Saturday, July 6, 2013

Human Trafficking in China, A Nation of Lost Daughters

In a recent Relevant Magazine blurb, I read about All Girls Allowed, an organization that advocates for Chinese girls often aborted or abandoned. Though I knew gendercide to be an issue of national scale because of the one-child policy and a cultural preference for sons, I hadn't taken the thread further and connected it to human trafficking.

But here it is in black and white: "The Chinese government’s birth limitation policy [the One-Child Policy] and a cultural preference for sons create a skewed sex ratio of 118 boys to 100 girls in China, which served as a key source of demand for the trafficking of foreign women as brides for Chinese men and for forced prostitution," an All Girls Allowed blog post quotes from the State Department’s bold 2013 Trafficking in Persons report, released a little over two weeks ago.

So of course I went searching for the—incredibly long—report. I might print the whole thing (gasp!) to use as a prayer guide, but in the interest of time have copied China's country narrative below for faster reference as I keep investigating the connection between China's lost daughters and human trafficking. The nation has been downgraded to the lowest possible score—terrifying, when you consider the scope of China's population. If you get the notion, it's here below for your review!

But first, get to know All Girls Allowed and its amazing ministry to mothers in China's abortion-prone provinces. They host baby showers for mothers expecting baby girls, with gifts and sometimes handmade blankets sent by their US volunteers! Mothers who choose to deliver their baby daughters receive a stipend to provide necessities as she grows up. I think the organization might even provide legal representation for mothers fighting against the one-child policy? What a radical, real way of supporting the unborn, the rights of a child and the dignity of a mother!


