2018
September
18
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Elon Musk announced Monday SpaceX has its first paying customer for a private, weeklong flight around the moon. Yusaku Maezawa, a young Japanese clothing tycoon, put down a “significant” deposit for a flight scheduled for five years from now.

It’s been 50 years since Apollo 8 made the same journey. Perhaps more interesting than the story of funding Musk’s vision of a “multi-planet civilization” or even the emergence of space tourism, is Mr. Maezawa’s spirit of generosity. He’s not going alone. He’s also paying for about a half-dozen musicians, painters, filmmakers, and other artists to go with him on a cosmic art project dubbed “Dear Moon.”

Solo travel can be revealing. But in my experience, travel is far more satisfying when you have someone else with you. Maezawa agrees: “I want to share these experiences and things with as many people as possible.”

Of course, this trip may have more in common with a Six Flags roller coaster than a Caribbean cruise. At the press conference, Musk paused to underline that “this is definitely dangerous.”

Aware of the risks, Maezawa’s starting to gently recruit passengers for this moonshot: “If you should hear from me, please say yes and accept my invitation. Please don’t say no.”

Perhaps you and I should brush up on our watercolors.

Now to our five selected stories, including the pursuit of justice by American sex-abuse victims and by Latin American activists, as well as what horses can teach humans about empathy. 

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1. What has changed since Anita Hill? Two who were there weigh in.

History often gives us some perspective on progress. Two former US senators offer their view of Anita Hill’s testimony before Congress in 1991.

David

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On a weekend in October of 1991, more than 20 million American households watched as Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. In her testimony, Ms. Hill, a law professor, described numerous instances of Mr. Thomas using inappropriate sexual language and making unwanted overtures when she worked for him in the 1980s. Thomas denied any wrongdoing. In the end, the Senate voted 52-48 to confirm him. At the time of the hearings, there were exactly two women in the US Senate: Nancy Kassebaum, a Republican from Kansas, and Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland. Both women, now retired from the Senate, spoke to the Monitor about what has changed since then, and what lessons those hearings hold for consideration of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh today. “The Senate should take its time,” says Mikulski, who urges a thorough investigation of charges that have surfaced from a woman alleging Mr. Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when he was about 17 years old. Kassebaum says the Senate should try to resolve the unanswered questions but “better do it quietly and quickly.”

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1. What has changed since Anita Hill? Two who were there weigh in.

On a weekend in October of 1991, more than 20 million American households watched as Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. In her testimony, Ms. Hill, a law professor, described numerous instances of Mr. Thomas using inappropriate sexual language and making unwanted overtures when she worked for him at the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the 1980s. Thomas denied any wrongdoing and famously described the proceedings as a “high-tech lynching.” In the end, the Senate voted 52-48 to confirm him. At the time of the hearings, there were exactly two women in the United States Senate: Nancy Kassebaum, a Republican from Kansas, and Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland. Senator Kassebaum eventually voted to confirm Thomas, while Senator Mikulski voted against. Both women, now retired from the Senate, spoke to the Monitor about their recollections of those hearings, what has changed in the years since, and how to proceed as current Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh faces allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman when he was about 17 years old. Below is a transcript of their remarks, edited for clarity.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Former US Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker (R) of Kansas, looks to the stage during 'A Century of Service' honoring former US Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole and Howard Baker (her husband), in Washington on March 21, 2012.

On looking back at the Thomas-Hill hearings:

Nancy Kassebaum Baker: I remember it was late, and I was getting ready to leave the office, and Paul Simon [the Democratic senator from Illinois] called, and he said: ‘Nancy, there’s going to be something coming up that will make a huge difference.’ I said ‘really!’ [chuckles].

Then, it was the next weekend and I was going to a Kansas State football game. And I got there and was walking through the parking lot where everybody was tailgating, and everyone was listening to that hearing. Then I walked on into the stadium, and people are saying, ‘Hey Nancy, how are you going to vote?’ ‘I don’t know!’

Barbara Mikulski: The so-called hearings turned into a spectacle. It was not a hearing. It became a trial. Professor Hill – and everything about Professor Hill – went on trial. Her character; her mental stability was called into question. We cannot have that. The American people will not tolerate that. The American people already have a great deal of skepticism about our institutions and the function they perform.

What we have here, that we didn’t have then, is greater knowledge of the topic, because when I was in the Senate [then], there was only one other woman, Senator Kassebaum. We were not on the Judiciary Committee, though I spoke of the need for Professor Hill to be heard. I want Professor [Christine Blasey] Ford to be heard. I want the rights of Judge Kavanaugh to be preserved.

On lessons learned and how to proceed now:

Kassebaum: I think [Hill] herself was a person that you’d respect, that I would respect. I think it would have been different if there had been a full hearing originally, and all of this hadn’t happened at the last [minute]. I think that would have raised a lot of questions that probably should have been more reflected on – [such as] how Thomas would handle issues that were sensitive. 

When it gets into something like this, all senators need to think about exactly how to handle it. And better to do it quietly and quickly – and find out why there seems to be such confusion. There’s a lot of unanswered questions. [On both sides] there seems to be something that isn’t quite right.

Mikulski: This is a lifetime appointment, and the Senate needs to do its job. It needs to do it with due diligence, and the rules of engagement that follow due process and propriety. 

I truly believe that before there is a hearing, there should be an investigation of [Professor Ford’s] allegation, and it should be done by appropriate authorities – and in this case, it would be the FBI. Then when the FBI has completed its investigation, there should be a hearing, under oath, in which both Judge Kavanaugh and Professor Ford say what they wanted to bring to the Senate, and then any professional and corroborating witnesses should be called up.

The Senate should take its time. The deadlines that are being imposed are artificial. This is an advise-and-consent process. The Senate is constitutionally bound to do the best that it can.

The allegations are indeed quite grave, and it warrants this process. There should be very clear rules of engagement that are established for the hearing, so that Professor Ford is treated with dignity and respect, and that Judge Kavanaugh’s rights, as the accused, are also preserved. There are many things that need to be evaluated about Judge Kavanaugh. First of all, his truthfulness. And if he lies about this – this is why you need a thorough investigation. We need to get to the facts and to get to the fitness. It’s not about the fitness of Professor Ford. It’s about the fitness of Judge Kavanaugh to have a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court.

On the broader change in society, on issues like sexual harassment:

Kassebaum: It has advanced by leaps and bounds. I have a strong belief – and I said when was I was first elected – I was not elected to be a woman senator, I was elected to be a senator. I’ve had women say, ‘Yes, but you’ve never been put in a position where your job might be at stake if you didn’t do what they want you to do and you were being badgered by a man.’ And that’s true. You’d like to think you’d say ‘get out of here,’ and walk out. But that’s not fair to say, because I’ve never been placed in a situation like that. And I would hope none of my granddaughters are either.

But it’s grown now to the point where I wonder if the men are going to say, ‘Well, wait a minute, sometimes there are two sides to these stories.’ And it can get blown out [of proportion] so quickly by the press.

