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To say that I had a freak-out yesterday would be a gross understatement.

I put out HELP! text to my sister and a dear friend to request prayer.  I desperately needed clarity and wisdom.  Thank goodness for people who love me and want to be in this with me.

So, why the freak out?  I’m writing a booklet.  Trying to tell the story of the people who make our soap ingredients.  Trying to tell the story of how sustainable work transforms people’s lives.  Trying to tell the story about how people become less vulnerable when they have an ongoing income.  How fraud is an integral part of most trafficking.  It’s getting a loan for medical care that you don’t realize you will never ever be able to repay.  It’s saying yes to the person who is offering to educate your daughter in the city.  It’s letting your daughter go to the city to work in a friend’s friends restaurant because you can’t afford food and school fees.  This fraud is the backbone of how so many traffickers operate.  Our soap is about slow hope.  It’s not charity that gives the poor a hand-out today.  It’s development that provides a sustainable job, which brings hope and dignity over time.  It’s the fact that when you can afford to feed and educate your child, you don’t need to believe the traffickers.  You don’t need your daughter to go to the city for an education if you are already feeding her and paying her school fees yourself.

Discipleship sits right in the middle of our business.  Stewarding our business and telling our story well.  There’s the diligence of bringing every resource that we have to the table.  It’s listening to the hard critique (for which I’m incredibly grateful) and leaning into how I can better articulate what we’re doing.  But, after we bring every resource that we have into doing the very best job that we can do, there’s relinquishing the result.

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Because I’m stepping into a story that I didn’t write.  Way, way, long back, there was a crack in the Fall of humanity.  As still happens today, it was rooted in deception, lies and finger-pointing.  And since that brutal Fall, God has been at work using His people to make it right.  We are His plan for redemption.  And that’s the genesis of so many redemptive stories.  From Moses to William Wilberforce to Harriet Tubman to Gandhi, God uses people to bring redemption to the world.  So, yes, I need to tell the story in the very best way that I can.  I need to connect the dots for people.  But, in the end, the story of our company is just a subplot in God’s much bigger redemptive story.  Which helps me breathe and remember that the story is way bigger than I am.

So, I’ll tell the beginning of that story with the knowledge that it’s my best shot today, and then I would love to talk with you.  I would love to hear from you about the parts that aren’t hanging together.  Because I want to do the people involved in this story justice.

 

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I’m in the midst of writing a booklet that will go out with each of our bars of soap. With the prevention of human trafficking being core to our mission, I was reading through the 2012 Trafficking in Persons report that is issued by the Secretary of State each year. Here’s what I found:

Difficult economic conditions and high unemployment render the Palestinians vulnerable to labor trafficking and exploitation in Israel and Israeli settlements. Widespread poverty and lack of economic opportunities have been cited as primary factors in human trafficking within the occupied Palestinian territory, including sex exploitation and worst forms of child labor. Finally, many cultural factors contribute to making Palestinian women and girls vulnerable to trafficking including susceptibility to family violence, forced marriage and lack of educational and employment opportunities.

I’m finding it difficult to find the words to express how grateful I am to be working with Canaan Fair Trade. I’m grateful for them and for the wonderful Palestinian people who work with them. They are making a difference. They are working to better their own futures. They are providing hope, dignity and opportunity. They are providing sustainable work and educational opportunities for their children.  I’m so thankful.

Check out what these guys in Portland are doing to interrupt sex trafficking.  Trafficking is so complex, and there are so many pieces to the problem.  Ways and spaces to engage.  I love it that these eleven men have decided to spend their time interrupting demand.

Henri Nouwen on Poverty

March 18, 2014

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Loving this from Henri Nouwen this morning.

There are many forms of poverty:  economic poverty, physical poverty, emotional poverty, mental poverty, and spiritual poverty.  As long as we relate primarily to each other’s wealth, health, stability, intelligence, and soul strength, we cannot develop true community.  Community is not a talent show in which we dazzle the world with our combined gifts.  Community is the place where our poverty is acknowledged and accepted, not as something we have to learn to cope with as best as we can but as a true source of new life.

An appreciation for my own poverty has been powerful as I seek to engage in helping others out of poverty. It brings me to a place where I’m not coming to help with my own house completely in order. It brings me as a co-sojourner. It brings a humility that says “You and I are both poor- just in different ways. Let’s learn from each other.”

 

This is a re-post from several years ago.  With Halloween coming up, I wanted to re-visit child slavery in the chocolate supply chain.  It remains to be a problem.  It is possible to get slave-free chocolate by either buying organic or fair trade chocolate.  Equal Exchange makes yummy trick-or-treat chocolate that you can purchase here.  Or, just don’t buy chocolate.  With that, I hope you find this article helpful.  I also recommend The Dark Side of Chocolate, which you can watch here. 

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I’ve been putting this post off for a long time.  Truthfully, it’s a bit overwhelming.  The subject matter is overwhelming, as is the amount of information that is available.  So, instead of writing a dissertation (I know you’ll thank me), I decided to give you just the information that you need to make better purchasing choices.

It’s horrific.  The whole thing.  Chocolate is one of the dirtiest foods that we consume in terms of human cost.

Forty-three percent of the chocolate on the open market is touched by child slavery.  Ivory Coast is known for its chocolate.  It’s a heavy producer, and the cocoa beans are known for being very high quality.  Sadly, many children are trafficked to Ivory Coast (often from Mali, Benin, Burkina Faso and  Togo) and then kept as slaves picking and processing cocoa beans.  According to Wikipedia, they are lured by promises of  “paid work, housing and education”.  I don’t want to inundate you with horrific stories just for the shock value.  I’ll just mention a few key facts.  Children (mostly aged 12-16)  are forced to work up to 100 hour weeks.  When they don’t work hard enough, they are beaten.  To quote one child, “the beatings were a part of my life”.  Children as young as 11 years old are forced to carry heavy bags of cocoa beans, often resulting in sores all over their shoulders.  I’ve read several different sources that stated that there were more than 15,000 child slaves in Ivory Coast working in cocoa  production.  Another common statistic that I’ve read is that there are 200,000 child laborers in Ivory Coast.

