I am delighted today to share a conversation with my friend Lauren Pinkston. Lauren is married and has a delightful toddler who will soon become a big sister through international adoption. Lauren is super energetic, fun, and so graciously open to chatting. She and her family live in Southeast Asia and work with human trafficking. I wanted to talk with her because I wondered how working with human trafficking impacts other aspects of being a Christian and a human.

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Lauren, first of all I love chatting about these kind of topics and I know you do too. Please share a little bit about where you live and the work you do a little bit about where you live and the work you do.

I live in a creative access country in SE Asia, so it is really difficult to talk about what I do. Based on the audience reading this interview, I believe people will understand the heart behind all the dreams I have for my work in this place. I am also greatly bent towards justice, so other than praying like crazy for Good News to be spread, I want to see physical redemption brought to the people of this land.

I work in the mornings at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, where I’m writing my dissertation and researching human trafficking patterns in the area. In the afternoons, I direct a new social enterprise where we employ women who are seeking safe work…from girls in safe houses to women actually running brothels. We believe that if we rescue one girl from human trafficking, we will be opening up a spot for other girls to be victimized. So, slowly, we are developing relationships with brothel owners and offering employment if they shut down their business as usual and reopen their business as a handicraft co-op.

Being a wife and mom are my full-time, fun jobs. : )

 

Human trafficking seems so dark, I think many don’t even know how to approach the subject. What have you learned about darkness from your work? Paradoxically, how is it not as dark as you thought?

You know, there really is so much darkness. Just last week I sat across the table from a woman who answered a phone call from a man looking to buy a prostitute for the night. As I listened to her talk so casually about selling another woman’s body, I got so angry on the inside it took everything in me not to turn the table over and scream at her to get out of my workspace.

It reminded me of just how blatantly evil walks around on this earth, and how as Believers we forget about it. We stay tucked away in our comfortable faith communities where people understand us and think like us and welcome us. We do this even on ‘the field.’ I’m guilty! We just simply forget that the majority of the world is living unthinkable realities every day.

On the flip-side, I’ve seen how truly resilient humans are. It’s incredible to see the young girls we’ve employed giggling, running around, and going about their daily lives as if they haven’t experienced the horrible abuses they once knew. His redemption really can blot out painful pasts, and I am so thankful I get to witness this first-hand.

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How has working with human trafficking impacted your marriage (for good, or maybe in ways that have surprised you?)? 

I can honestly say that there are good and bad ways that this work has affected my marriage. Some days I am so disgusted by the stories I read and the things I see that I don’t have many positive things to say about men. Some days I am so emotionally tired that I have nothing left when I come home. And some days I can’t think about intimacy because the images and filth I’ve encountered are stronger than the relationship I have with my husband.

But MOST days, honestly almost ALL days…I am nothing but grateful to have my incredible husband standing beside me. He has become my biggest cheerleader in this line of work, and supports me day in and day out with such long-suffering. I am so thankful that the women and girls I interact with can also see me interact with a husband who is affectionate, kind, and patient. When they see a God-fearing man who leads his home with intentionality and fathers his daughter with such gentleness, they see the opposite of what they’ve experienced with men before. And THIS strengthens my marriage more than anything. I am so, so grateful that my story is one that includes my loving husband.

 

Tell us a little bit about your daughter and the tensions you may feel knowing that many who you work with are equally valuable to God, but for complex and varied reasons have had very different childhoods.

Wow – how did you know I feel that tension?! I feel it some with my biological daughter, but I REALLY feel it when I pray for the little girl my husband and I are adopting from Uganda. Knowing that in a few short years, if she wasn’t adopted, she could easily become another statistic as a human trafficking victim…whew. I feel a lot of feels.

I just want to scream IT’S NOT FAIR!!! on behalf of all the kids that don’t have safe home environments. It makes no sense that one child can have parents doting on every single developmental milestone while another is sold by her parents to pay of a small land debt. It literally makes me sick.

But that just takes me back to the power and the purpose of the Lord’s church. Shame on us when we don’t live out the incarnational person of Christ. Just shame on us. There are too many believers in this world to still have so many children at risk of exploitation. There are too many parents that need friends and mentors so that they can raise their own children to be happy and healthy. There are too many dark places without the slightest glimmer of light.

 

Any final remarks you’d like to make?

Well I guess while I’m preaching, I’ll just say this: I don’t understand why the church has so much trouble being the church.

I’m thinking about light and darkness a lot in this interview, so an image of an auditorium with a stage is coming to mind. You know how, when you have a really bright spotlight shining on a stage, the other parts of the room are still dark? And when you’re standing on the stage, if you look into the spotlight, it’s really hard to see anything else in the room? The light kind of blinds you for a minute.