Mikulski: I’m disappointed that we’re here again. There are a lot of similar dynamics, but we are in a different world. We’re in a different Senate, we’re in a different judiciary committee. At the time of Professor Hill, the Senate as a whole – and society as a whole – had very little understanding of issues around sexual harassment, sexual assault, etc. [The hearing] caused an outcry and an outrage among women and many of the men who support women’s equality, and also who support a constitutional process that should be conducted with the highest standards of dignity. The results were that we got more women [in the Senate]. There were lessons learned about sexual harassment.

On women in the Senate today:

Kassebaum: Women are much more assertive. [Having four women on the Judiciary Committee] makes a difference – because they spoke up. Any time I heard them, I thought they were on the whole pretty good.

I was never a particularly great speaker. But as I’ve watched women in the Senate now, I think some try to overcompensate for having a quieter voice – they tend to get louder.

Look at how they handled Al Franken from Minnesota [when he was accused of sexual misconduct]. He said, I’m sorry I’m going to step down – but [other Democrats] were quick to bring judgment against him. So, I think women are certainly more willing to step forward.

Where I think women are exceptionally able to make a difference is, they are good at negotiating. They are good at thinking through how to reach compromises. And I think it is a quality that women bring, that is of great value, particularly today, when things are so contentious.

Mikulski: The public humiliation of Anita Hill caused such an outrage among women, and also the good men who were just horrified at the way she was treated, that it resulted in a tremendous number of women running for the Senate and other elected offices, and winning.

The women in the Senate work on the macro issues, and they work on the macaroni-and-cheese issues. So they work on the big pictures of national security, economic security, and they also work on how those big issues also affect the family. For example, the women in the Senate want to make sure we have the appropriate veterans’ benefits, but also to make sure that prosthetic devices in the VA fit women.

The fact there are now a significant number of Democratic women, and also our Republican colleagues, we can now be on every committee, because we, the women in the Senate, think that every issue is a woman’s issue.

 

Alex Brandon/AP
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) of Maryland talks with reporters on Capitol Hill on Nov. 16, 2016, before a caucus organizing meeting to elect their leadership for the 115th Congress.

On today’s political environment, the upcoming midterms, and the Trump effect

Kassebaum: I personally think both parties need a real shaking up, and I think that’s coming – and coming more quickly, maybe, to the Democrats than to the Republicans.

I did vote for Hillary, but a lot of my friends didn’t. They said ‘we don’t like Trump but will not vote for Hillary Clinton.’ That’s my Republican friends. If there had been another [Democratic] candidate against Trump, I’m not sure he would have won.

I think it’s a changing time. I have to say, I’m right in the middle of Trump country, amid farmers and ranchers. I love to josh with them. I say, ‘I don’t understand what you see in President Trump.’ What has bothered them are the tariffs and the trade issue, because that’s hurting farming. [But] they believe that he’s shaking things up and getting something done. 

Mikulski: I’m so proud of the women that are running, and what I’m excited about is not only the women that are running for Congress, and for statewide office like governor, but the increased pipeline of women running at the local level – for city council, like where I got started, and for state senate or state rep in their own states. This isn’t just an event, this isn’t a just a one-shot deal. We’re building a pipeline of representation.

Also what I’m excited about is the significant number of women of color that are running, and there’s a new phenomenon of veterans that are running – men and women.

I’m looking forward to the blue wave. I do think a blue wave is coming, and I think it does wear lipstick and high heels, but it also wears camo. After every war, there were people who were called. And now we have a whole new generation coming, only this time they have names like Joni and Tammy and so on, and we’re going to hope that as they work, that they will also remember that our job is to serve the nation, and that our oath is to the Constitution, and to be making government work as best as it can.

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2. Nowhere to run: Idlib residents reach for life, but prepare to fight

Our reporter reached out to some residents of the Syrian province of Idlib, a lingering rebel stronghold, to get their perspective on the prospects for peace – or one last battle.

David

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In the closing phase of Syria’s civil war, retreating rebel fighters and civilians unwilling to trust the Assad regime have transferred to Idlib province. To defeat the rebel strongholds, the regime and its allies employed massive bombing campaigns and alleged chemical weapons attacks. Now, as forces have gathered around Idlib, its 3 million residents, with nowhere to run, have sought to carve out a normal life while preparing for one last fight. At least, “normal in the meaning of life during war,” Yasser, an Idlib resident, comments wryly. “People are very frightened and preparing for this battle that everyone presumes will take place.” But Tuesday, the prospect of a doomsday battle seemed more remote, after Turkey and Russia announced a deal they said involves creation of a buffer zone between government and rebel forces and the removal of heavy weapons. Fadwa, a native of Palmyra living in a village on the border with Turkey, says she’s skeptical of Turkey’s commitment to civilians, and sounds a defiant note: “Civilians from every region, who fled every battle of Syria, are here.... Even if it means dying here, there is no way I will return to the criminal regime.”

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Nowhere to run: Idlib residents reach for life, but prepare to fight

The sight of his three-year-old twins pains Ibrahim, but he thanks God they are both alive.

Should fears of a full-blown attack on the Syrian rebel bastion of Idlib materialize, Maya, the youngest sibling by just a few seconds, would barely see the horrors that ensue. And her brother Aboud wouldn’t be able to run from them.

A missile attack in April, presumably Russian, shredded the seven-story building where they were living. Maya was blinded in one eye, and her brother sustained a leg injury.

In any event there is nowhere to go, says their father, a civilian. No choice but to stay and fight.

“Everyone is worried about this battle, and everyone is looking for safety,” the sports coach tells the Monitor, sharing images of his children. “But safety is only possible by bringing down the regime [of Bashar al-Assad].”

On Tuesday, the prospect of a doomsday battle seemed more remote, as Syria appeared to welcome a surprise deal brokered by Turkey and Russia late Monday to avert a “humanitarian crisis.” The plan involves the creation of a buffer zone between pro-government and rebel forces and the removal of heavy weapons from the area. The buffer zone would be patrolled by Turkish and Russian forces, though not until Oct. 15.

The provincial capital of Idlib, where Ibrahim lives, is under the control of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadist alliance that includes Al Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate. The alliance is also the dominant force in many parts of this fertile province in northern Syria, which has received thousands of refugees and vanquished fighters from other parts of the country.

The fate of nearly 3 million people living in this region is deeply linked with that of this jihadist alliance, considered a terrorist organization group by the major powers who have a stake in the Syrian war. Its ranks are estimated to be at least 10,000 strong. Initial commentary on the Turkish-Russian deal is that its success hinges on how HTS and other like-minded factions respond, with some suggesting it will be up to Turkey to bring these groups to heel.

Over the past two years, all the surrender deals involving previous rebel strongholds featured the transfer to Idlib of fighters and civilians unwilling to reconcile with or trust the Assad regime.

Fear of chemical attack

The regime and its allied forces achieved their victories through large scale bombing campaigns followed by alleged chemical weapons attacks in an apparent attempt to scare rebels into submission and force civilians to flee the area under attack. The United States, France, and Britain have warned Mr. Assad against using chemical weapons again.

“The factions on the ground, and so HTS, are boosting security measures, and they have the full confidence of civilians (as fighters),” says Ibrahim, not his real name. “But the biggest concern is the air strikes and chemical weapons attacks. No power can protect us from that.”

