Dear friends, family and everyone who has supported my journey along the way,
It’s been 3 years and 3 pageant titles, 8 countries and countless awareness events, petitions signed, TV interviews, photo shoots and speaking engagements. I never imagined that this chapter would be part of the story of my life but now, I am so thankful that God’s plans are greater than mine!
In one month, I will crown my successor and end my journey as a titleholder in pageants forever. I want to take the time to THANK YOU ALL for the part that you have played in this journey! Your support, love, prayers and encouragement have meant the world to me! Truly, I have seen a community motivated with the possibility of something greater and stand for justice across the nations. You inspire me!
While the closing of this chapter is bittersweet, I can’t wait to begin a new one and I’m looking forward to the future with GREAT ANTICIPATION!
I can’t wait to share the exciting news that’s on the horizon and I look forward to the many years that we will journey together, seeing the world move a bit together to “on earth as it is in heaven”.
Back in October 2012, two of my dearest guys in my life travelled to Uganda to document the first graduating class of the Timothy Girls School. It was there that they met Monica- a strong, intelligent and soft spoken girl with tenacious ambition.
I think back to when I was graduating high school…I did not have to face the same social challenges that Monica does. Yet she is bravely pioneering into the future as a young educated woman, determined to raise the social status of all women in her country.
From Malala inPakistan to Monica in Uganda, girls are rising up from rural classrooms and taking their place on the world stage…history is being made all around us.
To learn more about the Timothy Project’s Girls School, Leadership Training, Sustainable Farming or to Sponsor a student like Monica, visit: http://paoutreach.net/timothy-project
Three little words…politically charged with the potential to have massive divisive impact on the beloved country that I call “home”. But I don’t want to use this space to write about Bill C-45, Protests or Hunger Strikes. I believe that the Idle No More Movement is about something far greater than all of that.
As the prayer drums beat in public squares across Canada and around the world, the prayers of my heart beat for what I believe Idle No More was truly meant for… peace, reconciliation, justice and healing. For generations, Canada’s history of colonization and silent genocide has been the tarnish on our country’s humanitarian reputation. While there have been attempts for healing and strides towards justice made in the last number of years, the fact remains that generations of damage and pain will not be wiped away in a single instant.
With friends on both “sides” of the Idle No More Movement, I have spent the last month listening, watching, reading, studying, praying and mediating on what my response as a Canadian… and as a justice-seeking, Jesus-following, Bible-believing person needs to be.
While I may not have come to a “political” stance on the issue, this is what I know:
- I want Shalom to be present among Canada’s many different multicultural people who call this land “home”.
- I know that God so loved the world and that the birth of Jesus Christ is “Good News of great joy which will be for ALL PEOPLE” (Luke 2:10).
- I believe that Jesus came bring heaven to earth…to proclaim freedom for those in slavery, to bring sight to the blind and to end all forms of oppression.
- I believe that Canada has a great destiny to fulfill. Our multi-cultural identity will be a knitted story of peace to the nations and that justice can be our legacy to the world.
These are all nice, Biblical ideals but they mean nothing if they aren’t lived out with consistency in my daily life. And here is where things get personal…If I seek to live my life justly and I recall the parable of the Good Samaritan then I must ask myself…as I call Canada my home, who is my neighbour?
You see, I spend my life fighting for justice to be experienced by marginalized, oppressed and devalued people all over the world. This fight has brought me to developing nations that are more than 12 time zones away… but it all means nothing if I can’t also work to see justice for the marginalized people that live down the street from me.
I want to genuinely love my First Nations neighbours. I want to stand against racial injustice and bring healing to this land. As a justice-seeking, Jesus-following, Bible-believing person, I seek to live the legacy of brokenness being made whole, of new life bring brought to dark places and of sadness turning into overflowing joy.
I do not want to “help” the “poor natives”. I do not want to come in and “fix” things with my half european/half asian ideals of what “works”. I need to stand with my First Nations and Aboriginal neighbours because I need them just as much as they need me, because I have so much more to learn, because God has no skin colour, because change is possible and because we can not live the fullness of peace, justice and shalom in Canada without the healing that comes through a mutual, neighbourly bond of equality and respect amongst all peoples who call this land “home”.
