Author Archives: gravity-admin

Joining the Anti-Human Trafficking Movement

As Shandra Woworuntu and Chris Heuertz speak at Gravity’s anti-human trafficking Vocare Speakers Series, many of those attending may ask what can be done.

Shandra and Chris have put together this list of first steps to get involved in the fight for freedom for today’s modern victims of human slavery.

Ways to Respond

Educate yourself, your family, your friends, and your community about the reality of human trafficking.

Raise Awareness in your community and congregation.

Stay Informed by following these survivors on Twitter: Minh Dang, Rani HongIma Matul, Holly Smith, Shandra Woworuntu, and others.

Support and Collaborate with local organizations working against modern slavery by volunteering or making financial investments in the work they’re doing.

Thoughtful Consumption, be aware of what you’re purchasing and the potential trail of forced labor used in manufacturing products.

Use Your Talents to Join the Movement, not everyone needs to start a new organization, but everyone has something they can offer.

Report Suspicious Activity by calling the National Human Trafficking hotline: 888-837-7888.

Lobby your local Congress(wo)men and Senators to implement stronger laws to prevent trafficking as well as legislation to support survivors of human trafficking.

Pray daily for freedom for those enslaved in modern-day slavery.

Donate a scholarship for a human trafficking survivor to attend a Gravity sponsored retreat.


Walking Prey: How America’s Youth Are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery, by Holly Austin Smith

The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today, by Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter

Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It, by David Batstone

Sex Slaves: The Trafficking of Women in Asia, by Louise Brown

Sexually Exploited Children: Working to Protect and Heal, edited by Phyllis Kilbourn and Marjorie McDermid

Refuse to do Nothing: Finding Your Power to Abolish Modern-Day Slavery, by Shayne Moore and Kimberly McOwen Kim


Freedom for All partners with on the ground organizations that create long-term, systemic change to end slavery in the countries where they work and to save lives by freeing people who are held in slavery.

Mentari is a survivors network working to mentor and train persons who have been victimized by human traffickers, enabling survivors to lead stable lives (an organization founded by Shandra Woworuntu, coming soon).

National Survivors Network brings together communities of survivors of human trafficking by creating a platform for survivor-led advocacy, peer-to-peer mentorship, and empowerment that embraces all survivors, regardless of gender, age, nationality, or type of trafficking experience.

Nomi Network is a nonprofit that creates economic opportunities for survivors and women at risk of human trafficking.

Polaris is grounded in a set of values and organizational beliefs that provide a foundation for all their programs and activities. Polaris strives to embody and model these values within the Polaris community and within the anti-human trafficking movement: Service, Reality and Impact-Centered, Empowerment, Non-Violence and Respect, Transformative Innovation, and Holistic Approach.

Restore exists for every survivor, the promise of a new life. For our nation, the end of modern-day slavery.

Sari Bari offers freedom to women trapped in the sex trade and provides opportunity to women who are vulnerable to trafficking. Sari Bari does this by providing employment in a safe, loving environment, where women are trained as artisans. Women create beautiful, sustainable, handmade products, while making their lives new.

Two Wings used education, mentoring, and life coaching to empower at-risk youth and survivors of sex trafficking in achieving their dreams in the greater Southern California region.

Introducing Gravity’s 2014 Africa Solidarity Pilgrims


Ritah Buguzi

In her local Ugandan language, Ritah Buguzi means “owner of good things.” She’s an active member of Refreshing Assembly Church, a worshipping community within the Pentecostal tradition. Her parents are committed Christians who deeply love their family, and as the first daughter in a family of 8 children, Ritah knows she’s beloved. Currently Ritah is in her first year as a student at Uganda Christian University in Mukono working on her Bachelors in Business Computing. When she’s not in class she works part-time as a sales executive at a stationary shop in Kireka, supporting a local family business she believes in. Dynamic and adventurous, Ritah’s passions include singing, dancing, working with the youth at her church, and traveling—just this past year she was able to make trips to Rwanda and Tanzania.


