Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Begin & End With Prayer

We began Friday with prayer.

In Vegas there is a weekly scheduled prayer meeting.
The workers in the non-profits, Christians in the government system, Pastors,  and people who are passionate about ending human trafficking gather together in prayer. 
They unify and become a stronger force against the evil that has penetrated the city, infiltrated the world, when they join together and take their concerns and requests before the throne of God. 
It's a time of giving thanks, entreaty, and restoration. 
A time of building each other up and empowering one another to go out into the world and tear down evil. 
It is probably the most powerful weapon a Christian can wield.
Prayer changes things.
Because God works through prayer.

 We met Rachel and Caroline there that morning.  They would be joining us that day for our adventure out to Pahrump and our brothel visits.  Each of them has their own amazing testimony that they shared with us as we got to know them throughout the day.  Each of these women had been a lost, broken and hurt woman in their past.  They had each been through some really hard life experiences, they knew first hand the damage and hurt that comes from a lifestyle of prostitution and gang living. But most importantly, they had each experienced the redemption and love of Jesus Christ in their lives.  These women are now passionately serving Jesus and are singing his praises in so many ways.  It was amazing and wonderful to listen to them and hear what God had done in each of their lives. He has restored years that were stripped away. He has restored relationships that were broken and hurting. He has healed their hearts, healed their lives.

Rachel is on the far left, Caroline is next to her in the white shirt.

 After eating at In-n-Out Burger for the first time in my life, we left Las Vegas for Pahrump. In-n-Out burger is owned by Christians and they print bible verse references on their cups and burger wrappers and stuff.

We were driving out to Pahrump to meet with Kay, a sprightly woman in her 70's, who along with her friend Lupe has had a ministry traveling to the brothels throughout Nevada.  Lupe was unable to join us, but Kay dedicated her afternoon to meeting with us, telling us about their ministry and then guiding us to 2 of the brothels we visited.

 We first met at the park to chat and learn more about Kay and the ministry she and Lupe have.  She is a lively woman who has dedicated much of her time and money to love on the women who work in the brothels.  Her and Lupe have been, for the past five years, driving a circuit of over 1000 miles to visit most of the 24 brothels in the state.  They do it in 3 days time.  They stop at the brothels, talk to the women working there, give them small gifts, encourage them, and love them. Recently, a couple of new women have come alongside of them in their ministry and now they have been able to turn over a few of the brothels to these new women. This is enabling them to shorten their own drive time and make the trip easier. Kay grieves not being able to see all of the girls each month, but she is ready to step back a little, since it has been a lot to handle.  She would love it if someone would come along who would be their driver, because they love the ministry, but the drive is getting to be very challenging for two ladies their age.
I was very inspired to meet Kay and hear her passion and love for these women.  It is refreshing to meet someone who is retired but understands that you don't retire from serving God.  I loved seeing someone her age that was actively serving in a vital ministry.  What I saw up close is how much the women at the brothels love and respect Kay.  Her ministry is vital.  There are not many people beating down the doors to a brothel to simply build relationships with the women and love them like Jesus loves them.  Her approach to sharing the gospel is subtle.  It takes time.  It requires trust.  She isn't there to tell them that what they are doing is sinful and wrong.  They already know that.  They feel the shame of their profession.  You can tell especially in the women who refuse to show their face in their pictures.  Kay isn't there to add to their shame, she is there to share the love of Christ.
We went with her to visit two brothels and then we went to a third without her later on that night.
The reason we had to drive over an hour away is because although brothels are legal in Nevada, they aren't legal in the same county as Las Vegas. 
This was not an easy part of the trip for me.  I have never pictured myself walking into a brothel in my life! I was really nervous about the whole thing and asked my room mate Sarah for some tips.  It wasn't just the uncomfortable atmosphere I imagined I would encounter inside, it was the fear that I wouldn't be able to comfortably talk to the girls. You should understand that I am chronically bad at small talk.  Although we work at a camp and I meet strangers all the time, I really struggle with keeping a conversation going if my first three prepared questions don't get the ball rolling well enough.  It usually dissolves into an uncomfortable silence where I either look for any reason to excuse myself or hope that the other person thinks of something to say.  Soon.
My roomie Sarah helped me to learn something new about myself.  I have always considered myself to be an extrovert.  I like being around people and have no problem speaking in front of a group.  However, certain situations have always struck fear into my heart and as I was asking my roomie for some pointers (she has a ministry to the strip clubs in her home town) she told me I was an introvert. An introvert! I've never been called that in my life! But it makes perfect sense when I'm in certain situations.  So I have recently dubbed myself an introverted-extrovert and I understand myself a little better now.
Which doesn't really help me miraculously become good at small talk, so I decided to pray.
Can I tell you that God answered! 
He will equip you to do that which he calls you to do!
You know, I don't really ever want to go into a brothel again. In fact, I wish they would all spontaniously combust (with no one in them of course) But I now know that I can, and I know I will, if God wants me to.

