Joy to the world, indeed, for the Lord has come…and He has come as a child.When Jesus later directed His followers to “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them” (Mt. 19:14), He did so knowing what it was to be a child in this world. The Eternal One came into time, and had His own mixed past, present, and future experiences.
[F]or it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself…
—Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
As we celebrate Christmas with those we serve at Araminta, Charles Dickens’beloved Christmas novella is close to my heart. I am reminded that Dickens himself was a victim of trafficking, forced to labor as a child to pay off his parents’ debt. He stated that he never lost memory of the “sense of being utterly neglected and hopeless.”
Surviving this hardship, he used the power of his pen to stand on behalf of marginalized children with his compelling writing. Regardless of his Christmases Past, the beauty of Dickens’ message lies in the hope of Christmas Present and Future.
On Sunday, we sat surrounded by the joyful sounds of laughter and exclamations of glee at Christmas wishes fulfilled. We observed sweet moments of tenderness and words of affirmation exchanged between mentors and mentees and among survivors.
One survivor encouraged a younger girl, “You can do this. When it’s hard, remember you can make it. I’m here for you. We all are.”
Our first Araminta Christmas party for the survivors in our mentor program, creating community, family, and a place of belonging, is a hope fulfilled in this Christmas present.
However, this Christmas Present still echoes of Christmases Past.
“I don’t know how to celebrate Christmas.”
Words of a survivor haunted by Christmases past. Christmases stolen.
Through tears of vulnerability, she shared how hard the holidays are, bringing painful memories of years shuffled through the foster care system without family, wishes never coming true, and enduring abuse at the hands of a trafficker who promised her the family she so desired.
But this Christmas, she learns to celebrate, surrounded by her mentor and Araminta volunteers, who are helping her establish new traditions. She celebrates this Christmas Present, as she understands His presence.
As I grieve for their Christmases Past, knowing too well it is the present Christmas of too many children, I dream of a Christmas future. A Christmas morning in the not-so-distant future, when children will awaken to a Christmas morning in their Araminta group home. A home where family, hope, joy, and peace are their Christmas Present.
Thank you for being a part of the Araminta family,
and during this Christmas and all future ones to come,
may He “fill you with all joy and peace.” (Ro. 15:13)
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” –Heb 11:1
As we come to the close of this Advent season, we turn to the expectant hope Araminta upon which was founded – the hope for a region in which every child is free from human trafficking.
The hope that we have for this is not the same hope as the hope it won’t rain tomorrow, but comes from the meaning of standing in confident expectation. We have a confident expectation that this region will no longer be a place in which the trafficking of children is allowed to take place.
At times as we wade into the darkness of this issue, it is hard to imagine how we can stand in expectation of a region without human trafficking. An issue riddled with so much sin and complexity, it almost seems unimaginable that the trafficking of children could be eradicated.
Yet we at Araminta stand in expectation that it may not be tomorrow, or next week, or even next year, but that we will see the Baltimore region free of child sex trafficking, and we will see it in this generation.
The only way we can stand in that expectation is because of our faith. We serve an amazing God who can do things “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” (Eph. 3:20)
When we look at Hebrews 11, we see heroes of faith who saw God do amazing, unimaginable things. From Moses and the parting of the Red Sea and the deliverance of the Israelites, to Abraham becoming the father of many despite a barren older wife, to the New Testament stories of Paul and Silas being freed from prison, we have assurance that our God is capable to fulfill even more than what we stand for in expectation.
One of our favorite songs at Araminta is Sara Groves’ “All the Saints.” She sings, “Oh, let me be one of them,” listing in the lyrics not only the heroes of faith described in Hebrews 11, but others through the ages, including our namesake, Harriet Tubman.
We know that each of you – our faithful community giving of your time, energy, resources, prayers, and more – are saints standing with us in expectation for how God can move and see a region in which Araminta, defender, is no longer needed, for all will be made whole.
As this Advent season comes to a close, we know that so much of this world is not how God has intended for us to live but, as those called according to His purpose, we can work toward making the Baltimore region His Kingdom “on earth, as it is in heaven.” (Mt. 6:10)
We hope in confident expectation that one day the great injustice of child sex trafficking will be eradicated.
