As we continue to contemplate the meanings of power together, don't underestimate the power of love in your life or its ability to heal the world.
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As we continue to contemplate the meanings of power together, don't underestimate the power of love in your life or its ability to heal the world.
Becca was recently interviewed for a filming project. Here, she talks about the beauty she found in the thistle and why they’re so important to Thistle Farms…
“I wanted to name the whole place ‘Thistle Farms’ to celebrate the women, their ability to survive, their persistence, but also deep beauty and their softness, like the thistles.” —Becca
"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"
--Martin Luther King, Jr.
The prophets always start with #hereIam, but as they proclaim justice in the world, they move to #hereweare.
The work of justice is a community endeavor. Micah, Amos, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King, Jr. all spoke of the work of community in pursuing justice for all. This applies to our Circle as well.
None of the women of Thistle Farms made it to the streets or prison alone. It took a bunch of failed systems and communities to help them get there. So it makes sense that it takes a community proclaiming #hereweare to welcome them home.
Next month marks the 200th anniversary of the great American prophet Frederick Douglass's birth. His great, great great-grandson Ken Morris, said, "If Frederick were alive, he would tackle the modern-day slavery issue of Human Trafficking."
At this time of year when remember those who have paid the way and given their lives to the work of justice like Douglass & Martin Luther King, Jr., I am so grateful to be able to say #hereweare. Each day we take part in this work and pray for justice, we honor King's vision of a Beloved Community, and help welcome the next woman through the doors.
Love is the most powerful force for change in the world. We need each other. We need this Beloved Community to keep going and to be able to love the whole world one person at a time.
I have never been a part of something so powerful – and all of that comes from your absolutely tireless and courageous efforts to ensure sisters can find their way home here.
Thank you to Teresa, a dear sister on the Magdalene Omaha Board, for this guest blog thanking Thistle Farms for visiting Omaha for the Magdalene Omaha kick-off celebration (October 14-16, 2016).
My heart is too full of thanks for your recent visit and efforts here in Omaha. I don’t even know how to put into words what you have done here. How much you have transformed me, the board, Trinity Cathedral, the Omaha community, and all the good that’s already rippling through the state as a consequence of you lavishly sharing your love with us here this weekend! I have never been a part of something so powerful – and all of that comes from your absolutely tireless and courageous efforts to ensure sisters can find their way home here.
Some of you know that I’m in recovery – clean and sober 18 years in August. Many years ago, when I still lived in the Washington, DC area, a woman named Donna who had a lengthy history of being trafficked and of addiction asked me to be her sponsor. We went through a long and winding journey together that included me visiting her in jail, hospitals, treatment centers, and half-way houses. She was not the last woman who had been trafficked that I would sponsor, but she held a special place in my heart. I watched how hard she tried to leave the life, and how horrible the system was time and again. And every time it seemed like she was turning a corner and just about to make great progress, there was a new obstacle – most especially lack of employment opportunities because of her record.
Donna didn’t make it, and while I have lost other friends in recovery over the years, losing her hit me hard and I never gave up believing that there had to be some better way to help survivors. Then, after we launched the Friends of Tamar here and started to realize what a growing trafficking problem Omaha had, Bishop Scott Barker and Trinity Cathedral Dean Craig Loya provided funding so that I could attend a Thistle Farms Education Workshop. I got to chat with Penny in the café as people gathered before the day started, and with Anika briefly after she gave the group I was in a tour. Although I read everything that I was provided, it was my conversations with them that made me an absolute believer in this model. I swelled with hope as I came back here and started to try to share all that I had learned.
But, as happens with all of us in this kind of work, earlier this year, I just hit a wall. I felt like I was not making a difference here, we were not making progress fast enough, and I feared we may never be able to truly get this thing off the ground in Omaha. During that time, because I subscribe to the Thistle Farms e-newsletter, I received the May 25th e-newsletter with a link to the Thistle Farms - Magdalene 2016 Graduation video. When I watched this – and I have watched it countless times since, as have several other people I shared it with including the members of our board (I call it my sunshine booster shot) – everything changed. I got fired up again and redoubled efforts here. Fabulous new board members joined the circle here in Omaha, and together we expanded efforts to build community partners. Seeing these beautiful women exemplify the truest meaning of freedom and joy made the point better than any words of mine or anyone else’s here ever could. That’s also exactly what all of you being here did so very, very powerfully – you drove home we need a Magdalene house here…now. When Brooke gave me the names of who would be joining Becca on this trip, I just about fell out of my chair. I asked if I had it right that Jovita & Lori, in this very video, would be with us – and how blessed are we that they were!
I love that the four of you joined Becca here, and The Fantastic Five gave everything you had to help us get this going. You sharing your experience, strength, and hope so generously truly built the foundation of our house here. I love that you already are hearing and knowing the difference you made – your visit absolutely was a game-changer. I know you gave so much for us, but know this too – feeling like we are part of the larger community has meant the world to all of us, and most especially me. When Jovita answered my question in the October 15th Saturday morning Expert Roundtable meeting by talking about community and accountability as part of that, I realized that for me and for the board, that’s the change we all were experiencing this weekend that made it so special to us. We aren’t just out here trying to do this alone now…we are a part of, and now we need to pay forward the love and energy you shared so beautifully with us, and all that you all taught us by what you shared. We will make this happen here! And from this moment forward, know that in more ways than you ever realized, you all are as much a part of Magdalene Omaha as any of us here!