Chris Heuertz

Chris has spent his life bearing witness to the possibility of hope among a world that has legitimate reasons to question God’s goodness. Chris studied at Asbury University in Kentucky before moving to India where he was mentored by Mother Teresa for three years. While living in India, he helped launch South Asia’s first pediatric AIDS care home. A forerunner in the New Friar movement, Chris and Phileena served with the Word Made Flesh community for nearly 20 years, working for women and children victimized by human traffickers in the commercial sex industry. In 2012 Chris co-founded Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism. Named one of Outreach magazine’s “30 Emerging Influencers Reshaping Leadership,” Chris is a curator of unlikely friendships, an instigator for good, a champion of collaboration, and a witness to hope, Chris fights for a renewal of contemplative activism. Chris is a frequent contributor or frequently highlighted in such publications as Christianity Today, Duke’s “Faith & Leadership,” Q Ideas, Relevant Magazine, The Work of the People and the Washington Post’s “On Faith” section. He is known for his provocative storytelling, and has written 3 books. Follow Chris on Twitter here.


Phileena Heuertz

Author, spiritual director, yoga instructor, public speaker, and retreat guide, Phileena is passionate about spirituality and making the world a better place. With a rare gift for communicating the dynamics of the inner life, Phileena gracefully guides others toward interior growth and bringing harmony to their outer life. In 2012 she co-founded Gravity to support the development of Christian consciousness in the 21st century, by making contemplative practice accessible to individuals, communities, and organizations who engage the challenging social justice perils of our time. Phileena’s primary work is public speaking, teaching, and writing on contemplative spirituality, facilitation of contemplative retreats, and spiritual direction. Named “Outstanding Alumni” by Asbury University and one of Outreach magazine’s “30 Emerging Influencers Reshaping Leadership,” Phileena believes that contemplative spirituality is crucial to authentic, creative, liberating social change. Phileena is a member of the Red Letter Christians, is featured on Q Ideas, The Work of the People and Darkwood Brew and known for her provocative theological narrative, Pilgrimage of a Soul (IVP 2010). Follow Phileena on Twitter here.


Gloria Katsuiime

Whether studying at a MorningStar University, a missions training institute in South Carolina or the years she spent serving in Nepal or representing a new generation of social entrepreneurs in South Africa at the Lausanne Movement’s conference in Cape Town, Gloria’s willingness to respond to God’s call on her life is inspiring. Originally from Uganda, Gloria makes her home in Kampala where she’s taken her innovative imagination to open Endiro Coffee. Endiro’s restorative spirit is captured in its very location—a corner property that was formerly a garbage dump is now home to one of the city’s most beautiful cafés. As a successful small business owner, Gloria’s motivation has always been for the youth—Endiro Coffee exists to support organizations that work with child- headed households and families impacted by the global AIDS pandemic.


Nikole Lim

From documenting a widow with leprosy in the jungles of Vietnam, to providing scholarships for survivors of rape in Zambia, furthering social justice through the arts has been a vital part of Nikole’s international vocation. By providing the platform for voices to be heard, Nikole strives to shift paradigms by fighting against stigmas of oppression. Nikole is the co-founder and executive director of Freely in Hope, a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring dignity to survivors of sexual violence by providing educational opportunities and platforms for women to fulfill their dreams. Operating in sub-Saharan Africa, Freely in Hope provides psychological counseling, health care, entrepreneurial courses and high school and university educational scholarships for young women who are survivors of or vulnerable to sexual violence in slum communities. Nikole graduated with a degree in Film Production from Loyola Marymount University and resides in the Bay Area. Her heart beats for young women whose voices are silenced by oppression and desires to see every heart restored. Follow Nikole on Twitter here.


