I am delighted today to share a conversation with my friend Lauren Pinkston. She is married and has a bubbly toddler who is right now becoming big sister through international adoption and they are in Africa. Lauren is super energetic, fun, and so graciously open to chatting. She and her family live in Southeast Asia and work with human trafficking.
I wanted to talk with her because I wondered how working with human trafficking impacts other aspects of being a Christian and a human.
Lauren, first of all I love chatting about these kind of topics and I know you do too. Please share a little bit about where you live and the work you do a little bit about where you live and the work you do.
I live in a creative access country in SE Asia, so it is really difficult to talk about what I do. Based on the audience reading this interview, I believe people will understand the heart behind all the dreams I have for my work in this place. I am also greatly bent towards justice, so other than praying like crazy for Good News to be spread, I want to see physical redemption brought to the people of this land.
I work in the mornings at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, where I’m writing my dissertation and researching human trafficking patterns in the area. In the afternoons, I direct a new social enterprise where we employ women who are seeking safe work…from girls in safe houses to women actually running brothels. We believe that if we rescue one girl from human trafficking, we will be opening up a spot for other girls to be victimized. So, slowly, we are developing relationships with brothel owners and offering employment if they shut down their business as usual and reopen their business as a handicraft co-op.
Being a wife and mom are my full-time, fun jobs. : )
Human trafficking seems so dark, I think many don’t even know how to approach the subject. What have you learned about darkness from your work? Paradoxically, how is it not as dark as you thought?
You know, there really is so much darkness. Just last week I sat across the table from a woman who answered a phone call from a man looking to buy a prostitute for the night. As I listened to her talk so casually about selling another woman’s body, I got so angry on the inside it took everything in me not to turn the table over and scream at her to get out of my workspace.
It reminded me of just how blatantly evil walks around on this earth, and how as Believers we forget about it. We stay tucked away in our comfortable faith communities where people understand us and think like us and welcome us. We do this even on ‘the field.’ I’m guilty! We just simply forget that the majority of the world is living unthinkable realities every day.
On the flip-side, I’ve seen how truly resilient humans are. It’s incredible to see the young girls we’ve employed giggling, running around, and going about their daily lives as if they haven’t experienced the horrible abuses they once knew. His redemption really can blot out painful pasts, and I am so thankful I get to witness this first-hand.
How has working with human trafficking impacted your marriage (for good, or maybe in ways that have surprised you?)?
I can honestly say that there are good and bad ways that this work has affected my marriage. Some days I am so disgusted by the stories I read and the things I see that I don’t have many positive things to say about men. Some days I am so emotionally tired that I have nothing left when I come home. And some days I can’t think about intimacy because the images and filth I’ve encountered are stronger than the relationship I have with my husband.
But MOST days, honestly almost ALL days…I am nothing but grateful to have my incredible husband standing beside me. He has become my biggest cheerleader in this line of work, and supports me day in and day out with such long-suffering. I am so thankful that the women and girls I interact with can also see me interact with a husband who is affectionate, kind, and patient. When they see a God-fearing man who leads his home with intentionality and fathers his daughter with such gentleness, they see the opposite of what they’ve experienced with men before. And THIS strengthens my marriage more than anything. I am so, so grateful that my story is one that includes my loving husband.
Tell us a little bit about your daughter and the tensions you may feel knowing that many who you work with are equally valuable to God, but for complex and varied reasons have had very different childhoods.
Wow – how did you know I feel that tension?! I feel it some with my biological daughter, but I REALLY feel it when I pray for the little girl my husband and I are adopting from Uganda. Knowing that in a few short years, if she wasn’t adopted, she could easily become another statistic as a human trafficking victim…whew. I feel a lot of feels.
I just want to scream IT’S NOT FAIR!!! on behalf of all the kids that don’t have safe home environments. It makes no sense that one child can have parents doting on every single developmental milestone while another is sold by her parents to pay of a small land debt. It literally makes me sick.
But that just takes me back to the power and the purpose of the Lord’s church. Shame on us when we don’t live out the incarnational person of Christ. Just shame on us. There are too many believers in this world to still have so many children at risk of exploitation. There are too many parents that need friends and mentors so that they can raise their own children to be happy and healthy. There are too many dark places without the slightest glimmer of light.
Any final remarks you’d like to make?
Well I guess while I’m preaching, I’ll just say this: I don’t understand why the church has so much trouble being the church.
I’m thinking about light and darkness a lot in this interview, so an image of an auditorium with a stage is coming to mind. You know how, when you have a really bright spotlight shining on a stage, the other parts of the room are still dark? And when you’re standing on the stage, if you look into the spotlight, it’s really hard to see anything else in the room? The light kind of blinds you for a minute.
I feel like so many times as the church, we are that spotlight. We all clump together in our safe huddles, and become this spotlight shining in one direction so that we are too overwhelming for the person standing in front of us, while the rest of the room is left in the dark.
For example, when a hot-button topic comes up in the news (like Planned Parenthood), we are known for shouting and screaming and waving our Bibles so much that the rest of the world is blinded by our yelling. They can’t hear our message. The issue of abortion is center stage, but there are pregnant, single moms and orphans without homes scattered throughout the audience. Not enough are wandering into those dark places of the auditorium. We can’t all go to one orphan in a group. We can’t sit beside our friends if we go to that young, scared teenager. That’s all too uncomfortable.
How I wish we could just forget about being the spotlight and instead just carry a little cell phone flashlight. If we dispersed ourselves amongst all the people in the room without light, we could all see. Sitting side-by-side with those in need, offering the little we have, and being the church that believes in lighting up the whole world. With whatever talents we have, with whatever little thing we have to offer. Just spreading out our little so that the whole room is lit up.
Lauren, I love how you peer into the dark corners of the room and say to those sitting in the dark, “I see you. You are not forgotten and we are coming for you with the Love of Christ.” Now for the day when we can hang out for hours in person :).
A version of this appeared on A Life Overseas