Despite the extreme sense of pressure in recent weeks, Idlib’s civilians say they are trying to carry on with life as normal. There is nowhere to run but Turkey, which has gone to great lengths to seal its border. “Life is normal but normal in the meaning of life during war,” Yasser, another resident of Idlib City, commented wryly. “Although there is no bombing at the moment on Idlib City, people are very frightened and preparing for this battle that everyone presumes will take place.”

There is little that civilians can do, he says, other than stock up on tinned food. After years of war, they are tired and mostly broke. Several Turkish-backed, Syrian-staffed charities – as well as a few operating thanks to American and British funding according to the account of another aid worker – have either stopped their activities or significantly scaled down.

“Internally displaced persons who came from other parts of Syria have nowhere left to go,” notes Yasser. “They’ll have to confront whatever comes.”

Khalil Ashawi/Reuters
A boy tries an improvised gas mask in Idlib, Syria, on Sept. 3, 2018.

Outlet for the wealthy

In anticipation of a potential mass exodus, wealthier natives of Idlib City have made quick trips to the nearby city of Jarablus, which is under Turkish tutelage, in the hope of securing a place to rent. Those who own olive groves and gardens within the fertile province have already set up basic shelters on their lands. Trenches have been dug around towns and caves prepared.

Like others contacted by the Monitor, Yasser hopes Turkey will be able to avert a full-scale attack on Idlib, introduce much needed governance, and eventually succeed in disbanding HTS.

“There have been efforts to draw people away from HTS, but the response is weak,” says Yasser, who like others interviewed did not want his real name published due to fear of the regime and the jihadists that run the town. “People will work with the devil just to be rid of the regime. They will put up with anyone and any of their violations rather than have the regime back.”

The green mountainous territory of Idlib makes it natural guerrilla territory.

The Bab Al-Hawa border crossing between Idlib and Turkey was a major entry point for jihadists drawn to the Syrian conflict. It remains the most active official crossing along the Syrian-Turkish border – with steady traffic relating to trade and humanitarian activities, including the transfer of critical medical emergencies to Turkish hospitals.  While the Syrian side of the border crossing ostensibly has a civilian administration, the first checkpoint after is held by HTS.

The Syrian regime, which has amassed forces to the west and south of the rebel-held territory, wants to regain trade highways connecting Damascus to Aleppo and Aleppo to the coastal region of Latakia.

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
A truck driver poses for photographers in front of trucks carrying humanitarian aid destined for Idlib, Syria, by a Turkish pro-government aid group, prior to their departure in Istanbul on Sept. 10, 2018. The convoy of 20 vehicles will attempt to reach Syria to deliver basic needs.

Turkey's major role

The concern at the United Nations – echoed by people on the ground – has been that the Russian-backed Syrian regime will bomb jihadists and civilians alike in this final showdown. Turkey has been trying to avert disaster through a combination of diplomacy and military maneuvering. It has also thrown its backing behind the recently created National Front for Liberation.

“With the entry of Turkish forces, we all know that [HTS] will fall apart and people are waiting for this,” says Khaled, another resident of Idlib City whose work is focused on helping youth develop professional and language skills.  “The problem is how to avoid a confrontation [between Turkey and HTS; or between locals and HTS].”

Turkey has significantly beefed up 12 observation points that ring Idlib. These were set up last year under a deal with Russia and Iran that created a “de-escalation zone” and formalized Turkey’s role as the de-factor protector of Idlib.

Turkey is generally viewed positively in Idlib, with many citing its humanitarian role as both the largest host of Syrian refugees and the key broker and provider of cross-border aid. Despite this, pessimists fear a repeat of Aleppo, where Western-backed rebels fell to pro-government troops who had superior support from Assad’s allies.

“Some people are worried that Turkey will play a very negative role,” says Ali, a resident of Saraqeb. “Others think Ankara will be the ultimate protector. I am not particularly optimistic but it is not logical for Turkey, which has such a powerful military and intelligence service here, to wash its hands of this region.”

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, in the Russian resort town of Sochi to discuss Syria. In their second meeting in two weeks, they agreed to create a 9- to 15-mile wide demilitarized buffer zone in Idlib, which their troops would patrol starting Oct. 15.

“Civilians are happy with this deal because it helps avoid a civilian hell,” says Wael al-Harba, an Idlib native with strong networks in the city and rural areas, though he sounds a cautionary note.

“In reality, they’ve created a new Gaza on the Syrian-Turkish border,” he says. “If an operation happens, the refugees will be confined there. Everyone avoids the refugee problem with this deal. No one solved the conflict.”

Civilians who dared rise up

Fadwa, a mother of five living in a village on the border with Turkey, says the world has turned its back on the Syrian people. But on Friday, the village where she lives, like other parts of Idlib, saw women, men, and children come out with the tricolor banner of the Syrian revolution – not the banners favoured by jihadists and Islamists – in a bid to remind the world that there are civilians on the ground who dared rise up demanding “freedom” and “dignity.” Banners elsewhere read: “There will be no solution in Syria without Assad’s fall.”

The Palmyra native, who has been displaced five times since 2011, sees Turkish reinforcements as a sure sign that Ankara will ultimately assert its control on the area, though she’s skeptical of its commitment to protecting civilians.

“This was supposed to be a safe zone,” she says in an interview before announcement of the Turkish-Russian deal. “Civilians from every region, who fled every battle of Syria, are here. My youngest daughter never set foot in our hometown. Even if it means dying here, there is no way I will return to the criminal regime.”

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A deeper look

3. With no verdict, survivors of child sex abuse find own sense of justice

For many survivors of child sexual abuse by priests and pastors, there is still no legal recourse. But some survivors say that doesn't mean justice is unattainable – only that it takes different forms.

David
Kristen Norman/ Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Larry Antonsen, a retired building engineer in Chicago, endured childhood abuse that has never been officially acknowledged by either the Roman Catholic Church or the state. Yet by his own account, he has come to a place of inner healing that is complex and difficult to describe.

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Since breaking her own silence, Christa Brown has devoted much of her time over the past decade to thinking and writing about justice for those who endured childhood sexual abuse. While the nation has zeroed in on Roman Catholic priests and the global hierarchy that has mostly tried to shield their own, Ms. Brown, an attorney, has been outspoken in bringing the issue to the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Her story reflects a particular kind of abuse that many women who grew up in conservative evangelical traditions have described over the past year: Her married youth pastor used his spiritual authority to make sexual advances toward her when she was an emotionally vulnerable underage teen. She sees “ultimate justice” for survivors as “a justice within our own bodies, a justice over the portion that we ourselves have any possibility of exercising some control over” to heal and live a happy life. She also says denial hurts not only the survivor, but the church, which also needs to look within for healing. “I believe it’s human nature, really, this instinct for denial in the face of extremely uncomfortable truths,” Brown says. “So I think what’s needed is asking ourselves, how do we advance as humans?... How can we become better faith communities if we never look at the hard truths standing squarely in front of us?”

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With no verdict, survivors of child sex abuse find own sense of justice

Whether practicing the rhythmic breathing of her daily yoga practice or hiking along local Rocky Mountain trails near her home in Colorado, Christa Brown says one of the most essential experiences of justice for abuse survivors happens within themselves. 

