We all love a good story, right?
It's pretty much a normal part of the universal human experience to enjoy being entertained by stories.
It's why we love going to the movies, or why we get caught up in a good book and can't put it down.
It's why we will sit around a campfire for hours, laughing at the ridiculous tales our relatives tell of times gone by.
But stories have power beyond simple entertainment.
They have the power to disconnect us from our reality and connect us to another's.
That's the reason we feel so connected with another human as we sit across a cup of coffee from them and listen to them tell the story of their life.
Stories have the power to encourage, to inspire, to give hope.
That's why we love things that are "based on a true story." We find strength, meaning, and value in stories.
Stories also have the power to shock. To horrify.
That's why some of us steer clear of scary movies, but ultimately why we're all addicted to Stranger Things. Don't lie. If you're not already there, you should be. You know I'm right.
But beyond entertainment, connection, inspiration, or horror, some stories also have the power to shake us awake. To sober us up. To make us aware of our present surroundings. Even to make us feel guilt, or shame, or anger.
To be frank, some stories you don't really want to hear.
That's why we turn off the news, hide away from reality, look away from people on the side of the road with cardboard signs, scroll past pleas for prayers on social media, ask people to keep their personal lives to themselves. That's why we tend to avoid people who seem to have heavier stories than ours, whose lives are full of pain and regret, who always have something to complain about.
Unfortunately, those people are the ones with stories people often turn away from. They are the ones whose voices are never really heard. Their stories are stifled, stuffed away. They are made to be quiet. They are made to feel small. They've been told their stories are "too much." Some have even been told their stories cannot possibly be true.
These are the stories we must be willing to listen to.
These are the stories that need to be rewritten.
I've heard a lot of stories in my twenty-two years. I've sipped at lots of mugs while listening to storytellers of all kinds pour out their tales. Each of them has been just as important and valid and beautiful as the next.
But I spent a whole five months listening to stories like the ones I just described - ones that desperately needed their endings (and beginnings and middles) rewritten. Stories that had been minimized and told to quiet down for years. Stories that were finally breaking through the chains and finding freedom.
These stories rewrote mine.
My time as an intern at Homestead Ministries in Manhattan, Kansas will forever be etched on the tablet of my heart. I heard stories I never asked to hear, stories I never really wanted to hear, to be completely transparent.
Who wants to have someone in the passenger seat of their car speaking candidly, explicitly even, of the abuse done to them, of the torture they endured? Who wants to know that the woman they are sitting next to on the couch was forced to sell her body for money?
Nobody wants to hear those things. Because we don't want to be awakened to that kind of reality. We don't want to know that those kinds of stories exist. We don't want to live in a world where those things happen, where people really do hurt like hell.
But I heard these stories. I learned to not just hear them, but to really listen. To validate.
There is such power in this kind of affirmation.
Even if we can't exactly say, "me, too," there is power in the kind of empathy that isn't afraid. That doesn't shy away from the stories that are toughest on our ears and hearts. That seeks to understand and comfort and just be present in a story most people would turn their ears from.
There is unmeasurable power in looking at the person filling the space across from us and saying, "I hear your story. And I know that it is true."
The power in this kind of hearing, this listening with intention, leads to freedom.
When stories of this kind go untold, they perpetuate captivity. I've heard it said that there is great power in simply telling. Telling of our darkness - our struggle, our anxiety, our fear, our whatever - shines light on it. When another person looks at our struggle and says, "Okay, I hear you. I'm with you. How do we walk forward?" the light of freedom is shone brighter than any of the darkness that's been stifling us.
But there are people who are still enslaved to their stories. Who haven't told, who cannot tell. Millions of people, in fact.
There are nearly twenty-one million victims of human trafficking worldwide, according to the Polaris Project. Fifty-five percent of those victims are women and girls. Twenty-six percent are children.
They are in bondage - to exploitative humans, yes, but to their untold stories.
They have been duct taped, bound, beaten, manipulated, deceived, raped, clobbered into silence.
There are so many efforts being made to free them, so many rescuers pursuing them, so many stories of hope being told.
Unfortunately, there are many, many more who are still hidden away.
I am ready to change that.
Are you with me?
For a long time, I knew about these hidden stories but had no idea how to try and make a dent in them. Advocacy is wonderful, awareness-raising is wonderful, and it all helps. But how to tangibly make a difference in such a massive, all-consuming darkness? I felt helpless.
One of the most recent ways I am trying to push back the darkness is by patterning with HiddenGenius. They provide an excellent platform by which change makers can connect to create technology that solves problems in our messy world.
We would love to see software created or an application developed that helps identify human trafficking offenders, alerts authorities, brings them to justice, frees victims, and overall, reduces the scale of human trafficking globally. There is currently no such technology that has been successful. Such a development would be invaluable in today's efforts to eradicate this horrific reality.
Would you join with us in being storytellers for those who can't? Would you do your part to help free the enslaved?
Here's what you can do.
We need connections.
Big or small, we are trying to get in touch with organizations who are passionate about this issue, and companies or people who are capable of developing excellent technology. If you have connections and/or are an excellent networker, please jump in and let us know!
We need support.
In order to support our future tech developer, we need funding. We are being transparent about our need to raise funds because - let's be frank here - we all hate being schmoozed. So yes, we need your money. Think of it as an investment, one with potentially huge payoffs for hundreds of thousands of people.
We need prayer.
I might have just lost some of you, but I am a firm believer that this issue goes deeper than the reality that we can see. There is a spiritual war being fought (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) and we need to fight it with the right weapons (Ephesians 6:11-17). If you don't do anything else, please please pray.
Check out the challenge here. Follow along for updates and more information.
Thank you so much for making it this far - you are the few and the passionate who are going to make tangible change happen. We are so excited to be on this journey with you.
Check out Wheeler's blog here.