These Things Are Not Easy

by Roo on April 21, 2014

in heavier things

Turn the clock back to seven months ago, and I’m sitting outside in Antigua, drinking Diet Cokes with Jamie, taking a break in between trips into a village in Guatemala where kids run around barefoot and moms cook dinner in a pot on an open fire. I had read about Jamie’s trip to Cambodia a couple of months before, and had followed along on Facebook. She had traveled with The Exodus Road to see what they’re doing to fight human trafficking and sex slavery. Her post was a hard read. While we’re sitting, I ask her about it. She tells me more than what she had shared on her blog.

Turn the clock back to ten years ago, and I’m at a benefit concert watching a friend’s band take the stage. The night’s proceeds go to benefit Love146 (then called another name), a non-profit organization – like The Exodus Road – committed to ending human trafficking. After the set ended, my friend (now my husband) hopped off the stage and a man took the microphone and told us that young girls are bought and sold, lined up in a room, identified by the numbers pinned to their dresses, where they can be purchased the way one purchases a meal at a fast food restaurant.

Pick up a paper today or do a quick google search on human trafficking and you’ll see that slavery is still alive and well. If you’re new here, click on my about page. There’s a photo of me there. I’m twice the age of some of the prostitutes in cities in SE Asia. I’m more than three times the age some children are sold by their families in order to pay off outstanding debts – or feed their other children.

These Things Are Not Easy // NEON FRESH

Jamie’s going back to SE Asia with The Exodus Road, and this time, I’m going, too, along with Kristen Howerton (Rage Against the Minivan) and Heather Armstrong (Dooce). As Jamie put it: It’s gonna be like the most awesome week long squeally girls getaway ever! (Except, like, the exact opposite. Because slavery, butt-sweat, warm light beer, and trolling for underage prostitutes in a blacked out rental car are not my idea of an awesome girls getaway.)

Trips like this don’t happen without people asking good, hard questions. Why not do this in the US? Why not save the money spent on airfare and just put it towards the efforts? These questions are good ones (stay tuned for answers). I don’t want to go to SE Asia and slap a photo of a prostitute on my blog and call it a day. I don’t want to be the suburban church youth group member wearing new Nikes, pretending I have the skills to build a house in the Dominican, and going home feeling *omg super blessed* because I don’t have to walk around on a dirt floor. I don’t want to write poverty porn with a link-baiting title.

There’s a way to do this effectively, with dignity and grace. There’s a way to raise awareness or call attention to a concern without posting my bra color as my Facebook status or writing sensational titles fit for an Upworthy article. Four bloggers went to a brothel in SE Asia, and you won’t believe what happened next! There’s a way to make a real, tangible difference in the lives of many.

I hope I don’t let you down. I’ve sweated over this post, to be honest. This website is full of stick figures and GIFs and pop culture references, and then somehow now we’re also talking about social justice. I’m inconsistent. But, I feel like everything I do on this blog serves some sort of good. If it makes you laugh or shares an experience or teaches you something or even entertains you for five minutes, I think those are good things. Even if the blog post does nothing for you, usually the comments (full of great insights or lols) will redeem it. If I can use this space to raise awareness about some real evils going on in this world, I want to. With dignity and grace and sensitivity. This isn’t a game. I want to do it right. 

Stay with me (please).

I also suspect that I may be the only extreme-hugger on the trip.

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” – Henri Nouwen

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Kirby April 21, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Roo, I am so honored and blessed to call you my friend. Like I said before I wish you didn’t have to write this, because I wish it didn’t exist, but it does and I’m proud of you for wanting to put it out there, gracefully not by posting ridiculous things about the color of your bra or undies. You are amazing, you have loving heart and I love you. Please, be safe, all of you! I will be praying for you all and all the young girls and boys out there being exploited.

