Reaching Across Borders to Stop Human Trafficking

On June 23, 2017, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGO) assembled at the United Nations for a multi-stakeholder hearing on the review of the global plan of action to combat trafficking in persons. In order to understand the significance of this amalgamation of words, it is important to understand two basic UN documents: the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN TIP Protocol) and the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons (Global Plan of Action).

The UN TIP Protocol – adopted 12 December 2000 and effective from 25 December 2003 – not only establishes an agreed definition for “trafficking in human persons” but also presents a framework for UN Member States to fulfill their obligations to introduce and strengthen national anti-trafficking legislation. The UN TIP Protocol is a major step forward in the fight against human trafficking since it is the first time UN Member States agreed that trafficking in persons was a serious international issue that needed urgent and coordinated attention.

The Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons – adopted in July 2010 and reviewed in 2013 – builds on the UN TIP Protocol, presenting an action plan for UN Member States to work together to “prevent, protect, and prosecute” when combating human trafficking. It also established the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons to support victims through financial, legal, and humanitarian aid. The Global Plan of Action progresses commitment beyond a framework to implementation. Every few years, as determined by the UN General Assembly, UN Member States review the Global Plan of Action to assess what has been accomplished and what remains undone.

Having conducted one review in 2013, the UN is now preparing a second to be completed in September 2017. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA), as a leading member of the NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons (CSTIP), is on the front lines influencing the review process. The GOA and CSTIP advocate for the strengthening of the following points, calling for their specific mention in the declaration of the review:

Adopt an action oriented outcome document committing to the full implementation of the United Nations Global Plan of Action and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, specifically adhering to the requirements of Targets 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2.

Adhere to the recommendations of the United Nations Global Plan of Action, specifically the universal ratification of the UN TIP Protocol.

Actualize by December 2018 a robust review mechanism for the UN TIP Protocol, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

Allocate significant resources at the national and international levels towards prevention strategies and exit services to reverse what “constitutes a serious threat to human dignity, human rights, and development.

Address demand. Without demand there is no trafficking of persons. Addressing this root cause is essential. Demand for high profits, cheap goods and labor, and commercialized sex is the driving force behind human trafficking.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Justin of Canterbury proclaim “all forms of human enslavement as the most heinous of sins, inasmuch as it violates the free will and the integrity of every human being created in the image of God." They “urge our faithful and communities – the members of the Orthodox Church and the Church of England – as well as all people of good will to become educated, raise awareness, and take action with regard to these tragedies of modern slavery, and to commit themselves to working and praying actively towards the eradication of this scourge against humanity.” We are, therefore, called to transcend complacency. In other words, we are to go beyond simply understanding human trafficking as “bad” or a “shame” and take action to minister to others and change ourselves – even when unprofitable and inconvenient. Therefore, the following is a short list of exhortations for us all. Please:

Pray for the approximately 21 million currently enslaved victims of human trafficking as well as those working to combat human trafficking at all levels.

Learn more about human trafficking and its root causes and share that information as widely as possible.

Discern our own participation and make appropriate lifestyle changes (this includes profiting from investments in companies with forced labor in their supply chains, supporting the commercial sex industry including pornography, focusing on profit and/or cheap goods over people, etc.).

In conclusion, governments and NGOs will continue to create policies and develop programs to end human trafficking and assist victims. These measures have and will continue to help. However, the $32 billion “industry” will only be fully eradicated when all of us surrender complacency to action. We must transform selfishness to selflessness and progress from sympathy to love.

 

#humantrafficking #EndIt #StopTheDemand #EndTrafficking #CSR #ForcedLabor #SexualExploitation

 

Running from Life

I’ve never liked running. In fact, I dreaded those fated days in gym class when we’d have to run the mile. I just knew I’d be too slow and afterwards would feel too sick. The same goes for sports. I was too self-conscious to enjoy playing them. I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable; I didn’t want to be judged. So I would take the easier route during class and walk the track instead. It was my way of escaping the seemingly inevitable pain of gym class.

 

There’s a lot about life that is painful or uncomfortable. But there’s also a lot that’s beautiful and joyful. I’d just rather skip the pain and move along to the joy. I’d rather not feel the discomfort of disappointment or the pangs of fear or the stress of work that needs to be done. And when I’m not feeling super-connected spiritually, I might even avoid prayer. But the reality is, the more I train myself to run away from the negative in life, the more I run away from Life Himself. When I run, I miss an opportunity to encounter the Lord, and instead believe the lie that I’m alone.