It is only a portion of justice, she says, and in many ways it lies beyond the rare punishments handed down by the justice system or church authorities. “How do we integrate justice into our own whole selves, psychologically, spiritually, and physically?” says Ms. Brown, who was abused by her Southern Baptist youth pastor when she was an underage “hyper-religious teen.” “How do we bring about some wholeness and a feeling of completeness for ourselves?”

Brown was among a number of survivors of childhood sexual abuse by religious figures who shared their stories with Monitor. Each of them, in their own way, described what true justice would look like for them. In Part One, Michael Norris, a chemical engineer in Houston, described how he became one of the very few who was able to confront his abuser in a court of law and see the priest who abused him convicted and sent to prison. Becky Ianni, a mother of four in Virginia, described how her former Catholic diocese gave her one act of justice she wanted most: a full public admission of what had happened to her and a public apology that named her accuser.

Such institutional processes are essential forms of justice, Brown says. But as Mr. Norris described, they are difficult to endure for survivors, and in many ways these official channels remain outside their control. For Brown, the “ultimate justice” for survivors is “a justice within our own bodies, a justice over the portion that we ourselves have any possibility of exercising some control over” to heal and live a happy life.

Since breaking her own silence more, Brown, who also survived breast cancer, has devoted much of her time over the past decade to thinking about justice for those who endured childhood sexual abuse. While the nation has zeroed in on Roman Catholic priests and the global hierarchy that has mostly tried to shield their own, Brown, an attorney who specializes in civil appellate law, has been outspoken bringing the issue to the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.

And her story reflects a particular kind of abuse that many women who grew up in conservative evangelical traditions have described over the past year: Her married youth pastor used his spiritual authority to make sexual advances toward her when she was an emotionally vulnerable underage teen.

It’s a story numerous women have told as the #MeToo movement opened a space for them to break their silence. It became a national issue, after a number of women accused Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, of pursuing them when they were teens as young as 14.

Supporters defended the Southern Baptist judge, who lost his bid for the United States Senate, saying in effect that the outspoken Christian conservative was expressing his God-given aggressive masculinity. Besides, many also said, young teen girls often play the seductress, not the victim.

Such claims ignore statutory rape laws as well as basic morality. And many surmise that Protestant denominations, which make up the vast majority of American Christians, may also have just as many unreported cases of sex abuse against children. Boz Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham and a law professor at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., has cited information from insurance companies covering Protestant churches. He sees evidence that that abuse is just as widespread as in Catholic churches.

“My goodness, Protestants for the most part have no clue that this is as serious as an issue in their own churches,” Mr. Tchividjian told the Monitor in April. Unlike the centralized hierarchy of Catholicism, however, most evangelical congregations are relatively autonomous – making uncovering abuse in thousands of independent churches an even more difficult task.

The problem, Brown says, is denial. And just as survivors must turn inward to experience the ultimate form of justice, so must congregations. 

“I believe it’s human nature, really, this instinct for denial in the face of extremely uncomfortable truths,” Brown says. “And it’s a valid instinct to protect and believe people that we know and love and trust – and pastors are much loved in faith communities.”

“So I think what’s needed is asking ourselves, how do we advance as humans?” she continues. “How do we become better people? How can we become better faith communities if we never look at the hard truths standing squarely in front of us? And this is what so many faith communities just can’t bring themselves to do.”

In the late 1960s, when Brown was 16 and a member of one of the oldest Southern Baptist congregations near Dallas, her youth minister, Tommy Gilmore, offered to counsel the teen girl, she says. Brown’s father, a veteran of World War II, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the family was experiencing episodes of turmoil.

During the counseling, however, the minister became sexually manipulative. “The minister’s weapon was the faith that I held within my own heart. God’s will and God’s word became so twisted that I actually believed what the minister told me – that I was special and that I had been chosen by God to be a help-mate for the minister in his holy work,” Brown wrote in 2005. She has also written a book, “This Little Light: Beyond a Baptist Preacher Predator and His Gang,” a memoir and exposé of the process she went through when she reported the crime.  

Feeling guilty, the pastor blamed the girl for the months of abuse she endured. He told her she was like the tempting serpent and made her kneel in front of him so he could pray to God to cast Satan out of her. And when people in the congregation, including her piano teacher, found out what he had done, the youth pastor made Brown apologize to his wife.

Like many survivors, Brown tried to put the experience behind her. She went on with her life, starting a career in law, getting married, and giving birth to a daughter.

In 2005, when her daughter was approaching 16, the age she had been when she was abused, Brown felt something snap within her. The Boston Globe had recently exposed widespread abuse and coverups in the Catholic Church, and she felt she had to do something.

She wrote to her former church, describing what had happened. She also wrote to members of denominational organizations, following the guidelines Texas Southern Baptists had already put in place for victims who accused ministers or others of sex abuse.

She was rebuffed at every turn. Her former congregation in Texas even threatened “recourse” if she persisted in her accusations. So Brown took them, and eventually her abuser, to court.

She sought out her former piano teacher, whom she had told at the time. In fact, the youth pastor who abused her also confided to the teacher, who led the church’s music ministry at the time. According to court documents, however, her former teacher denied that her experience was sexual abuse, calling it a consensual relationship. The fact that she was underage, and the fact that the relationship would be considered statutory rape according to Texas law, were merely “legalities,” he said. But his account corroborated her claims.

In 2006, the church settled the case, named her abuser, and expressed “profound regret” for what had happened to her 40 years earlier. As part of the settlement, the letter was sent to congregations in Georgia and Florida, where her abuser served as a youth minister in the decades that followed.

Brown also began a years-long battle to get her former denomination to acknowledge what happened to her. She wrote her memoir and prodded the Southern Baptist Convention to institute concrete reforms to help victims find justice.

She says Southern Baptist leaders should provide “a safe and welcoming place to receive reports about clergy sex abuse, particularly for cases that cannot be criminally prosecuted.” Trained panels should carefully assess all accusations, and this information should reach people in the pews, with both online databases and letters sent out to all congregations where the abuser ministered, Brown says.

Courtesy of Christa Brown
Christa Brown, an attorney living in Colorado and a survivor of abuse at a Southern Baptist church in the 1960s, hiking Mount Evans in the Rocky Mountains. Ms. Brown says the ‘ultimate justice’ in cases of child abuse is survivors finding restoration within themselves so they can go on to live a happy life.

In July, the Southern Baptist Convention announced the formation of a study group to assess the denomination’s responses to accusations of sex abuse. Advocates named Brown to a list of 14 people the denomination should consult.

“How we as a convention of churches care for abuse victims and protect against vile predators says something about what we believe about the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said the convention’s president, J.D. Greear, in a statement. “Our churches should be a refuge for the hurting and a safe haven for the oppressed.”

It’s a start, Brown says, even though the instinct to turn away from such crimes remains a powerful force confronting victims and survivors. And she notes that forming a study group is not same as taking concrete steps to actually transform churches into safe havens for the oppressed.

“I think the strange thing is, so many within faith communities feel this fear of our stories and this fear of our anger,” Brown says. “But in truth, what I believe – and I've talked with hundreds of clergy abuse survivors, and have lived my own story – there's no one who understands the very nature of denial better than clergy abuse survivors who have lived these stories and seen it within ourselves.”