Janai Marshall

Janai M. Marshall is a native of Washington, DC. Growing up, she struggled with low self-esteem, often feeling isolated from peers.  These feelings led her to start actively searching for God around age 11, during a time that she was being made to attend her grandmother’s aging, traditional Episcopal church. During this time, after several months of fruitlessly muddling through agnosticism and Islam, she began a relationship with Jesus Christ. But even so, the next 5 years to follow were marked with great self-loathing, broken & self-medicating relationships, and depression. However, it was during her experience as an undergraduate student at Hampton University that she met God in a way that spurred her to start a deeply loving, committed, and brand new walk. She later served as a leader for the Student Christian Association, led a women’s campus Bible Study for two years, and helped coordinate community service and outreach events. After graduation in 2008, she returned to DC to serve in local ministries, and worked as a residential counselor to high-risk traumatized adolescent girls. It was doing this work that prepared her to enroll in graduate school in 2009 to earn her Masters of Science in Mental Health Counseling.  She is now completing her degree, focusing research on sexually traumatized females, and is employed as a Case Manager serving families living in DC Public Housing to help them become self-sufficient.  She loves helping people to more clearly see the beauty and purpose of whom God created them to be.


Joseph Rurangwa

Joseph Rurangwa is a Democracy and Governance specialist at the US Agency for International Development. His work and interests revolve around political reforms, reconciliation, and peace building in post conflict societies. He is married to Nathalie Uwishimwe with whom he has three girls: Angel, Heaven, and Michela. Since the late 90’s, he has been involved in negotiations and peace initiatives within and outside Rwanda. He then joined Rwanda’s Ministry of Local Government where he worked on several governance reforms that included coordinating the drafting of new laws, and coordinating the implementation of Rwanda’s good governance program. In 2010, he joined the United States Mission where he advises the US Government on governance trends in Rwanda, in addition managing projects in the areas of peace building, media development, police strengthening, civil society strengthening and human and institutional capacity development. Joseph is the chairman of the US Mission local staff community. Joseph works tirelessly within the Rwandan political structure, building consensus and fighting for reform.


Aaron Strumpel

Aaron Strumpel grew up in a hundred year old house surrounded by corn in Iowa, where he began collecting sounds and textures, ratty and sublime, including a trumpet his parents bought him in fifth grade. Since then he’s lived faithfully into this vocation as a songwriter based in Boulder, Colorado. A collaborator by nature, he’s partnered with Restoration Village, Enter the Worship Circle, Agents of Future, and others to help in making art that speaks to the heart of God for the oppressed. Aaron won the Bandspotting competition at the 2009 Festival of Faith and Music at Calvin College for his album “Elephants,” and since then his work has been featured in Christianity Today, Relevant Magazine, and Paste Magazine. He spent the fall semester of 2012 as the Artist Practitioner in Residence in partnership with the Peace and Justice Institute at George Fox University. Currently he is writing for another worship project called “Bright Star.” Follow Aaron on Twitter here.


Rebekah Witzke

A college drop out with a circuitous vocational path, Rebekah Witzke is hard to pin down. In the last five years she has worked in Admissions at a Classical Christian School in Manhattan and then served as Director of Partnerships for Q– a Christian Non-Profit that exists to advance the common good in all spheres of society. At Q her eyes were opened to social good and the role Christians can play in the restoration of our culture. Currently, she is co-proprietor of a lifestyle boutique in Queens – a neighborhood in which she is actively involved and where she makes a home with her husband and three children-two of whom are teaching her to play the ukulele at the moment. Also a trained actor, she is consistently auditioning and just finished a commercial shoot; this spring she will be writing and producing a comedic web series. In all her varied work, Rebekah longs to hear people’s stories, discover her own, and see people come to an authentic understanding of God’s grace which covers us all. Follow Rebekah on Twitter here.

Hearing The Voice Of Love

We must connect to and listen to the voice from which we come, the voice that calls us beloved. In opposition to the many other voices that try to define us, this voice grounds us in a love of self that frees us to love others well. Contemplative practices help bring congruence to our inward and outward practices of love.

Film produced by The Work of the People with music from Sleeping at Last


Why the Name “Gravity?”

We often get the question, “So why did you choose the name ‘Gravity’?” It’s a great question. One of our teachers, Thomas Keating, O.S.O.C., helps shed light on the concept.

Keating, a 90 year old Cistercian monk of the strict observance is one of the leading voices illuminating the relevance of Christian faith in the 21st century. He finds himself in the company of other great Western Christian teachers like Richard Rohr, O.F.M. and Cynthia Bourgeault, Episcopal priest.

