled. Hand rolled. Told me it was a $500 cigar!

Smiling.

Right.

Lying, for sure.

He wasn’t. I checked it out on the Internet. Like everything else I was learning about Steven Cass, it checked out.

So that morning, with Cabo snoring at our feet and breaking wind, we sat outside in the pre-dawn darkness on a narrow balcony overlooking the street. Enjoying our tobacco, and coffee. Talking about and praying for the Twilight Treasures that would soon awaken in the house across the street.

Concerned, he informed me several of the girls still have some real trauma issues to work through. He dotes and worries, protectively, about his little flock over there like an old mother hen.

He’s also confused, I think.

He’s not sure if he’s their big brother or their father. (Whichever it is, I’m sure it doesn’t matter to them in the least.)

Then he surprised me. The girls informed him they felt comfortable around me. Told him they wouldn’t mind if I hung out at the house. Crashed, or just relaxed; whether he was there or not. He said they usually don’t feel comfortable with men around the house. Not too surprising, that.

I felt kind of blown away.

This was a good life.

He could see I was captivated by the girls and beginning to feel comfortable with the house activities. For me, it was heart-warming to know I was accepted by the girls.

The little four-year-old girl, though, was proving to be a hard nut to crack.

When she was rescued, she and her twelve-year-old sister were being pimped by their grandmother. She stole my heart the first time she looked at me, before I even knew her story. Her story was appalling. Totally outrageous. And there were similar stories among some of the other girls.

I spent hours lying on the living room floor the first day, trying to woo God’s little angel.

She merely watched with suspicion—from several feet away.

At first.

But she was coming closer. Inch by inch.

Smiling shyly now.

Breaking my heart.

She was beautiful.

Her eyes were bigger than those proverbial saucers. I knew for certain her little heart was gigantic as well. Most likely Galaxy-sized. It had to be to have survived, and still be able to smile like that.

She joined the other ladies one day, all gathered around me, watching and tittering while I changed a diaper on one of the babies. It was a very professional job–I thought. They looked doubtful.

I was slowly coming to realize the male gender in Latin America are normally invisible during domestic activity.

Stupid, those guys. They have no idea what they’re missing.

You’ve gotta listen carefully when Steven talks. While we were sitting on the balcony that morning, he asked me if I wanted to go do the morning bible study at seven with him and the girls. I agreed eagerly.

But I was still half asleep! Shaking off sleep and looking at Steven, I realized he meant exactly what he said: did I want to go over and DO the study! Too late to back out.

No doubt he was sleepy also. Forgot I didn’t speak Spanish. No, he said. No worries. One of the older gals was bi-lingual. She’d interpret for me.

Hmmm … Darn!

He said he was heading on over to the house, but to take my time.

Cool.

He was giving me time to prepare. Ha, it was already six forty five.

Advice: If you ever get to visit, be prepared. Listen carefully to what Steven says. Don’t rely on ‘English only’ for excuses. Won’t work.

So, half an hour later, I fumble my way through some inane hastily prepared remarks. Trying to encourage Steven’s Twilight Treasures, and getting blank-eyed stares in return. When I came to the strong salient finish, the girls leaped to their feet, eager to escape.

Steven closed his Bible, smirked, shook his head at me slowly, and gifted me with a major league-sized you-gotta-be-kidding-me eye roll. (The guy’s really come a long way from an unwashed, heathen, money launderer.)

So endeth my short, scintillating, international speaking tour.

But I made up for it.

Big time, baby. Big time.

There’s a half-hour period each day when the girls gather in the living room for a quiet reflective time of prayer with God.

I asked if I should leave. But my new best friends informed me it’s okay if I wanted to stay. Participate.

(Ah ha! Forgiveness and second chances, came to mind.)

Steven informed me sometimes the girls just prayed in silence, but there might be a few audible prayers expressed as well. Just go with the flow. Then he left to run an errand.

Alone in the house, now, with the girls, I watched as they got pillows from the bedrooms and began kneeling down around furniture in the living room. I knelt down in front of a couch and was soon joined by three girls who plopped down on my right.

Someone turned on a quiet worshipful CD.

I’d been informed nearly all of the girls were battling colds, but I really don’t think it explained all the subtle sniffling during the next thirty minutes.

I was suddenly overwhelmed how precious this private activity was they were allowing me to share.

Kneeling there, surrounded by these treasures of God, I began to weep.

Okay, okay, sobbing. It was blatant outright sobbing.

It took all I could do, not to groan out loud, but my sobbing was shaking the sofa a few times.

It was impossible not to. You would have too. If you were surrounded by these redeemed treasures of God, pouring out their hearts to an all-loving heavenly Father. (In many cases the only ‘father’ that had never used or abused them.)

It was a beautiful time. A powerful time.

Some of the girls surely experienced it also.It may have been the first time the girls on my right ever felt the power of God shaking their couch.

And for once, I wasn’t the only one with a wet face at the end of an activity.

God is moving and alive in these girls.

It’s wonderful!

Wednesday night the girls go to a church service in town. It was so special to see them come out of their room all spiffed up. They were lookin’ good, baby. They were beautiful! You could have plopped any one of them down in the front row of the Washington National Cathedral in D.C. on Easter morning and all they would have gotten would have been appreciative stares. They were absolutely gorgeous. More importantly, the beauty was on the inside too.

