Monday, April 29, 2013

"Barbed-Wire Butterflies"

Barbed-Wire Butterflies by Jessica Kristie is about thirteen year old Elani who finds herself kidnapped and forced to work in a sweatshop as part of an underground human trafficking ring. She sees the hopelessness of her fellow prisoners and vows to not end up a zombie of herself. Through her determination and the help of a kind ex-military worker who is fed up with the system he's contributed to, Elani is able to hold onto her strength and hope. She is able to not only escape from the high-security hell, but brings justice to her friends still trapped inside.

I liked the story; as much as you can like a story about slavery. The characters were well formed and the storyline plausible. The flashback chapters that told about the girls past lives was great. Nothing in the story felt drawn out or rushed. I was able to relate to Elani as she worried more about the other girls than herself and cheered with every show of courage she made.

But the writing ruined it for me. The word choice was frequently awkward, and several sentences were just confusing or clumsy. So much of the dialogue was unrealistic. The author was using dialogue to convey information about trafficking and to set the facts of the story, but it ended up being stilted and fake. I think my biggest pet peeve, though, was that 90% of the time "where" was used as "were". Hoping I just got an unfinished proof, not the final copy!

At the end of the day, I give this  book 2.5 out of 5 stars. I really wanted to love this book. The story was pretty good, and I did wonder what was going to happen next, but the writing needs work.

*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Friday, April 26, 2013

Rescue is Coming

Ever wonder what the inside of a brothel is like?

Rescue is Coming {Locked Brothel in India} from The Exodus Road on Vimeo.

What breaks my heart is the girls when they line up. You can see they don't want to be there in their body language. They are not willing participants in this whole business. They are all fidgeting and playing with their nails. They know what's coming, and they know there's no way to avoid it.

But they don't know that rescue is coming. They don't know that this group of men is different. These men are kind, loving. These men are bringing hope.

I know many people who think (and I've thought it myself at times), "I don't want to know about human trafficking. I don't want to hear about all this evil. I don't want to believe it exists". Because it seems hopeless. It seems too big of an evil to overcome. But that's a lie. Because there is hope, even when it seems bleak. As Laura Parker says on the Exodus Road Blog,

Because here’s the truth you need to know (and I need to remember) about trafficking in Asia: there are people actively looking for these innocents. Right now. There are retired military men who refuse to spend their years sipping drinks on the beach but instead spend time in locked brothels, gathering evidence for rescue. There are nationals who demand that their own country rise up for the sake of these little ones, even though they could accept bribes and line their own pockets. There are wives who stay at home by themselves watching their children while their husbands are out working cases late into the night. There are straight men who’ve grown up in church who are going into gay bars and befriending ladyboys, for the sake of love, truth, and justice. There are entire families who are hacking out a life overseas for the sake of rescue and restoration for the abused. 
Yes, this is a gritty dark battle, but it is not a battle that is going unchallenged. It is not a fight without hope.

In a dark world, with such unthinkable evil as sexual slavery, there is hope. There is light. Rescue is coming.

To learn more about modern day slavery, head over to Exodus Road's website.

What gives you hope when thinking about human trafficking?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"START"

* Keep reading for a chance for a free book! *

Fear. We've all faced it. That feeling in the pit of your stomach telling you to stop what you're doing and return to safety. The heart-racing, nausea-inducing feeling that if you continue as you are, your entire world will collapse. 

But there's a worse feeling. The feeling that life has passed you by. The feeling of dreams unfulfilled. Though following dreams can be scary, it's more frightening to not chase them. We need to punch fear in the face and START
Jon Acuff's new book is going to help you do just that! In START, Acuff proposes names to the five stages of every dream (Learning, Editing, Mastering, Harvesting, Guiding), then walks you through each land and the pitfalls of each. Drawing from his observations and own experiences, Acuff will inspire you to destroy your fear and chase your dreams.

While I enjoyed his last book, Quitter, I loved this book even more. See, I'm in my 20s. Literally, not just in the Acuff "You're in your 20s anytime you start learning something new" sense. So I really don't have much to quit. I'm still learning what my dreams are and how to chase them. So while I liked Quitter and was inspired to go for my dreams, there wasn't much in it to apply to my life.

START is a different story. Anyone can start, no matter where you are in your life. This book helps you start with passion and purpose. Each chapter has a list of action steps in the back of the book to walk you through the stages, not just tell you about them. I devoured the book, and will be going through it again this week to journal through the action steps.