China is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Women and children from neighboring Asian countries, including Burma, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, Mongolia, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as well as from Russia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas, are reportedly trafficked to China for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. While the majority of trafficking occurs within China’s borders, there are reports that Chinese men, women, and children may be subjected to conditions of forced prostitution and forced labor in numerous other countries. Low- and medium-skilled Chinese workers migrate voluntarily to other countries for jobs in coal mines, beauty parlors, construction, and residences, but some subsequently face conditions indicative of forced labor, such as withholding of passports and other restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, physical or sexual abuse, and threats. High recruitment fees, sometimes as much as the equivalent of approximately $70,000, compound Chinese migrants’ vulnerability to debt bondage.
Trafficking is pronounced among China’s internal migrant population, estimated to exceed 236 million. Forced labor remains a problem, including in brick kilns, coal mines, and factories, some of which operate illegally and take advantage of lax labor supervision. Forced labor, including forced begging by adults and children, took place throughout China in 2012. Some evidence of child labor has been reported by media outlets, but the government has publicized only limited data on the subject. During the reporting period, some children in “work-study programs” supported by local governments were forced to work in farms and factories. In 2012, instances of schools forcing students to work in factories were reported. In November 2012, police rescued 11 mentally disabled men from a car wash in Tianjin, where the men had been beaten and not paid. Girls from the Tibet Autonomous Region are reportedly trafficked to other parts of China for domestic servitude and forced marriage.
State-sponsored forced labor is part of a systematic form of repression known as “re-education through labor.” The government reportedly profits from this forced labor, and many prisoners and detainees in at least 320 of these facilities were required to work, often with no remuneration. The prisoners were sometimes beaten for failing to complete work quotas. NGO reports state that forced labor is also a problem in government drug detention centers. Chinese authorities continue to detain and forcibly deport North Korean trafficking victims, who may face severe punishment, including death, upon their return to the DPRK for crimes that were sometimes a direct result of being trafficked.
Chinese women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within China; they are often recruited from rural areas and transported to urban centers. China is also a destination for women and girls, largely from neighboring countries, who are sometimes subjected to forced marriage and forced prostitution upon arrival. Well-organized international criminal syndicates and local gangs play key roles in both the outbound trafficking of Chinese women and girls and the inbound trafficking of foreign women and girls into China. Media sources have reported on the prevalence of underage girls in the sex trade in cities throughout China. In July 2012, eight girls under the age of 14 were kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Local government officials and businessmen were among the five people arrested for the girls’ commercial sexual exploitation.
The Chinese government’s birth limitation policy and a cultural preference for sons, create a skewed sex ratio of 118 boys to 100 girls in China, which served as a key source of demand for the trafficking of foreign women as brides for Chinese men and for forced prostitution. Women from Burma, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Mongolia are transported to China after being recruited through marriages brokers or fraudulent employment offers, where they are subsequently subjected to forced prostitution or forced labor. Chinese men and women are subjected to forced labor in many countries around the world. There have been reports of forced labor in service sectors, such as restaurants and shops, in overseas Chinese communities. A study in the Netherlands revealed that Chinese men were found at marijuana cultivation sites, while women were forced to work in beauty salons and offer sexual services. In addition, there have been reports of Chinese men abused in coal and copper mines in Africa.
China remains a significant source of girls and women subjected to forced prostitution throughout the world. During the year, Chinese sex trafficking victims were reported on all of the inhabited continents. Traffickers recruited girls and young women, often from rural areas of China, using a combination of fraudulent job offers, imposition of large travel fees, and threats of physical or financial harm, to obtain and maintain their service in prostitution. Locations of sex trafficking of Chinese women and girls abroad vary widely, and sometimes are collocated with concentrations of Chinese migrant workers in factories, and mining and logging camps.
The Government of the People’s Republic of China does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, and has been placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the last nine consecutive years. In the 2011 and 2012 TIP Reports, China was granted consecutive waivers from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 on the basis of a written plan to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) authorizes a maximum of two consecutive waivers; a waiver is no longer available to China, which is therefore deemed not to be making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards and is placed on Tier 3.
During the reporting period, the Chinese government released a new national plan of action that sets forth ways in which the government will increase its efforts in victim protection and cooperation with international organizations. The government also demonstrated increased cooperation with foreign governments in extraditing alleged traffickers and repatriating victims. Through the government’s use of social media, national public awareness of human trafficking has increased over previous years. However, despite these modest signs of interest in anti-trafficking reforms, the Chinese government did not demonstrate significant efforts to comprehensively prohibit and punish all forms of trafficking and to prosecute traffickers. The government continued to perpetuate human trafficking in at least 320 state-run institutions, while helping victims of human trafficking in only seven. The government also did not report providing comprehensive victim protection services to domestic or foreign, male or female victims of trafficking. In addition, as the government provides little information about arrests or prosecutions, it is difficult to determine if the government takes adequate steps to punish government officials complicit in trafficking.
Recommendations for China: Continue to update the legal framework to further refine the definitions of trafficking-related crimes per the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, separating out crimes such as abduction, illegal adoption, and smuggling; provide more disaggregated data on efforts to criminally investigate and prosecute sex trafficking of adults and children; provide data on the number of criminal investigations and prosecutions of cases identified as involving forced labor, including of recruiters and employers who facilitate forced labor and debt bondage, both within China and abroad; investigate, prosecute, and impose prison sentences on government officials who facilitate or are complicit in trafficking; expand efforts to institute proactive, formal procedures to systematically identify victims of trafficking, including labor trafficking victims and Chinese victims trafficked abroad, and among vulnerable groups such as migrant workers and foreign and local women and children arrested for prostitution, to ensure that they are not punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; cease detention, punishment, and forcible repatriation of North Korean trafficking victims; continue to expand victim protection services, including comprehensive counseling, medical, reintegration, and other rehabilitative assistance for male and female victims of sex and labor trafficking; end the “re-education through labor” system; continue to increase the transparency of government efforts to combat trafficking; and, provide legal alternatives to foreign victims’ removal to countries where they would face hardship or retribution.
