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Archive for the ‘Social Activism’ Category

Dirk Schutter, loyal citizen or unlawful presence | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on November 10, 2022

Dirk Schutter, resident of Rains County since 2001, has been a citizen of the United States since 1960. But because of an expired driver’s license and three missing digits on a bureaucratic form, he is now classified by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as “lawful presence not verified.”

Schutter was born in Wilp, Holland on July 18, 1937. When he was twelve years old, in order to find a better quality of life for their children and better healthcare for Dirk who was recovering from polio, his family immigrated to the United States. This was during a time when immigrants were required to have a U.S. sponsor who would guarantee a place to live and a job for at least five years. Upon arrival in New York, new arrivals were processed through Ellis Island before being sent to join their sponsors. In the Schutters’ case, their sponsor was in Terrell, Texas.

Schutter had completed the fifth grade in Holland, but he spoke almost no English. Instead of making special provision for his lack of language skill, the school system dropped him back to first grade. He learned quickly and almost caught up to grade level, graduating from high school at the age of twenty. By that time, he had met Patricia Moore and had fallen in love. However, her mother wouldn’t allow her daughter to marry a non-citizen, fearing he would take her back to Holland. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Schutter attended naturalization classes, and on August 29, 1960, he became a citizen of his adopted country.

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What can you do about human trafficking? by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on January 20, 2022:

January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. During this month, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services makes fighting against human trafficking a priority, and strives to improve awareness, services, and prevention efforts to help eradicate trafficking in Texas. In keeping with this goal, I want to share some of what I’ve learned during the research for the novels I have written about human trafficking, specifically about child sex trafficking.

Before I wrote the first book, my perspective was very narrow. In my mind, this unspeakable crime was limited to the back alleys of foreign countries or a few mega-cities in the U.S. where orphans or run-aways were snatched from a hopeless existence and forced into something even worse. And it didn’t include children.

Then, one Sunday evening, a couple from Tyler visited our church. They had founded an organization called For the Silent whose mission statement reads, in part: we work to end sex trafficking and exploitation by empowering the voices of vulnerable and exploited youth. Their visit was a real wake up call.

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Welcome Home | by Robert Worley as told to Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on November 11, 2021:

In February of 1965, nineteen-year-old Robert Worley was accepted into the U.S. Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class as a lance corporal E-3. He admits that, at the time, he had never heard of Vietnam – he was busy trying to adapt to college after Paducah High School. Three weeks later, everyone knew about Vietnam.

On March 8, 1965, President Johnson launched what became a three-year campaign of sustained bombing of targets in North Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Operation Rolling Thunder. The same month, U.S. Marines landed on beaches near DaNang, South Vietnam as the first American combat troops to enter Vietnam. Still, Worley thought the war, which was being called a police action, would be over by the time he graduated from college in 1968.

However, before he received his degree he was being trained by Vietnam veterans, and the TET offensive turned 1968 into the bloodiest year of the war. In October of 1969, 2nd Lt. Robert Worley was sent to DaNang Air Base as part of the First Marine Aircraft Wing. He was assigned as the Supply Officer for Marine Composite Reconnaissance Squadron 1. In December, he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant.

By then, Worley had learned some of the history of Vietnam. The French preceded the United States in South Vietnam until May 7, 1954 when North Vietnam defeated them at Dien Bien Phu. The U.S. provided the French and South Vietnam with money and became secretly involved in the war in 1955 as soon as the French left. The first official U.S. death in Vietnam occurred in 1960, and President Kennedy officially entered Vietnam in 1961 with troop buildup. By 1962, nine thousand American troops were in South Vietnam in an advisory capacity but some were being killed. In February of 1965, President Johnson ordered the bombing of targets in North Vietnam in Operation Flaming Dart in retaliation for a Viet Cong raid at the U.S. base in the city of Pleiku and at a nearby helicopter base at Camp Holloway.

