Monday, May 25, 2009

GRACE

This is an account of my efforts to put into action what I learn while reading the Bible, an account of my journey to become closer to God.

I’m on the road all day tomorrow so am posting an article I wrote recently for my other blog, http://www.touchedbyservice.blogspot.com/. It’s about an organization run by a friend of mine from way back. Cheryl and I knew each other 30 years ago, and are now reunited around a cause worthy of your thoughtful prayers:

A few months ago I began to hear people talking about an organization called Street GRACE. Curious about Street GRACE, I began to dig around to find out what the organization does. It didn’t take long to realize just what an important mission the organization has undertaken – to eradicate the commercial sexual exploitation of children (referred to as CSEC) in Atlanta.

I asked myself if there really was such a problem in our capital city. Sadly, I discovered, there is.

In 2000, Fulton County Chief Juvenile Court Judge Nina Hickson was appalled as she presided over the 1,000th case of child prostitution that had come before her. Later, the issue of child prostitution was brought to the attention of Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin. In 2005, the mayor commissioned a report now known as "Hidden in Plain View" which revealed to a broader audience the pervasiveness of commercial sexual exploitation in Atlanta.

It is estimated between two hundred and three hundred young girls are exploited in Georgia each month with the majority of those atrocities occurring here in Atlanta. When I read that statistic I remembered hearing on the news a few years ago about a young girl who was forced into prostitution on the streets just a few blocks from where I was working at the time. I was deeply disturbed by that situation, but apparently not deeply enough for I soon forgot about that young girl as I became distracted again by the trappings and events of my charmed life.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I, father of a beloved daughter, was not outraged enough to do something about the terrible problem of CSEC. I became even more embarrassed about my apathy when I learned that the Executive Director of Street GRACE, Cheryl DeLuca-Johnson, a woman outraged enough to do something about CSEC, was a close friend of mine during my college years. I had to admit to her that I’d been made aware of the problem but had chosen to do nothing about it.

I sat down with Cheryl recently to learn more about Street GRACE.

Greg: Tell me what Street GRACE does and how someone can help to achieve its goals?

Cheryl: Street GRACE is a non-denominational alliance of churches dedicated to eradicating the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Atlanta. That’s the long way of saying we are combating the rape of children for profit. Atlanta consistently lands on the Top 10 list of places where child prostitution is a significant problem. What we don’t know is how big the problem really is; we aren’t yet including boy victims in our data. Street GRACE was formed to bring an end to this problem before it grows to even larger proportions.

Greg: And how are you hoping to accomplish that?

Cheryl: We are focused on a number of strategic areas. The first is awareness. We are trying to form a Speakers Bureau of people from different walks of life, businessmen, mothers, students, health professionals, who we will train to become advocates speaking out about our cause. So many people don’t know about the problem of CSEC. We need people who are willing to help us expand our reach so that more people will become stirred to tackle CSEC.

Secondly, we are working to establish a prayer network throughout the city. We need people praying for the children as well as the predator, for they are lost, too. We want to blanket the city in prayer twenty-four seven to ask God to protect these children. We need help establishing this network.

Third, we are working to mobilize churches. If you are a member of a church which is interested in our mission but not yet involved with Street GRACE, we want to come alongside you to help get your church involved. We hope to have one hundred churches as members of Street GRACE by the end of 2010. Corporately, we will bring hands and feet to the issue and demand the attention of the powers that are most capable of ending CSEC in Atlanta.

Fourth, we need volunteers who are willing to work with at risk children and in risk neighborhoods, and others who will mentor children through after school programs and one-on-one youth mentoring. Of course we want to rescue child victims, but we also want to intervene and prevent victimization by introducing caring adults into the lives of children at risk. If all we do is rescue young girls off the street, we only create a void that other girls will be forced to fill.

Greg: What does it mean to mobilize churches?

Cheryl: Church mobilization means to bring awareness of CSEC to Believers so that they might take up the fight for justice for these children. We encourage church members to write letters and sign the petition in support of Senate Bill 91, an important piece of legislation which will create a five dollar surcharge paid by patrons of adult entertainment facilities, money that will go directly toward the support of rescued children. We hope to have at least 100,000 people to sign the petition; we want to make it uncomfortable for anyone to ignore our cause (visit http://www.weurgeyou.com/ to sign the petition).

Greg: Some people think they must have personal experience in order to be an effective advocate for a cause. Would you address that concern?

Cheryl: One doesn’t need to first have experienced an injustice in order to recognize where an injustice exists and then rise up in outcry against it. If you have a heart for children you can be an effective advocate for our cause. We will coach you on how to use your gifts to combat CSEC; all you have to do is let us know you want to help.

Greg: So you can use people of all different skill sets, not just those willing to walk the halls of the capital or work one-on-one with a child.

Cheryl: If you have a heart for children, we will find a meaningful way to use your time and talents. Street GRACE was formed just over a year ago. We started out small and unknown and are now growing in size and credibility, yet we have a lot of work to do before the next legislative session (January). We need all the volunteers we can get to help us fulfill our mission.


When our meeting ended Cheryl went on to another one and I drove home, taking with me a list of things I had agreed to do for Street GRACE. Even if she weren’t an old friend, I simply couldn’t sit across the table from Cheryl DeLuca-Johnson and remain apathetic about CSEC. Because since that day when I first heard about CSEC, I have also heard Jesus’ call for justice and mercy for the least and oppressed.

I just couldn’t say No. Can you?

Well, I guess that’s enough for today. Thanks so much for visiting my blog, and please pray for me and my family. Now go out and hug somebody!

1 comment:

Nana said...

Hi Greg,
I Went to that web site to sign the petition, but I didn't find one on there. Any help?