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Roo April 21, 2014 at 6:23 pm

We’ll be super safe. Thank you for your love and support, Kirby! ♥

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Julie @ A Life Exotic April 21, 2014 at 1:59 pm

The way you wrote this really resonates with me. The culture of anonymous internet haters has gotten so prominent that I know it can be really intimidating for bloggers attempting to address an issue that could be even slightly controversial, because things so often get blown out of proportion. I just love how honest, open, and self-aware this post is. I feel like it’s the sort of thing that we should all think about each other before we read someone’s writing – we may not agree, this may be touchy, you may interpret my thoughts/humor differently than I meant them, but we’re all (for the most part) trying to do good. You just put this into words really, really well. Best wishes for this mission and I’ll be really interested to read about it!

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Jen April 21, 2014 at 2:35 pm

^^^ what she said.

And for the record – the inconsistency of your site is my favorite part about it. If it was all GIFs and cartoons, it’d be too silly, and if it was all topics like this, it would be too heavy. Life is a blend of both silly and difficult. I appreciate that you include both. :)

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Roo April 21, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Ha! I think I need a new tagline. “Sometimes I’m serious but sometimes I like to play Dr. Mario…”

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Roo April 21, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Thanks, Julie. I’m really not criticizing the criticism… there are a lot of shady non-profits out there, and they can definitely ruin it for the good guys. I love your line about “we may not agree, this may be touchy…. we’re all trying to do good.” So true. I really, really try to give people the benefit of the doubt, even if I read/hear something that makes me… I don’t know.. squirmy. :)

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Katy April 21, 2014 at 2:04 pm

I know you didn’t write this post for self-affirmation, Roo, but I just wanted to let you know that I am continually impressed with how well you express yourself with thought and grace (and humor, obvs). So many people do not know how to do that, and I appreciate you raising the bar. Kudos.

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Roo April 21, 2014 at 7:22 pm

Katy, you are so kind to me. Thank you very much. I hit ‘post’ and headed straight to the shower to avoid checking my email for ten minutes.

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MichelleLG April 22, 2014 at 12:58 am

^^^ THIS. this a million times. also, amy carmichal? LOVE!! (sidenote: i highly suggest “a change to die” her biography written by elisabeth eliot. its the kid of book that makes you want to be a better person with the big things and the small ones.)

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MichelleLG April 22, 2014 at 12:58 am

“a CHANCE to die” (book rec fail)

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Trude April 21, 2014 at 2:05 pm

I feel like the people that ask “but why not here in the States?” are the ones that don’t ever do anything at all to help, so don’t listen to them! And I think it’s not inconsistency, but part of being a whole, well-rounded human being who has a variety of interests and a sense of humor. It’s why I love reading your blog! :) Super excited for you, and I’m looking forward to reading all about it.

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Roo April 21, 2014 at 6:51 pm

Ooh, I have a really good answer to the “why not here in the States?” question. I was chatting with Jamie about all the questions we’ve been getting/are sure to get, and they might warrant an entire post on their own.

Sidenote: the line about being a whole, well-rounded human being made me feel sooo good. I like that much better than inconsistency, for sure. Thank you, Trude!

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Brittany April 21, 2014 at 2:12 pm

You will raise awareness and more money to help support groups that fight this by being able to tell us the story than any facebook status. I believe that. Too often social media gets a brief message shared a million times but too few people take action. I know you reach so many people and be able to help so many by giving their story a voice. Thank you for being willing to do this and share it with us.

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Roo April 21, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Thank you so much, Brittany. I hope all of those things happen. :)

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Kayla April 21, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Oh my–love your voice and grace in this heart-wrenching reality. I can only imagine the experience you will have and am praying! You are probably already familiar with it but The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence speaks such truth about human trafficking (and poverty….and corruption….and so many other sad sad things but reality isn’t less painful if we ignore it so I enjoyed the book even though it simultaneously made me sob and ugly-cry uncontrollably). Praying!!

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Roo April 21, 2014 at 7:41 pm

“Reality isn’t less painful if we ignore it” hnnnnghhh gosh Kayla, so true. So many times I’d rather shut my eyes, but I feel like I owe it to the people suffering to become educated on what’s going on in the world and do my part, whatever that may be.