“So I think a great many of us feel profound compassion and understanding for the nature of denial, because we have seen that to arrive at any place of understanding within ourselves and to move forward in our lives, we have to deal with our own denial,” Brown says.

It’s not simply survivors who can find the “ultimate justice” of inner healing and wholeness.  

“It would be lovely if faith communities would also work to ‘let justice roll down like waters’ by fostering accountability within the faith,” she says. “But of course this is a form of justice that most Baptist clergy abuse survivors, and those in other faiths as well, seldom see.”

****

Larry Antonsen, a retired building engineer in Chicago, experienced a hard-to-describe transformation after he recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest.

Like other survivors, he compares the abuse he endured as a child to the “murder of the soul.”

Unlike the other survivors who told their stories to the Monitor, however, Mr. Antonsen never once experienced an institutional form of justice. His abuse has never been officially acknowledged by either the church or the state.

Yet by his own account, he has come to a place of inner healing that is complex and difficult to describe. When his own forgotten memories swept over him at a Catholic men’s retreat in 2006, he began a journey that both answered questions about his own struggles with alcoholism and intimacy over the decades, and reshaped him into the man he is today.

Still devout, Antonsen’s faith remains an essential part of his life, he says, just like it was for his parents. His mother, especially, instilled in him a prayer life. “Pray always, and everywhere God will hear you, and God will listen and answer your prayers,” she wrote her children before her death.

Today, in retirement, Antonsen watches three of his four grandchildren while their parents are at work. His experiences with them are some of the most joyful of his life, he says.

“And I’m beginning to look at my abuse maybe in a different way,” he says. “When I was drinking really heavily and really trying to quit, and really struggling a lot, I used go to a priest friend. He's not around anymore, but I used to go to him kind of for spiritual counseling, and just for advice. He was a very spiritual person, and my friend.”

“And he told me, with the alcoholism, he said, ‘You have to try to get to that point where you can see your alcoholism as a gift,’ ” Antonsen says. “And I thought when he said that, well, I starting thinking, ‘That's a bunch of bull.’ I was even angry.”

“But I think that I got to that point, a point when I began to see my alcoholism as gift that I could share, and that I could use it to help other people, because of my own experiences,” he says.

“And I’m trying to do the same thing with the abuse,” Antonsen continues. “I don’t want to say that it’s a gift, certainly. But, you know, it’s something that has changed my life, and now it’s something that I can share with other people and maybe help somebody along the way.”

In the 1960s, he and his friends in his south side Chicago parish would often travel to an Augustinian youth camp in Milwaukee, a place where they goofed off and had fun while under the supervision of the priests who ran the camp.

When he was 15, he agreed to go up to the camp alone one weekend with one of the priests. The man instead brought Antonsen to a motel room, gave him alcohol, and assaulted him.   

“I guess I was in shock,” he says. “I mean, I didn't know what to do. I panicked, just panicked, and I got up and ran. Actually put my clothes on and ran outside. But I thought, what I am I going to do? I’m in Milwaukee, far from home.” So he went back. The priest was nearly passed out drunk. “I was I scared, I was really scared.”

And it was strange, Antonsen recalls. He continued to see this priest regularly at school and at church, “but I completely, and I mean 100 percent completely, blocked it out of my mind for 40-some years.”

By the time he was a senior, he was already grappling with alcoholism, he says. Shy, quiet, not quick to get close to others, even after marrying and having three children.

After he recovered these memories at the men’s retreat in 2006, he immediately reported it to his diocese. Like those around the country, it had instituted a number of reforms in the way it handled such reports of past abuse. 

But there was a problem. The Chicago diocese did not have jurisdiction over orders of monks like the Augustinians, who report directly to the pope. Antonsen would have to take his accusations up with them, officials told him.

“I realize now all the mistakes that I made, because I went at it alone and I should have had somebody with me,” he says. He reported his story a second time to a priest in the office of the Augustinian order. A week or two later, the priest called him. He had talked to the priest Antonsen was accusing. The elderly priest, now living in a nursing home and close to death, denied it.

“So that was pretty much the end of it,” Antonsen says. The order did offer two years of counseling, but without official acknowledgement. He and his wife refused to accept.

“Then for a whole year, I never went to church, never did anything,” Antonsen says. “I just was sick to my stomach, so disgusted about the whole thing – and then reading about the cases that were still going on and still being reported? I was just very, very full of anger.”

He started going to therapy. A specialist in treating sex abuse survivors, the therapist helped him work through his anger, and he was able to again begin to practice his faith, he says.

“I don’t think the Catholic Church realizes the pain that survivors go through,” says Antonsen. “I don’t think they have any idea, and it’s something that I don’t think ever completely goes away.”

It’s still painful, he says, to think about how his close relationship with his parents suffered after his abuse. He flunked out of college and then joined the Marines, he says, to try to prove something to himself. “These painful memories never go away; it’s just that I’ve come to a place where the anger doesn’t consume me.”

Even more, Antonsen was able to find another community in which to take his experiences. The community at Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) was a “godsend.” It became a place for him to be himself, share his story with others without shame, and hope that it could somehow be part of a healing process for others.

“I’ve gotten it out, and I’m not afraid to talk about my abuse anymore,” he says. “I’ve talked about it to a lot of people. I think it’s good for me – it’s been good for me.”

Part 1: For survivors of priest child sex abuse, what would real justice look like?

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4. In trial for Honduran activist's murder, push for fuller picture of justice

Here’s another story about the pursuit of justice, this time in Latin America, where activists can be murdered for trying to protect the environment. Could the Berta Cáceres case mark a shift?

David
Ann Hermes/Staff
Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, daughter of slain environmental activist Berta Cáceres, was joined by her family's lawyer, Rodil Vásquez, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. This week, the country’s supreme court indefinitely suspended the trial of eight men accused of murdering Ms. Cáceres. Murders of environmental defenders rarely result in anyone held accountable, observers say.

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Honduras is a dangerous place to be an environmental activist. At least 120 have been killed here since 2010. But if people recognize just one of their names, it is likely Berta Cáceres, whose years of advocacy won her the prestigious Goldman Prize in 2015. One year later, she was shot to death in her home. Earlier this month, it seemed the trial for her murder was finally set to begin, in a region where such accountability is rare. But her supporters have pushed back against court decisions about evidence and witnesses. On Monday, Honduras’s supreme court indefinitely delayed the trial, in response to a series of appeals from Ms. Cáceres’s family’s lawyers. They argue it’s the only way to ensure a precedent for other activists, and those who threaten them, across Latin America. Roxanna Altholz, a University of California, Berkeley law professor, served on an independent panel that published a 2017 report on Cáceres’s death. “One reason I joined the team is I felt if she could be murdered with impunity then anyone doing this kind of human rights work is vulnerable,” says Professor Altholz.

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In trial for Honduran activist's murder, push for fuller picture of justice

The long-awaited criminal trial for the murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres sputtered to a halt before it could begin this week, underscoring the prevalence of violence against environmental defenders and widespread impunity across Latin America.