That's our friend Rachels 15 passenger van with the words Christian and Church painted in bold letters on the sides.

The brothels themselves are like a beautifully decorated cake that looks really delicious and tasty on the outside but when you cut into it, anticipating a bite of yummy, moist, sweet, chocolate goodness, you discover that it was actually just a cardboard form covered in frosting. 
Did you know that most brothels give free tours? 
Yep, they do.
I was thinking that they might think it was wierd that a large group of women showed up wanting a tour, we had 11 people in our group, but they didn't bat an eye when we all walked in. Partly, I know, because Kay was with us and they recognized her. I'd love to know what they were saying when we all left!
At the first place we were given a tour by a pretty young girl called Miami.  The girls never use their real names.  She was undaunted by our large group and in fact seemed happy for the diversion.  There were only 2 girls and a bartender working and no 'johns' in the place but it was only late afternoon.  She gave us a look at the rooms, most brothels like to have different rooms with different themes to offer their customers.  This particular brothel was not as well done as the other two we visited. As if that matters.
What did matter though was all Miami had to tell us.  She seemed very uninhibited and open.  Her reason for working there was because she wanted to have a breast enhancement proceedure.  However, her babies daddy said he wouldn't pay for something she didn't need.  So she decided to earn money by working at the brothel. As she talked to us more and more I had a hard time believing that was the whole truth behind the story.  Miami works at the brothel for 3 weeks at a time.  She stays at the brothel that whole time. But back home in Vegas, she has 3 kids.  She regailed us with story after story of her children, her 5 year old daughter sounds like an adorable little fire cracker. We also learned that her and her boyfriend and kids moved here from Milwaukee WI.  She talked to us for over an hour. It was evident that she loves her children and takes delight in them.  What mom would spend 3 weeks away from her kids, one week at home and then leave again for 3 weeks, continuously repeating that cycle, if they just want money for a boob job?
Doesn't sound right to me.
Some of the women working in the brothels also have pimps waiting for them at home.
Pray for Miami.  She needs to know the love of Jesus. She needs to see how much she is worth to Him. She needs to understand just how much he loves her and would do anything to bring her to himself. Even send a couple of 70 year old women to brothels, just for her.
Pray for Kay.  Pray that she would be able to build a relationship with Miami that would allow her to share the source of the love she is already bringing with her each time she visits that brothel. 


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Saturday, November 10, 2012

S.O.A.P. Delivery

In between all of our training and education, we were able to do some interesting things to spread the word about human trafficking. One of the things we did one afternoon was to deliver S.O.A.P. 
Here's the information from the FREE International website:

SOAP: Save Our Adolescents from                Prostitution

SOAP is an Outreach that aims to distribute thousands of bars of soap with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number and key identifying questions FREE to local motels. Volunteers talk to motel owners and managers and provide them with a quick overview of what is happening to young girls in their hotels.


On her worse night, being auctioned off to nearly two dozen men in a dingy, dirty, inner city motel, Ms. Flores recalled the only item that would have reached out to her. A bar of soap to clean up.
The project’s goal are:
  • To Educate Motel Owners and staff on human trafficking.
  • To offer a way for motel owners, clientele and victims to reach out for help.
  • To address the Demand side of trafficking through awareness.