Finally, I have realized through studying this movement and spending time with my Native friends that Love is not idle. When you truly love someone, it becomes personal. When they hurt, you hurt. When their lives are filled with joy, you share in their celebration. When they are facing injustice, you stand and intervene. Love does not idly stand by when it needs to rise to courage and defend what is right.
Love gets personal.
Love is not idle.
So here is my invitation to fellow justice-seeking, Jesus-following, Bible-believing people who agree on the points I have stated above:
- Meet your First Nations and Aboriginal neighbours.
- Open your heart, mind and life to them in genuine and mutual friendship.
- Learn from the wisdom and beauty that their cultural has to offer.
- Remember that Jesus is for ALL PEOPLE.
- Pray for healing
- And actively remember that Love is not idle.
Dressed in my full regalia and standing next to my friend, Clarence Abrahams. January 3, 2013.
Photo by Mique’l Icesis Dangeli
**I want to explore what it means to be a “Marginalized” people group. Stay tuned for a follow up blog with a guest writer!
Phillipians 1: 9-11 So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.
Every year God gives me a word or a theme that often defines the journey that He takes me on that year and many of the lessons that I learn that year.
2009-Consistency: To be found constant, reliable, consistent.
2010-More: This year- strive for more. Don’t settle. Don’t get comfortable. Fight more. Love more. Learn more. Mentor more. Obey more. Be more.
2011-With Conviction: To live with my whole heart for my whole life. 99.9% is not enough.
2012-Add to the Beauty: I want to live in the beauty of the Jesus- love story and see that beauty grow in the world around me.
Now, at the beginning of 2013 I’m sensing there are two words that keep coming up in my head: Love & Light.
Will be posting more insights of Love and Light in the next little while.
Excited for the future!
Dances of the World 2012: 116 Nations under one roof.
(My solo starts at 4:53)
Another Highlight of 2012:
I never thought that I would participate in Miss World and even though I thought I was done with pageants forever, God clearly had different plans. I’ve learned many things along the journey (which I will share later) but one thing that my life has been blessed with is a new understanding of my brothers and sisters who are First Nations people.
I never once before have I thanked them for the time that I have spent growing up on their land. This was their home before it was ours….and I am so grateful to share in the beauty of this vast and magical land. Canada- and her original people, are truly precious.
Today the beauty of Canada’s multicultural nation is that our common shared value is to live together in peace and learn from what each people group has to offer. Yet as time passes on I want to acknowledge and honour Canada’s beginnings and the heritage that we can never forget.
My Native friends have taught me about strength, endurance and sharing wisdom through community. I know I have a lot yet to learn but I’m thankful that I have been welcomed in to continue to share in the journey.
As Miss World Canada- an Ambassador of our nation, I had the opportunity to represent Canada on the World Stage this summer. For the Dances of the World celebration, I wanted the world to also see the beauty of the First Nations cultures and to appreciate it in the way that I do. Although I am not native, I was entrusted with the knowledge of Pow Wow Fancy Shawl Dance by my dear friend, Shadae Johnson and brought into the community through Melaney Lyall. I can’t even begin to express how much it meant to share something so precious with the world.
I hope that we can all respect, appreciate and celebrate in each nation’s heritage and our combined future together. It is my prayer for the future that natives and non-natives will stand strong together- the beauty of Canada.