Her trial – set to take place more than two-and-a-half years after her death, and amid accusations of Honduran officials withholding evidence – stands out for its mere existence. Here in one of the world’s most dangerous places for environmental defenders, their murders rarely result in anyone being held accountable, observers say.

But the hearings were thrown off course by a series of appeals filed by the victim’s family’s lawyers, who say the three judges overseeing the case should be replaced. The appeals could delay the case for days – or possibly months – but Cáceres’ family say it is the only way to ensure true justice for the victim and her accused killers. Given how high-profile the case is, the government is under pressure to hold a trial. But rather than go through the motions of accountability, supporters say they want to see justice carried out to the letter of the law.

Ms. Cáceres was one of the most well-known activists in the region, receiving the prestigious Goldman Prize in 2015 after speaking out for decades about indigenous and women’s rights, in addition to the environment. She and the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) protested the internationally financed Agua Zarca hydrodam. After years of intimidation, detentions, and killings of protesters who opposed the 21-megawat dam, Cáceres had long predicted she would be murdered.

Colleagues in COPINH and her family say they want to ensure her death isn’t just one more on the long tally sheet of environmental activist murders, which added up to 200 people worldwide in 2016 alone. That means not only continuing to fight for the protection of land from lucrative megaprojects and extractive industries, but pushing to set an example of justice for activists under threat around the world.

Berta’s murder “is a message [from the government] for all other defenders of life, the environment, diversity, youth, and women to make them afraid,” says Rodil Vásquez, one of the lawyers representing Cáceres’ mother and four children. “We are trying to create a precedent” of demanding justice.

Those who coordinated and carried out the assassination “probably imagined that two days or two weeks [after her murder] the scandal would stop. They didn’t imagine this strong network, two years later, still insisting on justice for Berta Cáceres,” says Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, the slain activist’s youngest daughter.

Fernando Antonio/AP
Men accused of killing prize-winning Honduran indigenous and environmental rights activist Berta Caceres enter the court room in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on Sept. 17, 2018. Honduras' supreme court has indefinitely suspended the start of their trial, citing five related filings pending at the criminal appeals court that have to be resolved.

'Effective impunity'

This week, Honduras’ supreme court indefinitely suspended the trial of eight men accused of murdering Cáceres on the night of March 2, 2016, in her home in the mountain town of La Esperanza. Despite efforts by her family’s legal team, the case was to be limited to events taking place the day of the murder, excluding evidence that could show how the assassination was planned out, who conceived the idea, or who hired hitmen, not just those who allegedly pulled the trigger.

A 2017 report published by a panel of independent lawyers with experience in human rights law and prosecuting war crimes found that the company behind the dam was linked to Cáceres’ murder, and that the district attorney’s office had enough evidence to arrest company executives, but had failed to do so.

Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental activists, according to the London-based nongovernmental organization Global Witness. At least 120 have been killed since 2010.

Demand for natural resources has gone up over the past decade, which makes defending the environment even riskier, says John Knox, who served as the United Nations’ first special rapporteur on human rights and the environment for six years, until stepping down in July.

“There are three overarching factors” that put environmental activists at risk globally, Mr. Knox says. There’s more competition for natural resources; communities in remote areas where those resources are found are often already marginalized, without power in business or government; and, perhaps most importantly, there’s often an absence of the rule of law.

“When you have effective impunity, like the absence of prosecution or other kinds of consequences for harassing or killing environmental defenders – that’s when you see these incredibly large numbers of cases,” he says.

The Agua Zarca dam project that Cáceres organized against was to be built along the Gualcarque River. The surrounding indigenous Lenca communities, who consider the river sacred, feared the effects on their land. The project was licensed without prior consultation of the communities, which is required under Honduran law. The message of Cáceres’s movement gained traction – so much that lenders pulled out of the project. In 2013, the president of the country’s private business council said Cáceres’ efforts were “making Honduras look bad” on the international stage.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, daughter of slain environmental activist Berta Cáceres, was joined by her family's lawyer, Rodil Vásquez, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. This week, the country’s supreme court indefinitely suspended the trial of eight men accused of murdering Ms. Cáceres. Murders of environmental defenders rarely result in anyone held accountable, observers say.

Cementing a legacy

Ms. Zúñiga Cáceres sways back and forth in her chair after a long day of pre-trial meetings.

We’ve pursued this case “not just for Honduras, but the entire region,” she says. “If there’s impunity [in my mother’s case], that means there will be more violence. It will be a message that they can touch whomever they want and nothing will happen.

“We are fighting to guarantee that this won’t happen again."

From the beginning, Cáceres’ family and COPINH colleagues campaigned for an independent investigation into her killing carried out by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, but the Honduran government rejected the proposal. As the court date neared, key witnesses and evidence in support of the family’s case were repeatedly rejected.

They have asked for the three judges hearing the case to recuse themselves and for the trial to take place in a venue that can guarantee the impartiality of justice promised under Honduran law.

“This case is unique in that it is actually both unique and representative,” says Roxanna Altholz, a University of California, Berkeley law professor and member of the independent panel that published the 2017 report on Cáceres’ death. 

It’s very common to be killed for environmental activism, especially in Latin America. But she says it’s unusual for a legal team to have access to evidence like cell phone records, which have been available in this investigation due to a Honduran constitutional law. That data helped paint a picture of the long-term planning involved in Cáceres’ murder, according to the independent report – including an aborted murder attempt weeks prior to her death. 

The court ruled most of that evidence inadmissible in the trial, another aspect the family’s legal team is fighting.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Berta Cáceres, but one reason I joined the team is I felt if she could be murdered with impunity then anyone doing this kind of human rights work is vulnerable,” says Dr. Altholz. “It’s amazing, these individuals [accused of her murder] were having conversations via WhatsApp about what they were doing.

“That signals a certainty that they were never going to be held accountable.”

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5. No whispering, just horses and city kids, learning on a farm

When inner-city kids spend time on a farm, they find that building trust with an 900-pound equine can help with their human relationships.

David
Laura Cluthe/The Christian Science Monitor
Dale Perkins of the nonprofit City to Saddle teaches Schneider, age 11, how to trot on a horse named Derby in Rutland, Mass. The program allows inner-city children to experience what it’s like to work on a farm and to interact with one of its largest animals.

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City to Saddle isn’t a program designed to produce Grand Prix dressage riders. But for the participants, who are largely from underserved urban communities, learning to work with and trust an animal can be very enriching. For six weeks in the summer, Dale Perkins hosts children at Mesa Farm, where pop culture seems to guide the children’s expectations of farm life. Eleven-year-old Schneider, for example, looks for a piece of hay with the perfect fluff of grain on the end, the stem fitting between his teeth so he can gnaw on it as any classic cowboy would. “It’s really fun … working at an actual farm,” he says. “The only gross part about it is picking up poop.” Barbara Zenker, a co-founder, emphasizes how the equine interactions can help the children with other relationships in their lives. “Horses are very sensitive, and they’re wonderful partners, but you can’t bully them,” she says. “So the kids have to learn how to show empathy and peace when they’re with an animal, and that translates into their relationships with others.”

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No whispering, just horses and city kids, learning on a farm

Jacqui is a draft horse with hoofs the size of dinner plates. Matthew, age 10, is working to balance himself on her broad back as she clops around in a circle. 