The Vietnam War is a controversial part of our nation’s history with many attributing shameful and brutal behavior to the American military and touting the humane conduct of the North Vietnamese. Among the many spreading pro-Communist and anti-U.S. rhetoric were John Kerry, Dan Rather, and Walter Cronkite, to name a few. Most notable among these is Jane Fonda who toured Vietnam in July of 1972 where she visited several sites including the Hanoi Hilton, the infamous Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi. After her visit, Fonda concluded that the U.S. was unjustly bombing farmland and other sites far removed from military targets. She also claimed the Vietnamese provided their prisoners of war with the most humane treatment in the history of war.

John Kerry also spent three months in Vietnam. After returning home to run for congress, he told about how inhumane the U.S. military was. Kerry was once asked by David Frost if the South Vietnamese people liked U.S. soldiers. Kerry’s answer was that the Americans were hated. But Worley has a completely different story to tell.

Shortly after being stationed in DaNang, Worley discovered that his unit regularly sent medical civic action patrols far into the jungle to take medical teams – doctors, nurses, dentists, surgeons, and other volunteers – to offer treatment to South Vietnamese who had been brutalized by the North Vietnamese. They worked in crude conditions, doing amputations in mud huts and performing dental procedures on patients sitting in a regular chair while sitting on a four-legged stool. All personnel kept helmets and pistols at the ready in case of attack. The medical teams were always accompanied by a Marine reinforced rifle company for protection. Worley went once as an observer, and he said once was enough. He went on to say, “It was a sobering day, seeing the torture and cruelty the North Vietnamese did to Vietnamese natives who they thought were friendly to the Americans.” The First Marine Aircraft Wing received the Civic Action Medal from the South Vietnamese government for these trips and more that benefitted the South Vietnamese.

Although the medical missions were not for him, Worley still wanted to be part of what was included in that “more.” When he discovered that a group of Marines, enlisted and officers, and Vietnamese Air Force officers were teaching English as a Second Language at a Catholic orphanage, he wanted in. Every Tuesday night the volunteer teachers dressed in flak jackets and traveled through enemy territory to Ahn Sang School where they taught grades 1-12 and others. They were shot at on the way to the school, and classes were taught to the background of the sounds of war.

The students in Worley’s class included a high school principal, a nurse, and a teenage boy. The teenager was a Montagnard Indian, a generic term for Vietnamese natives who lived in the mountains and were fiercely anti-communists. One of Worley’s most treasured war relics is a hand-carved wooden water buffalo bell given to him by this student. His favorite ESL memory is the evening he spent explaining America’s favorite pastime to a class who didn’t know what baseball was.

In direct rebuttal to John Kerry’s claim that the South Vietnamese hated Americans, Worley said, “We were all that was between them and genocide.” When Nixon announced a phased withdrawal, his ESL class was in tears, asking why the Americans were leaving them. “They were terrified, and they all wanted us there,” he added. On his last night, Worley gave a graduation speech. “I told them to be strong. I said that even though the good guys were pulling out, their army could prevail. I lied.”

Of course, not all the natives were as cordial. The South Vietnamese bought garbage from the Americans, and some of those people were used to set up attacks on the base. One day Worley noticed a mama-san walking very slowly and carefully across the base. Later, it was realized that she was making markers for a planned rocket attack. In early 1970 during one of these raids, a Vietnamese rocket exploded close to his hooch, landing squarely on an enlisted hooch. One enlisted Marine was killed, seven were injured, and Worley eventually developed tinnitus and went deaf.

Another of Worley’s treasures is a signed copy of When Hell Was in Session, a book written by Admiral/Senator Jeremiah Denton. The inscription reads Robert, To one of the best who always got there 1st. In response to Jane Fonda’s comments about the Hanoi Hilton, Worley refers to that book. Denton was a prisoner at the time of Fonda’s visit. He says that, before she arrived, prisoners were cleaned up and given new clothes, and anyone who showed signs of being beaten or punished was secluded.The prisoners were lined up, and Fonda shook hands with each one. Denton says the man next to him palmed a note to her giving names of some of the other prisoners, and that she passed it on to the prison guards. After she left, that prisoner was beaten to death.