 

So how do we stop this pattern of emotional escapism? How do we stop running from Life?

 

1. See struggle as a potential good

 

There is a certain inevitability about hard times. We are all going to experience the death of a loved one, the stress of a job, the loss of a friendship. Though we might intellectually understand this, we oftentimes aren’t prepared when they come. We’re blindsided and don’t know how to handle it. Being around difficult people can be a challenge, and it’s easier to escape into social media than face reality.

 

Saint John of Kronstadt (+1909) speaks to the instinct to escape struggle:

Do not fear the conflict, do not flee it. Where there is no struggle, there is no virtue; where faith and love are not tempted, it is not possible to be sure whether they are really present. They are proved and revealed in adversity, that is, in difficult and grievous circumstances, both outward and inward - during sickness, sorrow, or privations. (My Life in Christ, p. 375)

Adversity reveals to us the current state of our hearts. How we react to loss and pain shines light on our own ability or inability to trust God and our personal acceptance that we aren’t in control of everything. And we don’t like being out of control. But we have a God mighty in power and able to turn our sorrow into joy.

 

2. Let church be a training ground, not an escape

 

There are a lot of people who see faith as an escape. Either they’re opposed to religion and see it as escapism from the reality of life, or they’re Christians who look for respite from the world. Recently, I read a quote by an atheist that said, “An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death.” There’s this idea that people go to church so that they can ignore their problems and try to pray them away.

 

Saint Maria Skobtsova of Paris (+1945) once wrote:

It would be a great lie to tell searching souls: ‘Go to church, because there you will find peace.’ The opposite is true. The Church tells those who are at peace and asleep: ‘Go to church, because there you will feel real anguish for your sins, for your perdition, for the world’s sins and perdition. There you will feel an unappeasable hunger for Christ’s truth. There, instead of becoming lukewarm, you will be set on fire; instead of pacified, you will become alarmed; instead of learning the wisdom of this world you will become fools for Christ.’ (“Under the Sign of Our Time” p. 113)

This great saint of our times saw the danger that comes from using church as a means of escaping the reality of life. St. Maria did not see worship as a respite from the world, but as an opportunity to encounter the Truth and the truth about ourselves. Worship should lead us to more passionately serve Christ and our neighbor in the world.

 

We find peace in Christ, but not because He takes our problems away. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We find peace in Christ even in the midst of tribulation because in Him we no longer have to face the world alone.

 

3. Remember you are not alone

 

God created us for relationships – with Him and with each other. When we start feeling overwhelmed, when we start to turn to fear and anxiety, we tend to isolate ourselves. We forget that we’re not alone. Sometimes we as Christians can act as if we’re spiritual orphans. We can’t see Christ, so we aren’t sure if He’s actually with us.

 

We run away from something when we are afraid to face it alone. We run from discomfort and problems because we think they’re up to us to solve. "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). When we truly know that God is our strength and that the Church is here to support us, we’ll understand that we’re never alone.

 

But it’s still up to us to actually connect to God through prayer and the sacraments and to reach out to the Church by being a part of community.

 

*****

 

When we run from life, when we run from Christ, we miss out on truly living. Life with all its struggles and difficulties is the only reality we have so avoidance isn’t an option. There is no “walk the track” easy way out: we all have to run this race. Instead, we can turn to the Source of our Life, to Christ, as our support and our peace. With Him, we can see how challenges that we face (perhaps we’ll only see this later) can be used for good. And we’ll see the Church not as a place to escape the world, but as a community that trains us to live in the world. Living as a part of this community, connected to one another and to God, we’ll be able to face life’s trials instead of running from them.

 

What in your life are you afraid of facing? How can the Church be a place you work through your fear?

 

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages, genealogy, and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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The Incredible Impact of "Be the Bee"

On June 15, we will release the final episode of “Be the Bee.” What began as a risky project in September 2013, an attempt to bring Christ and His Gospel to young people in a clear and exciting way, turned into a much greater success than we could have ever imagined. 

We got our first indication that we were onto something in November of our first year. A sixty-year-old grandmother from Oklahoma sent us our first ever piece of fan mail, a sweet email expressing deep thanks for the series. Over the next few months a flood of comments and messages and emails began pouring in. 

