Monday, July 23, 2012

Beauty Is Possible, Even in Brokenness

Pastor Burt Crabbe addresses Red Cross High School Club members
“Profoundly jarring.”

That’s how Bert Crabbe, pastor of True North Community Church in Bohemia, N.Y., described his journey to the Far East six years ago to learn about the sex trafficking of children.

Crabbe was addressing a group of 14 Red Cross High School Club members enrolled in “Exploring Humanitarian Law,” a program designed to help students understand the rules governing war and their impact on human life and dignity.

The program, which is being held at Greater New York Red Cross regional headquarters in Manhattan from July 9 through August 2, also addresses supplementary rules and guidelines regarding armed conflict, such as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Convention on Genocide and the UN Convention on the rights of the child.

“While human trafficking may most often be a result of poverty, it can also be a result of armed conflict,” said Amanda Crabbe, Greater New York Red Cross youth programs manager and Pastor Crabbe’s cousin. “Bert’s talk set the stage for our students’ knowledge of human trafficking and conveyed a personal account of what sexual slavery actually looks like. We have been referencing his talk throughout the program,” she added, “and applying his examples to instances of sexual slavery during times of conflict.”

On Crabbe’s 2006 trip to Thailand and Cambodia, he accompanied Rob Morris, president of LOVE146, a non-profit international human rights organization working to end child sex trafficking. Crabbe, who had supported the work of LOVE146 through small personal financial donations, now wanted to see the organization’s challenges and programs firsthand.

While waiting in LA for a connecting flight to Thailand, Crabbe and Morris drove through Bel Air, California, passing lavish homes and mansions, and luxury shops.

Right after landing in Bangkok, Thailand, Morris took Crabbe through the Red Light district, where trafficked children—girls and boys—end up. The contrast between Bel Air and Bangkok was a huge shock, said Crabbe.

Sex tourism, he told the students, brings an enormous amount of money into Thailand. He explained that young girls living in the countryside are procured by men who tell the parents that their daughters will earn money waitressing in the city. If that argument fails, they may simply give the parents $100 American in exchange for their daughters.

Crabbe said these stories made him sick to his stomach.

“Then we went to Boys Town,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion. “That’s where underage boys work in the sex trade.”

“A little boy tried to lead me to his pimp,” he said. “I just wanted to die. You know intellectually that there are people in the world who have it rough. But you don’t get it until you see it and smell it,” he said. “We saw children living in slums, literally walking through garbage. It was profoundly jarring; the most difficult stuff you’ve never seen.”

Crabbe went on to describe their next destination—Cambodia, a country he called “beautiful and broken.”

He showed slides of lush green countryside, followed by photos of the Tuol Sleng Museum, a former high school in Phnom Penh used as a prison and torture center between 1975 and 1979. There, more than 17,000 Cambodians were said to have been executed by the ruling party, the Khmer Rouge.

Crabbe said when he returned from the Far East, he came close to having a nervous breakdown and had nightmares for a month.

“I realized I am affluent,” he said. “I have first-world problems. If you earn $36,000 a year you are in the top five percent of the world’s wealthy; in fact, your part-time job at Starbucks puts you in the top 10% of the world’s wealthy.”

Crabbe immediately cut a large personal check to LOVE146 and asked Morris what more he could do. Morris said the organization needed $200K to build a facility in the Philippines where rescued trafficked children could get their lives back.

Crabbe approached his parishioners and raised the needed funds.

The Round Home
In 2009, the “Round Home” for rescued girls opened in the Philippines. Its distinctive construction is meant to promote togetherness, with none of the children feeling marginalized by being at the “end” of a corridor. In addition to the main Round Home, there is also a staff house, a Therapy Tree House and a Reflection Room.

“I’m most proud of the chapel we built and a tree house therapy environment,” Crabbe said. “I visited there. I saw that talking to the girls as human beings was a big deal to them. So was simply having fun; dancing.”

Crabbe advised the EHL students: “Walk the earth aware of what’s going on and your reflex will be to be an ‘upstander,’ not a bystander. Live generously and support organizations that help others.”

The students reacted positively to Crabbe’s talk.

“It was profoundly disturbing, but an informative session,” said Tanvir Shahjahan of Brooklyn Tech High School. “I'll never again feel underprivileged and be sure to spread awareness of sex trafficking to those I know and the invaluable efforts of groups such as LOVE146."

Sandra M., who attends high school in Queens, said, “Bert's presentation/story touched my heart and made me realize how fortunate I am to live comfortably, unlike children and teenagers in Cambodia and Thailand who live in poverty and try to survive day-to-day.”

Crabbe concluded his talk on an optimistic note. “I’ve learned,” he said, “that beauty is possible, even in brokenness. If more and more people step up, we’ll see a lot more beauty and a lot less brokenness.”

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