When asked what he most wanted people to take away from his story, Worley said,“We were not murderers.” He conceded that atrocities occurred in Vietnam. “There were a few who were vicious,” he said,“but there are vicious people in regular civilian life. The vicious ones of the 2.1 million who served in Vietnam were in the minority.

“One of the hardest times for those who served ‘boots on the ground’ in Vietnam was the return. We were aware of the nation’s attitude toward us during and after Vietnam. I only encountered the negativism a few times, and it wasn’t that bad for me. But I had friends who were cursed at, spit on and called ‘baby killers.’ That was really sad. I only got accused of being a baby killer once. Some of the most ardent promoters of that attitude – John Kerry among them – are still with us and still spewing out stupidity.  To this day it is appropriate to say to a Vietnam veteran – ‘Welcome Home!’”

Worley left Vietnam in May of 1970 as a 1st Lt. He was transferred immediately to Okinawa, then to Camp Pendleton, California in July of 1971. He was honorably discharged in July of 1972 as a Captain.

Robert Worley is now the Director of Economic Development of the City of Emory Development Corporation. For more insights into the politics and strategies of the long Vietnam War, he suggests “We Were Soldiers Once, and Young” written by Army Lt. Col. Hal Moore and also the movie, “We Were Soldiers.”

NOTE: The photos are from Google and are intended to be representative of Worley’s experiences.

What you can do to fight human trafficking | by Linda Brendle

January is Human Trafficking Prevention/Awareness Month, and yesterday I posted an article about Cecilia Abbott, First Lady of Texas, who recently announced a statewide interfaith “Week of Prayer to End Human Trafficking” on Jan. 11-17. The article included daily prompts for those who choose to participate. Today I’m following up with some suggestions about what you can do after you pray.

Even though I knew child trafficking existed, in my mind it was a remote evil until I heard a presentation from an organization based fifty miles from my home who rescues girls and sometimes boys who have been trafficked. Since then I have written two novels in the hope of raising awareness about a tragedy that exists, not just in foreign countries or huge cities but in the towns where children you know and love play and go to school.

One of the most common questions I’m asked about my books is why on earth I chose to write about such a dark, heart-wrenching topic. I have a long, involved explanation, but basically the answer is that I want my readers to understand that sex trafficking is real and that it is here and now. I also want my readers to know there are things they can do to fight sex trafficking. Jesse and Mrs. G are a couple of my characters who exemplify some ways to help, but not many of us can offer cover-up tattoos or manage a rescue ministry. Everyone can get involved, though, and that’s why I’m sharing this post.

Educate yourself:

Here is a list of just a few organizations that fight sex trafficking. These websites and many others are good places to read about the extent and reality of this crime. And there’s always Google or whatever search engine you prefer.

Volunteer:

These organizations always need help. Each organization has a different list of needs, and whatever time or talent you have to offer can probably be used in some way.

Donate:

In addition, they always need money. If your schedule is already full, maybe you can donate to the cause.

Politics:

Maybe politics is your thing. Find out if there are any initiatives on the table to get more funding to fighting sex trafficking. Write your governor, senator, congressman, county commissioner, anyone who might have some influence to either propose or support such an initiative. Research other attempts to fight sex trafficking and throw your support behind them.

Finally, get involved one-on-one:

Personally, I’m not a big picture person. I prefer to try and reach the vulnerable before they become victims. I believe in working with kids one-on-one to make them feel worthy enough that they won’t fall for the schemes of someone like Eric, the trafficker in my books.

My church has active programs for children and youth that include Adventure Club and nursery for children, special programs for youth, and Sunday School and camp for all ages. All of these activities provide opportunities for adult volunteers to spend time with the kids in groups and also one-on-one, taking time to look them in the eye and say, in actions and sometimes in words, “you are important” – “you matter.”