The impact of Keating’s teaching on Christian faith today and in centuries to come is and will be of a magnitude that the world has probably not seen for 400 years—since the time of the Reformation.

If you don’t know of Keating, it’s time to pay attention.

A student of Yale University and Fordham and student of psychology and philosophy, Keating helps us understand the implications of theological and scriptural concepts on faith and spiritual practice. Knowledge of psychology and human development theory unavailable 2,000 years ago at the time of Jesus and New Testament writers breaks open for us concepts like, “In Christ you are a new creation;” and “Why is it I do what I don’t want to do…” (Romans 7; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:11 & 15). Drawing on St. Paul’s teaching on the old and new creation and Thomas Merton’s 20th century language “true self” and “false self,” Keating illuminates what human transformation is all about.

In his book, Invitation to Love, Keating explains the formation of psychological programs for happiness is based in infantile biological needs for security and survival, power and control, and affection and esteem.

“As a consequence [of the formation of the false self], our emotional life ceases to grow in relation to the unfolding values of human development and becomes fixated at the level of the perceived deprivation. The emotional fixation fossilizes into a program for happiness. When fully formed it develops into a center of gravity, which attracts to itself more and more of our psychological resources: thoughts, feelings, images, reactions, and behavior. Later experiences and events in life are all sucked into its gravitational field and interpreted as helpful or harmful in terms of our basic drive for happiness. These centers are reinforced by the culture in which we live and the particular group with which we identify, or rather, overidentify.” (Invitation to Love, Keating, p. 27)

“The false self develops in opposition to the true self. It’s center of gravity is the self as separate from God and others, and hence turned in on itself.” (Invitation to Love, Keating, p. 59)

Needs that are fundamental to a child become a problem as we grow into adulthood and one can’t help but overidentify with them. Overidentifying with these programs creates the false self and leads to much of the breakdown of family and community, as well as violence, exploitation, poverty, war and terrorism.

The Christian invitation is to change our behavior that leads to so much destruction of ourselves and others and grow up (Acts 26:20; 1 Cor 3:1-3; 2 Corinthians 7:2 & 9, Ephesians 4; Hebrews 5:11-14; Hebrews 6:1; 2 Peter 3:9).

To use language that speaks to 21st century people, the Christian spiritual journey is an invitation to subvert the center of gravity within us that is controlled by the false self and allow that center to be replaced with the presence of God who holds our true self, unleashing unimaginable goodness in the world (1 Corinthians 6:19; Ephesians 4:5,9).

The name ‘Gravity’ was chosen for our Center to support this transformation in your life. It IS possible to live from the Divine center of gravity within us that orders our chaos and frees us to live the values of the Gospel: freedom, reconciliation, peace and unconditional love. Values that can change the world.

Together we can do good better. Thanks for joining this revolutionary movement.

See also, Greg Richardson’s thoughtful blog post on Gravity.

The Road Ahead: Connections, Connections

The Road Ahead: Connections, Connections :: by Julian Collette

Rummaging for God: Praying Backwards Through Your Day

“Rummaging for God: Praying Backwards Through Your Day” :: By Dennis Hamm, SJ

About 20 years ago, at breakfast and during the few hours that followed, I had a small revelation. This happened while I was living in a small community of five Jesuits, all graduate students in New Haven, Connecticut. I was alone in the kitchen, with my cereal and the New York Times, when another Jesuit came in and said: “I had the weirdest dream just before I woke up. It was a liturgical dream. The lector had just read the first reading and proceeded to announce, ‘The responsorial refrain today is, If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ Whereupon the entire congregation soberly repeated, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’” We both thought this enormously funny. At first, I wasn’t sure just why this was so humorous. After all, almost everyone would assent to the courageous truth of the maxim, “If at first…” It has to be a cross-cultural truism (“Keep on truckin’!”). Why, then, would these words sound so incongruous in a liturgy?

A little later in the day, I stumbled onto a clue… [read the rest of the article here]

A “Starter Library” for Contemplative Activists :: The Must-Reads on Contemplative Spirituality for People with Active Lives

A Grounding Place To Root Social Engagement In Contemplative Spirituality

Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism, is a grounding place for people to root their social engagement in a deep, contemplative spirituality in order to do good better.