Miss World Canada 2012
October 11, 2012- The first ever International Day of the Girl to advocate for the rights of girls and celebrate the possibilities can that be realized when girls are empowered. All across the world celebrations are taking place, from Dundas Square, Toronto to the Empire State Building in NYC- cities, billboards and hearts are glowing pink to acknowledge the need for girls rights worldwide.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time. As the world turns pink in recognition, 14 year old Malala Yousufzai currently lies unconscious in a hospital bed after being shot in the head and neck by the Taliban while she was trying to board a school bus to sit on the floor and receive an education in Pakistan. Clearly, knowledge is power and education shapes countries. As NY Times Journalist and Co-Author of the amazing book Half the Sky , Nicholas Kristof said in his recent article:
“[The Taliban] understand the stakes perfectly. They shot Malala because girls’ education threatens everything that they stand for. The greatest risk for violent extremists in Pakistan isn’t American drones. It’s educated girls.“
Can you imagine what the world would look like when girls were educated, empowered, listen to, valued, invested in and given their rightful places alongside their male peers? Oh the possibilities! The world has never seen that before!
As Martin Luther King Jr. bravely once said…“I have a dream”.
Let us pray for the brave little hero, Malala Yousufzai. She has a long road ahead of her, even if she recovers from this assassination attempt. The Taliban have promised to kill her, if she continues to speak out about education and Malala, in turn, had recently announced that one day she would like to pursue a leadership role in politics.
I pray that she, and many other girls like her, get the opportunity to.
Let’s stand beside our sisters and make this happen. I believe in the possibilities!
For Immediate Release
July 11, 2012
Teng headed to China to represent Canada at Miss World
Langley, B.C. – Local Resident and Miss World Canada 2012 Tara Teng leaves with anticipation on Saturday for Ordos, China for the 62nd Miss World competition. Teng will be in China from July 18 to August 18 competing for the global title to further her message of ending modern day slavery and hopes to bring the crown back to Canada for the first time in history.
The Miss World® Pageant is the oldest, and most watched pageant in the world with over two billion viewers. Miss World® has changed the lives of many children by raising over $500 million dollars globally. The Miss World® Pageant’s mandate is “Beauty with a purpose”. The pageant stresses the equal importance of inner and outer beauty. “I am honoured to represent Canada on the global stage at Miss World and truly hope my success is marked by my stand for the value and freedom of every human life,” says Teng. Teng expresses deep gratitude for all of her friends, family, leaders and others who have encouraged and supported her.
“Her determination and passion to continue making positive changes in the lives of people worldwide is inspiring!” said Miss World Canada chairman, Ike Lalji Lalji says that this is the first time in the history of the pageant that such a monumental contribution has been made by a titleholder. “We stand behind her and know that she is a great representative, not only for Canada but for the world!” concluded Lalji.
If you would like to support Teng in her effort, please visit http://www.facebook.com/MissWorldCanada , like the page and share. The likes on this page count towards Teng’s score and you can also follow her progress. “I am proud to represent my beautiful country of Canada to the world, either way- its time to make history!” concludes Teng.
It’s been a few weeks since I wrote something in my blog. My life has returned to its normal whirlwind of events, speaking engagements and flights into various cities across the country. I must admit that I missed it; I’ve found the balance that my heart is both nomadic and focused. I love the incredible privilege that I have to travel, speak and step outside of my little community to see what God is doing to ignite justice and add to the beauty the world over!
Yet as the adventures of life roll on, sometimes I get so caught up in living that I don’t invest my time in writing. I suppose it’s a fair trade but writing the adventures found along the journey feels like water to my soul. It gives me an opportunity to step back and make sense of all that has been experienced.
So I take this time to apologize for my silence.
To those who know me or even those who know about me, you’re sure to find that conviction is one of the most important words of my vocabulary. I don’t say or do anything unless I can put my whole heart into it. So when I apologize for something, I genuinely mean it.
As a child I was always uncomfortable with being “forced” to apologize for something unkind that I had done. My dear parents were simply teaching me the importance of apologies, forgiveness and manners but for me, if it wasn’t said with conviction, then it didn’t feel honest…which is also bad manners, isn’t it?
So over the last few weeks, as I have been preparing for a pageant that mandates the empowerment of women, I’ve spent a fair amount of time resting my heart on the perceived role of women in society throughout the world.
