New Memories

The next time I write here, it will not be here. I won’t be sitting on my couch or on my bed (yes, I often write in my bed – I know). I’ll be far, far away from these comforts.

I know this isn’t special. I know that people travel overseas all the time. I know that people do a hell of a lot more to fight human trafficking and sex slavery than this little eight day trip. I know that people see worse things and endure worse conditions than I’m about to see and endure.

And I know that there are people who are probably better suited for this trip. People who have a better knowledge about human trafficking. People who know what it’s like to endure sexual abuse. People who are seasoned world travelers and know how to get from point America to point Moldova without being unclear exactly what it is that Customs DOES.

A dear friend texted me a few days ago and wrote, “Soak it up. Experience every detail. And do not fear. You will be filled.”

I don’t know if I can go without fear. I’ll be honest, the soaking up, the experience – these things frighten me.

But a couple of weeks ago, I sat with my daughters, 11 and 14, in our kitchen. We mixed blue kool-aid into a thick paste and spread it on their hair while we sang along with P!nk at the top of our lungs. The 11 year old wasn’t sure she wanted to go through with it even though she was the one who had chosen the color, so her older sister joined in the fun to give her courage to try. They snickered about their limp “unicorn horns” of saran-wrapped hair, and then laughed outright when their hands turned more blue than their hair.

These are the memories that 11 year olds and 14 year olds should have. Memories of being silly with their mom. Memories of a sister bolstering their self-esteem. Memories of pop music blaring in their ears and the smell of blue raspberry kool-aid filling their nose.

No girl should have memories of being stolen from her family and sold into prostitution. No girl should have memories of someone using her body for his own pleasure without regard for her. No girl should have memories of worthlessness and despair.

I can’t take those memories away from the young women that I’ll be meeting in a few days. I can’t change their past horrors.

But I can sit and crochet with them. I can join them as we polish our nails and learn to art journal together.  I can, in every way that I know how and with every ounce of my being for that short time, tell them that they are beautiful and valuable. That they have worth, not simply as a product to be sold, but intrinsically, as a woman and as a beloved child of God.

It won’t erase their pasts. But it will – I hope and I pray – be a new memory worth holding onto.

my girls 2

  • Ed_Cyzewski

    Beautiful reflections. I love your humble heart Alise. If you thought you were “the one” then you’d probably have a lot more to worry about! We’ll be praying for you!

  • Janet Oberholtzer

    Alise, love you attitude and you go on this trip. Love your awareness of what you can and can’t do. And don’t worry about the fear. It’s normal, you’ll have it. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather moving ahead even with fear.

    May you have a safe and meaningful trip!

  • Clark

    Alise – thanks for not “burying your ‘talent’ in the ground” out of fear! That never pleases the Master. You will be magnificent because of Him. You will also have the blessing of sharing that you and they are daughters of the King with a spiritually royal heritage. Blessings and prayers!

  • Charlene Wolfe

    Alise, I believe that you will go to Moldova with your humble and Loving heart and bring Sunshine into these young girls lives. Even if you are only there for a short time, you will give these girls a Wonderful memory to carry with them. You are an Inspiration to us all. You are doing God’s work and following your heart putting others needs ahead of your own. My Prayers are with you. God Will protect you, so go forward without fear and know that we are all so Proud of you and you will be in our thoughts and Prayers until you return! You are such a Sweet and Loving Soul! GOD BLESS AND KEEP YOU!! Charlene

  • Jessica


  • Bethany Suckrow

    Such a beautiful reminder for all of us, Alise. I’m going on a short-term missions trip in March, and this was a great reminder of why, even if I can’t fix everything, the going and doing of short-term missions is still something God can use for His Kingdom.

  • Monika Jankun-Kelly

    Go and bear witness, Alise. Some people can read about another’s life, in the paper, or watch the news, and they can easily imagine and empathize with someone different, in unfamiliar circumstances, because our needs for love and security and purpose are universal. Some people relate to others more easily through firsthand experience, or the stories of a friend. I think you can help people understand these girls better, and perhaps care more deeply, by sharing what you learn in Moldova. I hope you will write about what they choose to share with you, be that a smile or nail painting. Perhaps if any of them know some English, you might chat. May it help us all see we are all just people, and so very, very similar. Those girls could be our daughters and sisters. The more people that know and care, the more these girls will be helped and protected.

    I believe you might bring a bit of sunshine into their week with crochet lessons, you might share a laugh, you might create a good shared memory. And that “small” thing is not insignificant at all. By treating them as you would your daughters, by coming to them with a humble and loving heart, perhaps you will reinforce the idea that they are wonderful, valuable, irreplaceable, lovable people, and that is a good thing. I’m sure that their sense of self-worth, self-love, their sense of safety and security, will be derived almost entirely from long term, stable relationships with family, friends, those close to them in their everyday lives. Nevertheless, “small” acts from strangers still matter. After all, the decency of society overall is made up of many, many small acts of kindness each of us makes towards strangers, every day. Perhaps you will, in a small way, help the staff at the center be an example to others of how these girls should be treated, and that is a good thing. However…

    It is my deep and sincere hope that the economy in Moldova will improve so that sheer desperation no longer makes these girls vulnerable to predators and exploiters. Maybe as more people become aware and caring, they might invest in Moldova, make microloans through Kiva to smallholder farmers and family businesses, or vote for legislators who actively work for better international trade and diplomacy, or demand the prosecution of traffickers. I think you can help with that by helping us see, understand, care. Your blog may be but a drop in the ocean, but what is the ocean other than a lot of raindrops?

    (please bear with me here, although I may sound very negative, my ending thought is very supportive) There appears to be a sense among many that short term missions are about helping these girls feel loved and telling them about God. People do sincerely care, and want to personally help, and interact face to face, I understand that. But don’t the Moldovan families and center staff love the girls and teach religion? What does a short term missionary do better than locals, and is it more a learning experience for the missionary than a benefit to the girls? Why not use mission money to help build a school, fund a clinic, grow a business, pay for prosecution of traffickers? Won’t that be a more lasting benefit, and help prevent trafficking? Yes, these girls *need* love, may want religion, but if they’re not getting it from locals, an eight day mission won’t change that. So why do I support Alise’s trip? If a missionary opens our eyes back home, then more of us can do more to help. I see short term missions as an opportunity to inform others, those who relate to strangers best through personal accounts, narrative, stories.

    There are orphanages in Asia frequented by short term missionaries who want to hug kids, sing to them, etc. The well run, responsible orphanages discourage this practice. They allow short termers to help in the kitchen, or the office, but not interact with the children. A constant parade of people who sing “Jesus loves me”, snap photos of them, and then leave, never to return, does not help the kids feel loved and valued. It actually harms their ability to form attachments and makes them feel like animals in a zoo. I think what Alise is doing is different. She won’t visit orphans or very young children. She’ll help with fun activities at the center, be kind, but not claim she’s filling a love void all by herself or act like a tourist. Not worried about Alise, and I wish her the best. Somewhat worried about the expectations people have about missions and how best to help.

    In case anyone thinks I’m just some secular humanist (I am) ranting against missionaries (I’m not), I’ll recommend Jamie the Very Worst Missionary’s blog. She’s a devout Christian and a missionary, and shares many of these ideas. I learned a lot from her.

  • Denise Dilley

    Thank you for going, for sitting with these girls, valuing them, and loving them. My heart and prayers go with you.

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