Today, Elena speaks to us about a life-changing experience in a stairwell, her ministries and the importance of honesty.
Tell us a bit about how you grew up and your childhood: I’m the youngest of three girls. And we were, and are, a handful. My parents were divorced by the time I was a year old, as they had a very rough marriage.
My father had many struggles and my mother became the primary caretaker. As I got older, I saw my dad and heard from him less. However, my mother became a Christian in the middle of her marriage, and when it was over, she brought my sisters and I to church every Sunday, and we found a community there.
She also owned a hair salon that my sisters and I all worked in. She worked a lot, but we were able to see her at the salon, and it was also where I learned my work ethic. My mother also believed in helping and uplifting women, which made a huge impact on me and how I love to support women.
It wasn’t perfect, but there were some really great moments. Years later, my father passed away. We had been estranged for a few years, which made for a very confusing and painful experience, but valuable in the long run.
“My mother also believed in helping and uplifting women, which made a huge impact on me and how I love to support women.”
Inspiring biblical passage of the moment: So many. The Word is beautiful to me. I process thoughts and feelings by finding a passage or quote that helps me articulate what’s going on inside. I love the verse “For thou art my lamp, O Lord” (2 Sam 22:29).
I’m a big picture person, and I tend to want to know everything that I am supposed to do, all at once. I think God sometimes allows us to see the whole thing, but for my life currently, He is lighting up one step at a time (Psalm 119:105).
Spiritual growth focus at the moment: To have a beautiful spirit, as well as an excellent spirit like Daniel (Dan 6:3) and encompass wisdom and understanding.
Profession: I am a social entrepreneur. I Co-Founded Conscious Magazine as well as Who They Are. I also have a background in advertising and production.
If you wrote a memoir, what would the title be? “You’ve Misunderstood Me.” Perhaps, something like that.
When did you first encounter God and how did you encounter Him? I always believed in God, but I didn’t understand Him, and I don’t believe I will ever fully understand Him. I very clearly remember encountering Him in a stairwell in college, one evening.
I was broken hearted and praying, and I would hide away in one of the stairwells in the building and talk to God and read His Word to find comfort. And all of a sudden, I had this overwhelming thought and confident feeling that God knew me.
Every corner of who I was and the deep parts that are impossible to articulate, especially to another human being. But, He knew them. The trace of the incompletion is real. It’s like riding on a train, and all of sudden, you see up ahead the track just stops. That’s what incompletion of the soul feels like to me. But, God is the journey. He is the train, the tracks, and the final destination.
“And all of a sudden, I had this overwhelming thought and confident feeling that God knew me.”
What has helped you grow spiritually in this season? I believe community. I have the kind of personality that if I am interested in something, I am full-speed ahead. I was really seeking to understand specific characteristics of God–The Holy Spirit, and I found myself having so many questions that led to frustration.
And then, all of sudden, I looked up, and I was surrounded by a strong community. It was all very unexpected. I still have many questions, [and] I think I always will. But my frustrations aren’t as severe. In a lot of ways, I’m okay with not having the answers. Which reminds me of the Elisabeth Elliot quote, “Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them.”
Just read/currently reading (and what has it taught you?): Letters to my Daughters by Paul A. Friesen Someone gave me this book years ago, and I couldn’t read it at the time. I picked it up recently, out of curiosity. The author is a father of three daughters, and he writes them letters on how to choose a good partner.
He gives them so much wisdom and you can hear his love for them in the pages. As one of three daughters with no memory of my dad ever instilling wisdom into me, especially not on this subject, I thought this book was great. I did, however, struggle with it a bit. It made me lament. Not just for myself, but for my own sisters, as well.
On the one hand, it’s helpful and confirms a lot of things for me. On the other hand, I felt cheated that I had to go to a book for this sort of advice. I’m being vulnerable, but it’s an honest recent experience.
Top three essentials: Coffee. The opportunity to walk to a destination (New York is of course great for this). Phone conversations. Texting is great, but I do still love talking on the phone with a good friend!