A mother in New York expressed wonder that her eight-year-old daughter would turn on YouTube and attentively watch “Be the Bee” for hours at a time and then confidently talk about what she had learned. A high schooler from Texas thanked “Be the Bee” for offering comfort and inspiration during difficult times at school. A presbytera from Pennsylvania spoke about how she’d show her young children “Be the Bee” on their way to Liturgy every Sunday morning as a way to prepare for an encounter with God.

As our very first piece of fan mail indicated, “Be the Bee” was never just a program for children. A Protestant pastor in Alabama told us that he quoted from an episode during a homily. Several Orthodox clergy wrote to tell us how instrumental “Be the Bee” was in helping them prepare Sunday sermons. A theology professor at a Christian school said he uses episodes of “Be the Bee” to teach his college students about the Holy Trinity

Yet, somehow, none of these messages truly connected with my heart until I experienced this thanks in person. After a BeeTreat in Chicago last February, a man approached me. Though he looked somewhat gruff and strong, he collapsed into tears as he embraced me. He told me about how he stumbled across “Be the Bee” during a difficult time in his life, and was eventually chrismated. His eyes lit up as he confessed that finding the Church was the greatest thing that had ever happened to him.

This man isn’t the only person to somehow come to Christ through the series. From disenchanted young adults who grew up in the Church and had fallen away, to former Protestant pastors who longed for the fullness of the Church, to curious teenagers whose hearts burned with love for Jesus Christ, we’ve received uplifting messages of thanks from more converts than we can count

I share these stories because I’m a young adult who grew up in the Church and have witnessed the overwhelming majority of my friends and peers fall away. Because, from the very beginning, the Church is at her best when we focus on the person of Christ and the presence of His Kingdom. Because it’s incredible that a simple message could have such a profound effect in the lives of so many, by the grace of God alone, and as we come to the end of this particular journey, I am grateful to God that I have been able to be a part of it.

Because God is good, and He is working wonders right before our eyes.

 

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.

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Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

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I’m Only Human

As a society, we fluctuate between extremes in how we see humankind and its potential. On the one hand, we love self-help books, we want to fix ourselves and to fulfill our individual dreams. On the other hand, we look at man as just another animal filled with its own sets of instincts and innate desires that need to be met. If we follow these to their natural conclusions, we’re led either to the temptation of pride or to despair. It’s this negative vision of humanity that causes us to say that exasperated expression, “I’m only human!”

 

Saint Irenaeus famously wrote, Gloria Dei est vivens homo, "The glory of God is man fully alive," or,  "the glory of God is a living man." He went on to say that "the life of a man is the vision of God.” So there must be something more to being human than society assumes. There must be something more profound in our human experience, if it’s through being human that we encounter and know the Living God.

 

What are we actually saying when we refer to ourselves as only human? After all, what we say matters, and our words about God and mankind reveal what we believe about ourselves and God. Here are three reasons Orthodox Christians probably shouldn’t say we’re “only human.”

 

1. It denies the work of Christ

 

If we refer to ourselves as “only human,” what does that say about our belief in the work of Jesus Christ? It gets to something deeper: why Jesus even came in the first place. Father Thomas Hopko, of blessed memory, has a beautiful reflection on Jesus Christ as a man that’s really worth listening to (along with any and all of his podcasts!).

 

Something truly remarkable happened 2000 years ago. God - in all of His glory and power - became human. He entered into our experience, He took on our humanity and lifted it up, lifted us up into a relationship with Him. And in case we forget this mystery, we confess our belief “in one Lord Jesus Christ...Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.” And on Pascha we hear the words from the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). That God became human is key to our understanding of ourselves and God.

 

"Though He was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men." (Philippians 2:6-7). God did all of this, He tells us, so that we "may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). When we have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27) in baptism, when we have been grafted into Christ (John 15: 1; Romans 11:17), when we “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1) by receiving Christ in Eucharist, we have this abundant life.

 

Jesus didn’t become human so that we could be “only human”; He became human so that we could be more truly human.

 

2. We lose hope

 

Usually when someone says that they’re “only human,” they’re making a statement of defeat. Somehow there’s no reason to keep on, no reason to grow further, because this state we’re in is inescapable. We might think it’s pointless to fight against our temptations or pointless to surrender and let God work in our lives because each time we try, we fail.

 

But St. Paul tells us to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). To internalize a vision of ourselves as only human, we lose hope in the work that God is doing in our lives. So St. Paul reminds us again:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The life of a Christian is a life of hope and expectation. Imperfect though we may be, God can and does work in our lives. We have reason to hope.