Not into church? That’s okay. How about sports teams, cheerleading, FFA, all the many secular organizations for kids that always seem to be looking for coaches and team parents, adults who will give their time. What about becoming a mentor? Contact the counselor at a school in your area and make yourself available. I’ve been a mentor since 2014 and have been visiting with the same young lady for almost seven years. 

When I look at the magnitude of child trafficking, I sometimes feel like the old man in the starfish story. A little boy was at the beach after a huge storm and there were millions of star fish washed up on the sand. They were drying out in the sun and would soon all be dead. He walked along picking up one after another and throwing them back in the water. An old man was walking toward him, watching what he was doing. When he came close, he said, “Son, you’re not doing any good. There are too many for you to make a difference.” The boy smiled and picked up another small starfish. As he threw it into the water, he said to the man, “I made a difference to that one.”

I hope I make a difference with what I do at the church and at the school, and I hope I make a difference with what I write. I also hope each of you will look for ways to fight trafficking. If each of us does something to help one starfish, we really can make a difference.

Blessings,

Linda

What is racism anyway? by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on November 3, 2020:

The subject of racism is impossible to avoid today since it’s at least

The Dictionary Definition of 'Racism' Has to Change - The Atlantic

mentioned in a majority of news stories and broadcasts, social media posts, and many conversations. It’s easy to assume that the definition of such a common word is common knowledge. But as we all know, assumptions can be wrong.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I have been mentoring a young lady for almost seven years. I’m not sure how much mentoring I do. Mostly we just hang out once a week and talk, but even that has been a real challenge in 2020. First there was the shutdown, and when school started back in August, no visitors were allowed – but we’ve worked it out. Once a week, with her father’s permission, I pick her up for lunch, and we eat fast food in the park or the church fellowship hall. We have to squeeze a lot of words into her thirty-minute lunch period, but it’s better than nothing. And we don’t have to hurry too much because her hospitality teacher doesn’t seem to mind if she’s a few minutes late.

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Priorities | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on June 25, 2019:

inside-mind1As a writer, I have a tendency to live inside my own head, thinking about my next column, laying out the plot of a new book, or working on a tricky scene or bit of dialogue. It’s not that I’m disengaged from what’s going on around me. But even during the most interesting discussion, the most challenging chore, or the most entertaining activity, a part of my mind is always searching for an idea to be stored on my mental hard drive and retrieved later to see where it might fit into a work in progress.

This isn’t always true when we’re watching TV. While David is surfing YouTube, Amazon Prime, and other streaming sites for interesting videos on sailing, RVing, metal detecting, bloopers, and other topics that interest him, I’m usually, writing, cooking, reading, working crossword and Sudoku puzzles, or playing with my phone. Once in a while, though, something catches my attention, and that happened this week when he was watching a video on auto detailing. (more…)

Marked for Life | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on June 18, 2019:

our father's childrenI’m home with all bones intact but with a heart that has more marks than I can count. Let me back up a step or two in case you didn’t read my last column. I went to Royal Family Kids Camp last week, a very special place where kids in foster care can spend five days and four nights just being kids and having fun in a safe environment. In 2013 I served as a counselor and came home with a broken ankle and a broken heart. This time I was the camp scribe. I wasn’t as actively involved in the organized games and other strenuous activities – and David was home praying that he would get his wife back in one piece – so I came home physically undamaged. But as I watched and listened with the eyes and ears of a writer, I saw and heard the struggles, heartaches, and triumphs of more children and counselors than before when I was focused on the two campers that were my responsibility. There are more stories than I can write, but here are a few.

“Jane” was so afraid of the water that she brought her own life jacket and continuously Pink wristbandquestioned her counselor about the lifeguard’s ability to save her if she got into trouble. All campers are required to pass a swim test in order to venture into the deeper end of the pool or to go over to the pond. She wanted to take the test, but she was afraid, so she practiced long and hard. By Wednesday, she was ready to try. Everyone in the pool area had seen her struggle, and they all stopped to watch. When she passed, the cheers and applause were deafening. The wrist band she earned became her pink badge of courage, and she showed it to anyone who would look the rest of the week. (more…)

Nightwalk for Hope by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on April 23, 2019:

For the silentAs a published author, the most common question I’m asked is what my books are about. I released my first novel last summer, and the short answer to that question is “it’s about human trafficking in small town America.” The second most common I’m asked about that particular book is “whatever possessed you to write about a subject like that?”