If you follow the steps in this book, you will live an Awesome life. And really, don't we all want to be Awesome? Who really wants to be just Average? Yes, Average is safer and more certain. But Awesome is exciting and fulfilling. It's the kind of life that makes you excited to wake up every morning and go to work. So if you're ready to flip the switch from Average to Awesome, check out START by Jon Acuff today.

Want your very own copy of START for free? I've got an extra copy to give away to one lucky reader! Just leave a comment below sharing one way you can punch fear in the face to chase your dreams. I'll choose a winner Saturday night at 8pm EST.

Jon Acuff launched his book with a party in Times Square and I was so happy I got to make it! Enjoy these photos of me and Jon, and myself flipping the Awesome Switch!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Prince of Peace

As we pulled up to the school, her face was a mask of despair. After being turned away by the teacher from attending for the day, Lily* slowly made her way towards home. A troublemaker, they say. Suspended they say. As we climbed out of the car and made our way into the courtyard, the principal called her back. She wanted her to attend this morning.

As she went to class, they gave us a little background. She was up through the night after hearing about the Boston Marathon explosions. She was afraid all night. She was saying things about her mother dying that way. They asked us to speak with her later in the day. While we were preparing the snack, the opportunity presented itself.

Lily came to the room wanting a drink of water, but God had other plans. We started talking with her about her fear. She was scared of the explosions in a place she had never been. A place so far removed from her own world. Yet the tragedy happened in the place we call home. We reminded her that God is in control, that He is bigger than anything else in the universe. That God wants us to be at peace, even in the midst of chaos. We talked and shared. Then we prayed.
We prayed against the fear. We prayed against any weapon formed against her. We prayed for her to be filled with peace. We prayed for obedience in school. At one point, I looked at her while praying and saw a bit of fear in her face. I can't blame her. At 8 years old, it's gotta be pretty scary for four grown women to surround you, lay hands on you and start intensely praying, especially when two of them are speaking a language that you don't know! So after we prayed, I hugged her and spoke to her.

I reassured her that we didn't do that to scare her, but because we love her. Because we want her to be successful and to listen to her teachers. We want her to be at peace. So I led her in a prayer, to own the process. To confess with her own mouth her need for God's peace and help. Her teacher came into the room, and Lily apologized, promising to try her best. We made a deal. She would daily ask God to help her, and we would daily pray for God to help her, then by the time we leave Friday, we would see a change.
But we saw the change starting in just that one day. The little girl who came in looking rejected, with the weight of the world on her shoulders, the one who looked apathetic and angry at the world, changed. By the end of the day, there was a big smile across her face. Her eyes were bright. Every chance she had, she came over for a hug and to say "te quiero mucho!" After school, while I was eating lunch, I was told I had a phone call. I expected the missions director back home. Instead, I heard a beautiful little voice saying, "Hola, Ashley!" She had called to talk, but with the language barrier, it didn't go much further than that.

I'm not naive enough to believe she's going to be a perfect angel from now on, in fact we saw the next day that she's not, but I believe there is a change already. I believe she's heading in the right direction. Her fear is gone, but her obedience in school needs work. I believe that the rest of our time here will help seal the work God has started in her heart.
Please continue to pray with us for Lily. During our last two days here, we will continue to work with her to help her with obedience, and with her teacher to best control and teach Lily, so that everyone involved can be happy and grow in wisdom.

*Name has changed to protect my sweet new friend.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ashley's Rules for Flying

The following are Ashley's Rules for Flying, compiled after many trips with various people (and many years haunting travel blogs)
Rule #1: Always Look Nice. I'm not saying dress up like a wedding, but wear clean and nice clothes. Nice jeans (ie no holes) and a top works fine, unless you want to go business-style. Either way, be clean, well put together, no strong deodorants or perfumes, a touch of makeup, and easy-off closed-toe shoes and you're good to go! 

There are two reasons for this. The first, because people (including airport staff) will automatically respect you a bit more if you're put together. This opens the door to possible upgrades and quickly resolving any problems that may arise. Second, because of something I heard and adopted into life, "Always look your best when you travel because you never know when you'll meet a handsome stranger or an old enemy."

Rule #2: Be nice. Everyone at the airport is either also trying to get somewhere, or trying to do their jobs. Don't be a bad moment in their day. Show respect to everyone you come in contact with, as much as possible. Don't be a jerk, don't yell to get your way. Be nice.

Rule #3: It's okay to be a little silly when on a long flight. Just don't disturb others. See how much fun I'm having in these two photos? A little cheap entertainment, and no one was disturbed.

Rule #4: Carryon Only! Seriously, this saves so much time and energy. Plus, how much stuff do you really need for a trip? This trip is the only one in three years that I've checked luggage for...and that wasn't even my stuff! It was things like scissors, paint, food for the ministry we'll be doing with the kids. All of my stuff is safe and snug in my little purple carryon. 