Organize a SOAP Outreach in your community! FREE International has partnered with Theresa Flores of Traffick Free to help launch the SOAP project. To learn more about this project or to have Theresa or a representative from f.r.e.e. come and train your volunteers and help mobilize teams to approach potential high risk motels. Contact us at SOAP@freeinternational.org.

We broke up into 3 groups and went to an area of Las Vegas called Boulder Highway. It has a reputation for high drug and prostitution problems. It is basically a main thorough fare through the city that is lined on both sides with casinos and hotels. Most hotels offer weekly rates for a very inexpensive price. 
We would be delivering soap and also handing out a missing person flier. A 16 year old girl went missing in October and still hasn't been found. 
We wanted to use this opportunity to help look for her and possibly collect any tips from people who may have seen her, and distribute the soap to hotels that had taken it last year.   
Terra and Lisa discussing which hotels our groups will deliver  SOAP to.

SOAP waiting for delivery

This was the first time that FREE had delivered soap to the same hotels in the city.  They want to see if they can build a relationship with the hotel managers and keep the soap labels in the hotel rooms more consistently.  Almost everyone we talked to remembered the soap from the year before and were very enthusiastic about taking it again.  That was really encouraging. 

One of the hotels that accepted our SOAP

Terra and Christina getting ready to take SOAP inside and our missing girl flier.
Driving around the city is interesting.  It is very diverse.  However it is hard to identify much industry besides hotels, casinos, stores, and sex. In certain parts of the city, there are boxes like newspaper stands, with free advertisements about clubs you can go to or places where you can buy time with women.  It's basically a booklet of free porn on the curb for anyone to grab as they walk by.
These lovely fliers are all along the side of the road .  They  are free for the taking and advertise all of the businesses that  sell girls.  Basically it's porn for free straight off the public sidewalk.

The hotel in the picture below is known as a crack hotel.  I wouldn't have known it from looking at it.  My kids would have loved to stay there, it had statues of alligators by the pool and moats next to the front door.  The boys would have thought it is a pretty cool place (although the moats had no water in them and neither did the pool).  When you got closer and went in the lobby you could tell the place was a little sketchy.  These nice people didn't take our Soap, but they have a lot of rooms.  We were able to make a contact for someone to follow up on and hopefully get soap into that hotel in the future.

The hotel below is one of those places that your husband drives up to late at night on a cross country road trip and you immediately make him drive away even if the next hotel is  another 100 miles away.  It was that sketchy.  However, the manager loves to receive out soap and so we gave him a little extra.  

There were a couple of women outside of one of the rooms petting the dog of a man that was just sitting in a chair outside his door enjoying the sunshine. Terra and Christina jumped out with one of our missing person fliers to show to them. They didn't have any information on the girl but the women did ask for more fliers to hand out to their friends.

We were able to discover that the two women actually lived in the end room of the little hotel.  They are also 'working girls'.  We saw them later, all dressed up, one walking down the road and one a building over getting her hair done by another woman.  It made me wonder what there story was.  How did these two women get to the place where the best they can do is share a really small, crumbly hotel room, and sell their body to make money.  One of the ladies was definitely in her 40's, maybe 50's.  The other would probably have been in her late 30's.  We didn't have the opportunity to engage in a deeper conversation, unfortunately. 
One of the most encouraging things on this outing was how kind people were, how willing they were to do what they could to help, and how they seemed to care that women were being taken advantage in their area of the city.  Most of them have seen plenty of drug and prostitution activity in their jobs behind the desk of the hotel or as a cashier at the gas station.  Many weren't aware of the signs of trafficking and we dropped off cards to post behind the desk so they would know what to look for. Some of them told us that they didn't see the young girls inside their hotels or stores, but often a 'john' will secure the hotel room, and the girl will stay outside, never being seen. 
It was an interesting outing overall.  It was a good way for Free to build relationships with more hotels in the area.  I'm praying that our efforts may help locate the missing girl and return her home to her family, or a place of safety.  
Delivering SOAP is something anyone can do in their home town. It would make a great outreach for a youth group.  Go to the FREE International website for more information.
Deliver SOAP and you could save a life.
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Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Brew Crew

Thanks to our BP credit card, we had the opportunity to earn free tickets to a Brewer game.  We got enough for our family to go and we got to bring a couple of friends along too.

