Your Role in Human Trafficking
Human trafficking affects every country on the globe and is a complex issue. As such, it demands a complex answer—with organizations, churches and individuals working together for solutions.
Most experts agree that, globally, there are more than 20 million1 people enslaved today. It’s difficult to get accurate numbers because of the population we’re talking about, yet we know that it happens everywhere. And we know that the problem is growing.
At the 2014 Challenge conference (the EFCA national youth conference), the first young woman who came up to talk with me after I spoke was from Iowa. She said, “My best friend has been trafficked and I think she’s in the Dominican Republic. I was approached and I said no.”
Both girls were teenage runaways—statistically one of the most vulnerable populations in the United States. If trafficking happens in Iowa, it certainly happens in other major cities around the world.2
Preventing the pain
Most Westerners, when they hear about human trafficking, are understandably moved by the stories of women and girls rescued from brothels. We absolutely serve a God who rescues and restores. However, isn’t it more appropriate and much more effective to intervene with the most vulnerable in our culture and other cultures to prevent this atrocity from happening? In doing so, we would save them a world of pain.
With more than 20 million in slavery today, even if we pull them out one at a time, or even 20 at a time, how long does it take to make a dent? And consider this: The average woman or girl goes back into prostitution several times.
I think that the idea of rescue appeals to our Western culture because we are so tangible and we look for the happy ending. Consider all the Disney movies. Some organizations have made documentaries that follow the stories of three or so women who are rescued and rehabilitated into society and get married. Let me honestly say: The process is rarely this succinct, and certainly not three-for-three, because there’s such severe brokenness.
Prevention best takes place in the context of community development. It’s hard. It’s dirty. It’s a long process. You meet people where they are, and a lot live in broken communities and broken relationships. They need Jesus in their lives and the impact of His love, and that’s why I believe the Church is here.
Just how does community development reduce trafficking? Most people I encounter around the world who are making a significant impact on their communities—who are watching justice spread and human dignity flourish—tell me that they started with prayer, and then they invested time developing relationships. Let me tell you about Claudine.
Human dignity in Kinshasa
Claudine Selenga moved with her husband in 2010 to Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, when Selenga became director of ReachAfrica—the indigenous expression of EFCA ReachGlobal in Africa. She wanted to engage her new community, and instead of making big plans, she asked God to show her what He wanted her to do.
In Kinshasa, many women are raising their families without a man in the home. With underemployment at more than 80 percent across the country,3 men often choose to leave their families to find work elsewhere. Once they make this decision, many do not return; most do not send support to the families they leave behind. Mothers then often sell their bodies to earn enough to feed and clothe their children. Young women frequently resort to prostitution for makeup, clothing, food or school fees.
Claudine saw this reality but didn’t know what to do or where to start. She sensed that God wanted her to invite women in her community to a Bible study. So that was her beginning. Soon, the women were asking to meet more frequently. Claudine started wondering if she could offer anything else. She decided to use her two sewing machines to teach the women to sew, then brought in trainers to teach women how to braid/cut hair. They called their gathering the “Tabitha Center.”
The first Tabitha Center was established in December 2014. The 25th Tabitha Center opened in April 2015, and plans are underway for centers No. 26-29. The centers are based in local churches so do not need funds to build infrastructure; people from the United States currently provide $1,000 to open each new center. This purchases sewing machines and other equipment. Then, each center contributes a small amount weekly toward center expansion. By the time there are 500 centers, they should be self-propagating.
Through the Tabitha Centers, women are earning money and supporting their families; they’re sending their children to school and teaching newly learned biblical values, and many are getting involved in a local church. Claudine’s dream is to open 1,000 such centers throughout Kinshasa, each based in a church.4
I’ve heard stories like this in community after community: We pray. We commit ourselves to the people God brings our way. And God reveals the way He wants to transform broken lives. He loves our communities more than we do.
In your backyard
In the United States, I see four natural starting points for making a difference and preventing trafficking.
Foster children. Often, foster children end up as runaways or in the juvenile justice system, because they are searching to heal past wounds. Can your church provide support for foster children and their parents?
Juvenile justice system. Can you offer to be a friend to a young person going through the juvenile justice system? Volunteering is a great way to know what’s happening in your backyard but is also a service to students who are afraid.
Not everyone you meet in those two situations will encounter trafficking opportunities, but that’s OK. When you get involved in your community, in any type of relationship, there’s community transformation because you tangibly bring the hope of Jesus. And He does the rescuing and transforming.
Pornography. Pornography is not a victimless hobby. Rather, demand for it fuels the commercial sex trade.5 Initiate open conversations with all children, especially boys, about the long-term effects of watching porn and how dehumanizing it is to women.
Consumer accountability. Do your research and ask questions about the products you buy.6 Where are their factories? Do they pay a fair wage? Do they employ children? If need be, you then respond with, “Even though I like your brand, I will not purchase your products until you… .” Get good solid information and then go public with it on social media. Focus on the positive too: Who produces products well? Who can be trusted?
When somebody tells me, after I’ve presented on this topic, that they now see how their everyday choices might contribute to modern-day slavery or might help prevent it, and how they are compelled to take the next step—that’s what keeps me going.
A tenacious hope
I have a deep sense of justice, and I don’t really know where that comes from other, than that it’s God reflected in me. When I hear about brothels in Europe and the young girls and women who have gone through those horrific nightmares, all I can think about is how to intervene before it happens to anyone else.
That means we have to be tenacious and longstanding. We have to fervently believe that any healthy relationship with a student anywhere in the world that can help prevent that nightmare from happening is worthwhile. Any young person we interact with who doesn’t get trafficked is a success story, even though that’s hard to measure.
The steps that you and your church take to touch the lives of the most vulnerable in your community might be the most powerful ones possible to prevent the injustice of human trafficking in your own backyard.
4Learn more about the Tabitha Centers.
6Visit the Global Footprint Network to calculate your ecological footprint and learn how to change it.
Amy Richey is community development director of EFCA ReachGlobal’s Global Equipping Division and assists churches in navigating how to fight human trafficking on both a local and global scale. She lived in the Ukraine from 2010 to 2015 and recently relocated to Grand Rapids, Michigan.