Before this book, my perspective on human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking of young girls, was very narrow, based primarily on movies and television crime shows. In my mind, this unspeakable crime was limited to the back alleys of foreign countries or a few mega-cities in the U.S. where orphans or run-aways were snatched from a hopeless existence and forced into something even worse. And it didn’t include children.

Then, one Sunday evening, a couple from Tyler visited our church. They had founded an organization called For the Silent whose mission statement reads, in part: we work to end sex trafficking and exploitation by empowering the voices of vulnerable and exploited youth. Their visit was a real wake up call.

Numbers are all over the place depending on which expert you read, but everyone seems to agree that over a million children are trafficked each year, and the average age when children are introduced into trafficking is 11 to 14. Not only is sex trafficking not limited to faraway places, it is not limited to nameless, faceless children who live in another reality. It is happening to girls – and sometimes boys – just like my grandchildren, the children and grandchildren of my friends and neighbors, the children I see every week at church or in the grocery store.

One of the stories the couple told us that night was about a thirteen-year-old girl who was targeted by a trafficker. She was an innocent, small-town girl who was approached by a stranger asking for directions. During their brief conversation, he gave her a non-threatening compliment then said good-by. Over the next several months, he “groomed” her. She “ran into him” frequently, and they became friends. At first they just talked, and then he began giving her small gifts. Their friendship grew, the gifts became larger, and she fell in love with him. He used her feelings for him to manipulate her into becoming part of his merchandise. Then, he continued to control her with fear and threats and violence. That’s why I wrote the novel I did – because I think the story of this girl and others like her needs to be told to people like me who don’t know these silent victims exist.

Nightwalk2When I visit various group to talk about my book, I offer suggestions about how each of us can help fight this horrible crime. One of those suggestions is to support groups like For the Silent, and an opportunity is available this week. The biggest fund-raising event for this Tyler-based operation is their annual Nighwalk For Hope. The following information is from their website:

 On the evening of Saturday, April 27th, we will come together as a community to shine a light on human trafficking in east Texas.

This family-friendly event includes multiple food trucks, bounce houses, music, face-painting, yard games, and more. As the sun sets around 8:15pm we conclude the night with a 2-mile walk on a section of the Rose Rudman trail.

Each participant will carry a lantern to light our way and to symbolize hope in the darkness.

[Online] registration is now closed. But worry not, you can register at the event!

Event Day Details:

 Event sign-in and registration begins at 5:30 pm in Rose Rudman’s Southside Park and we will start walking as the sun sets around 8:15 pm.

 T-shirts can be picked up at the sign-in table for participants who have pre-registered online. [Other t-shirts, tote bags, and souvenirs are available for purchase.] 

 We will have food trucks, kids’ activities, and music before the walk begins — so bring your family and a lawn chair or blanket, and enjoy a fun community atmosphere.

 We will have security, adequate lighting, and port-a-potties to help ensure everyone has a great time.

 For more information about Nightwalk For Hope or For the Silent, go to www.ForTheSilent.org or call 903.747.8128.

Blessings,

Linda

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5th Annual Nightwalk of Hope | by Linda Brendle

Published in the Rains County Leader on April 17, 2018:

HOPE

I first wrote about For the Silent’s Nightwalk for Hope in May of 2015. Here is an excerpt from my original post:

Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, but did you know that, according to a story released by KLTV on August 24, 2013, a form of slavery called human trafficking is a growing problem – not in Africa or Asia or New York, but in East Texas. Human trafficking is defined as “the illegal movement of people, typically for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.” Traffickers often target at-risk young people, sometimes twelve years old and younger, in order to sell their bodies for cash. A Tyler expert was quoted by KLTV as saying that, in Smith County, 33% of girls and 17% of boys will be sexually abused, some of them at the hand of traffickers, before the age of eighteen.