What I have realized is that I have given up on apologizing for my body. While it is admirable to dress in a way that does not “make my brothers stumble”, I will not apologize for the body that God has placed my soul within. I will dress with both dignity and beauty, expressing the soul that my body carries. I will not try to dress, act or speak like a man when I have been born to live the fullness of who I am as a woman. I will let my hair down and embrace my femininity.
I will fearlessly and unapologetically expect society to respect me for the essence of who I am and not for what I look like.
As a woman I will not apologize for the talents, gifts or inspiration that God has given me. I believe that when God gives talents to people, He does not discriminate based on age, gender, socioeconomic status or any other factor that humanity judges on. He does not equip people with unique and specific talents then mistakenly place them into souls living in the wrong body. He knows what He’s doing.
All this to say that I am a woman. I am young. I am a leader… and I believe that God made me that way.
Some people may not be ready for young, strong and empowered women in leadership but I refuse to wait until half my life is over before I begin to step into the person that I was born to be. I don’t know where this path will lead but I anticipate an incredible journey. Women have value and stories that must be heard, whether in church, politics, entertainment, academia or culture. We were meant to live as brothers and sisters- as humanity called to life by God.
No matter where life takes me, I am convinced that the value of human life is immeasurable and people were meant to live in freedom. I am convinced that God does not discriminate and sadly it is only people who do.
We were each born for purpose; I am stepping into mine…and I will not apologize for that. I encourage you to begin the journey and do the same because if when we are all living in the fullness of our purpose then we are once step closer to “on earth as it is in heaven”.
I choose the pageants that I am associated with very carefully. I have been asked to compete in many different pageants but I’ve only been involved in two because I felt that the other pageants focused too much on physical beauty and did not take into account the inner character of the individual. After getting to know the Miss World Canada organization I am convinced that our core values and vision are the same. I believe in the synergy and collaboration of like-minded individuals who are working to accomplish the same goals. Together we become a movement of people who believe in something greater.
For Immediate ReleaseApril 8, 2012Teng aims to take her fight against slavery to the global stageLangley, B.C. – Abolitionist Tara Teng aims to take her fight against exploitation and slavery to the global stage by joining the Miss World Canada pageant which takes place on Sunday, May 13 at 7 p.m. at the RiverRock Casino. Having held previous provincial and national tiltles, Teng has had the privilege and opportunity to speak across Canada and internationally engaging people to be active in ending human trafficking. Teng believes being a contestant for Miss World Canada is a natural step because of their focus on humanitarian efforts and theme of “beauty with a purpose”.
“Canada needs to strongly empower women in society to be leaders and Miss World Canada matches my passion to see this happen,” Teng says. Teng emphasizes that her entry into Miss World Canada is focused on inspiring action to end human exploitation and preventing violence against women.
Teng encourages people to learn more about the vision of Miss World Canada by going to their website at www.missworldcanada.org. “Convictions must be lived out and I hope my action and efforts to date will demonstrate to the judges that I am a worthy contestant due to the core Canadian values of freedom and equality,” Teng says.
Miss World® Canada is on the search for the next Ambassador of Canada, and potentially the next Ambassador of the world! Miss World® Canada works on empowering women to help build lifelong skills in in key areas which in turn will open their doors to the future. Teng is thrilled that Miss World Canada will be raising funds for Variety-The Children’s Charity .
Teng is honoured at the opportunities she has had to influence young women and the fight to see every person worldwide treated with the enormous value they deserve. Teng is asking you to go to the Miss World Canada to vote for her as the People’s Choice Award. “No matter the outcome of this pageant I will continue fighting to see exploitation end in my generation,” concluded Teng.
Media Photos Enclosed
Photo credit: Hannah Cummins Photography
For more information:
Tara Teng – email@example.com – @misstarateng - tarateng.wordpress.com
I can’t seem to stop thinking about life…and the inevitable event of death that we are all scheduled for. In the last few weeks I’ve lost three loved ones and been constantly reminded of how fleeting the gift of life is.