The government of China demonstrated moderate law enforcement efforts during this reporting year. Although the government claims otherwise, Chinese law remains inadequate to combat all forms of trafficking. Article 240 of China’s criminal code prohibits “abducting and trafficking of women or children,” but does not define these concepts. Article 358 prohibits forced prostitution, which is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. Prescribed penalties under these statutes range from five years’ imprisonment to death sentences, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, including rape. Article 244 of the Chinese Criminal Code prohibits “forcing workers to labor,” punishable by three to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine, and expands culpability to those who also recruit, transport, or assist in “forcing others to labor.” However, it remains unclear whether, under Chinese law, children under the age of 18 in prostitution are considered victims of trafficking regardless of whether force is involved.
In addition, it remains unclear whether these laws have prohibited the use of common non-physical forms of coercion, such as threats of financial or reputational harm, or whether acts such as recruiting, providing, or obtaining persons for compelled prostitution are covered. While trafficking crimes could perhaps be prosecuted under general statutes related to fraud and deprivation of liberty, authorities did not report using these specific provisions to prosecute and punish trafficking offenders. The government reported law enforcement statistics that included incarceration of sex and labor trafficking offenders involving women and children victims. The government reported that police cracked down on 10,000 alleged human trafficking organized crime groups and placed over 80,000 alleged suspects in criminal detention. However, due to the government’s continued conflation of human smuggling, child abduction, and fraudulent adoptions with trafficking offenses and its lack of judicial due process and transparency, it is difficult to ascertain how many trafficking cases the government actually investigated and prosecuted during the reporting period. It therefore was difficult to accurately assess Chinese anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, including the government’s statistics on trafficking-related investigations, prosecutions, and convictions. The government, however, reported cooperation with the governments of the United States, Vietnam, Colombia, Angola, the Philippines, Uganda, Russia, and Malaysia on trafficking investigations during the reporting period, which led to the arrest and extradition of suspected traffickers. For example, the Philippines extradited a human trafficker to China. The Ministry of Public Security also collaborated with Angolan police on a case resulting in the deportation from Angola of 37 Chinese nationals suspected of human trafficking. The cases with Vietnam, Colombia, and Uganda have led to the repatriation of both suspected trafficking offenders. A case involving the suspected trafficking of Chinese women to the United States for forced prostitution remains under investigation.
There were multiple media reports of anti-trafficking law enforcement activities. For example, Chinese authorities arrested five offenders for trafficking 200 Burmese victims to metal and paper factories in Guangdong province in December 2012. The fate of these traffickers or victims, however, remains unclear because the government did not release this information. A man who confined six female victims in his basement and subjected them to forced prostitution received the death penalty, while three female victims were prosecuted for the murder of two other victims. The Supreme People’s Court holds both semi-annual and annual training courses on human trafficking and anti-trafficking in provinces in China where there is a higher prevalence of human trafficking. In July 2012, an anti-trafficking training course was held in Yunnan province attended by over 300 judges.
The Government of China’s efforts to protect trafficked victims remained inadequate during the reporting period. During the reporting period, the Chinese government claimed that out of the 1,400 shelters serving a wide variety of people, including victims of crime and the homeless, five were dedicated to care for victims of human trafficking; victims also had access to basic services at China’s general-purpose shelter network. The government also reported that two additional shelters were established in Yunnan and Guangxi provinces to protect and assist foreign trafficking victims. However, the government did not report the number of victims assisted or the services provided to the victims. The government’s lack of transparency prevents an accurate assessment of its efforts; it has never provided any data on the number of victims it has identified or assisted. Law enforcement and judicial officials reported they continued to punish forced prostitution victims and expel foreign victims in violation of immigration law. The Chinese government reported it had four nationwide hotlines to report suspected cases of trafficking or access referral services for victims.
Chinese law also provides human trafficking victims the right to claim financial compensation by filing civil lawsuits and request criminal prosecution of traffickers. Chinese authorities continued to forcibly repatriate North Korean refugees. The government continued to treat North Koreans found in China as illegal economic migrants, despite credible independent reporting that many North Korean female refugees in China are trafficking victims. The government detained and deported such refugees to North Korea, where they may face severe punishment, even death, including in North Korean forced labor camps. The Chinese government did not provide North Korean trafficking victims with legal alternatives to repatriation. Chinese authorities sometimes prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees and trafficking victims, as well as those who facilitated illegal border crossings. The government continued to bar UNHCR access to North Koreans in northeast China. The lack of access to UNHCR assistance and the issue of forced repatriation by Chinese authorities leave North Koreans vulnerable to human traffickers.
The Government of China increased its efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. The government in early 2013 released a new eight-year national plan of action, which includes measures to improve interagency and other internal coordination among anti-trafficking stakeholders and improve victim protection. The new plan reaffirms the importance of international cooperation in handling trafficking cases but also focuses on the importance of strengthening domestic anti-trafficking efforts. The plan also shifts its previous focus away from women and children as the only victims of trafficking.
Chinese domestic media carried public service announcements from the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) highlighting the serious problem posed by human trafficking and calling for “every citizen to be mobilized” to report trafficking crimes. During the reporting period, popular social media platforms, such as Weibo micro blogs, permitted the government to raise awareness and receive information from the public to report suspected trafficking cases. The MPS also coordinated the anti-trafficking interagency process, which met semi-annually to review progress from each ministry with regard to the national action plan and budgetary concerns.
The government did not address the effects its birth limitation policy had in creating a gender imbalance and fueling trafficking, particularly through bride trafficking and forced marriage. “Punishment clauses” within the Labor Contract Law allowed Chinese companies to impose steep fines or require substantial deposits from Chinese workers, rendering them vulnerable to forced labor. Another important contributing factor to the problem of human trafficking continues to be the government hukou (household registration) system, which contributes to the vulnerability of internal migrants to trafficking. Individuals from a rural area who migrate for work to an urban area usually cannot register and live there legally. Unregistered urban residents are therefore vulnerable to abusive employers who can use threats of arrest as a form of coercion.
Chinese forces participating in peacekeeping initiatives abroad receive no anti-trafficking training from the Chinese government independent of the training provided by the UN prior to deployment. The government did not take any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Despite reports that Chinese nationals engaged in child sex tourism, the government made no efforts to prevent Chinese citizens from engaging in child sex tourism while abroad during the reporting period.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Baptism, Part 1: The Drowning

