My Freedom is Bound to Yours

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“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.
”– Lill Watson, aboriginal activist

Why do I go? Why do I keep packing my pink suitcase and flying to the edges of our world, so I can be with women and girls, share stories, weep and dance?

I asked myself this question, while reading When Helping Hurts on the plane on my way to Moldova last weekend. What are my true motives?

Here’s what I wrote in my journal: “I know what it’s like to be stuck, 
to feel powerless, 
isolated, 
not to have access.”

But how, you might ask? How, if I am a privileged woman, living in Canada with a loving husband, three children, a dog, a computer, high-speed Internet, a credit card and an iphone?

My privilege goes back to the day I was born as a white Afrikaner baby girl in Apartheid South Africa. It’s my old story, yes, but it has framed how I see and understand the world. From the depths of my own soul, I learned that freedom is not indivisible. We cannot take freedom away from others and expect to keep it for ourselves. Freedom doesn’t work like that. Freedom needs room to breathe and when we close in the walls on others, when we erect walls and prisons and separate townships and unjust economic systems, it’s not possible to breathe through the injustice and oppression without taking in big gulps of it for ourselves. We become what we inflict. And our sons and daughters will suffer that which we inflict on others; maybe not externally, but certainly in their souls.

I once reported on a story in Taiwan where 27 tigers were kept in captivity. Small containers with bars on the front and I remember watching the tigers pace listlessly up and down their small containers. They looked like tigers–big heads, soft fur, huge paws-but the animals contained in those small boxes were defeated shadows of the glorious creatures they were meant to be.

I used to feel exactly like those tigers: contained, isolated, stuck, diminished, powerless, defeated.

It’s taken many years of listening prayer, pressing in to God and doing the hard work to now roam more freely. But I simply can’t forget where I come from. I can’t deny my story and I can’t forget what God has done in my life. I dare not forget that my freedom–and my children’s freedom–are tied up in the freedom of others, whether it’s choosing fair trade chocolate or teaching them not to say, “I am starving,” when they don’t truly comprehend what that means.

So, as you might know, I found myself in Moldova all last week with nine other women, learning about the work of  Beginning of Life (BoL), a Christian NGO that helps to restore women who have suffered social injustices, including human trafficking, abuse and poverty.

We learned that:

- According to the United Nations, Moldova is the poorest country in Europe.

- It has the highest percentage of victims of human trafficking.

We started our week with the girls at BoL’s rehab and reintegration centre, sitting around a ping-pong table, learning to crochet under the guidance of crochet rockstar and teammate Alise Wright.

As the days passed, we shared short conversations and broken sentences. We held the girls’ babies and their hands. We sat with them, eating pizza and plăcintă (the local flatbread with sheep’s cheese, feta, spinach, apple or sour cherries.) We drank Sprite and strong black tea.

Five days later, our week was over and we were slugging through two feet of snow to our final farewell party at the “white house,” the building at the back of the rehabilitation and reintegration centres for the girls. We waited outside, while the girls prepped inside to give us a proper Moldovan welcome. This was the moment where I just wanted to hit pause, especially when I saw the two girls in the doorway, dressed in traditional Moldovan clothes: one holding a white, round loaf of bread; the other a bowl with salt.

As I broke off a piece of bread, my heart remembered: This is my body, broken for you …

Dip and eat, motioned the girl with the salt.

You are the salt of the earth …

It’s our Moldovan custom, they told us. This message of communion and this remembrance of our call—to be salt to this earth—embroidered into the fabric of Moldovan society. It was almost too much to take in.

Who am I, a stranger, really, to be taken in like this? To be welcomed into both the brokenness and the joy by sharing from this same loaf of our humanity?

We sat down and gathered our hearts for a moment. This was goodbye, but the sadness could wait. First, party. Then the girls invited us into a large circle to dance and for the rest of the afternoon, there were stunted starts, polka steps and so much laughter.

How different was this laughter and lightness from the stories we’d heard that week.

Of how Anna* was raped when she was eight.
How her mother then sold her to men in the village.
How she was taken to an orphanage, so she would be cared for.
But how the orphanage director then groomed her and eventually pimped her.
How another orphanage alerted the state and how she was finally rescued and brought to Beginning of Life.
Of how angry and aggressive she was and of how she left to go stay with her boyfriend, saying, “I want to live my own life.”
How a few months later she became pregnant and her boyfriend made her choose between him and the baby.
Of how the doctor told her if she had an abortion, she might never have another baby. So she decided to keep her.
And of how she called the BoL centre, asking if she could pick up some of her clothes that she’d left there.
And how Julia, the BoL founder, saw her and ran to her and hugged her.