Gravity doesn’t exist simply for social justice activists, but for anyone and everyone who wants to make the world a better place. This is tough work and everyone involved needs to be grounded in the effort to bring love, hope and peace to the world.

Through Gravity we will host 3-4 day contemplative retreats and 1-day contemplative sessions to introduce contemplative spirituality—demystifying and dismantling the intimidating barriers that often keep people from cultivating contemplative practices that nourish the soul.

We will develop a brokerage for trained and certified spiritual directors to connect with those who are in search of capable spiritual direction.

We will equip people for personal retreat and sabbatical.

We will facilitate pilgrimage to significant spiritual centers such as Assisi, Italy and Santiago, Spain. Harmonizing the dissonance between our inner and outer lives, these pilgrimages offer opportunities of spiritual awakening.

We will organize immersion trips of solidarity with those enslaved in the commercial sex industry, victimized in sweatshops, dehumanized in slums and red-light areas. Small, thoughtfully selected groups of conversation partners will travel to cities like Calcutta, India; Kathmandu, Nepal; Bangkok, Thailand; Lima, Peru; and La Paz/El Alto, Bolivia.

Through Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism we will support those who want to do good better.

No More Illusions : Contemplative Activism, A Model for Mission

“No More Illusions :: Contemplative Activism :: A Model for Mission” in Catalyst Groupzine by Phileena + Chris Heuertz

Live Better. Love Better. Serve Better. …Do Good Better

Though activists and social justice workers live faithfully into compelling vocations of compassion, they are sometimes the grumpiest, crustiest and meanest people out there—often down right unpleasant folks to be around.

Many who fight to alleviate poverty are unhappy. Loneliness and sadness are familiar companions in their work for hope.

Sometimes the stereotypical “dirty hippie” social justice advocate offers an uninviting example of how to serve beautifully for the common good.

Many practitioners involved in causes, charities or communities of hope often do a much better job of taking care of those they serve than they do taking care of themselves.

Sadly, many social justice activists are unhealthy—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Of course this is understandable given that most folks involved in grassroots work in places of poverty experience versions of secondary post-traumatic stress disorders. What they see, the work they do, and the solidarity of suffering with their exploited friends ultimately takes a toll on their personal health.

It is the luxury of the non-poor to be able to make healthy choices and options for themselves, but in many cases this comes with a price—feelings of guilt or undue self-critiques of entitlement.

Often those engaged in the difficult work of justice perpetually teeter on the edge of burnout. Countless young people sign-up for volunteer opportunities, internships and even careers of service and while some find ways to sustain and thrive in these callings most are not as fortunate. It’s not uncommon for activists to leave vocations of service disillusioned. Some even walk away from their faith.

We can live better.

We can love better.

We can serve better.

…we can do good better.

It Will Take a Movement…

For 20 years we (Phileena and Chris Heuertz) have given ourselves to grassroots movements of hope among some of the most vulnerable of the world’s poorest people. We’ve helped establish multi-ethnic, multi-national and ecumenical communities all across the globe.

In South Asia we founded the region’s first pediatric AIDS care home, offering safe haven and family to children orphaned because of AIDS or suffering with the disease themselves.

During West Africa’s infamous “Blood Diamonds” civil war, while rebels controlled 60% of the territory in conflict, we brought vision, volunteers and resources—ultimately establishing a community to address the needs of children who were forced to fight in battle.

Throughout Eastern Europe, South America and South East Asia we’ve supported women and children—many of them trafficked into prostitution— journey from the commercial sex industry to freedom.

Around the world we have invested in communities of youth who live on the streets, in sewers or slums. Some of these children work on trash heaps scavenging for recyclable or resell-able items. Many are so hungry they “smoke” cellophane bags of paint or glue to curb the hunger pangs. In the worst cases some are forced to sell sex as their only option for survival.

Our vocation of hope has literally taken us all over the world, having lived on four continents and traveled to nearly 70 countries. 