“Great job, Matthew,” says Dale Perkins, who’s holding Jacqui’s lead line and giving gentle instruction to the young rider. “You’re doing much better than yesterday.”

Mr. Perkins is president of City to Saddle, a riding program that allows inner-city children to experience what it’s like to work on a farm and to interact with one of its largest animals: horses. He’s helping Matthew at Mesa Farm in Rutland, Mass., which is one of six sites in the state currently hosting the nonprofit’s activities. (A seventh site is in the Appalachian region.)

This program isn’t designed to produce Grand Prix riders. But for the participants, the experience of learning to work with and trust an animal can be very enriching. 

“You see the kids and how much they enjoy it and appreciate it,” says Perkins, who himself grew up on a farm. “I think people who have experienced horses and farm life realize what it can do for you as an individual.” And these children “would never have that opportunity” without programs like City to Saddle, he says.

The nonprofit was officially founded by Barbara Zenker and Kim Summers in 2004. About 700 children have been involved in City to Saddle programming since 2013, Ms. Zenker estimates.

Many of the participants come from low-income families living in the Massachusetts cities of Worcester, Brockton, and Boston. Often they’re already involved in some type of youth program, which is then connected to a City to Saddle host farm.

For six weeks in the summer, Perkins hosts groups of about eight to 10 children every weekday at Mesa Farm. They often start the day with barn chores, such as feeding his ferociously hungry flock of baby lambs, and then go for a hayride. 

During one day’s ride, Perkins is asking questions to those from a Worcester YMCA group, both quizzing and informing the children about farm life. (The youths in this article are all participants in the YMCA, which requested that the children be referred to by their first names only.)

“Who knows how you get a horse to trot?” Perkins asks. 

“You slap the reins!” yells 11-year-old Schneider. 

“No, that’s only in the movies. You just have to ask them. Trot, Derby.” 

Pop culture seems to guide the children’s expectations of farm life. Schneider, for example, looks for a piece of hay with the perfect fluff of grain on the end, the stem fitting between his teeth so he can gnaw on it as any classic cowboy would. 

“It’s really fun being at an actual farm and working at an actual farm,” he says. “The only gross part about it is picking up poop.”

A history with horses

It’s been almost 10 years since Perkins got involved with City to Saddle and three years since he became president. Growing up on a farm in Minnesota, he started working with horses at the age of 5. Today, he’s a therapeutic riding instructor certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International, and he specializes in the mental health needs of riders. 

In addition to hosting the City to Saddle summer program at Mesa Farm, Perkins organizes the fundraising efforts for the nonprofit, including 5K runs and farm-to-table dinners. 

Perkins was brought on as president in 2015 to build the program into a collaborative effort, says Zenker, who is now chair of the organization. His calm temperament and expertise with horses, she says, have made him the perfect fit. 

“[Perkins] has this depth of experience, and he’s amazing with children,” she says. “He has a calm, nurturing, empathetic way of dealing with each child. He doesn’t push a child; he evolves children. He allows them to work and learn at their own pace.”

When AJ, age 12, arrived at Mesa Farm, he had never ridden a horse before. He says that when he first got on, the feel of a living, breathing, massive animal between his legs was scary. But he learned to overcome his fear. 

“I just like working with the horses,” AJ says. “I get to be very interactive with the animals. It’s a new experience for me.”

In fact, by the end of his first day AJ was vaulting on horseback – a type of “gymnastics” routine, as Perkins describes it, that involves doing different acrobatic-like poses on top of a moving horse. 

On this day, the children are practicing their vaulting routines with Judy, a 2,000-pound draft horse even bigger than Jacqui that towers over Perkins, never mind the children who come up only to his waist. Although wobbly, the youths perform the precarious positions with ease. Arguably the most ambitious move is “stand,” which, as it sounds, demands that the rider stand pin straight on top of the moving horse. It’s mastered by almost every child who takes on the challenge. 

Working with the horses, says Zenker, who is a horseback rider herself, teaches the children practical lessons about life. 

“It’s transformational for these kids,” she says. “You take an animal weighing more than a ton, a very large animal that looks uncontrollable – or certainly not anything that you would be able to handle – and by learning quietness, patience, empathy, and listening, you learn that in fact this animal can become a partner of yours.” 

She emphasizes how the equine interactions can help the children with other relationships in their lives. “Horses are very sensitive, and they’re wonderful partners, but you can’t bully them; they’re too big,” she says. “So the kids have to learn how to show empathy and peace when they’re with an animal, and that translates into their relationships with others.”

A confidence builder

Sarah Levy, director of child-care services at the Worcester YMCA, has also seen how the children develop as a result of City to Saddle. She’s been bringing youths to Mesa Farm for years and says their confidence grows “immensely.”

“Dale ... never forces them. He encourages them and tries to get them to push themselves and overcome some of their fears,” Ms. Levy says. “By the end of the week, they’re doing something that they wouldn’t have done at the beginning of the week. And that, to me, is amazing.” 

For some, the program’s effect has stayed with them for years. When Katie Wainwright started riding at Mesa Farm through a City to Saddle program when she was 10, she says she was an anxious little girl who was too shy to speak. But at the farm, she says, she fell in love with the outdoors and the horses and blossomed into a stronger, more communicative person. 

Katie was given a scholarship through the program to take lessons with Perkins. City to Saddle paid for her boots and riding helmet, too. 

“If they hadn’t given to me, I wouldn’t have this opportunity, and who knows, I could have been completely different today,” says Katie, who is now 17. 

She says Perkins’s support has been pivotal to her growth. “Dale is probably one of the kindest, most hardworking people I’ve ever met in my entire life. He gives so much to other people, and he doesn’t ask for very much in return,” she says. 

Perkins says the reason he does this work is simple: He’s glad to bring happiness into the lives of children who need it most. 

“My wife and I feel very blessed to have a facility like this and to be able to do these types of programs,” he says. “So that makes it a joy to be able to share it.”

• For more, visit citytosaddle.org.

Three other groups with a focus on animals

• UniversalGiving helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations around the world. All the projects below are vetted by UniversalGiving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause. 

• Romania Animal Rescue aids animals from poor areas, with a focus on spay and neuter services. Take action: Financially support this organization’s Homeless Animal Hospital Project

• Pan African Sanctuary Alliance  secures a future for Africa’s primates and their habitat through a collaboration of African sanctuaries, communities, and governments plus global experts. Take action: Make a donation to help rescue an animal from cruelty.

• Let Kids Be Kids  is an advocate for disadvantaged individuals as well as animal species that are at risk. Take action: Contribute to funding for the support of endangered species.

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The Monitor's View

The freedom driving North Korea to the table

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Last year the world was tracking how much North Korea might be a threat as it tested new weapons. These days it is tracking how much the North’s young dictator, Kim Jong-un, wants economic freedom for his people. A shift in Mr. Kim’s thinking may be visible during this week’s visit of Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, to Pyongyang. The meeting is another test of whether Kim sees his survival relying more on progress toward a market economy than on a nuclear arsenal. He may have no choice. Decades of mismanagement have left North Korea with a per capita gross national income that is less than 5 percent of South Korea’s. An informal economy may now exceed the official one. Authorities are even cultivating a culture of competition and innovation. The rise in individual freedom, if only in the economy, cannot be ignored by the regime – even if political freedom may be far off. Negotiations to find the right sequence of compromises may be difficult. But the demands of North Koreans for more freedom is now easier to see.