The service started at seven, but we had to be there by six. There was going to be a wedding that night.

Because of the way they were dressed, I thought maybe they were involved in the service, but when we arrived, all Steven’s girls started helping set up for the reception. After the wedding.

But you know what? They surprised me.

Before everyone got busy working, they marched into the sanctuary, right down to front row center and plunked down purses and bibles to reserve their seats.

It was, I realized happily, just one more example of their freedom and new identity in Christ. There was no intimidation or trepidation about their acceptance.

Knowing they were headed in to reserve seats, I would have bet money they were going to stake out seats in the back rows. Hiding places. (Probably like many of us do.)

Not these girls. They were free. Free and beautiful!

Not sure how it worked out, but I ended up right in the middle of them. Front row center. My new best friends, and me. (Not the place I would have picked, for sure.) But what a joy, worshipping the King that night surrounded on both sides by His handmaidens!

I kinda thought I was prepared for this trip.

I wasn’t expecting too many—if any—surprises.

I just had some questions for Steven. And I wanted to see his daughters for the first time.

He and I got to spend a lot of time discussing the ministry. Trafficking in general and his organization, Breaking Chains.org, in particular. We got into some nice theological discourses (okay, okay, arguments.) And we talked about finances.

I learned a lot.

But I wasn’t prepared for the fall out.

This is the second in a series.
Part 3. Pictures on the Wall. Churches that Aren’t.


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Two Days Living With Sex Trafficking

Mister Cass won’t be getting his money.

That’s what my wife and I were thinking.

For several years, we’d been living and working part-time at a large children’s home in Tijuana. Sadly, we learned many of the young girls there that we’d come to love were in the prime target age range for kidnapping and sex slavery.

One precious family actually lived in Zona Norte, the town’s infamous red light district, near the border. The four beautiful children in the family lived and walked past the bars and brothels daily. The possibility of losing one of them was unthinkable.

We began looking for ways to help.

Eventually, we heard about a sex trafficking rescue operation working right there in town. Run by a guy named Steven Cass. What we learned about him, however, raised a lot of red flags. It definitely set off a few alarm bells. Clanging loud, too.

I know we like to believe in super heroes, but if one-half of the things we heard about this guy were true, he was unbelievable. Yet two Mexican friends we trusted said they thought he was credible. But you know what they say about things that sound too good to be true. I mean, would you believe this guy? I was extremely skeptical. So was my wife.

The story going around was this. The guy made his first million while still in college. Then, with a partner, he went on to mega millions. One year he bet and lost a cool million on a Super Bowl game. Then it gets even deeper. Purportedly, he worked ten years laundering money for drug cartels in Latin America.

Over a period of years, he’d made and lost tens of millions. Several times over. At forty, ahead once again by 20 million, he retired to a hacienda in Cuba. He owned a dozen luxury cars, several airplanes and surrounded himself with beautiful young prostitutes.

Eventually, he angered Fidel Castro by refusing to come out of retirement to do another money deal for him. Castro expropriated his bank account, all his possessions, and put him on a plane to Mexico. He arrived in Tijuana with only the clothes on his back.

Weeks later, despondent after living homeless for several days behind a San Diego hotel he took a razor blade to slit his wrists.

So now, four or five years later, we’re supposed to believe this guy turned over a new leaf? And he’s having incredible success rescuing young women and girls from sex trafficking in Mexican brothels?

Hmmm. What would you think?

Right … my thoughts exactly.

So … What to do?

Obviously, I needed to check it out. See for myself.

I got a phone number for the guy. We exchanged some emails. And eventually he pulled one of those classic Mother Teresa moves on me.

(My understanding about the grand lady was you never got a straight answer to a question. In that respect it was sort of like asking Jesus a question. Purportedly, Mother Teresa’s classic answer to most queries about her mission was always simply: “Come and see.”)

Asking Steven Cass about his operation, he said … “Come and see.”

It’s only coincidental he and I share the same name. Lucky spelling for him, though. He was likely never called ‘Step Hen’ by his grandfather.

But back to rescuing trafficking victims.

I was to learn more later about the actual rescuing ops and the vital intelligence planning that proceeds them, but for now I was being invited to visit Steven’s safe house in Rosarito. Where the rescued women and children lived.

They call it My Daughter’s House.

I cannot describe for you verbally what happened in Rosarito. Not because it’s forbidden. I just can’t talk about it. Talking about it always leaves me broken down, sobbing uncontrollably. Even now, typing this, hot tears are streaming down my face.

Thank God for pen and paper.

This is the first post in a series.
Part 2. Meeting the Girls
Part 3. Picture on the Wall. Churches that Aren’t.


4 Comments

Do-gooders and Alligators

Say NO to do-gooders and alligators.

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Do-gooders are a dime a dozen.

Like weekend warriors, part-time virgins, lukewarm Christians. They have yet to solve the problem, finish the job.

Now Do-Enders, these critters are an entirely different situation.

They burn bridges, slash their life lines, jump into the alligators, damn the torpedoes, and march into battle with hands raised in praise to God.

And God moves! He stones Goliaths. Slays Philistines. Raises the dead.

Do-gooders slap paint on old barns for a nice look. Do-Enders tear the damn things down and build castles.

If we had a few more Do-Enders maybe we could end world hunger, end child sex trafficking, and end a few other crocodilians.

Choose your life wisely. It’s never too late to be what you could have been.