How did God speak to you recently? I was recently in South East Asia (Cambodia + Thailand). I was teaching a course in entrepreneurship to at-risk and former victims of exploitation. I also used it as a discovery trip to understand the current landscape of the sex industry, exploitation and human trafficking in Asia.
I was struggling to believe that I was justified being there. I just kept thinking that there were so many more qualified individuals, or maybe I was inflating the opportunity. And in the middle of these thoughts, again, much like a train veers completely in a new direction, the verse Joshua 1:3 came to mind: “Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.”
In that moment, I was so comforted, because I really would never have thought of it myself. I asked God to confirm it a day later and within an hour, a friend messaged me saying that I came to mind while he was praying that he wanted to encourage me that God brought me to that place. How beautiful.
Hobby: I recently got into doing projects in my apartment. Hanging shelves, getting rid of stuff, organizing, working on some artwork. I kind of love Home Depot at the moment, and I think I’m ready to take the next step by getting a drill.
Top three practical tips for staying spiritually strong: Read God’s Word. It is power. And so much of it is beautiful and interesting. Be an honest Christian. If you have doubts, struggles, frustrations, it’s all okay. Put others before you. It will bring you humility and true humility ignites peace and peace ignites happiness.
“Be an honest Christian.”
Favorite person in scripture? Daniel.
What do you want people to learn about God when they look at you? That I know who My God is, and that I waver not in who I am in Him.
How do you leave your mark on your community? I am not sure. I hope people would remember me as an encourager.
“I hope people would remember me as an encourager.”
Favorite holiday? It’s a tossup between the 4th of July– I am very fond of fireworks. Boom. Pow. Fizzle—and Thanksgiving– it is fun (and a bit stressful) getting with family, friends or loved ones and preparing this gorgeous meal, eating together and reflecting. I’m such a fall weather girl, as well. I love the coziness of Thanksgiving and the freedom from gift-giving pressure.
A goal you have? Learn a language! Or experience a prayer language. Or both.
A special tradition you and your family engage in or keep: We did Christmas at the beach (the New Jersey Shore), for a while, but it’s been harder to do that because of people getting older, family members expanding their own families, etc. However, I would really like to continue that tradition with my own family someday.
Question you will ask when you get to heaven? I have way too many questions to choose one. I would ask God to show me how He created the heavens and the earth.
Thing you want to raise awareness about: Exploitation and human trafficking–and the extremity of how harmful pornography is on the world. It is a layered conversation.
What does your morning routine consist of? I guzzle water when I wake up. I like to head right to the gym and on my way back home, pick up coffee and then spend time reading and journaling and praying. I don’t do this in this order every day.
What is on your nightstand? Well, my nightstand is made up of old art and poetry books with a small lamp on top of them.
Define Christianity in a sentence: Jesus is beautiful. His death uncovered hope.
For more Elena:
Instagram: @ElenaMBaxter / @WhoTheyAre
Twitter: @ElenaMBaxter / @_WhoTheyAre
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Whotheyarestories http://www.whotheyare.com
Elena Baxter is the founder of Who They Are, a media-based platform dedicated to raising awareness and advocate on behalf of victims of exploitation and human trafficking — the greatest offense on human rights. Prior to launching Who They Are, Elena co-founded Conscious Magazine in response to craving a more inspiring media platform. With a passion for honest media, Conscious was created to report on local and global change, social justice and culture.
During her endeavor to reshape the media landscape through conscious journalism, Elena learned about the harsh injustice of human trafficking. Along the way, she met many individuals that were either victims themselves, or dedicating their lives to fighting this crime. Their passion and bravery coupled with the truth that this is a human-first epidemic, sparked the desire in Elena to pursue Who They Are and join the movement to end exploitation and human trafficking.
In June 2019, she traveled to South East Asia to teach a course in entrepreneurship to at-risk and exploited victims as well as spent time connecting with organizations based in and around the many red light districts in Cambodia and Thailand to better understand the current state of the sex industry and modern day slavery, how we can fight against it. She believes she will see slavery eliminated within her lifetime.
Until next time, keep witnessing!