According to Wikipedia, “the major chocolate producers such as Nestle buy cocoa at commodities exchanges where Ivorian cocoa is mixed with other cocoa.”  When asked about slavery in their supply chain, they claim that they can’t control the cocoa beans that come into the commodities market.   My heart pounds when I think about this.  It makes me so angry- because it’s a cop out.  The product that they’re selling is profitable, and they are choosing to look the other way. There was lip service given when many of the chocolate manufacturers signed the Harkin-Engel protocol in 2001, which aimed at ending the worst of the abuses. But, no substantive changes have come to date. Many deadlines have been missed. The industry, as a whole, doesn’t seem to be very serious about implementing the protocol. According to Media Freedom International as of October 2010, Hershey’s “still has no certification system in place whatsoever to ensure that its cocoa isn’t tainted by labor rights abuses”.

What you need to know is that it is possible to get chocolate that is cruelty-free.

The two categories of chocolate that are considered to be slavery-free are Fair Trade and Organic.  According to chocolatework.com, chocolate companies who buy from Fair Trade collectives pay prices that bring a living wage to workers, plus money that goes back to the collective.  Often, the monies that go back to collectives are used for education and/or healthcare.  “Because organic farms are subject to an independent monitoring system that checks labor practices, organic chocolate is also considered slave free”.

This is an area where, as consumers, we can have an impact.  First, we can stop supporting companies that aren’t serious about ending slavery in their supply chains.  Then, we can choose to support companies that are serious about making ethical chocolate.  Organic and Fair Trade chocolates are more expensive, to be sure.  For our family, it’s worth it.  We eat less chocolate.  But, when we eat it, we can be sure that it’s cruelty-free.  In the next few days, I’ll be telling you about two chocolate companies that I recommend.

Image by Kirti Poddar via flickr used under a Creative Commons
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I love this piece from Creative Heart Studio on Etsy. This is my prayer for my daughter. This is my prayer for all women. This promise of strength and dignity. It is the destiny for which we were created. It was marred by the Fall, but God wants to restore us to this dignity. And we get to participate in that. This is my prayer each time I make soap. May it bring dignity and strength and redemption.

Keeping It Real

June 19, 2013

Here’s a snapshot of my day yesterday.

Elizabeth:  I can’t find any clean underwear.

Me:  Get some out of the dirty clothes and turn it inside out.

Elizabeth: [confused silence]

Me:  For real.  Get some dirty underwear, turn it inside out, and put it on.

Here is the reality, my friends.  Last night, we had chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese and frozen peas for dinner.  All of the above resulted from a run to Trader Joes after we finished swim team photos at 6 p.m.  Frankly, this is just how we’re rolling right now.

Yes, this is the tension of crunch time.

I knew it was going to be tough.  While most of the US is adjusting to the freedom of school getting out, the Simpson household is in a crunch.  All our choices.  None of it is happening to us.  All good things.  None the less, it’s stressful.  Very unromantic.  Not shiny at all.  We’re in week two of our homeschooling year.  We’re in the midst of soap production for our first whole sale order.  And, we’re in the heat of our church’s extreme poverty focus for the summer.

The art is doing all of these things without my family taking a back seat.  Without my husband feeling like he is a distant last place to all the other demands in my life.  How to do it all and make sure that there is actually milk in the fridge and that dinner will actually appear on the table at the appointed hour?

It’s funny.  Not funny as in amusing, but funny as in interesting.  When my commitments heat up, my need for boundaries is most acute.  My need for my own mental health and for the relational and functional health of my family.  In order for my priorities to be to God first and to my marriage second, I have to learn to say no to good things.  To things I believe in.  As a woman who I respect said, “you have to learn where your no is”.   I’m grateful for a church environment that respects and encourages healthy boundaries- even boundaries with church.  I’ve been doing a ton of work in this area over the last couple of years, but it’s an area that I have to be vigilant about.

I’m tempted here to give you neat and clear bullet points about how to manage, but the truth is that it would just be talk right now.  The truth is that I’m trying to figure out how to do it.  The gritty truth is that life isn’t lived in bullet points of how to live in the midst of competing demands.  It’s an art, not a science.  It has everything to do with following God in a messy imperfect way.  It has everything to do with the mish mash of learning to say no.  It’s the messy discipleship of being in relationships in ministry.  When our issues are coming up in the context of ministry, God’s fingerprints are all over that.  I think when our stuff is coming up and being dealt with, God is in the midst of that.  Frankly, I think that’s what healthy church looks like.  Messy, dirty, relationally smudgy.  It’s struggling through the real, daily life in living with Christ, family, church and friends.  I’m beyond grateful for all of these things.  Beyond grateful to be working with church leadership that would be the last to lay a guilt trip for saying no.  But, you know, it’s just messy.  I keep waiting to be done.  To arrive.  But, I don’t think it works that way.  I think that instead I keep being reminded of my need for a Savior.  I keep needing to be around people who are gracious with me in my bumbling attempts to live in the messy tension of family, God, church and friends.  So, yes, I guess my bottom line is that once again, I’m brought around to gratitude.  Grateful to have work worth doing.  Grateful for my family and friends.  Grateful that God keeps reminding me about how much I need Him.  I’m grateful that I’m loved by God, family and friends in the midst of my brokenness.  Because that brokenness, I think, is just the reality of how things look while we’re here on earth.