For the Silent is a non-profit organization based in Tyler and dedicated to bringing “hope to teens silenced by sex trafficking and exploitation in the United States through prevention, intervention and community mobilization programs.” Their second annual Nightwalk for Hope was scheduled for April 24 [2015], but due to stormy weather, it was rescheduled for May 8. The event featured a two-mile walk through Rose Rudman Park with music and other activities planned at the finish line. During the walk, each participant would carry a lantern to symbolize hope and freedom for those silenced by human trafficking.

As it turned out, we didn’t walk that year. The skies had looked threatening all evening, and as we were checking in and picking up our event t-shirts, the heavens opened up. Everyone ran for cover to see if the rain would pass quickly, but instead, it worsened and added huge bolts of lightning followed by deafening claps of thunder. Metal framed canopies, strings of electric lights, and electrical music equipment seemed likely targets for the weather, so the event was cancelled. We had ridden to Tyler with Kent and Stella – Spike’s people – so Kent ran for the truck and David ran to drop our money in the donation box while Stella and I sought shelter under a covered picnic area.

Somehow, David and I missed the Walk the next two years, but a few weeks ago when Kent mentioned that it was coming up on April 14, I pre-registered on-line, and the four of us made plans to “double date” again. By Friday, the weather was predicted to be acceptable if not comfortable. Fifty degrees and windy with temperatures dropping after sundown is enough to make old bones want to stay inside – but we believe in the cause, so we pulled out long underwear, hoodies, gloves, and jackets, and piled into the truck.

The event had changed some since the last time David and I were there. This year people bounce housesbegan to gather at 5:30 pm, and by the time we arrived at 7:00, we had to park much further away than we did in 2013. We had quite a warm-up stroll before the Nightwalk began. There were also several bounce houses that I didn’t remember from before, and music that had a great beat but is definitely not played on “60s on 6.” Instead of a small concession stand selling tacos, nachos, and soda, there were four food trucks selling gourmet coffee and ice cream sandwiches, all things cheese, and a large selection of Tex-Mex. There was still a donation box, but there was also a raffle for a bicycle that had been donated. We still received an event shirt, but there were other t-shirt, tote bags, and souvenirs for sale. I hope that everyone sold out since the proceeds went to For the Silent.

David and I had eaten dinner at home, so while Kent and Stella stood in line at the food trucks, we watched people. All generations were represented, from babies in strollers to couples who looked older than we think we look. Some people were conservatively dressed, and others sported wild hair colors and haircuts. Some shared their dinner with their four-legged family members and others danced, but everyone smiled and laughed. And when the sun went down, we all gathered on the walking path for the same purpose.

Nightwalk2Before we set off, we were each given a battery-powered lantern but told not turn them on yet. Then, Kenny Rigsby, Founder and Executive Director of For the Silent took the microphone for a few minutes. He thanked us all for coming and told of the progress that is being made – the victims who are seeking help and the few brave ones who are testifying against their traffickers, the prevention programs that are growing, the education that is taking place in the community. Finally, it was time, and as hundreds of lanterns were turned one, he shouted, “There is hope in the darkness.”

Maybe you missed this year’s Nightwalk, but there will be another one next year. As longFor the silent as there are organizations like For the Silent, there will always be hope. If you would like to learn more about For the Silent and how you can donate or get involved, go to www.ForTheSilent.org or call 903-747-8128.

Blessings,

Linda

Mass Shooters: Are they shouting, “Look at me?”

Everyone-look-at-meOn June 17, a 21-year-old man shot and killed nine people during a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. His website consists of white supremacist diatribes and apparently features a picture in which he is posing with a handgun in front of a Confederate flag. It has been reported that he shouted racial slurs during the attack and that he later told police that his purpose was to start a race war. One account said he almost didn’t go through with the attack because the victims were so nice to him. I couldn’t help but wonder what circumstances in his twenty-one years might have prevented the attack altogether. (more…)

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