Last Friday night, I actually went out.
By “out”, I mean that I physically left my home and traveled to another location.
No, I was not alone.
No, I was not on a date.
I, and two friends who were kind enough to submit to my brand of phlegmatic road rage, drove to Branson to attend the NightLight Branson Launch Party.
For the uninitiated, NightLight International is an organization that works to serve the victims of “commercial sexual exploitation.” I mentioned awhile back that NightLight was opening an office in Branson, which means that apparently this sweet little corner of the Ozarks has problems. Mindy Stewart, the director of the NightLight Branson location confirmed this, informing us of the types of root issues that lead to prostitution and trafficking, and then giving us statistics on how rampant those root issues are in the Tri-Lakes area.
I used the word “rampant” for a reason, by the by… I know I’m a wordaphile (Microsoft informs me that wordaphile is not a word… I informed Microsoft to get out of my business), and I do occasionally just use strange words simply because I enjoy the taste, but I quite deliberately used rampant just now.
Rampant is not an overstatement.
Rampant is an objective fact.
One of the things that Mindy said really stuck with me, considering the mental odyssey that I’ve been on for the past month… she said that the real issue for those involved and victimized was identity. When women working in a strip club, or trapped in prostitution, or even being trafficking discover (or rediscover) their identity, that’s when they’ll seek and/or accept help. Our identity is what convinces us of our value.
Is it just me, or is that something of a huge revelation?
We, as a society, place so much emphasis on building identities based on gender, color, nationality, body type, hobbies, recycling, meat eating, your feelings on boy bands and Nicholas Sparks movies (don’t even get me started)… we consistently tell people to “Be Yourself” and “Just Do You”… but we don’t consider the consequences when all of those shallow identities are stripped away, boiled down to simply how much you are worth in hard currency.
In a situation like that, in which your body (whatever type or color) is the only thing of value, which one of those identities will stick with you?
I took up a little mantra a few years ago, when people were vigorously tap dancing on my very last raw nerve during Black History Month… I started saying, in the recesses of my own mind (which is the only place where no one ever argues with me): “I am a Christian first. Everything else is secondary.”
That was not to say that the things that I love or the things that I intrinsically am don’t matter… but that whatever I was, or said, or did needed to be filtered those my identity in Christ.
I’m clearly (hopefully clearly, anyway) a woman… but before I’m a woman, I’m a Christ follower.
I’m clearly black, but color doesn’t dictate my actions or preferences… Christ does (or should, at the very least). If I should be victimized, I won’t be a victim… or a stripper… or a prostitute… or an abused woman.
I will be a Christian.
That is the identity that I will not… can not… lose, and that identity feeds and influences every other identity, whether inherited or adopted.
When a person has had their identity stripped from them, does it not make a curious sort-of sense to offer another… one with dignity and purpose and hope built in? One that, even if the situation doesn’t end well, can sustain that person through the worst of times?
Like I said… HUGE.
I tend to avoid encouraging people to do things… I don’t much care for the sensation that I’m being pushy, and people tend to get this achingly tolerant look on their faces and nod patronizingly, and I have to bite back the “I KNOW YOU’RE PATRONIZING ME” growl.
That said, for those of us who live in the Tri-Lakes area (you know who you are, right?), I would encourage (dare I say strongly) to visit the NightLight International website, and do a little investigating. You can sign up for updates about the Branson office, and you can even follow Mindy on Twitter.
I follow her, and you can trust me when I tell you that she’s funny and not a drag.
I know we all have lives, and we all have issues… but getting one more email or praying for one more thing or looking into an issue that is actively affecting our area won’t cost too much.