Although going to a ball game may not be my first choice of fun activities, I have three boys.  And a professional ball game is something that is at the top of their to-do list.
That makes it fun for me too.
This is the second year we were able to go, and this year Seth was prepared with some Brewer apparel. He didn't own any last year. But after attending a game at the park, he is now a confirmed Brewer fan.  As the boy that is most interested in sports,  it's fun to watch him get excited about the game.

They all had a good time and enjoyed our time at the stadium. Even though our seats were so high up we probably should have brought some binoculars.  Although, one benefit of sitting so high is that you can see the entire ball field.  Plus with the big screen and the replay on the best plays of the game, it all works out well enough.

Apparently our friend Ben takes his baseball very seriously.

Seth does too.

Um, have you ever seen H.H. in a hat before? I didn't think so.  That's why I had to snap a picture!

Justine and I took some time out of our intense game watching for a photo.

Even Ben took a short breather for a pic with his best girl.

Meanwhile, as the game progressed the boys wanted to visit the kid zone.  There are a few fun activities for the kids to participate in like batting practice, base sprinting and the hot dog races.

No matter what I may think about baseball, it's always fun to go to a stadium and get the authentic experience.  It was a fun evening with the boys absorbing the sights and smells of a professional ball game.  It also made for a great excuse to see our friends Justine and Ben, whom we had just said goodbye to in August.  The only part I didn't like was how much they charge for food! The boys really wanted ice cream in the souvenir baseball helmet bowl.  I didn't want to pay the astronomical price so I bribed them with a new Brewer shirt instead. Not from the stadium of course, but on clearance at Target!
Score one for Mom!

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Learn More - Do More

After we left Casa De Luz we drove over to the FREE International offices. 
They are located in a Christian school.  
It was time to begin our education on human trafficking. 
We all had some previous knowledge of trafficking before we came, but we were about to learn a lot more.

We made ourselves at home in the FREE conference room.  It had been recently remodeled by the FREE interns.  It has a cool, urban vibe.  It's also been outfitted with an awesome white board wall calendar and memo boards, using white board paint. Pretty cool!

For the next three days we learned just about everything there is to know in the realm of human trafficking. Not really, but I think we spent so much time in that conference room, that I our butt prints are permanently impressed on those chairs. 
We were trained on signs to look for to identify someone who may be being trafficked.  We met a mom whose daughter was trafficked and learned about how that happened and what it has done to their family.  We met a door man at one of the big casino's on the strip. He shared his testimony with us and let us know what to look for when you are in the casino if you to identify any girls who may be on the floor 'working'.  We met one of the men who work in the juvenile justice center in the city and heard his passion and vision for rehabilitating the young women who are incarcerated in the Juvenile centers for prostitution.

We learned how to track down women who are being sold on Internet websites and look for identifiers that may indicate that they may be underage.
FREE International has worked with Brad from Klaas Kids on this issue, especially during their Superbowl outreach.  Brad recorded a training that we utilized while we where there.
We also recieved training from the founder of Pure Hope via an audio clip.
That isn't everything we were trained on, but it's all I can think of right now. I really appreciated the personal testimonies.  The people we talked to were so transparent, so kind, and so passionate about putting an end to the prostitution of our daughters.  They gave so generously to us of their time and answered so many of our questions.  Each person we met was so completely honest and open with us about their personal story.

Mike, the FREE International head honcho.
So, it is only fair for me to share some of my new found knowledge with you.
First of all, let me give you a definition.
*Human trafficking is defined as; "the recruitment, harboring, transporting, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or service, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection of involuntary servitude , peonage, debt bondage, slavery, or forced sex act."
(No I didn't memorize that. That's what notes are for.)

*Some of the forms of sex trafficking are: prostitution, massage parlors, pornography, exotic dancing/stripping, escort services, modeling studios, and gangs. 
*The united states estimates that 12 million people are living as victims of human trafficking globally, accumulating approximately 30 billion dollars in revenue yearly.  
*There are approximately 1.5 million runaways each year.  Within 48 hours, 2/3 of them are recruited into the sex trade. 
*Average age of entry is 12 years old.
* A popular recruiting location for a pimp is the mall food court. 
*Young girls who are vulnerable, have low self esteem, and/or have already been subject to sexual abuse, are prime targets.