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Britiney April 21, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Thanks for challenging us to step out of our cushy first-world bubbles, Roo. As painful as I know it will be, I look forward to what you all have to share, because sometimes the things you need are the things that hurt the most.

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Roo April 21, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Thank you so much, Britiney. :)

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Sunnie April 21, 2014 at 3:47 pm

While these types of things may not “fit” into what you usually write about on your blog, I think it’s so admirable when people ask themselves “how can I use the talents/resources/time that I have and use them to do something meaningful for the world?” One of your talents is writing and it’s so cool to see you finding opportunities to use that talent to make the world a better place. Totally inspiring!

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Roo April 21, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Thanks, S! xoxoxo

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Megan April 21, 2014 at 4:11 pm

I can’t seem to properly word what I want to say, but I think you will handle this on your blog very well, Roo, as you typically handle the “heavier” topics. You’re pretty much stuck with me as a reader :-)

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Roo April 21, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Oooh, I like that, Megan. Glad to be stuck with you. :)

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Shannon April 21, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Stop making excuses for yourself and for this blog, Roo! You can absolutely fit social justice into a fun/awesome/amazing/laugh-inducing blog, such as yours! You are worthy of doing this! I’m awed and proud-in a blogger acquaintance sort of way (fist bump?). I will be following along, praying and can’t wait to share your experience with others through social media. This is the just the type of work Jesus would be doing and it doesn’t matter what “job title” you hold. You have an amazing opportunity that most will never have.

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Roo April 21, 2014 at 9:04 pm

Oh, I’ll take that fist bump. :)

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Jamie the Very Worst Missionary April 21, 2014 at 5:28 pm

This is why I love you and this is why you’re going on this trip. :)

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Roo April 21, 2014 at 9:03 pm

But like when are we going to talk about the hugging thing?

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Kristen Howerton April 23, 2014 at 4:39 am

It’s either hugs or tickles, Jamie. Your choice.

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Jessica April 21, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Big fan of your blog and writing style and wish you all the best on your adventure. I do have to address the put down on how others might see fit to do work overseas though. Not everyone has the resources or contacts to take trips that aren’t part of a planned mission or fundraising trip, and I just want to throw support out there for anyone who takes time away from their life to give back, whereever it might be. I live overseas part time with our family and have coordinated some of the week-long church trips that you speak of and have seen first hand what is gained by all sides.

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Roo April 21, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Forgive me, Jessica. My intent is not to criticize week-long church trips. I was referencing the types of trips that are more about the attendee than are about the mission. Parents send their kids on these week long trips to gawk at the poor with the intent of making them more grateful. Or we’ll send a group of twenty 14 year olds with zero training on a trip to help build a house or dig a well.

A missionary friend was telling me a story about a group who came and did the job so poorly that the locals would stay up late to fix the work done so they wouldn’t feel badly about it. And they had to do it every day for a week. Obviously, this scenario is just anecdotal evidence… but my point is, I *love* when people give back, at any capacity. I don’t love when people send their kids on expensive trips to get them to appreciate their shoes and iPods a little more.

Generally speaking, I think it needs to be more about the recipient of the time and effort, and less about taking photos to go back and show people at church. I hope I explained myself correctly. I would love to take my girls on a trip to volunteer our time and abilities, but (like with this) I want to do it right. Again, I apologize for offending you – certainly not my intent, and I’m glad to hear of programs that do this well. :)

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Jessica April 22, 2014 at 6:23 pm

TY for the reply Roo! I totally understand what your friend was telling you about her experience. Sounds like that program needs a major overhaul. Some organizations are just shady and the donations never trickle down to where they actually should. We survey the communities we work with to try to figure out what they actually could use and need, and then try to match their list to our areas of experience and donations available. Its not always a perfect match, but letting the volunteers (mostly youth groups) use it as a college resume booster is not our intent at all. I wish you all the best on your journey and cant wait to hear about your experience! Safe travels!

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Natasha April 21, 2014 at 7:04 pm

Guuuuuurl. You rock. I have no doubt you will portray your trip and experiences with grace and humor, which is why I am such a *huge* fan of your blog. I really like your style :) I def understand and agree with your viewpoint (I always do a huge eye roll at the bra color day). Pleaseeeee be safe over there, ok?!