 

3. We make excuses

 

As soon as we accept being “only human,” we’re not only losing hope and denying the work of Jesus, but also making an excuse not to move forward. We become like the paralytic who waits for years at the pool but is never healed. To him and to us Jesus asks, “Do you want to be healed?” We identify with the sick man who answers Him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me” (John 5:6-7). The sick man’s paralysis and our humanity are not the issue; that’s not what keeps us back. Our excuses help us to avoid answering Jesus’ question, “Do you want to be healed?”

 

So we make excuses and keep ourselves from prayer or from being the hands and feet of Christ in our communities because we’re just one person or because we’re only human. We forget the words of St. Paul when he urges us to “not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10).

 

Each one of us has limitations; that’s true. But we have to give ourselves an honest evaluation of our motives and the excuses we make. God became man so that we could be raised up into a relationship with Him. He wouldn’t have done that work without also giving us the strength to carry the weight of that responsibility.

 

*****

 

We worship a God who intimately knows the experience of being human. After Christ, our being human is no longer a barrier to an encounter with the Living God. Jesus Christ revealed to us the fullness of what it means to be human and makes that goal of unity with Him possible.

 

How we speak about ourselves as being human reveals what we believe about being human. It can reveal our need to reflect on the work of Christ and His human experience. And while saying, “I’m only human,” can lead us to despair, we have reason to hope. And though we might just want to make excuses, Scripture calls us to move forward with the strength of Jesus Christ - our God Who became human.

 

How does reflecting on the humanity of Christ inspire you to live a Christian life today? What excuses are you making that keep you from moving forward in your walk with Christ?

 

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages, genealogy, and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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So You Say You Want a Miracle

During Holy Week, I gathered with friends at their apartment, and we got to discussing miracles.

 

We talked seeing saints, myrrh-streaming icons, and the like. We’ve all heard marvelous and amazing miracle stories from people in every walk of life: friends, campers, family members, and priests. It was amazing to be able to share those stories with these girls who I knew understood why these experiences are transformative.

 

When I hear about people who have experienced miracles, who have heard the voice of Christ, or who have seen Him or His saints, I can’t help but think, “I want that.” I want an experience that shows me that without a doubt that Christ is real, that He is with me, and that I am in communion with Him. I want a story to tell anyone who doubts. Especially myself, when I doubt.

 

In other words, a super awesome miracle moment that changes my life forever.

 

Now, I realize that this is not how life works. You don’t ask for a miracle and get one.

 

You live your faith, and you attempt to be as Christ-like as you can be. You attend church services, you go to confession, you receive communion. And perhaps most importantly: you open your heart.

 

I’ve noticed that my heart has often been closed to the presence of Christ. Like, I’m just not thinking that in any moment, Christ is there. I don’t think about Him constantly when I’m walking to the train or when I’m at work or even when I’m in church. I don’t always thank Him when things go well (though I do usually pray to Him when things don’t go my way…).

 

But when my heart is open, I can see His presence in my life. A friend isn’t just a friend, a good day isn’t just a good day, a tear isn’t just a tear; they are all experiences of Christ. They provide us with moments to be thankful and know that God is with us.

 

Now, I’ve experienced transformative things in the church. I’ve seen the miraculous icons that drip myrrh. I’ve heard stories that can only be explained through faith.

 

None of these experiences are necessarily the personal, perfect miracle story that I want. They let me know that Christ is real but they don’t provide me with a super awesome miracle moment that changes my life forever.

 

But, I have to accept that my “super awesome miracle moment that changes my life forever” is not going to happen on my timing. It may have already happened, and I didn’t realize it.

 

Christ has done things for me and me only; the little miracles in life that I overlook. The “everyday” miracles, like waking up in the morning, like an answered prayer, like amazing timing, like a plane landing after crazy turbulence, or like meeting people who inspire you to be a better person and make you want to be closer to Christ because they are so close to Christ that they exude Him.

 

These are the experiences that should make you want to open your heart to Christ, to grow closer to Him. “Little miracles” are the ones that help you keep your heart open to Christ’s presence when you are sure that you can’t go on.

 

So, if I never get my super awesome miracle moment that changes my life forever, I will continue to subsist on the little miracles, and know that they are enough.

 

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Want more from Y2AM?  Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday!  And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter.  As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

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Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.

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