Posted: 19 November 2015

Shine a light for those whose lives are shrouded in the darkness of exploitation

When many people think of Advent, the word which usually tends to follow is ‘calendar’. 

If you’ve ever purchased one of these, you’ll no doubt have found that the countdown to Christmas is soon dominated by children with hungry eyes, wishing tomorrow would come more quickly so they can open the door to their next chocolate treat.  

In fact our twenty-four year old daughter, who has left home, continues to be excited by a daily dose of chocolate pre-breakfast during Advent.

At the heart of Advent is looking forward to the coming of God, although the Bible readings associated with the season place this hope in the context of dark and forboding days.  All of which is a world away from the frivolity and novelty which usually accompanies the run-up to Christmas.

Now of course, its not for me to ruin advent calendars for you all, but as Advent draws nearer, and the days become darker and colder, I cannot help but think of the thousands of children and young people for whom this Advent and Christmas will not be the joyous occasion it should be.

My visit to a child sexual exploitation service

In July, I had the opportunity to visit The Children’s Society’s SCARPA service, which works with young people in Newcastle who go missing and are at risk of sexual exploitation.

The project sits at the end of a dark, narrow alley on a quiet side street away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. 

On the day I visited the weather was miserable and locating the entrance was a slightly foreboding prelude for what turned out to be a wonderfully warm, open space where the sense of care hits you immediately. 

We spent most of our time with Sarah, one of the project workers, and Ben, the Programme Manager. They spoke to us about the issues that many of the young people are facing.

Difficult, messy issues that we often don’t want to talk about and may not feel equipped to deal with because of their horrific nature.

It’s this same messiness that can often lead us to sweep these things under the carpet. And yet it is the covering up and the secrecy shrouding sexual exploitation that casts such a dark shadow on the lives of young people faced with this issue. Making them believe that what’s happened to them is their own fault, that somehow they deserve this. 

For many of these young people, visiting a project like SCARPA will be the first time they have someone to talk to and listen to them.

How Christingle fits in 

For me, it’s the bringing together of a hurting world with the hope of incarnation that makes Christingle such an important part of Advent.

If you’ve ever been to a Christingle you’ll know that it embraces messiness, (think lots of children, lots of sweets, lots of sticky hands), and the darkness of the world, and turns it on its head by focusing on the light and hope that we can shine into the darkness.

It reminds us that Christ came and took the burden of our vulnerability and pain and gives us a practical way of doing the same for others – making a real difference to young people today.

So this Advent, I hope you’ll put down the calendar for a moment and join The Children’s Society in shining a light for those whose lives are shrouded in the darkness of exploitation – whose only hope is for someone to open a door at the end of a dark alley on a quiet side street.

By Stephen Keyworth - Guest bloggers
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