I feel like so many times as the church, we are that spotlight. We all clump together in our safe huddles, and become this spotlight shining in one direction so that we are too overwhelming for the person standing in front of us, while the rest of the room is left in the dark.

For example, when a hot-button topic comes up in the news (like Planned Parenthood), we shout and scream and wave our Bibles so much that the rest of the world is blinded by our yelling. They can’t hear our message. The issue of abortion is center stage, but there are pregnant, single moms and orphans without homes scattered throughout the audience. No one is wandering into those dark places of the auditorium. We can’t all go to one orphan in a group. We can’t sit beside our friends if we go to that young, scared teenager. That’s all too uncomfortable.

How I wish we could just forget about being the spotlight and instead just carry a little cell phone flashlight. If we dispersed ourselves amongst all the people in the room without light, we could all see. Sitting side-by-side with those in need, offering the little we have, and being the church that believes in lighting up the whole world. With whatever talents we have, with whatever little thing we have to offer. Just spreading out our little so that the whole room is lit up.

Lauren, I love how you peer into the dark corners of the room and say to those sitting in the dark, “I see you. You are not forgotten and we are coming for you with the Love of Christ.” Now for the day when we can hang out for hours in person :).

How has your work impacted you as a person? How has it impacted your marriage or parenting? Any questions for Lauren?

If you’d like to learn more about Lauren, she can be found at:

instagram: @lmpinkston

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Introverts for Jesus: Surviving the Extrovert Mission Field

by Anisha Hopkinson on February 9, 2016

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I am a classic introvert.

While introversion and extroversion are seen as a spectrum, I definitely tend over towards the introversion side.

Being around a lot of people I don’t know well totally drains me. I need substantial daily doses of quiet in order to survive. I’m introspective. I learn best through observation. I am friendly, but I hate small talk. If I had my way, small talk would be forever eradicated in favor of deep talk. So what if I just met you? I don’t want to talk about the weather. What I’d really like to say is, Hi, I’m Anisha. Tell me about your most rewarding and most regretful life experiences, and what you learned from them.

Back before missions, large schmoozy business meetings were my own personal version of hell. But then I became a missionary, and evangelism became the ultimate misery.

Don’t misunderstand, I really love people. I do. It’s the whole reason I signed up for this missions life – I want to see the world set free to live whole, healed, thriving lives.

But I can’t do this in the typical extroverted missionary fashion. If I’m going to survive I’ve learned I need to…

Embrace who I am. I could pray (heck, I have prayed) that God would make me an extrovert, “Lord, change me and make me bolder!” And for the better part of a year I tried my best to become an extrovert. I did all the extrovert things I thought would help me learn language (talk to 10 new people every day!) and make me a good missionary (open door policy, stop by anytime!), and in the end paid the mind/emotions/soul bankrupting price for it. (I know, I know. I’m shaking my head too. It was all pretty darn foolish.)

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of change or boldness, but I’ve learned that while I’m busy agonizing and feeling ashamed over who I’m not, God is right there waiting and wanting to use who I am.

Get concentrated. Instead of trying to gather and manage a large circle of people to minister to, I do much better if I focus on developing deep and meaningful relationships with a handful. I am very friendly with a lot of people, but I don’t force myself to try to have lots of actual friendships. Three or four committed, deep relationships are about my limit. I do much better privately mentoring a few than publicly preaching before many.

Start and nurture relationships in ways that fill my emotional tank. I used to do street evangelism, but that amount of unmitigated surface level social engagement only leaves me angry and depressed by the end of the day. Instead, I can spend an afternoon one on one in my kitchen baking cookies with a teenager and having deep and honest conversations about God, school, and that boy she’s interested in. Crafts and photography (It’s not fancy, I use my phone camera) are other good options.

I don’t have to do way out there social ministry to engage with the community. It is completely possible to start and nurture relationships in ways I actually enjoy and that won’t totally and immediately tap me out.

Whenever possible, pick team/missions community jobs that have a built-in escape. I’m a better host and cook than facilitator. Being the host allows me to serve the people around me, but also provides me with an escape. I can break away to clean the dishes or re-fill the kettle for hot water, rather than having to stay in the middle of a large group initiating chit chat or directing conversation topics.

Use my talents. As people who generally try to avoid the center of attention, introverts are usually naturally good listeners. We also tend to do well working independently. For me, writing is my most enjoyable independent work. Combined with a love for people and meaningful conversations, my ministry project became writing life stories. It turns out, people want to be heard and understood. Writing someone’s story is a direct route to their heart.

