Hootenanny for Hope

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My experience with a hootenanny, a flaming bandana, and the realities of human trafficking:

I went to my first ever hootenanny, ya’ll! My husband thought it hilarious that I knew what a hootenanny was from watching Sophia the First with the kids. For anyone not up-to-date with your Sophia episodes, I’ll explain.

A hootenanny is an informal gathering with folk music and sometimes dancing. (And sometimes fires in the barn if I’m around, but I’ll get to that in a bit.) Even with my cartoon education, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Thankfully, it was a kid-friendly event, as we had all three little ones in tow. Caleb (5) and Ellie (3) were lost in raucous imaginary play for the entire 30 minute ride to Sale Creek, TN, until the van popped over a hill and entered another realm. Caleb instantly ceased his aggravating and emitted a soft, “Wow.” I was just as impressed. Rolling green land stretched as far as the eye could see. Farm houses dotted hills like punctuation marks. The atmosphere hummed with something peaceful and separate.

We wound through the back roads a minute more, and pulled into the grassy parking area on the side of Drewia Hill. If you search the words ‘rustic elegance’ The Barn at Drewia Hill should top the list. The venue made me want to get married all over again.

Rowdy kids in tow, we wiggled our way through the barn full of crowded tables to locate our seats. It was a packed house, and anticipation was in the air. The table was laid out shabby chic style with mason jars full of flowers, burlap, and bandana napkins. Oh, and candles….let’s not forget the candles. After a bit of shuffling, the kids were settled with their plates, and my husband went back to the buffet for our barbecue.

I was bouncing my grouchy 16 month old to the music of the bluesy jug band playing in the corner, when Caleb said, “Mom! Fire!”

I think I responded with an absent-minded mother’s “Yes, the candles are pretty, now eat your food.” (Or something of the like.)

“No, Mom. Fire. It’s on fire!”

I looked where he pointed. My eyes grew three times in size that day ;). One corner of a bandana curled in the  candle flame. I leaned over to blow out the infant fire while something in my head said, “That’s a terrible idea.” A young man sitting next to me leaned over to help in my counterproductive effort. The blaze leapt higher. I envisioned the beautiful white linens draped in the barn rafters engulfed in flames.

Tactic A was an utter failure, ideas for tactic B anyone? Baby on one hip, I pinched the only corner not on fire, and inched toward the doorway. The flames licked, and I didn’t get far. I dropped it on the ground and started stomping. Our host, David Haggard, now alerted to the fact that his hootenanny was at risk of going up in flames, ran over to help me with the last of it. And that, folks, is why you wear boots to a hootenanny.

Did I mention that the name of the ministry we were there to support is called Blazing Hope Ranch? We are literally minded people in my little family…apparently.

We weren’t there just for music, food, and fun. There was a higher calling to this funny-named event. Hootenanny for Hope was a fundraising event for Blazing Hope Ranch, a budding ministry in Dayton, TN that exists to assist female survivors of human trafficking by providing healing, opportunity, protection, and education.  Programs include transitional living, equestrian therapy, and camps for foster children.

The guest speaker, Angie Duncan, a survivor of human trafficking and founder of Hosea’s Heart in Knoxville, TN opened my eyes to the need for places like Blazing Hope Ranch. The entire room leaned in to hear her heart-rending experience. The pain of her story was palpable. Tears pricked my eyes, but didn’t start to fall until she shared the hope she found in Jesus. That was beauty at its finest.

I’ve heard reports of human trafficking and sexual slavery on the news. Those stories evoke images in my mind from the movie Taken–  white, middle-upper class girl, followed and kidnapped. The media-sensationalized depiction of human trafficking does exist, but I learned on Tuesday evening that those types of instances account for about 1% of the trade.

The truth behind the driving force of human trafficking is darker, and far more subtle. Who are the victims of human trafficking? Foster children on the fringe, desperate for a better life. Children sold by their own families for drug money. Young women raised under generational sex slavery, watching their mothers and grandmothers sell themselves to survive. The young woman at the strip club or exhibited in pornography might be there of her own volition, or she might be a victim of sexual slavery.  The victims are the people society forgets. The people who don’t have a home to run back to.

Pain twists in my chest when I think that there are people I overlook, living in hidden desperation. I’m not talking about third world countries, I am talking about people I pass as I walk down the streets of my own city.

A few months back, a poster in a Denver airport bathroom struck a chord. There were hotline numbers for people who were entrapped in sex slavery, and warning signs to recognize a victim. How could there be a need for such warnings in the so-called land of the free? I wanted to help, but I was at a loss.

Here is what my night at The Hootenanny for Hope taught me:

  1. Be intentional in your relationships. For the victim, you might be the first example of a healthy relationship they have ever had. Look them in the eye. Tell them their worth.
  2. Give your financial and/or volunteer support to groups like Blazing Hope Ranch and Hosea’s Heart. They are offering women place of safety, and the resources to make a fresh start.  They understand the factors that perpetuate human trafficking, and are taking active measures to bring it to a halt.
  3. Pray. Pray for your eyes to be opened. Pray that the Church gathers around those society forgets, and offers them a place of refuge instead of a place of judgement.

The need is greater than we can imagine for places like Blazing Hope Ranch. But there is always hope. Those who society overlooks, God sees.  I ask that God give me eyes to see. I want to recognize the need, and have the courage to reach out.

Thanks for stopping by. Take a moment and pray. Ask God to open your eyes to someone at risk. Ask for courage to make a difference. Click on the links and check out Blazing Hope Ranch and Hosea’s Heart for education on human trafficking and incredible testimonies of lives changed. Consider donating to one of these incredible organizations.

Thanks for reading everyone. I’ll see you on Monday where I will share how one dinner with a neighbor changed my life. See you soon!

 


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