“Why are you so happy to see me?” Anna asked her.

“We didn’t know where you were,” Julia told her.

Anna then asked if she would be allowed back. This time Anna’s life began to change.

She birthed her beautiful baby girl and Anna was even baptized last year.

Her story is one of a powerful transformation, yes. But what struck me this past week, however, was how she–and every girl I met–is so much more than a one-dimensional story. When I tell the story of her pain, I am still not sharing her story in full colour. I am not offering the details of her hopes and dreams, her idiosyncrasies, her long dark ponytail. I am not telling you about how she holds her daughter above her head and how much her little girl loves to watch the world sitting on her mama’s neck and shoulders.

My liberation this trip, wasn’t in recognizing how we are the same.  This time, it was in seeing each and every girl in full colour. We know there’s a bigger story of slavery and injustice, but these girls–these flesh and blood girls–were each so adorably unique. Each girl with her own unique interests, unique hairstyle, unique way of dressing, unique personality, unique smile, unique story. Not one of them a one-dimensional, single storied  “victim of human trafficking.” These girls were teaching me to see them as ordinary girls–not as victims or to be pitied. Instead, I could see them as the girls-next-door, nieces, daughters and friends. And I wanted so much more than rescue for them. I wanted restoration and a big, beautiful life for them.

As I watched those two girls welcoming us at the door, they were no longer defined by their old stories. Their smiles were open, even mischievous. Free.

The girls didn’t need us for their liberation. But we were all becoming a little more liberated together.

So, if you ask me why do I go and why do I keep going? I imagine it as this circle of freedom:

My story tells me there is healing and freedom for all of us–in the going, the praying and the giving–when we put our hearts into it.

Or: to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr.: I know my destiny is tied up in the destiny of women and girls, like the ones in Moldova. I have come to realize that my freedom is inextricably bound to their freedom.

“We cannot walk alone.”

__________________________

Dear SheLovelys:

We are kicking off the month today with our new theme, “Free.” I hope you will join us, so we can journey together and become part of each other’s liberation. Your comments and encouragement matter so much.

Also, we’d love for you to share some of your journey with us this month–add a picture, showing yourself as “free” on our Facebook page. Or tag and tweet us with your favorite free/freedom quotes.

idelette
xoxo

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Idelette McVicker
I like soggy cereal and I would like to go to every spot on the map of the earth to meet our world’s women. I dream of a world where no women or girls are for sale. I dream of a world where women and men are partners in doing the work that brings down a new Heaven on earth. My word last year was “roar” and I learned it’s not about my voice rising as much as it is about our collective voices rising in unison to bring down walls of injustice. This year, my own word is “soar.” I have three children and this place–right here, called shelovesmagazine.com–is my fourth baby. I am African, although my skin colour doesn’t tell you that story. I am also a little bit Chinese, because my heart lives there amongst the tall skyscrapers of Taipei and the mountains of Chiufen. Give me sweet chai and I think I’m in heaven. I live in Vancouver, Canada and I pledged my heart to Scott 11 years ago. I believe in kindness and calling out the song in each other’s hearts. I also believe that Love covers–my gaps, my mistakes and the distances between us. I blog at idelette.com and tweet @idelette.
Idelette McVicker

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Idelette McVicker
  • http://www.fromtwotoone.com/ Danielle | from two to one

    Oh, Idelette. I am singing this freedom song along with you, the Moldova team, and all who hunger and thirst for righteousness. I am so happy that you were able to tell even bits of these brave young women’s stories, and to see that they are much, much more than what happened to them. Now it is about what is happening in them and through them.

  • http://twitter.com/ChristieEsau Christie Esau

    Thank you for this beautiful piece of honest writing. All of us working together for everyone’s freedom, yes? Because certainly that is what God wants for his children.

  • Lindsay

    I got tears in my eyes reading this. Not simply rescue but restoration, redemption, freedom. YES. Amen, let it be so.

  • http://www.alise-write.com Alise Wright

    Yes. It’s easy to see only our freedom and their lack and forget that there are places where they have freedom and we have lack. And it’s only when we join together that we can experience TRUE freedom.