We’ve seen a lot. We’ve sacrificed a lot. We’ve received a lot. We’ve learned a lot.

There’s much good being done in the world and there’s much more that needs to be done.

It will take awakened individuals to make change. It will take transformed communities to forge lasting partnerships towards hope. It will take a movement.

Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism is established to support such a movement.

Becoming A Contemplative Activist: Transforming the World Through Spiritual Practices

Becoming A Contemplative Activist: Transforming the World Through Spiritual Practices by Phileena Heuertz for Immense (May/June 2012)

Introducing Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

On September 17 Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism was born.

Actually “born” may be too strong of a word—at least today we move into a little start-up office on the north side of downtown Omaha that we will work out of for the next year as we imagine what the Center can become.

For many of you this may come as surprising news. Others know this has been a yearning and dream we’ve held since the spring of 2007 when we walked the Camino de Santiago across Northern Spain. Regardless, since stepping out of our leadership roles in Word Made Flesh earlier this summer we’ve been working hard towards opening the Center.

We understand there are all sorts of questions people have about the Center and our continued participation with Word Made Flesh so we wanted to take a quick moment to address some of those:

What is the purpose of a Center for Contemplative Activism?

The Center will offer education, formation and support to nurture a contemplative imagination for accountable and effective social engagement.

The Center will resource people with active vocations to recalibrate their motivations for social engagement while cultivating a deep spirituality that helps avoid burnout through reflective soul care.

The Center will introduce contemplative spirituality in ways that demystify the common barriers to the contemplative tradition by making prayer practices accessible through contemporary application.

From the Center we will facilitate trainings and retreats on centering prayer and other contemplative practices; we will organize solidarity pilgrimages to places like Assisi and Spain as well as India and Thailand, Peru and Bolivia; and we will work from the Center to support our writing and speaking vocations around notions of Contemplative Activism.

What is “Contemplative Activism?”

This is a question we get a lot and over the next several months we will be developing a position paper that will better answer this question, so stay tuned…

In the meantime, we can at least suggest that Contemplative Activism reconciles our inner and outer lives through the disciplines of solitude, silence and stillness, helping bring adequate attention to our true selves so that we can offer the best of ourselves to the world.

Contemplative Activism supports those who are concerned about the needs of their neighbors by nurturing their inner life to authentically energize their active life.

How does the Center relate to Chris and Phileena’s vocation among people in poverty?

The essential core of our vocations has not changed. Our lives and message will continue to be given to a prophetic witness and engagement with our global neighbors in poverty.

The Center will enable us to do more speaking, teaching and publishing; offer more spiritual and practical support for workers at the grassroots; and consultation for other communities and organizations like Word Made Flesh.

Through the Center we will continue to fight on behalf of our friends and neighbors trapped in poverty.

How does the Center relate to Word Made Flesh?

We will continue to serve Word Made Flesh as Word Made Flesh community members.

Word Made Flesh has pledged to incubate and support the Center by covering rent for the first year. This will give us some time to work out all the intricacies of clarifying vision and values; defining the programs and services; and establishing a tactical plan to enable the Center’s long-term sustainability.

The Center will also support Word Made Flesh community members. They will be able 
to receive the various programs of the Center for their formation and sustainable work in urban poverty.

How can you support Chris and Phileena and the Center?

As you can imagine, this is an exciting and delicate time for us. In some ways we have transitioned from something secure and comfortable (our positions as International Co-Executive Directors of Word Made Flesh) for something new and unknown (founding the Center). With every new venture, there is risk.

We can’t go it alone.

We need partners who share in a vision for a better world to stand with us as we dare to create a new platform that will allow for focused formation of people eager to engage the social concerns of the 21st century. If you’re interested in joining us or supporting us please let us know and we’ll help you find opportunities to get involved.

In the meantime we simply ask that you celebrate with us.

Today is significant.

Though it’s technically more a “move in” day than a formal “launch,” we’re still excited for what all this can and will become.

Follow the Center on Twitter or check out the Center’s Facebook Fan Page to stay tuned for many exciting developments as this all unfolds over the next few months.