If Christians are correct, baptism is a symbol of murder—or suicide, I guess. So here's a very vivid, strange word picture of baptism as the death it really is—the death of an old way of living—written from the perpective of the aspect of human life that is supposed to "die." To the personified "sin" that's supposed to go under, the act itself must seem like torture. Get ready. I never write fiction, but this hit me squarely in the face the other night. And I have no idea what to do with something that sounds so morbid. Not really my usual. 

He tugs hard at my hair, the nape of my neck stinging in protest. His grasp feels rough and edges me—overpowered—closer to the water. Feet scuttle to brace against tile, but traction fails and all they can do is slide against his strength. My body, whipped forward, slams again basin; white knuckles—signs of my own struggle—grip its galvanized rim. It's cold, like death.

Sinew shaking, my wickedness writhing, he pulls me in. My body slumps submerged, but my face—it just won't go under, crying out for the last semblance of control. Water creeps up stringy strands of hair already sunk, my head bowed in a turgor pressure of tension that crescendos through my skull as a shriek. My face hovers so close to the surface that a ripple bobs and weaves around the tip of my nose, its concentric clones wriggling wildly as sound wave slaps against the tiny tidal wave of this baptismal font.

He waits, grip unchanged. Throat constricting, my despair dissipates in its last aching arcs, then silence, except for a panting breath. Those heavy, heaving sighs kick watery craters across my reflection, the last I'll see of that face. We lock eyes with finality, myself and I.

I recognize resignation and let go.