There is so much more that I could tell you.  There is so much more that you should know.  But I don't want to overwhelm anyone right now, and I don't want to share too much here on the blog.  Besides, I have some more things to blog about and I'm sure some more info will be leak onto those posts.
I want to encourage you all in one thing.  Something I have been guilty of myself. That is;
Don't be ignorant.

Sex trafficking is happening everywhere. While we were doing our Internet training, we saw a girl being advertised for sale in Wausau, WI.  It's happening in Milwaukee, Madison, Chicago, and everywhere else.  The United States is one of the top 10 countries in human trafficking.
So educate yourself, educate others, and do what you can to help. 
If you do suspect that someone is being trafficked, call your local police department and also call the national human trafficking hot line at:
All tips are anonymous.

If you want to know more about the truth behind sex trafficking then here are a couple of books that I would recommend reading:
Renting Lacy: A Story Of America's Prostituted Children, A Call to Action, by:Linda Smith

God In A Brothel: An Undercover Journey Into Sex Trafficking And Rescue, by: Daniel Walker

Off The Streets, by: Chris Baughman

In Our Backyard, A Christian Perspective on Human Trafficking in The United States, by: Nita Belles

Let me know if you read any of these and what you think.
We may not be able to change the whole world, but we can change the whole world of one person if we get involved and do what we can. 

You may not be able to go on a mission trip or walk into a brothel, but there is something each person can do.  Figure out what that means for you. Then do it.

Thanks for reading,

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Casa De Luz

When we finished our Q & A with Det. Baughman, Terra brought us over to a neighborhood called Naked City.  It used to be one of the highest crime area's in the city of Las Vegas.  Drugs, murder, prostitution, theft, you  name it, they probably had it.  But then Casa De Luz moved in.  Since they began their ministry to the people in this neighborhood, crime has dropped down to a 20% rating and the streets are much safer.
However, it doesn't mean that the lives of the people who live here are any less hard.  This neighborhood is very impoverished.  Most of what we drove past looked abandoned and broken down.  Casa De Luz actually took up residence in an abandoned apartment complex.  They only have part of it up and running at this point thanks to a generous donation from a philanthropist in the city.  But they have plans for more.  What they do here is distribute food to the hungry and homeless.  More importantly than that, they distribute the love of Jesus to whoever walks through the gate.

When you enter Casa, you walk into a courtyard.  This is also the church.  It is beautiful in it's rugged simplicity. The murals reflect the Glory of God.  It is peaceful and serene.  A refuge in a harsh place.
When we first stopped by, Terra told us we were going to see if they needed help with anything.  At first I was taken off guard, maybe I was suffering from jet lag.  At least that's what I'm gonna call it.

However, when we were done with our tour and our talk with Pastor Ryan, there was no work for us to do. I left feeling bereft.  I caught some of the vision of the place and wanted to put my hands to the task of helping out.
Part of the mission statement of Casa, that I copied from their website: www.casadelzlasvegas.org is this:
Casa de Luz also serves as an outreach center for churches throughout the United States. For Christians seeking to get out of their comfort zones and serve on the front lines in a way that transforms lives, Casa de Luz provides a myriad of outreach and missions opportunities. We have been blessed with the respect and support of many prominent leaders within our local government, business community, faith community and law enforcement; and we have partnered alongside them in events aimed at providing assistance and hope to the poor of Las Vegas.
After having visited, and met two of their pastors, I am pretty confident that I can recommend this place as an awesome mission trip opportunity for a youth group, college group, or even a family.