We seem to roll through each day as if we’ll live forever. We make plans as if we are promised the next five years. We are surprised when the week ends, autumn returns or the time comes to celebrate our birthday again. Some people live without ambition or hold back their passions until they reach the age when “they will be taken seriously” only to find that they have waited half their life away.
It could all be over in a second; a moment and everything we’ve ever known is gone.
I don’t say this to be fatalistic but realistic. Every breath is a treasure and I firmly believe that as long as your heart is beating and there is air in your lungs that there is still purpose that God has for you to be involved with here on earth.
So live like fear doesn’t define you.
I choose to live on purpose.
This is what the beauty of life is. This is the true reflection of who you are.
Make it something beautiful.
If you’ve watched the movie “Taken” then you may imagine what it feels like for a parent to have their child taken from them, sold into human trafficking and the desperate desire to do everything in their power to get their child back.
Today I share my blog with Glendene Grant, a close friend and the mother of Jessie Foster.
Jessie is a human trafficking victim from Kamloops, BC who went missing 6 years ago today.
She was lured into prostitution by a trafficker who posed as a boyfriend. He brought her to Las Vegas on a “vacation” and while she was there, he sold her to a pimp.
She has been missing ever since.
“In than 8 hours from this writing it will be 6 LONG YEARS since I got a call that scared the crap out of me. I thought it was Jessie (the area code on the call display was Las Vegas 702) and it sounded like someone calling – then in the 2nd & 3rd calls, SCREAMING for help.
Within 24 hours from this writing we knew something was drastically wrong and before long we knew she was missing.
FROM THAT MOMENT ON, OUR LIVES HAVE NEVER BEEN THE SAME.
Jessie-Bessie, we love you so much and miss you more than we could have ever imagined but we have not lost hope we will find you and we have not forgot you, not even for a minute. You are on our minds ALL THE TIME.
JESSIE, YOU ARE CHANGING THE FACE OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING. PEOPLE ARE SO MUCH MORE AWARE OF THIS CRIME BECAUSE OF THE TRAGEDY THAT HAPPENED TO YOU. YOU HAVE CHANGED LIVES AND YOU HAVE SAVED LIVES AND WE CANNOT WAIT FOR YOU TO COME HOME. You have family members to meet . . . your little sisters are both mommies and family members who have left us and we need to have you back with us where you belong.
I will find you, Sweetie – or die trying,
Canada can do better for prostituted women.
On Monday, March 26 2012, the Ontario Court of Appeal released their ruling on a landmark prostitution case that will have huge implications on the future of prostitution, sex trafficking and violence against women in our society. To read more of the details, please follow this link.
The battle is not over.
“It now remains open to Parliament to respond with new legislation that complies with the requirements of the Charter.” (Quote from the March 26 Court Document)
We are calling on all Canadians who share this belief to stand together in solidarity with those who have been exploited and demand that the Nordic Model for prostitution be adopted by Canada’s Parliament.
The time to act is now. We have a short window of opportunity to empower women and rise up to defend their safety and freedom.
The time to act is now…we cannot stand by and do nothing.
Please watch the video below, share it with others and take action.
The time to act is now.
I lost a friend today.
I can’t find the words to describe how beautiful and precious her spirit was.
Life wasn’t easy for her but she’d find a way to smile in the midst of it. She knew the words to every song on the Top 40 and could out dance us on a good day.
I’ll miss the way we’d sit and talk for hours or how she always made it clear that we were “her” friends.
Just a few days ago we were together…and now she’s gone from earth.
She always said we were her angels….but now, she’s ours.
Rest in Peace, Yvonne. You were loved. I’ll always miss you; always carry you in my heart.
I am a public speaker. So it goes without saying that I love words. I notice them. I love to listen to the way that people use them, the way they weave together to create something beautiful and I love to feel the weight they carry and the emotions that they hold within.
Yet as beautiful as all these words and emotions may be, they’re nothing if all the nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions and conjunctions did not spring forth from a deeper passion that was buried deep within the core of my heart for the people that these words describe or for the people that I was communicating them to.
(You may see where I am going with this.)