    Love this, love you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brandi-Goff-McElheny/523018372 Brandi Goff McElheny

    Yes, Yes, a thousand times yes!!! I live for freedom because I know the joy of a slave set free. Because I know what it is to come to life after living in a “cage” of oppression I MUST live my life calling forth, fighting for and cheering on freedom….because SHE’S WORTH IT!!! LOVE you dear friend and I’m going to LOVE this month :) It is FOR FREEDOM that we have been SET FREE.

  • http://twitter.com/JessiStronger Jessi Strong

    I love this:

    “Each girl with her own unique interests, unique hairstyle, unique way of dressing, unique personality, unique smile, unique story. Not one of them a one-dimensional, single storied ‘victim of human trafficking.’”

  • http://twitter.com/HeatherCaliri Heather Caliri

    Yes, this is the kind of helping I aspire to. Where we are drawn together into partnership and community and love, not a place of condescension or power inequality or charity.

  • http://twitter.com/teenbug Tina Francis

    Can’t believe you wrote something so poignant and brilliant in one evening. You are my hero! *bows to the Master*

  • Helen Burns

    Oh Idelette… you took us to Moldova with you. Thank you for introducing Anna and others into our lives.

    Your words are speaking so loudly to my heart …’Freedom needs room to breathe and when we close in the walls on others, when we erect walls and prisons and separate townships and unjust economic systems, it’s not possible to breathe through the injustice and oppression without taking in big gulps of it for ourselves. We become what we inflict. And our sons and daughters will suffer that which we inflict on others; maybe not externally, but certainly in their souls.’

    May our sons and daughters see hope and become a thread of hope for others because we dared to take the walls down and enter into the life and story of another.

    I love you…
    xoxo

  • http://www.facebook.com/heather.alexander.12979 Heather Alexander

    Idelette, wow…wow…wow….my heart is full with hope for each of these girls. So brilliantly written. Thank you.

  • Settle Monroe

    This is beautiful, Idellete.

  • alie

    LOVE. ! this is so beautiful, idelette! I hear your stories, and pray for freedom and liberation, and want to stand with and share the stories of all these women! xxoo

  • http://www.facebook.com/anitalustrea Anita Lustrea

    I feel a bit more free reading this beautiful blog post. Thank you!

  • http://teamaidan.wordpress.com/ Heather Bowie

    I love the narrative of becoming free together and seeing the individual story instead of just a statistic. I believe that’s why your trip was so important. Thank-you for sharing these girls with us.

    And I LOVE the freedom theme. There’s so much joy and abundance and full living in it. Can’t wait to read more.

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  • http://twitter.com/saskiacw Saskia Wishart

    I love that we have South Africa and now Eastern Europe woven into our stories. Powerful locations that leave lasting imprints on the heart. Your ‘Cycle of Freedom’ expresses the simple truth that I find myself striving to operate in. I will definitely be borrowing it in the future. Thank you for sharing your trip with us.

  • neritia

    Oh jingle bells! Hold my heart!! What an awesome post…you took me with you without even knowing it….and YES…my heart agrees, we cannot walk alone!

    Freedom is the biggest gift of all….!

    xoxo

  • http://www.giraffesandladybugs.blogspot.com/ Grace Elizabeth

    Oh Idelette…. (I see Helen Burns said the same thing below after I write that) I just don’t know what to say. Utterly speechless to be honest, if only I could express to you how much my heart is leaping and turning and jumping violently, its singing, and its yearning, its hurting, and its ready to dance.

    You move me. This binding of my freedom moves me. (because how can I be truly free when I have 46 slaves working for me: http://slaveryfootprint.org/ ?)

    My life it isn’t mine, how I try to control and scream ‘but I don’t want that’ truly I want God to use my all, maybe I try to rein myself in sometimes, but thats just not happening really.

    God has it all planned, and this heart of my it weeps, and its broken, and I’m clinging to the only hope there is left: the unending, love-full, hope in God.

    Clinging and clinging.

    God’s beautiful is out there, its in their faces, in their hope despite it all.

    Proverbs 31:8

    Thank you for standing too. Moved. Shivers down my spine, and reverberating out, and I don’t know how I’m not on my knees with the Holy ground feeling coming through right here.

  • Stephanie

    Lots of goodness to chew on here. I love that our freedom and destiny is tied to that of others (reminds me of #ubuntu). It reminds me to live life with my eyes wide open, conscious that my actions+decisions do not just affect me. I love this: “They didn’t need us for their liberation. But we were all becoming a little more liberated together.” That speaks to me of “with”. Thanks for sharing of your journey with us, and introducing Moldova into my life.