Last week in our Advent reading we were told to prepare the way of the Lord. This week, John goes further, telling us in Luke 3:8 to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
John refers to the entire crowd as a ‘brood of vipers’; neither gently nor patiently, he points out the crowd’s hypocritical and self-righteous ways. His message is clear: your association with a great and powerful religion is not enough. Faith in the right object, the case for most of the crowd standing before John, is not enough. This faith must produce action.
John goes on, this time with grace and patience, and talks about what kinds of fruit are produced when our faith is in keeping with repentance. He makes a connection for the crowd between economic issues, social injustices, and spiritual issues: Do you own two shirts? You have more than you need. Do you have food? Give some away. If you make money at the expense of others (e.g. tax collectors), don’t take more than the minimum. Be content with your wages.
Where are we seeing fruit in our work with Araminta?
Recently, a woman who has a ministry to victims of child sex trafficking told Araminta staff, “There is something different about every survivor I work with who receives services from Araminta; they have HOPE in their eyes.”
This hope results in part from the prayers, the tangible acts of kindness, the daily sacrifices of each volunteer effort on behalf of the survivors we serve. Hope matters!
One of our mentees recently expressed the following gratitude for Araminta:
What I am thankful for with Araminta is that I have people who care. People are there no matter what. You at Araminta stay, and you are still here.
You care and you stay – actions that speak volumes to those whose relationships have too often been marked by exploitation and neglect.
While we serve in an area where one can easily get overwhelmed with the darkness, the words and picture of John the Baptist offer us a perspective on the source of our staying power and the reality of our mission.
Christmas morning comes with a blessing – New Life – and with a privileged burden to produce fruit. We see in our daily interactions that evidence of the New Life of Christmas morning making a difference in the reality of the lives of the survivors we serve. We see it in each of our mentor / mentee pairs and in the women we have helped move into their first homes.
Ultimately, the message John preached was one of freedom: we who have been given the gift of New Life are motivated to share what we have. No longer motivated by greed and the law, we are to freely give what we have freely received. (Mt. 10:8) This is what we witness in the working out of the mission and vision of Araminta: manifestations of Grace and Hope and New Life.
In that day you will say:
“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.” (Isaiah 12:4)
In the gospel texts for this second Sunday of Advent, we see John the Baptist’s role in preparing the way for the Lord. (Lk.1:68-79, 3:1-6) He was prepared and expectant, ahead of his time, but his end was jail and death.
Even those who took John’s message to heart often expected of Jesus an earthly kingdom and freedom from oppression in their lifetime – a hope that ended in bitter disappointment when this Messiah they would make king suffered the humiliating death of a common criminal.
So what are we to do when the expectation that Advent calls us to doesn’t seem to come to fruition?
On this day 150 years ago, the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, officially banning slavery, and yet modern-day slavery still exists. Earlier that year, upon passage of the amendment in the U.S. Congress, Frederick Douglass rightly declared:
Slavery has been fruitful in giving herself names … and it will call itself by yet another name; and you and I and all of us had better wait and see what new form this old monster will assume.
In any of its forms, we know this is not God’s intention for His creation, and so we prepare and expect the Year of the Lord’s Favor, as outlined in Isaiah 61, proclaiming good news, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom and release from darkness, comforting all who mourn. In this time, He promises “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair.”
We at Araminta stand in expectation of a region free of trafficking. We recognize that this can only become a reality as we walk humbly with our God in His timing and provision.
As we continue in this spirit of preparation and expectation, recognizing that God’s hand in history usually does not look like we anticipate, may we realize with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that “[t]he answer lies in…our acceptance of finite disappointment even as we adhere to infinite hope.” (Shattered Dreams, sermon delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 1959)
When God first freed His people, they knew their destination was the Promised Land, but the journey was not what they expected. Perhaps this is the first model of trauma-informed care! Too often we are focused on the destination when God is focused on the journey and relationship that prepares us for His ultimate destination.
Indeed, the author of Hebrews reminds us that this earthly destination was a promise seemingly unfulfilled for generations on end:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. …All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. (Hebrews 11:8-10, 13)
Returning to the ultimate preparer, we see John the Baptist, when in prison, sending his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Mt. 11:3 / Lk. 7:19) Jesus’ response points not to the earthly kingdom some expected, but to God’s kingdom made manifest on this earth through restoration.
May we continue in this path of preparing the way of the Lord, that we all will be ready for His second coming, which we eagerly anticipate!