Like the slow-moving motion of a grenade pin falling softly against earth, a backdrop of weightlessness before a bomb bursts, I'm engulfed in the small, simple sound of slipping beneath the surface—like a stone after its skipped its last sine.

I gulp and feel it fill my lungs—anvils—drawing me to the depths. And in my watery grave, my limbs relax, finally free of futility. Buoyed by...nothing. There's nowhere to go but to hell.

Ideally, once heavily refined (there's not enough variation in sentence rhythm as is, relying too heavily on aliteration), this short would have three extremely short "parts"—The Drowning, The Dredging, The [Repetition? TBD]—but I've only made it so far as the first. The second installment (Dredging) would be the rebirth and realization that baptism was never forced in the first place. The third (Repetition?), that it's a daily death, not once-and-done. Comments, critique, suggestions very welcome.

Monday, June 10, 2013

My Co-Workers the Church, My Office the Tabernacle?

Let me give you a sneak peek: In a matter of days our new annual report will hit the shelves, and in it you'll find some of the most heart-wrenching material you've ever read—not the least of which will be the recollections of Sam Ojok's first trip outside his native Uganda.

Sam, our sustainability coordinator who cultivates community buy-in in Ugandan villages where we work, left his home country to address some of Houston's wealthiest in oil city's biggest, grandest ballroom at last September's annual gala.

But instead of expressing disgust at our hyper-consumeristic culture (the stark contrast to home I thought he'd zero in on), he responded with respect, reverence even. Spoiler alert: here's an excerpt from a soon-to-be-released article.

"The first thing I did when I got back [to Uganda] was I told everyone what a struggle people go through to raise money for our work," Sam said. "I have seen your sacrifice, and that makes us work harder to make sure our interventions are sustainable. If someone gives even $5 we will use it to bring lasting impact even 20 years from now. We are more deliberate and devoted than ever now."

Struggle? Sacrifice? I'm not sacrificing; I'm getting a paycheck.

Our entire staff met this morning and discussed our new direction to minister to the local Church—not just overseas in our focus communities, but here in the States. Instead of just partnering with affluent congregations to curry their monetary support, we want to value our partnership as something that ministers to donors just as much as it restores the lives of the thirsty. We want to see the entire Body of Christ across the nation healed—healing that comes through unity under the banner of God's merciful, just heart for the vulnerable.

It left me wondering if my co-workers and I see each other as members of the very Church body we're trying to reach.

  • Are our hearts united under the very cause we ask others to adopt every day?
  • Do we see ourselves as ministers or simply administrators?
  • Is our office a tabernacle and testament to God's redemption or merely a receptacle for recycled ROI?
  • Are we creating a sanctuary to cultivate servant hearts?
  • Can we ask the Church to sacrifice when we just punch the clock?

I'm not sure I've done more than co-exist with those around me when I could be co-laboring toward consecration. Sam's quote is now taped on my wall, and just like with anything else I feel God might be revealing, I want the change to begin with me.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What to Do When Doing Good Feels Good?

"The one who despises his neighbor sins, but whoever shows kindness to the poor will be happy." Proverbs 14:21

It feels good to help people. We chide ourselves for embracing that fact because we think our own happiness isn't a fitting result of an altruistic act.

What if it's supposed to feel good?

Maybe God told us to care for the needy because it's right but also allows us to feel its joy so we want to keep doing so? Maybe moral "rightness' and feeling right are more inextricably tied than I originally imagined?

God is good. And socio-economic reconciliation is good, too. I think somebody once called it Christian Hedonism.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Care About Your City? Write to Your Congressmen.

I'm incredibly green and naive when it comes to all things political, but in light of this week's Dr. Douglas Karpen allegations, I'm trying to humbly take action nonetheless. So I just emailed my local congressional representative.

If you care about the welfare of your city and the vulnerable within its walls, maybe you want to take a stab at writing your rep, too? It's pretty simple.

