Planting Seeds of Discovery

On May 23rd, International Justice Mission (IJM) will be having its first gala fundraiser event in Calgary. Harmony through Harmony advocates for IJM in many of their concerts. The executive director of Harmony through Harmony, Beth McLean Wiest, is the emcee of the May 23rd event. To help generate interest in the event and the work that IJM is doing, Beth will be posting journals of her trip with IJM to Cambodia & Thailand Fall 2012. They will be written as if she is experiencing it now (present tense) even though the trip was actually 7 months ago. For the next ten days, she will post blogs about that trip.

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Purpose of the trip: to broaden trip participants’ understanding and vision of the work of International Justice Mission in Cambodia and in Thailand. There are 8 of us traveling together: three IJM Canada staff, one IJM Board Director, and four donor advocates (I’m one of these).

A bit about me (Beth) and how this trip came to be…

Growing up, stewardship was a core value in our home. It was expected that we would learn about the world around us, give to charity and to church, and strive to live simply. My parents modeled generosity and care for the orphan, widow, poor and oppressed. When I was 5 years old, my parents “down-sized” to a duplex. We lived in one half of the duplex and the other was used for either missionaries home on furlough or refugees. We called our shared wall “the wall to the world”. As a result, I was exposed to many cultures from a young age and grew up fascinated by the stories, food and experiences of the people who entered our lives through that home. I got the “travel bug” before I ever had any international travel experience!

My first international trip was with my family to Guatemala at age 11 to visit a missionary family. I later took a year off after high school (before it was cool to do a “gap year”) and spent 4 months in Haiti. Since that time, I have traveled extensively- to over 35 countries the majority of which are developing countries. I have had the privilege of witnessing the hard work of incredible NGOs (non governmental organizations) and been inspired by the nationals giving their lives to help their people. The majority of my trips have been with faith-based organizations as I am a Christian. I believe that Jesus calls me to love all people because all are made in the image of God.

In 2009, my husband Reid and I went on a trip to South Africa led by two of our dearest friends, Kerry and Dan. That trip changed the trajectory of our lives. It was as if all the other trips leading to that point were tilling the soil for seeds that would be planted on that trip. In retrospect, it was as if in this trip God was spelling out his plan for us- he sent us to an organization called “Seed of Hope”. At the time we didn’t see it…

Our seed was the seed of the injustice of sexual exploitation.

I was horrified to learn about how common it was among the youth to use sex as a currency. It is very common in the townships of South Africa to have a “child headed household” as a result of the AIDS epidemic. Their poverty makes them very vulnerable to be exploited by people who want to profit from them. I learned that they would get a “free” ride into town if they had sex with the driver or were pimped out to someone. It was so common they had actually had jargon for it: “go see the Minister of Transportation”… I was horrified. As a woman and as a parent, everything in me was repulsed and deeply saddened. To think that a “Sugar Daddy “ or “Sugar Mama” would so intentionally exploit an already vulnerable and hurting child haunted me.

The seed was planted. I had to learn more about sexual exploitation of children. My search began through a book recommendation from a friend who had been working with victims of sexual exploitation in Nepal: Not for Sale by David Batstone.

Chapter 1: Shining Light into the Darkness. It was all about sexual exploitation in South East Asia.

Not in a million years did I think that that book would result in a trip 3 years later to Cambodia. But it did.

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