We were warmly received by Pastor Ryan even though we had no appointment.  And although we didn't get to meet Pastor Chris that day, we did meet up with him on Saturday night.  Pastor Chris is the main pastor, and Pastor Ryan is his father-in-law. I believe that Pastor Ryan told us that there were actually 5 or 6 pastors that worked with Casa De Luz. Pastor Ryan shared some cool stories with us, showed us around and made us feel welcome.  I would enjoy going back some day to volunteer and work alongside of the people there. They really seem to understand the Christian's calling to get out and do something to help others.
The people of Casa de Luz are doing hard things, being obedient to the call, and loving others, loving the broken, the addicted, the dirty, and the lost in Jesus name.

I'm so glad we were able to see what they do, in a very small part, and how they operate.  I will be keeping them on my prayer list as they continue to be engaged in this battle.
Will you consider joining me? Casa De Luz relies on donations from others to keep operating. The people who use their services are often too poor to donate money themselves.  They rely on a volunteer work force to distribute food and other supplies. The pastors and volunteers are often putting themselves in dangerous places to witness to others and they are surrounded and aware of the spiritual warfare going on all around.  
Let's do our part and hold our brothers and sisters in Christ up in prayer. 
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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Redemption in Old Vegas

The first day we landed in Vegas we had a meeting with one of Vegas' best, Detective Chris Baughman. 
Why is he one of the best? 
Well, Det. Baughman has made it his personal mission to do whatever it takes to rescue trafficked women from the streets of Las Vegas.  Along with his Lieutenant Karen Hughes and his fellow detectives Gethoefer and Beas, they form the P.I.T. Also known as the Pandering Investigative Team.  Together these men and this woman do their best to rid the streets of the evil men that abuse and enslave women across the city.  They are setting a precedent for other Vice units across the country and doing whatever it takes to make this a safer city.  If Las Vegas is safer, then it will eventually impact the entire world.

We met up with Detective Baughman at a popular cop cafe called "The Beat".  It was a hip little coffee shop on Fremont street which is located in what's known as Old Vegas. 
Old Vegas is also considered a 'track' which means it's an area known for a high rate of prostitution, drugs,  and other illegal activities.
The Beat serves up some tasty food and coffee.
I had the chicken salad sandwich.

We got to sit down with Det. Baughman for a candid Q & A.  We were really honored that he would take so much time out of his busy schedule to talk to us. 

Oh, you may be wondering how we knew of Det Baughman before we came.  Well, in preparation for this trip, it was recommended that we read the book he wrote.  That's right, not only is he beating down the bad guys, but he's writing books about his experiences to raise awareness of the truth about what's happening on the streets.
It is a fast read and it is riveting if you can handle the truth of these horrible crimes. The book is a bit graphic. However, it's because he doesn't sugar coat anything and he quotes his fellow detectives directly without cleaning up their language. So there are quite a few 'F' bombs to weed through.  But what you need to remember is that this is an actual, true story, a live account. The awful details he mentions really happened to a woman, and they happen to other women all over the world.   
Detective Baughman has written his second book already, which hasn't been released quite yet.  I believe he also said he was contracted for a third too.  So keep your eyes peeled.

I have so much respect for Detective Baughman and his team.  I am so thankful that they work so hard and sacrifice so much at their jobs.
Our group also had the privilege of meeting Lieutenant Karen Hughes.  She is a one of a kind woman.  She attended a prayer meeting that was hosted by FREE International. The purpose of the prayer meeting is to bring together various Christians and non-profits across the city for prayer over the issue of human trafficking both in Las Vegas and the rest of the world. This prayer group meets every Friday.
I was able to snapa paparazzi style picture of her Lt. Hughes.  Even though the interaction I had with her was brief, I was impressed with her compassion and genuineness. The burden she carries for this city and for the children and women in it was evident on her face.  Each time I had an occasion to look her way my eyes filled with tears.  Thankfully, I had an opportunity to give her a hug and try and offer some small measure of encouragement.

I would ask all of you to remember Det. Baughman and Lt. Hughes in your prayers. These people are the real deal. They are Christians, doing what it takes to "act justly, love mercy and walk humbly" and love others in Jesus name. They are on the front lines of the battle. I have no doubt they are all willing to lay down their life in order to save one of the enslaved and broken girls on the streets of their city.
There are some exciting things happening in Vegas. 
There are some really good people making it happen with God's help. You can help too by being prayer warriors for these street warriors. 
I know I'll be praying.

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