I fired off a quick message asking my district rep to support H.R. 1797, the bill protecting fetuses against late-term abortions, post-20-weeks—the point in the gestation period when fetuses are known to feel pain. The bill will go before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice THIS THURSDAY. I don't know much about the proposed legislation, but I wanted to let Texas District 9 Rep. Al Green know I care about his attention to the marginalized and tell him I support his service to our city.

Maybe it won't do any good, but I hear "people who think members of Congress pay little or no attention to constituent mail, are plain wrong. Concise, well thought out personal letters are one of the most effective ways Americans have of influencing law-makers."

Want to try it?

1. Find your local representative with this ZIP search.
2. Read these tips on writing an effective three-paragraph message.
3. Submit your letter via your representative's online contact form, making sure to include your mailing and email addresses.

Not sure how well my attempt successfully fits the format above, but I've copied it below as an example. Do you have mad congressional-communication skills? I'd love some tips! Send 'em my way, because I hope today's episode is just the first in a long line of pesky—yet, positive—political pings.

Dear Honorable Representative Green:

I am a new-to-Texas transplant and work for an international, Houston-based non-profit. I hope to learn more about advocating for the vulnerable in the developing world—and our own city. That's why I was shocked to learn of this week's allegations against one of Harris County's own, Dr. Douglas Karpen. I'm grieved at the possibility that these allegations could be true of abortion clinics anywhere, but especially in the city I now call home.

This Thursday, May 23, Arizona Rep. Trent Franks' "Unborn Child Protection Act" will go before the  House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice as H.R. 1797. If passed, it would help protect post-20-week fetuses from late-term abortions. This is the gestation period at which fetuses are known to feel pain. I am encouraged by this bill's existence and think, if instated, it will directly affect unborn children in Harris County.

Please consider co-sponsoring H.R. 1797 with your signature. And thank you for your continued service to our great city.

Meredith Maines

Friday, May 17, 2013

Why the "Unborn Child Protection Act" Matters to Houston

I confess, I've been much too content blasting JT's newest on repeat to flip over to NPR—or any other news outlet—in my car as of late. So I was shocked today to learn via Twitter—millennial stereotype: 1; Meredith: 0—of Wednesday's horrific allegations against Houstonian Dr. Douglas Karpen's clinics.

Allegations of bloody, horrible, late-term abortions that neither respect the post-20-week fetuses who already have the capacity to feel pain, nor the women prematurely and dangerously induced—though probably willingly—through an hour-long "extraction process."

Allegations that have yet to be confirmed. And I acknowledge I'm coming into this late in the game, but I offer my admittedly naive syllogism:

1. Houston is an international hub for human trafficking.
2. Human trafficking could increase the chances of unwanted pregnancies.
3. Increased instances of unwanted pregnancies could directly affect abortion rate.

I don't want to take the liberty to suggest that late-term abortions like those alleged this week are always/ever the result of human trafficking. I don't pretend to know what happens to women in that situation. But I would like to humbly surmise that human trafficking and abortion are inherently symbiotic.

If we believe that human trafficking afflicts our city, well, Houston, I say we should care both about the lives of the vicitimized women and the post-20-week children they possibly carry. Post-20-week fetuses are known to feel pain, and if these allegations are true, I cannot begin to imagine the excruciating pain these at Karpen's mercy could have experienced. The reality is scary and painful, but I need to see my city for what it is. The good and the terribly gritty. I don't want to be burried alive in a shrine to our shiny strip malls. I want to be a living, breathing, active, contributing member of this mass of humanity we call Houston.

So first, I propose we all pray. Pray for Douglas Karpen, if these reports are true, for his heart to change toward the value of human life. Pray for his employees who leveled these allegations. Whether true or not, that took some guts. Pray for the Harris County District Attorney's Office. Not only do they fight crazy battles daily, but this week DA Mike Andersen revealed to his staff his current battle with cancer. Pray for his health and his leadership in the midst of the struggle. Pray for the Texas Medical Board that apparently ignored reports of this clinic in the past. Pray for the Texas Department of Health and Safety for discernment as they investigate.