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Roo April 21, 2014 at 9:32 pm

I’ll be super safe, and thank you so much Natasha.

PS. It’s black today.

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Courtney April 21, 2014 at 9:40 pm

Roo!!
Cannot wait to hear all you have to tell us! Thank you for being willing to do this and share it so that we can help/get involved too. I was recently talking with a friend about the fact that this topic (as opposed to other issues like hunger) seems so much more disconnected from my life. It’s a lot harder to see how I can make a difference here. (I don’t mean in a drop-in-the-bucket way. I mean literally I don’t know where to go to volunteer or help, whereas it is easy to find local organizations to get involved with other issues.)
Not sure if that made sense, so I’ll just say, “Bring it, yo!” (And what the crap is this bra color deal on FB? No, actually, I don’t want to know.)

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Maureen April 21, 2014 at 10:06 pm

Roo! I wrote a paper about this topic last semester and came across an organization that I love that’s based in the US, but was founded in the Red Light district of Mumbai. They might be a good resource for you guys as you’re trying to figure out a way to do it here. http://apneaap.org/

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Laura Parker April 21, 2014 at 11:52 pm

Roo–

LOVED this post! Thanks for writing it. And thank you for being brave and stepping into this– authentically. I’m really grateful you’ll be telling this story.

And, PS- I’m from the South where everyone hugs, so, there’s that. :)

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Angela Natividad April 22, 2014 at 12:48 am

I can’t wait to find out what you learn, to see how you change, and to be ever so slightly changed myself — maybe enough to make another small, informed difference. Sending you lots of love and strength and lukewarm beer.

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Erin@Running for Coffee April 22, 2014 at 8:31 am

Thank you so much, Roo. Thank you for furthering this convo in an honest and real way. I think about my nieces and any future children I may have and am reminded that these are the types of conversations we MUST engage in.
You real coo’ Roo.
I really have no idea what I just tried to do there.

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Lola Lam April 22, 2014 at 10:41 am

hi Roo ~ Just recently found your blog and loving it! Major props to you for raising awareness about this issue. I can’t wait to hear your experiences and love your approach of doing this in a sensitive, respectful way. I cringe at the thought of 20 unskilled 14 year olds touring some poverty stricken location just to be taught some “culture” or respect for their Nikes. Eek. I’m sure you will do a great job both there and here recounting your experience. PS: The inconsistency of your blog is my favorite part. Variety is the spice of life!

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Stacie April 22, 2014 at 2:06 pm

I think one answer to the “why not help in the U.S.?” might be…yes. Both. Many people are unaware that sex trafficking happens here in the U.S., too – that most young people who get caught up in prostitution in this country are 12-14 years old when they enter – whether they are kidnapped and forced, or lured in by someone they believe cares about them. But young people all over the world desperately need help – no need to argue about who needs it “more.” I believe part of being the “body” of Christ means we all do the part we’re called to do – and there’s plenty to do!

I was first introduced to this topic three years ago, through an organization working with survivors in Thailand, which is fantastic, but God has opened doors for me to be more involved in the domestic side for now.

Bottom line…I don’t know you, but I am thrilled that you are taking this trip! (And if you run into anyone who specifically wants to help domestically, please send them my way!) :)

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Anna April 23, 2014 at 10:39 am

Love this, love you, love the bloggers you’re traveling with. You guys are good people :) *BIG GROUP HUG*

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Aya April 23, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Dear Roo,
What a long way you have come from DIY drawer dollhouse tutorials. I am so proud of you. I just love watching your growth as a writer and I can’t wait to see where you go next. I am keeping you and the other ladies in my prayers every day till you come home safe and sound.

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amy volk May 20, 2014 at 7:29 am

I feel the heaviness, Roo, of this expedition. The overwhelm of the scope of it. The sadness that encompasses it.
You are courageous and brave and you don’t need words to tell that. You just going says it all.

I will be praying for all four of you…

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