Rule #5: Peanut Butter is not allowed carryon, no matter what the Jet Blue guy says at check-in. 
I may have just learned this lesson this trip. Our checked bag was a few pounds too heavy, so we were shifting things to our carryon. I didn't think peanut butter was allowed, since it's the same consistency as other non-carryon-approved items,  but the man at the counter assured us, "you can definitely bring it carry on". Cue TSA agents searching our bags and swiping hands with that bomb-detecting machine thingy. We begged. We played the hungry kids card (which was the  truth; we were bringing peanut butter to feed the kids in school who get no snack/lunch). The boss dude made the executive decision after testing it that "If I get fired, I'd rather get fired for feeding hungry kids than something else". Thank you Rota!! But, just the same, don't try to take jars of peanut butter in your carryon. 

What are your top flying rules?


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Overflowing Awesome

This is how I feel lately:

Seriously, I've been sick for like 5 weeks now, maybe 6? I've lost count. It's mostly a cold, though I had some weird symptoms that earned me my first MRI last week (it was normal). But the cold took a turn last weekend so I called my doctor and begged her to call in an antibiotic (The lines, "I'm a nurse" and "I'm going to a different country this weekend" are like sparkly antibiotic-giving magic.) 

Now I'm finally starting to feel better, but all the junk in my sinuses is starting to drain, which makes for really gross moments. Since I'm getting stuff ready for the trip in three (THREE!!!) days, I'm choosing to believe I'm just overflowing with awesome. Which fits nicely with my reading material these days.

I'm loving Jon Acuff's stuff. I finished Quitter last month, and thanks to being on the Launch Team, I'm in the middle of reading the soon-to-be-released START. His stuff is so inspirational and makes you think and do, all while making you laugh. One of the refrains in the new book is, "Be more awesome, more often." And I'm taking advantage of being young and single by dragging bringing a friend with me to NYC the day after I return from the Dominican to go party with Jon Acuff at his launch party!! Soo excited! 

Life is busy, crazy, hectic, but awesome. I'm loving this year so far, and can't wait to see where it takes me!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Will You Be My Partner?

In less than two weeks I will be back in this beautiful country:
The Dominican Republic! Though this photo is from my last trip to Nagua, we will be working exclusively in Santo Domingo this time around.

I can't wait! This week-long trip will focus heavily on Children's Ministry and be jam-packed. It's a "small" trip, meaning there's only two of us going this time, myself and the lovely Brenda.

Brenda and I have done a lot of Children's Ministry together here at home, so I know this will be a wonderful trip! Our traveling team may be small this time, but the work load is not! We be working in almost every area of CM that you can imagine.

Our mornings will be spent in a local school run by our friend Pastor Forchue, organizing activities, providing snacks, and building relationships with students and teachers.
Once the children go home for the day, the fun will continue with just the grown ups! We'll host teacher's workshops to strengthen the skills of the teachers in this city. By partnering together, we plan to increase the resources and effectiveness of the local schools to give the children the best possible education.

Our evenings will be spent working with our friend Pastor Sergio and his Children's Ministry, running services specially for the kids. Last time we did this, expecting 50 children, more than 200 showed up!

As you can see, we will be BUSY this whole trip! It's going to be a lot of work, but it's going to be so worth it! Not just for the impact the Word of God will have in the lives of those we minister to, but for the relationships that will be formed and strengthened through our visit.

But before I go, I need your help! Will you be part of my team? Now before you answer, let me explain what that means. Being an Aspiring Ashley Partner means you agree to support me in prayer, encouragement, and/or funding. Some of you may want to partner with me, but can only offer one form of support. That's perfectly okay! I'll take all the support I can get :) But if you can support me in all three, that's extra awesome.

Missions trips are a lot of work, a lot of fun, and a lot of blessing for everyone involved, and I'd be foolish to hog all that! I would love for you to partner with me in the work and funding so you can also partner in the fun and blessing.

I ask that you give as you are able, whether money or time. This trip will cost $1200 USD to cover the transportation, lodging, and materials for outreach, so I need your help. While I ask for your financial help, please know that for every missions trip I take, I also pay for part of my trip out of my own bank account. In asking for funds, I ask that we truly partner together to make an impact on the lives of people around the world.

In return for partnering with me, I will say a huge THANK YOU! and you will get a follow-up letter so you know exactly how your support made a difference.

To join the team, please comment below, or email me at ashleyweb7@hotmail.com. Details of how to donate are available via email. I look forward to being partners with you!
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