Second, we should be investigating, too. Not that we can aid in Karpen's trial, but we can get informed about current and proposed legislation that would work in favor of the vulnerable. On next week's docket, AZ Rep. Trent Franks' expanded "D.C. Pain-Capable Abortion Act" will come before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice as the "Unborn Child Protection Act." From what I can tell, if passed, it would nationally criminalize post-20-week abortions.

I haven't read the proposed bill myself, so I hesitate to jump on a congressional-support bandwagon, but I encourage you to research it along with me before Thursday's hearing. And if you think the legislation ultimately supports God's heart for abundant life, reconciliation and justice, then I encourage you to quickly contact your Congressmen and ask them to co-sponsor the bill with a signature.

You can easily find your representative on's ZIP search. Once I did, the site directed me to a simple web-based contact form that will hopefully alert my rep of my support for his leadership on this legislation. Five minutes, tops.

Let this be my first step toward a deeper love of the city I call home.

If you have suggestions of other ways to edify our local, elected officials and promote social justice, I'd love to chat! Please, please let me know.

Thanks to my twitter friend Matt Moore for being social-justice conscious and tweeting the alert I noticed in my feed.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Homeless Man's Robe of Righteousness

If you added up the minutes I sit waiting to turn left at the corner of Westheimer and Dairy Ashford, it would amount to almost nothing. It would be a relative fraction of the months this one man must sit on that same corner's concrete median in his wheelchair—day after day. I assume he's homeless, though he never has a sign. He never attempts to make an appeal. But I always attempt not to make eye contact, his face uncomfortably close to mine, until today.

My route takes me past him almost daily, but only on Sundays do I see him donning a reflective orange vest, "Houston Chronicle" emblazoned across the shoulders. It's his robe of legitimacy. For one day only, that vest and a nearby stack of newsprint give him a reason to stake his claim on that corner. The other six days, he's just borrowing uncertain space.

This morning I watched a girl hop out a few cars behind me to trade small bills for his wares. He held the cash in his teeth while he fumbled to untuck a wallet from layers of coats—in Houston, in May. When the turn signal allowed her to drive past, he waved a clumsy, gloved hand in her direction. It made me smile. It made me sad I hadn't bought a paper. It made me wonder if she really wanted to read the news or if she had merely hoped to brighten his day. From the looks of things, I doubt he can boast many customers.

But in his garish orange, I saw something of myself. He made me think of Jesus' righteousness. That vest—it doesn't belong to him. It isn't his own name he bears. When he wears it one day a week, he's bestowed with validity, credibility. It gives him purpose. With it, he can hold his head a little higher—without it, he's forgotten.

Tonight, I again landed the second spot in the turn lane, my wheels directly aligned with his. I waved, windows rolled up, making an effort to acknowledge, remembering the girl a few hours earlier. But I quickly averted my eyes. I waited. I took a deep breath. I looked his way again and rolled down the window, just seconds before the green arrow.

"Hi, what's your name?"
"Julius Quinn."
"Hi, Julius. I'm Meredith. I don't need a newspaper, but I just wanted to say hello."
"I need a lot of help."
"May I pray for you?"
"Yes, see I owe a lot of money to the Chronicle—think you could help me out?"
The ill-timed light changes.
"Julius, I'm sorry, I don't have any cash right now. I have to go."

I felt trite. Why did I hand him an empty offer of prayer? What good did that do from his perspective without something tangible attached? I don't know what I'll do next time I see Julius, but at least now I know his name, and he's already taught me something.

I'm an awful lot like Julius Quinn. I've been given a great name, a kindness I can never repay. The new identity I've been given in Jesus is a robe of righteousness I should wear every waking moment, though I often choose to go without.

Without Jesus—and his righteousness—I'm homeless. May I continue to find my home in him alone.