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The freedom driving North Korea to the table

Just a year ago, the world was tracking how much North Korea might be a threat as it tested new missiles and nuclear weapons. President Trump even promised “fire and fury” if the United States were attacked. These days, as yet another summit takes place between the two Koreas, the world is instead tracking how much the North’s young dictator, Kim Jong-un, wants economic freedom for his 25 million people.

A possible shift in Mr. Kim’s thinking may be visible during this week’s visit of Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, to Pyongyang – their third summit. Mr. Moon brought along nearly a dozen top business executives to see if North Korea might be ready to take concrete steps in opening itself for trade and investment. In a summit last April, Moon offered a “new economic map” that would connect the two countries through roads, railways, and pipelines.

Their latest meeting is yet another test to see if Kim sees his survival relying more on progress toward a market economy and fulfilling his people’s rising expectations than in a nuclear arsenal that so far has done little for the regime.

If that is the case, then he may be ready to negotiate away his weapons in a grand deal with the US that could include a formal peace pact and a reduction of US forces on the peninsula. Another summit with Mr. Trump, like their historic meeting in Singapore last June, is being discussed for later this year.

North Korea watchers see strong signals that Kim wants to boost market competition in an economy that has been tightly controlled for 70 years under a socialist family dynasty. He may have no choice.

Decades of mismanagement have left North Korea with a per capita gross national income that is less than 5 percent of South Korea’s. Spending on the military eats up about a third of the official budget. And tough sanctions imposed by the United Nations after last year’s weapons tests have helped to shrink the economy.

The first signals of the regime’s openness to the world began in the 1990s under the current Kim’s grandfather – but only after aid from Moscow dried up with the collapse of the Soviet Union. It took a mass famine to drive the North Korean people to start growing food for themselves and to sell it in local markets, known as jangmadang. The country now has hundreds of such markets selling all sorts of goods in both local and foreign currency.

This informal economy may now exceed the official one. In a small survey of North Koreans for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, 83 percent said outside goods and information had a greater impact on their lives than decisions by the government.

In addition, state-run enterprises have lately been allowed to use American dollars and calculate supply and demand. Authorities are even cultivating a culture of competition and innovation. In an official parade last week that celebrated the country’s anniversary, there was no display of long-range missiles as in the past. Instead, one float proclaimed the “robust foundation of an economically strong state.”

The rise in individual freedom, if only in the economy, cannot be ignored by the regime. Political freedom may be far off but Kim must feel pressure to compromise with the US in return for the hope of prosperity.

Negotiations to find the right sequence of necessary compromises may be difficult. The sanctions will probably stay in place until the North denuclearizes. But the demands of North Koreans for more freedom is now easier to see.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

No loneliness vacuums in God’s love

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There has been a heightened focus on the issue of loneliness in the news this year, and today’s contributor found that it was prayer and turning to God, divine Love, that made the difference in finding freedom from feeling alone.

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No loneliness vacuums in God’s love

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Earlier this year, the United Kingdom appointed a minister for loneliness to confront what Prime Minister Theresa May calls a “sad reality of modern life” (“British people are so lonely that they now have a minister for loneliness,” time.com, Jan. 18, 2018). And in an article in The New York Times, Eric Klinenberg concluded, “Millions of people are suffering from social disconnection” (“Is loneliness a health epidemic?” nytimes.com, Feb. 9, 2018).

In my own life, when circumstances have made me feel alone, I have been grateful to still have somewhere to turn for guidance and support. Turning to and trusting God, whom I understand to be universal divine Love, not only deepens my love for Him, but always brings answers in delightfully unexpected ways. It has led to opportunities to forget self and perhaps be of help to someone in need, to meet those whom I might not have otherwise met, and to build relationships on stronger and deeper foundations – relationships that have spanned years and distance. 

In this way, “alone” times are not always fruitless times. They can be times of great spiritual progress. In the textbook of Christian Science, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mary Baker Eddy wrote these thought-provoking words: “Would existence without personal friends be to you a blank? Then the time will come when you will be solitary, left without sympathy; but this seeming vacuum is already filled with divine Love. When this hour of development comes, even if you cling to a sense of personal joys, spiritual Love will force you to accept what best promotes your growth” (p. 266).

When I was in college, although surrounded by students on a daily basis, I was very lonely on weekends. There was a lot of binge drinking and partying going on, and I yearned to meet others with whom I could have experiences that did not involve getting drunk. I kept myself busy, but when weekends didn’t seem to improve, I sent away for an application to transfer to another school.

The application sat on my desk throughout the first semester and well into the second. Every time I glanced at it, I felt uncomfortable. From my study of the Bible, two ideas had begun to take shape in my thinking. The first was based on an answer Christ Jesus gave after he was asked when the kingdom of God should come: “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20, 21). If the kingdom of God is within me, I reasoned, then I could see and feel divine Love expressed in every place at all times, and my desire for peace, joy, and companionship would be fulfilled. Love, God, could not be more present in one place than in another; the “seeming vacuum is already filled with divine Love.”

Secondly, I felt nudged to more fully understand the nature of my fellow coeds in the context of the first chapter of Genesis, where the Scripture says that man is made in the image and likeness of God. I saw that as God’s children, students on one college campus could not be more or less innocent and pure than on another campus. I knew that the genuine expression of joy involved creativity and unselfishness rather than self-destructive elements, and I strove to see my peers in a spiritual light, as God saw them. Praying with these ideas brought me peace about my situation.

That spring break, I traveled and performed with the college choir. It was a very special bonding time for everyone, including me. Then, when it came time to choose housing for the next year, a new option was presented that was designed with an approach to living, studying, and weekend activity that was precisely in line with my earlier prayers. In fact, it met the need for many students on campus hungering for this kind of environment, including some of my new choir friends! Praying to know more about the kingdom of God and the nature of man as His image and likeness had not only lifted my thought above a feeling of loneliness, but also resulted in tangible proof in my college experience of divine Love’s provision.

There are no vacuums in the kingdom of God. God, the divine Love that is always present, lifts us above what seems like a void of joy and sets our happiness and affection on the permanent foundation of spiritual reality. Secure on the rock of Christ, the divine Truth Jesus exemplified, we can’t help but feel embraced by God’s infinite love and see it manifested in the most wonderful and practical ways!

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Viewfinder

A typhoon’s remnants

Tyrone Siu/Reuters
Volunteers in Hong Kong clear a damaged path Sept. 18 in the wake of super-typhoon Mangkhut. The storm had previously ravaged the Philippines, killing more than 60 and affecting some 3 million people, according to a Voice of America report. It also inflicted serious damage in China’s Guangdong province, though it contributed to far fewer casualties there.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )
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In Our Next Issue

( September 19th, 2018 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow. We’re exploring this question: Does a strong US economy mean this is the “best” time for a trade war with China?

Monitor Daily Podcast

September 18, 2018
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