Words only have meaning if they are first birthed out of an emotion, a decision, a conviction, that ironically cannot fully be described by words; it can only be felt and lived out alongside the monumental and microscopic experiences that intimately weave together in the fabric of life. I could arrange all the most beautiful, expressive and vibrant words together but it would simply just be letters arranged in a specific order of syntax if the words were not inspired by love.
I could speak with the eloquence of royalty but if the words were not simply the evidence of a deeper understanding taking root in my heart then they are nothing.
Words give witness to the messy undertaking of life transformations that are taking place within my heart. Words are the fruit that is springing up from the growth moving deeper in my heart.
Words show how much it hurts to love sometimes. Growth is always painful in some way or another.
Words also show the beauty that comes along the journey through new revelations, discoveries and heart milestones.
Sometimes words are the things that I stumble over when I am trying desperately to communicate the inner workings of my heart, mind or soul.
But at the end of the day all the beautiful words are irrelevant if they do not communicate love and conviction.
Love must burn from the fire that compels us to action and speak the words that flow forth so eloquently.
Love must be at the very source of it all, or else everything that follows is meaningless.
Justice and activism are dead-end pity without love. Romance is sour without love. Faith is pious without love.
“I would be nothing, unless I loved others.
I would gain nothing, unless I loved others. “
-1 Corinthians 13:2+3
Love… is the only force capable of transforming a globe, a nation and a heart.
Love is transforming me.
A year ago today, we were drenched by rain and marching through the streets to Langley alongside 300+ other freedom fighters to declare that we will not tolerate the exploitation of human beings! It’s amazing to look back over the last year and see how much has happened since then!
Thanks to everyone who walked with us on that day and everyone who has continued to fight for freedom every day since then! Let us keep growing the movement and never back down until true freedom has been achieved for every person.
Awareness is where we start but it must not be where we end. For good intentions to achieve the status of true love, it must evolve into effective action and it must start with our own hands, our own feet and our own voices as we walk together as family and amplify the voices of those who are oppressed. It will take us to places of pain, sacrifice and inconvenience. Yet as we abandon our own personal comfort we realize the community, freedom and “Shalom” that we were all made for.
So….are you willing to let love move you?
I don’t have all the answers. I’m learning more every day of this journey.
I am simply a girl who is crazy in love with the heart of God. Captivated by the way that He loves the unlovely, never forgets the marginalized, fights for the oppressed and defends the “underdog”. I love the way that He is transforming the world and making it more beautiful each day.
I am convinced that the value of human life is immeasurable; Sold out on the fact that people were meant to live in freedom.
I can think of no greater joy than giving my life to add to the beauty of what God is building within the world. With each breath, striving to move closer to the promise of “on earth as it is in heaven”…Shalom ♥
It’s not poetic but its honest. The uncensored thoughts of….now, 1:43am.
I pretend to be really tough but I know that I’m not as strong as I’d like to be. (I don’t think I’m fooling anyone either). I got a real wakeup call when I lived in Guatemala for part of the summer two years ago and realized that I’m not tough enough to be a Guatemalan woman.
When it comes to the work that women do around the world and the struggles that they face… I am essentially the ”1%”. I am part of the privileged few that get to enjoy the freedoms, respect and rights that all women deserve. With International Women’s day happening this week, March 8th, I am reminded again of how far we’ve come, how far we have yet to go and how much respect women around the world deserve for all that they do.
Please watch this short video, appreciate all the hard work that women do around the world and take the time to appreciate the women around you and send respect/support to the many women worldwide who still don’t receive the same rights and freedoms that we all deserve.
STOP THE TRAFFIK
BY: Gerard Kelly
I am a person, not a potato to be picked and packaged
To be sent to market to be sliced and diced,
Chopped up and ketchupped on the other side of the world,
I am human and I am not for sale.
I am a living conscience, not a cargo, I travel passenger, not freight,
I am not cattle, not contraband,
Not a catalogued commodity,
I’m not the bottom line for those who trade in tragedy
And profit from perversity,
I am not a can to be recycled
I am human and I am not for sale.