The way I see it, introverts bring valuable talents and abilities to the mission field. Even if they fall outside of normal or expected ministry activities. Fellow introverts hear me on this, because I felt guilty for way to long over what I thought were measly talents to bring to the field – When we embrace and are free to use our talents and personality, we actually extend the reach of ministry. We don’t inhibit it.

Schedule regular alone time. It’s no secret – introverts find a lot of social interaction very draining. And missions in general just seems to come with a boat load of social expectations. I can do the extrovert stuff well as long as I have sufficient time to nourish my introvert self. Needing time alone isn’t selfish; it keeps me joyfully serving. No matter what, most days I’m going to need a good chunk of alone time, so I plan for this and try to make sure I have time after lunch every day to just chill. As much as possible, I avoid planning activities during this time and send my son to his room for “quiet time.” It doesn’t always work out, but I know that the longer I go without time to myself, the longer I will need to recover. Including quiet time as a scheduled part of my day helps to keep it a priority.

There you have it –  surviving as an introvert on the extroverted mission field.

Embrace my personality as God-given rather than a mistake.
Concentrate on loving a few people well.
Pick team jobs that give me an escape.
Use my talents.
Schedule regular time alone.

I’m certainly not your typical extrovert missionary, but thankfully I don’t have to try to be.

God uses introverts too.

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To the Displaced and the Exiled

by Marilyn
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To the Displaced and the Exiled I get it. You sit in a crowd of people and you feel your mouth go dry, the bite you just took from your scone chokes your throat. How can you be this lonely in a crowd of people? How is it possible that your passport country feels so […]

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Dear Single Missionary

by Editor
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I once was an “expert” single person. After five years in China, I knew how to travel across the world with 100 pounds of luggage, stay in hostels alone, barricade myself on bunk beds at night on 27 hour train rides, and cook for one. Sometimes it was fun, but often it was lonely. At 32, […]

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Ask a Counselor: recognizing and managing anxiety

by Kay Bruner
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Anxiety.  It’s a thing we’re not supposed to have, right? Because “There are 365 verses that say ‘fear not,’ one for every day of the year” “80% of the things we worry about never happen” and also, “The Bible Clearly Says, ‘be anxious for nothing.’” But, as one of my besties says, “I’m not anxious […]

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Why Are We Here?

by Jonathan Trotter
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Why are we here? Why have we chosen lives that cause us to engage suffering in very raw ways? Visible ways? Why do we expose our hearts to people in pain? Why do we use our passports for more than an occasional vacation? Why do we live in places where we sweat more than we […]

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Rats As Reminders

by Tara Livesay
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In total, two rats have met their maker long before they hoped or imagined inside my home at the hands of Troy Livesay, semi-pro rat slayer. Both of the aforementioned rats were the unconscionable and  truly despicable variety that dare to come all the way upstairs in a people house.  <Gah!> On one occasion my […]

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Travel Delusions

by Editor
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It cost me 436 US dollars to renew my passport. I was planning to do it for half the price when I got home later, but I ran out of pages. That’s right, I ran out of passport pages. A fact that I was pretty proud about – until it cost me a significant amount of time […]

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As pertains to the state of my soul

by Elizabeth Trotter
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So I went to America. Where I felt homeless. Especially at Walmart, where there are entirely too many choices. And especially at Starbucks, where you can order coffee on your smart phone; you don’t even have to stand in line. And I felt at home. Especially at my mom’s house and with my very closest […]

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Why I Quit My Job as a Missionary to Scrub Toilets

by Craig Thompson
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About this time last year, Chanel Cartell and Stevo Dirnberger, successful advertising professionals in South Africa, left their lucrative jobs to travel the world together. While the blog they maintain, full of wonderful adventures and beautiful photos, has gained a lot of attention in the press, the post that made the biggest splash came six […]

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When your team isn’t all you expect it to be

by Editor
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Our first year of living in China was marked by the expected symptoms of culture stress: frustration, dark thoughts about all Chinese people everywhere, helplessness, hopelessness, tears. And loneliness. So much loneliness. We arrived without any team members, hoping to prepare the way for others to join us, but having no idea if they ever […]

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But Are You Safe?

by Rachel Pieh Jones
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ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab Civil war Typhoid, malaria, Ebola, cholera, tuberculosis Airplane crashes, car accidents Pirates Floods, earthquakes, tsunamis Theft Human trafficking, kidnapping Murder Rape I’m not trying to scare you, I’m simply listing the things that go on around the world that we could be afraid of and this is only a miniscule portion of […]

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