I recently attended a day-conference in Rome entitled “Encountering Modern Day Slavery”. This event, run by the Clewer Initiative, had gathered young adults from various parts of the world, with the aim of highlighting and raising awareness of the issues around modern day slavery. I was there in my role as Partnership Coordinator for Europe, accompanying the current youth president of the Methodist Church in Britain.
(Trigger warning – the following contains some general details of rape and sexual violence.)
We heard two very powerful and moving testimonies from a young man and a young woman from different countries in Africa, as they shared about how they were deceived and exploited by people near and dear to them. The young man was betrayed by a close friend, who had offered to help him find a hopeful future in Europe, but in reality was sending him into forced labour, without pay, in Italy. This very moving story was tragic in and of itself, but it was the story of the young woman that touched and disturbed me even more deeply. This young lady was deceived and betrayed by her own (female) pastor in Africa – a lady who was very close to her family and who had helped them on many occasions. The young lady was sold into the sex trade and ended up working as a prostitute in Italy.
But it was an incident before she arrived in Italy that moved and disturbed me the most. A 13 year old girl, named, Grace, was also being trafficked into Europe. The lady shared how she had taken Grace under her wing and tried to protect her from the horrors of the camp and the dangers of the journey. But one day she could not protect Grace. Nor herself. The guards came and took them and violated them.
Two days later, Grace died of her injures. She was just 13 years old.
As I listened to this story being told, the tears were running down my cheeks. But I was also in awe of the strength and faith of the young lady who was sharing this story. “In an almost entirely hopeless situation, Grace’s deasth actually gave life to me,” she explained. “I promised myself that I will survive. I will survive this hell so that I can tell Grace’s story. This will not be the end of Grace!”.
In the afternoon the organizers of the event invited us to reflect further on what we had heard and how we were feeling. We could also make our own kites and decorate them in ways that might help us to express our thoughts and feelings. The leader played a beautiful piece of music from a Kenyan artist and asked us to be still and think about what we might like to draw or write on our kites. The Greek word χάρη came into my mind. It is Greek for ‘Grace’, with the last letter looking like a bird flying away. And so I began to draw. In spite of my limited artistic ability, I wanted to honour Grace. I wanted to see her transformed. I wanted to show the journey of this 13 year old from a place of darkness and fear to a place of light and hope and healing…and metamorphosis. A beautiful creature. As her Creator intended her to be. Risen. Flying high. Free.
The act of drawing and reflecting was actually a very useful way of processing some of the horrific accounts we had been hearing about that day. These painful and personal stories were incredibly moving. Moving, too, in the sense that they move me to action. That I quite literally move – do something – something other than just draw on a kite. This blog is a first step.