I am a thinking individual, not a rare exotic bird,
I am your sister, not an inmate for your zoo,
I am not merchandise, not meat, not a meal ticket,
I was mothered, not manufactured, begotten, not created,
I am human and I am not for sale.
Its time to end this trade in human tragedy
To terminate this travesty of a global economy
Let the red lights of your cities be put to better use to stop the traffic.
Write it in lights across your seared conscience:
I am human and I am not for sale.
From child soldiers to future leaders. From widowed women to radiant mothers. From orphaned children to loved by a community.
When I speak about “adding to the beauty” in the world, Zulu- Uganda and the Watoto Family comes to mind.
**We need to remember that the fight for true justice continues long after Joseph Kony has been arrested and the LRA stopped. We must continue to walk alongside and support the people of Central Africa as they heal from the trauma and rebuild their lives. A lot of TLC for a long time….I really appreciate what Watoto has been doing to create a family among former child soldiers of the LRA.
Let’s replace an army of terror with an army of love. We cannot abandon them when the “hype” dies down or Kony has been arrested. We must continue to walk with our brothers and our sisters until true freedom, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation is achieved.
I never write about my love life on this blog but one day I look forward to sharing my life with someone incredible! We will read books, climb mountains, make music, take risks, dance until our toes are sore, fight for justice, blow bubbles and make forts out of blankets in our living room.
Until then, I’ll write love letters in a notebook that only He will get to read…knowing that our love story has begun even now. Though I may not know who he is…God is weaving our stories together and I can’t wait to see how it will all unfold!
Some people call them hookers…prostitutes…whores… or sex trade workers. I cringe every time I hear any of these terms to describe women in prostitution because no matter what term is used, it never brings justice or dignity to the individual being sold.
Studies around the world consistently show that the overwhelming majority of women in prostitution desperately want out right now but see no possible exit opportunities. The correlation between sex trafficking and prostitution is so strong that it is virtually impossible to separate the two. Not only is prostitution controlled by pimps and organized crime, the average entry age into prostitution around the world is between 12-14 years old. This is not a lifestyle choice for these young girls; they have been trafficked into the global sex trade for the purpose of making huge lucrative profits for their pimps, trafficker and “owners”.
“The girl is the new drug,” declares Sergeant Detective Kelley O’Connell of the Boston Police Department’s Human Trafficking Unit, vocalizing the global crisis that makes young women the most popular commodity to buy and sell internationally. With this kind of knowledge, there is no possible way that I can label prostituted and trafficked women as common hookers, whores and prostitutes…I doubt that those terms even exist in reality.
While in Korea, I heard a beautiful description of the precious lives trapped in the sex trade. Yesterday some of the workers at a aftercare shelter for victims of human trafficking, described their work with the “sisters” in Korea’s illegal red light districts. I asked one of my new Korean friends to elaborate more on her heart for the Korean sisters who have been caught in the vicious cycle of sex trafficking:
“Growing up as the eldest child, I did not have an older sister. So every opportunity I got when I met an older female Korean friend or acquaintance I would call them “older sister” in Korean. There was a sense of security and familiarity when I used that term. An older sister was someone who would stand up for you if you were in trouble. Someone you could rely on and trust. Someone you could share secrets with, laugh and cry with, and just be yourself with. You can’t replace the power or bond or security of sisterhood.
There is a deep history of survival in Korea. Koreans use their pride and unity to help one another, encourage each other, and stand back up on their feet. Even Koreans who have immigrated to other countries, they immediately connect with other Koreans who have immigrated, because there is safety and support with “their” people. I see the older generation in Korea, in workplaces or marketplaces. Their cheerful and familiar banter. Especially the women, the sisterhood. They watch either others’ backs, they help the person next to them, and make sacrifices for one another.
