Thursday, April 24, 2014

A word of hope to those enslaved in Iowa . . .

Let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made…BCP Ordination to the Diaconate, P 540
     Timing, they say, is everything.  I am old enough to know that statement is not true, but I am experienced enough to realize just how important timing can be.  This week, as we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and two years of our ecumenical effort to call attention to human trafficking, to rescue and care for survivors, and to empower them to assist law enforcement in the arrest and successful prosecution of those who enslaved them, I had the honor and privilege of standing behind the Governor of Iowa as he signed into law the newest attempt by our legislators to help prosecutors arrest and put away the criminals and social workers to help care for survivors.
      To put it in perspective, most people scoffed at the idea that Americans and foreign nationals were being enslaved right in our midst when I stumbled on to this shadowy world some six years ago.  Many of my discussions and presentations in those early years were aimed at convincing people of the problem.  Yesterday, the mood was somber and the office quiet as the Governor signed the bill, SF 2311, into law and instructed the Secretary of State that he had done so.  And, as a sign that a minor miracle was in play, the governor noted that the bill had passed both houses of our state legislature unanimously.  Think on that statement for just a second.  Republicans and Democrats unanimously agreed on a piece of legislation in this political environment!  The United States’ Congress was nowhere near unanimous in its passing of the TVPRA last year, and an Iowa senator, Grassley, and a couple representatives actually voted against the federal effort to eliminate slavery in our midst.  Even worse, no members of the Iowa delegation were willing to co-sponsor the federal legislation.  Yesterday was, for me, one of those moments when we are able to take stock and realize the meaning of our work.  It may sound weird to some of my colleagues, but I found it not dissimilar to the funeral of a believer or the baptism of an adult.  There was a beginning sense of completion.
     The day also held some profound sadness for me.  As the Governor was signing the bill with about three dozens pens, faces began to appear in my mind’s eye.  “Karen,” who had no idea where she was when I met her; about a half dozen “Tiffany’s;” “Bennie the pimp,” who has lost his grace period if he chooses to continue in this work in Iowa, and some of his girls; Shawna, who was arrested and convicted 167 times before a judge wondered whether she might have been trapped; “Stephanie” and a couple others who have insisted that they are now involved in the life by choice.  I could only see the side of Brittany, but her mother Ruth was beaming as she watched the Governor sign the bill.  I thought about some of the mongers who had tried to explain to me that they could tell when a girl was working for herself because she liked it and when she was working for someone else.  I thought about Connie and her girls.  I lamented that there were faces absent that should have been there to enjoy the moment.  And I wondered how many of those whom I had met over the years would never hear this news of hope, this news that a state was moving to try and help them.
      I was moved to a few tears.
     One of the dignitaries present noticed them and asked if I was alright.  I told him what was going on in my head, and he knew right away who I was.  I am guessing this is a powerful, proud moment for you.  I shared that it was bittersweet.  On the one hand, I had seen fulfilled in a tangible way one of the charges Bishop Scarfe gave me eight winters earlier when he ordained me to the diaconate.  But I also wished the bill were stronger and wondered how many would be helped immediately.  We both agreed that few would notice changes in the short term, but Iowa was now moving inexorably to the elimination of slavery.  I hope and pray he is correct.
     I was also moved to a few internal shouts for joy.  I can only imagine what this moment meant to Ruth.  When Ruth began caring for Brittany, no one knew or understand much about human trafficking.  Talk about a trailblazer!  I know what it meant to Rita.  She could not be present, but she made sure her husband was!  For my own part, I had driven Nora over despite my incredible back pain.  I was not disappointed!  When she shook hands with the Governor and received her pen, she asked him to sign her printed copy!  He happily did so.  There were others present whose faces I knew, but names I cannot recall.  Each of them had played a significant role in the passing of this bill.  Such was the lobbying of the public, the Governor noted, that all were encouraged to pass something that worked and addressed the issue.  And this was a day we could take a break and celebrate what has been accomplished!  This day, we could pose for pictures and selfies and answer questions put to us by the press.
     Tomorrow, tomorrow, we can get to work strengthening the new law and sharing a word of hope with those enslaved in our midst!  This day we simply give thanks to God for His work in and through us!


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