When my husband Jay and I were on tour with our documentary, we’d sometimes encounter curious individuals who wondered if we had kids. Jay would joke and say, “oh shoot, we forgot them in the trunk” (usually people figured out he was joking, but there was the occasional person who seemed concerned). The road life is not exactly kid-friendly, so we’ve opted to give birth to some projects before we start a family.
Humans love to create, and I have the privilege of being married to one of the most creative, hard-working, throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall-until-something-sticks people on the planet. Over the course of the last two years, sandwiched between pieces of our North American documentary tour, Jay has been giving birth to another dream – writing his first book.
This last year, Jay (or Jared, as he is known in the literary world) embarked on a wild journey around the world in an attempt to revive his prayer life. As you can imagine, anti-trafficking work can get pretty dark and depressing, and our faith has sustained us through some difficult seasons.
On this 37,000-mile global pilgrimage, Jay got to meet Pope Francis (who has made the fight against trafficking a huge priority for the Catholic church), spend New Year’s in North Korea, visit a bunch of monks on Mount Athos, dance with Jewish rabbis in Brooklyn, and even found himself walking across a bed of hot coals.
It’s essentially a humorous – yet earnest – memoir about Jay’s journey examining various Judeo-Christian prayer traditions, with the hope of re-igniting his own prayer life. So, while the book itself is not about human trafficking (meaning this is a departure from what I usually write about here on the HFTS blog), I wanted to do an interview with Jay so you can learn more about his book and his passion for story-telling.
What was the moment that inspired you to write your new book?
I was in the red light district in Amsterdam. There was a soccer game going on, and there were hundreds of drunk guys outside of this one bar. When the game was over – depending on which team won – the men would either celebrate with the women in the windows or take out their aggression on them. Either way, the girls lose. In the middle of the district is the oldest building in Amsterdam – an 800 year old church. The church bells were ringing, and it messed me up – I decided I needed to go on a pilgrimage to re-spark my prayer life.
As a guy, what was it like to visit the red light district for the first time?
Honestly, I was surprised by how young the girls were. Obviously I tried to stick to eye contact with the women, and it was very interesting to watch the men. You couldn’t make eye contact if you stood on your head – they were either staring at women, or their eyes were zeroed on the pavement. It seemed almost… predatory, and somehow shameful.
It was interesting to see the women in the windows react to Michelle and her friend when they were chatting with them. The girls dropped the sexy act, and the guys cleared a wide berth around them. There was a look of disgust on many of the guys’ faces when they saw these women drop the act – if you believe the hype and stereotype, it’s uncomfortable to see real displays of humanity.
What interview has affected you most personally?
We interviewed a 17-year-old girl in Amsterdam who had been out of the trade for less than a year. Her first client was in the back of a car in a parking garage when she was 12 years old. Forget shaking hands, she wouldn’t even make eye contact with me at first, and I certainly didn’t expect her to after what she’d been through. That was a tough interview, and at one point I apologized – on behalf of males – for the abuse she had endured. I was so honoured when she smiled and shook my hand at the end.
What are a few things you have learned about sex trafficking that you want people to know?
First: “Choice” is complicated. If a girl was trafficked at 14, but now she’s 18 and working out of free will, is it still a choice? If a woman has a drug addiction or is in debt, is it a choice?
Second: This is a male issue. Supply-and-demand economics make it pretty obvious: if men don’t pay for sex, women aren’t trafficked for sex. We need to stop looking at porn, paying for sex, and treating women like objects. Because they’re actually kinda great.
Third: This is a massive money business, and often organized crime controls it. It’s massively profitable, and we need all hands on deck to fight it.
Why are you passionate about telling stories?
Books and movies have changed my life. Beautiful Mind was the first time I ever thought about mental illness. Braveheart taught me about having conviction under pressure. Walden helped me simplify my life. Stories can make the world a better place, because they can make us better people. Thus, why my book is just a bunch of crazy stories about prayer.
The book is called A Year of Living Prayerfully, and you can purchase it anywhere books are sold (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters, Christian bookstores etc). Visit LivingPrayerfully.com to download the first two chapters for free.
Between May 26 and 29, the e-book is on sale at Amazon for $2.99.
Lastly, new Audible customers get the audiobook for free with this link (complete with singing and a dozen accents!).
My hope is that whether you are a person of faith or not, this book with resonate with you in a fun and meaningful way. May everything we do be full of mission and purpose, so that we can elevate human worth and love each other better.