Tag Archives: Line Lexington

Line Lexington Congregation Helps Cultivate an Oasis for Trafficking Survivors

by Lora Steiner

Last year, Josh Meyer, associate pastor at Franconia Mennonite Church, raised a question at a gathering of conference leaders where conversation had heavily focused on seemingly divisive topics: “What are the important matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness that we can gather around?” asked Meyer. “For example, doesn’t everyone agree that human beings shouldn’t be abused, raped, and sold into slavery?” For some, the question sparked something new; for others, it was a reminder of the importance of work already begun.

Line Lexington Mennonite Church is in the latter group. The congregation seeks to support local ministries—as many churches do—where its members can contribute funds as well as time. Line Lexington is situated just off Route 309, a primary conduit between Philadelphia and Allentown. Within a half mile of the congregation are several adult bookstores, bars, and massage parlors—establishments where victims of sex trafficking are generally more likely to be found. For more than two years, a group from the congregation has been meeting to pray for the community.

Untitled-1In March, Line Lexington hosted a fundraiser for Oasis of Hope, a ministry based in northern Pennsylvania that is a safe home for trafficked children. Its mission is to build awareness about sex trafficking of children in the United States, and restore the lives of survivors in a faith-based environment.

Shared Hope International defines human trafficking as “the buying and selling of people, as if they were store-bought merchandise.” It is, simply put, receiving or paying money for the sexual exploitation of another person.

Oasis of Hope, run by Debbie Colton, is a safe house for girls aged 12-19 who have been victims of sex trafficking. (The average age of recruitment into sex trafficking is 13.) Services are free, and range from music and art therapy, to counseling, to life skills and medical care. Oasis of Hope also offers home schooling and GED courses, as well as college preparation and support to attend trade school—things, as Colton puts it—that give the girls hope, and a future.

Oasis of Hope receives no government funding, and operates entirely from donations.  Live-in staff come as missionaries and are asked to commit to one year of service. The organization does not preach to the girls; staff are trained to focus on love, to show unconditional love—which is how God speaks to them.

Colton spends much of her time on the road, speaking at schools, universities, and churches to raise awareness about sex trafficking. Colton says that not only can the victims be anyone, the buyers can, too. The last she’d heard, the top three buyers of sex are pastors, policemen, and lawyers.

Pornography, she says, feeds the problem.

“Please do not judge people if they come to you,” she asked the audience at the Saturday evening event, speaking of those dealing with addictions to pornography. “They need your help and they need your love… If you are involved with pornography, please get help.”

Colton also encouraged the audience to talk to their children and grandchildren because young children are vulnerable. She told the story of a 24-year-old man who posed as an 18-year-old and joined a church youth group, and started dating a girl in the group eventually leading her into a complicated relationship and two years of life as a trafficked person.  “This stuff can happen, and it can happen to anyone’s child.”

Colton says the biggest thing that people can do to support the work of Oasis of Hope is to pray: “Pray for our ministry and pray for our staff and pray for our girls.”

“We are walking on the front lines and Satan does not like it at all… We need prayer.”

Over the weekend in March, Line Lexington raised about $5000 for Oasis of Hope.

 

Incarnation in the suburbs

Hilltown prayer walkby KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown congregation

My fingers and toes are still somewhat numb as I sit down to write this account of the prayer walk in Hilltown Township (Pa.). I also feel somewhat numb on the inside. I wonder how I got here… the associate pastor who was just interviewed by a local news station for walking and praying on a neighborhood street. This is weird.

Then I remember how I got here. I have been asking God to show me what it looks like to incarnate God’s love in the suburbs because it isn’t always obvious to me. My suburbs look beautiful and well-kept and peaceful when you drive around on the streets. What need is there here? It is hidden under the surface.

I got an email last Friday from my children’s school district office saying that there had been a home invasion and murder in my township and that their school would be increasing security. I quickly looked up the news story and read the report. My first instinct was to lock my doors, hunker down and pray. I felt violated and fearful.

My second instinct was to get outside and be present, to stand in the middle of the darkness and bring the light of hope and faith. I had been asking God what it looked like to do incarnational ministry in the suburbs and I felt in this moment that it meant going against any normal instinct to insulate myself or rationalize away what had happened.

A group of us from Line Lexington Mennonite, St. Peter’s Covenant, and Doylestown Mennonite have been meeting to pray once a month. We called an emergency meeting to pray specifically about this tragedy and discern a response. Lowell Delp, the pastor of Line Lexington congregation, Jim Fox, the pastor of St. Peter’s congregation, and Sandy Landes and I from Doylestown congregation decided that walking Swartley Road and praying for our neighbors there would be a faithful and redemptive way to incarnate Jesus. Lowell and Jim visited some of the residents the day before our prayer walk, to let them know what was happening and invite them to join us.

Today, a group of ten of us met in a parking lot on Route 309. One man who joined us there but could not brave the cold walk said, “I want to see our community come together after this. We can’t change anything by ourselves. Our community needs prayer and our churches need prayer.” I was sure I saw the hint of tears in his eyes and heard a tremble in his voice.

We carried candles in glass jars and sang songs of grace and God’s faithfulness. We walked against the freezing wind to “Amazing Grace” and “The Steadfast Love of the Lord Never Ceases.” We prayed for the woman and the teen boys who were traumatized by the violence, for the neighbors whose street was violated by this horrific incident. We prayed for beauty to come from these ashes, for God’s redeeming power to be at work.

I am tempted to look forward and ask “What’s next?” But maybe for now it is enough to be visible. To be present.  In a community with no sidewalks and few places to be together as neighbors, maybe even that presence is miraculously transformative.  I will keep choosing presence and incarnation over insulation. I will tell my first instincts to step aside in favor of what Jesus is prompting deep inside. And I find I am not numb anymore.

KrisAnne Swartley is pastor for the missional journey at Doylestown (Pa.) Mennonite Church.  She wrote this reflection last Thursday (January 24th).  Read the news report.