With more love and gratitude for you than I know how to say,
Every time a new partner comes on board the global trade network, it makes the whole effort stronger. Thistle Farms seems to keep growing in proportion to the calling to keep proclaiming love as the most powerful force for social change in the world. We can’t live into that calling without global vision. We can’t talk about healing without knowing the communities of women producing the oils or growing the tea. Just as the trafficking of drugs and people has global and local impact, our work must include multiple dimensions: a local residential program and social enterprise, a national education and outreach alliance, and a global market for women around the world. In this movement for women's freedom it is always glocal. It’s always with an eye toward the global issues and an eye toward the woman standing in front of us facing the hard choices about how to deal with broken relationships and dreams and trying not to run.
The local work happens all over the globe where women sit and make candles, natural products, or tea, and share their journey as healing unfolds. The healing happens one person at a time as stories are shared, and in the laughter and tears as they recognize themselves as beautiful. The healing happens through the daily promise that we will be here for one another. Twenty years ago the seeds we sowed in opening one house have blossomed into a successful social enterprise that is sustainable and scalable, as well as a Global Market that thrives in our partnerships with 24 organizations in 18 countries. All of us are committed to women’s social and economic freedom, and we have learned that freeing women requires all of us working together, because when we leave one woman behind, we are all in danger. The stories we hear of violence, degradation, rape, and pain are the same. It is one story told a million times over in a million different places.
I remember when the idea of our Global Marketplace, Shared Trade, came into being in the summer of 2014. I was standing on a train pulling out of Oxford, England with the Thistle Farms contingency and felt the shift of muddled thoughts moving from the world of feeling and taking on shape. The idea of launching a Thistle’s Farms Global initiative started after an international gathering with inspired music and justice advocates speaking in wishes about how economic justice could change the story of many women. My mind was racing in that beautiful way it feels like when the sky opens at sunrise, and we started talking about connecting groups of survivors through story and commerce, through an alliance that increased the value of the producers in the market chain. We could start a global market called “shared trade”, cut out distribution fees, while at the same time help small not for profits find their way into social enterprise. It made sense: loving women to find new paths so they could gain economic independence. We could connect globally so that women could feel freedom locally. What was stunning was how gracefully the funding came and how excited people were to launch a new venture.
What became clearer as our vision grew was that this global market could help us increase profits to other established groups around the world. The shared trade network could be like a seal of approval for new groups trying to make their way in a crowded market, and it could connect us to new stories and women who share the story of violence and childhood trauma that could empower everyone. When we started this work, twenty years ago, I couldn’t have told you how far this circle would stretch, eventually giving life to a social enterprise, a global shared trade network, a national alliance network, and a net that is cast wide enough to hold the suffering of women who have experienced the universal issues of sexual assault on their individual backs.
The height, depth, and breadth of our witness is bold. We are unwavering in the proclamation that the story of a million women around the world being trafficked and abused is actually one story of one woman that we’ve met time and time again. Our experience, after 20 years, has always been that when we go to the streets or prison, we encounter a part of ourselves. This growth and expansion is not saying yes to everything; it is saying yes to one thing, Love.
Love connects us all and asks us to share its grace and mercy with the whole world, one person at a time. Such a mission will take our whole lives and hopefully sweep us up in a global movement that can end the cycle of trafficking, abuse, and the violence of poverty for the communities we serve.
Whether we are pouring wax for candles we light for the next woman finding her way home, sharing fabrics from Indonesia that tell the story of our sisters’ journey to financial freedom, or serving a cup of hot justice tea to a sojourner who visits the Thistle Stop Cafe, this work is about one thing: women’s freedom.
The market that treats human beings as commodities and barters their worth down to a global average of about $30 dollars seems insatiable, and so we are responding in kind to insidious injustices with unstoppable love and compassion. Thistle Farms is not done expanding or dreaming. There are cities looking to us to help them open new residents. There are global communities needing to find new markets for distribution and better access to services for women in trauma. There are more jobs with better wages to be created and a deep need for more sanctuary. We are just beginning to hit our stride for the journey ahead.
Peace and love,
For the past twenty years, several of us have raised our sons while working alongside survivors of trafficking, genocide, and addiction. This summer, our sons have all come to work at Thistle Farms, the community we helped build. Thistle Farms is one of the largest social enterprises run by women survivors in the United States. We are so proud that our sons are a part of this movement for women’s freedom. This work reinforces a quality of masculinity that empowers them to stand up against pressures in the world which tell them to give in, turn the other way, and stay focused on their own pursuits, even as many young women suffer violence at the hands of abusive men and communities. Their presence reminds communities globally that sexual violence is not just a women’s issue. It is a human rights issue and we need our sons to stand with young women as the next generation works to heal the whole community. Our sons understand the struggles of growing up on social media and witnessing the privacy of others exploited with a single click. They grew up in in schools that prepare for mass shootings. They understand things differently than we do, and we need them to help lead us now that they are in college and entering the workforce.
As a mother, I long to help young men step into life with eyes for advocacy and justice and to learn to see love as the most powerful force for change. I want our sons to speak up for their sisters and others who are exploited. I want our sons to know that their voice matters because silence is a form of complacency. I want our sons to experience the labor and tears of women who have survived brutality as they work alongside them. I want our sons to learn to use their privilege as a means of liberation for others no matter how small. I want our sons to know that their daughters need them now, before they are even born — working towards a world that protects innocence, holds traffickers accountable, and tells on abusers. As a mother, it is sometimes hard to let go. But I promise that it is much easier to follow as they take the lead on some of this work. It’s joyful to watch them laugh and learn while working on heartbreaking truths.
Our sons are beautiful and powerful. They are becoming more convinced that love requires them to advocate, take action, and stand up for those exploited. We pray for them. We pray that they find in this work an initiation into a life of leadership, deep caring, and honesty, not self-gratification at the expense of others.
My son and your sons have so much work ahead to help us heal this world and grow rich fields of love.
-- Becca Stevens
Photo courtesy of Taro Yamasaki, with support from The Flerlage Foundation