It’s ironic that even with this beautiful idea of unity, strength, and support, there is a selective process about it. With so many people in denial of what is happening right in their own backyards, it is not a surprise that many of the women who are victims of trafficking are excluded from this unifying term, “sister”. The vulnerable and weak are now estranged from calling on a “sister” for help from the rest of society and not by their own choice. They are helpless and in need, but they do not have any one to call their “sister”, to back them up and stand up for them. They are being ignored and blamed for things not completely in their control.
Where did that love, pride, and unity go? Where did the outstretched hand go? Where did the sisterhood go for these victims? Why are they excluded? This is the time when they need us the most. They need us to stand up for them… to fight back against the school bully, the mean girl, the bad boss, the pimp, the johns and fight against the idea that they are okay with the multiple and daily violations of their bodies, minds, and souls. Where are the brothers and sisters who will stand up to restore our lost sisters?” –Estella J. Kang in Seoul, South Korea.
Powerful and beautiful words. I am praying that we will all view one another as brothers and sisters of the world. May we never shun, ignore or abandon our sisters who have been sold and exploited in the sex industry.
It’s time to love our sisters.
When heroes become villains…
Remember the days when comic book heroes heard the silent cries of distressed damsels and rushed in to save the day with strength and bravery? Average citizens, women and children could live without fear because there was always a noble hero nearby to swoop in and save the day!
In Seoul, South Korea, there is a very popular comic book by the artist Kim Sung Mo entitled, “Yong Ju Gol”. Yet unlike the Marvel comic books that boast the adventures of timeless heroes such as Superman and the Justice League, Yong Ju Gol has published over 180 episodes of comics depicting the sexual exploitation, abuse and even murder of young women in the country’s oldest and most popular red light district… which is also named “Yong Ju Gol”.
Even though prostitution is illegal in South Korea, Yong Ju Gol maintains its popularity and allure due to the popular comic book that shares its name with and describes many of the events that take place there on a daily basis. What is even more surprising is that this comic book, named after a red light district, is not only the most popular comic book in all of area but until recently was sold in popular book stores and read by young children!
The red light district, Yong Ju Gol was first established to service the local American military base during the Korean War and has since become the most popular destination for Korean men to visit for paid sexual services. It has grown 3x its original size since it was established in the 1950s and, with over 36,300 square meters, the majority of Korea’s trafficked women end up here.
While visiting a local human trafficking shelter, I learned that most Korean women are lured into sex trafficking at the young age of 13 or 14 years old, similarly to the situation in Canada. These young girls are often enticed by the promises of money and start working in drinking rooms or kissing rooms, only to find themselves later forced into exploitive situations and under the control of a pimp throughout the 45 Korean red light districts, just like Yong Ju Gol.
Once in the Yong Ju Gol, women work an average of 10 hours a day, experiencing high levels of post traumatic stress disorder due to the intense physical, verbal and sexual abuse that they often suffer from the many johns who pay money to their pimps. Much of this violence is perpetuated through the publications of the extremely violent comic book. I wanted to know for myself if this comic book was actually as bad as I had heard and unfortunately, I didn’t have to spend a lot of time looking through the comics to see a drawing of a naked Korean woman falling out of a building as she was thrown through an broken glass window, hurled at the street below. With this popular comic book being so readily available to all the youth of Korea, this kind of violent behaviour towards prostituted women is normalized and viewed as acceptable.
It was most disappointing to realize that Yong Ju Gol District is over an hour away from Seoul and far past any residential areas. It’s only surrounding landscape is rice fields…and yet Korean men drive intentionally, for hours, to visit Yong Ju Gol and abuse Korean women.
Some may say that “boys will be boys” and that “prostitution is the world’s oldest profession” but I do not settle for either of these excuses. The measure of a man is not to buy sex from, rape, physically assault or murder women and girls. Men have been entrusted with a greater physical strength so that they may use that power to empower others, not to overpower others.
I’m calling out for heroes to answer the silent cries of the exploited and abused Korean women within the Yong Ju Gol District and all other red light districts within Korea! We each have been given the responsibility to be heroes, not villians. To protect and defend those who are weaker than us, not to enslave others.