Breaking the Bondage: What Churches Can Do (and Should Avoid) to End Human Trafficking

FILIPPINE_-_preghiera_trafficoIt’s hard to fathom the pervasiveness of modern-day slavery or human trafficking. An estimated 27 million women and men, girls and boys, are victims of human trafficking. As early as 13 years old, sometimes even younger, children are forced into various kinds of traumatic and life-altering exploitation—from forced labor and servitude to prostitution and other forms of sexual violence. We thought that slavery had ended once and for all but now we have to face the harsh reality that not only is it still happening but it has taken on new and insidious forms.

Earlier this week, I attended the Lott Carey Convention’s Human Trafficking Summit. Lott Carey is a global missional network of Baptist congregations who work together to extend the Christian witness around the world through missions projects, education, training and advocacy. During the Summit, the question about the Church’s logo-end-human-traffickingrole in ending human trafficking kept coming up. While some churches are mostly unaware of its pervasiveness and how it impacts individuals, families and communities; others are not equipped to minister to victims or confront the systematic issues that make human trafficking so ubiquitous.

Without a doubt congregations need to be educated about human trafficking, the impact it has on the lives of young people, their families and entire communities. Pastors, church leaders and members also need to be trained to recognize the signs of someone who may be a victim of trafficking and ways they can respond to break the chains of bondage while offering safety, hope, forgiveness, healing and restoration. Indeed, human trafficking is a huge problem. It cannot be solved by one person or one church. But, there are some things we can do to change the current trajectory of trafficking in the U.S. and around the world.

During the Summit, I was helping to facilitate a small group discussion on church mobilization and advocacy. There was so much to think about and so little time to discuss the many ways churches can respond to this growing crisis. Below are some of my thoughts/ideas of what churches can do to mobilize and advocate to end human trafficking. First, however, let me provide some words of caution or “don’ts,” if you will. While there are lots of things churches can do, there are also some things we should avoid doing so that our good intentions don’t end up causing more harm to people who are already traumatized. In that vein, let’s avoid:

girl in bondage hope rising website

  • Prejudging (and outright judgment), condemnation and criticism;
  • Overgeneralizing or simplifying an issue that is extremely complex;
  • Imposing our values on victims;
  • Offering a Bible before a Band-Aid (Victims of trafficking often need care and while spiritual needs are important, if someone is bleeding, for example, let’s first give them ointment to clean out the wound and a Band-Aid to cover it and to help with the healing process. They may be able to receive spiritual guidance more readily once their critical physical needs are taken care of);
  • Using spiritual cliches to rationalize the ordeal for victims with comments like, “God wouldn’t give you more than you can bear,” “You have to forgive,” or “All things work together for good.” It’s just not the right time to do that when someone is traumatized and in need of safety and help getting their life back.
  • Expecting too much, too soon. It’s a process that will take time.

Church Mobilization

  • Churches can provide “safe sanctuaries” for victims of human trafficking. By “safe sanctuary” I mean a place where people can go to get off the streets and out of harm’s way. This may mean opening the church to victims on a regular basis (after normal hours) where victims can find refuge and resources.
  • Pastors and churches can work through ministerial alliances, conventions and associations to disseminate information about human trafficking so that people of faith can get informed about what it is, how to recognize victims and what they can do to help.
  • Churches can publish the hotline number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 888-373-7888, in weekly bulletins, on their website, on banners, hotline number for human traffickingthrough social media and on palm cards left in the vestibule, church office and other prominent locations to make sure people who may need help have access to information as to how they can get it.
  • Churches can partner together to fight trafficking in their community. These partner churches can hone in on one aspect of human trafficking that they want to fight or try to fight it from a broader perspective, depending on the needs specific to their location.
  • Churches can designate a weekly service to be “End Human Trafficking Sunday” at their church where they can educate the congregation, provide resources and information for victims so that they know where they can find help.
  • Pastors/ministers can preach sermons on human trafficking exposing some of the misconceptions and de-stigmatizing the victims.
  • Ministers and other church leaders can be trained on how to identify victims of human trafficking and how to create safe spaces for victims to be able to get the help that they need without feeling condemned or judged by the congregation.
  • Churches can have food pantries and clothing closets for victims to be able to get some of the items they need as they transition from a trafficking situation. They can also have care packages and toiletry items available for those who need them.
  • Churches can provide counseling and employment training for victims. This would be a good opportunity for a partnership to occur with other churches and community-based organizations.
  • Intercessory prayer ministries can hold prayer vigils specifically for victims and perpetrators of human trafficking. They can also regularly and consistently pray for an end to human trafficking worldwide.
  • Churches can train members to reach out to victims of trafficking beyond the church walls and provide food (or gift cards for restaurants or grocery stores), clothing,   toiletries and other appropriate items as well as a business card with the hotline number, locations of safe sanctuaries and the address and phone number of the church.
  • Churches should implement safeguards against predators by having annual backgroundchild-trafficking_2-715x498 checks of volunteers for children’s ministries including teens.
  • Churches could regularly open their doors  for a meal and safe space for victims of human trafficking using social service agencies to advertise these “Night Off the Streets” events. Particularly during the winter months these events may be well-attended.
  • Churches should create safe spaces where victims can tell their stories and be heard.
  • Churches can provide ministry support to victims, journeying with them as they move from trafficking to triumph, knowing that the process is a long one and that there are multiple mental, emotional, physical, economic, social and practical issues that come into play for someone trying to recover from being a victim of human trafficking.

Advocacy

  • Churches can write/email their local, state and national representatives and urge them to support legislation that provides help and resources to human trafficking victims.
  • Churches can organize teams to do legislative visits with their representhands on window traffickingatives and push bills like the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. They can also urge officials to close legislative loopholes that make it easier for human trafficking to occur.
  • Social justice or other ministries can organize events and social media campaigns using hashtags like #endslaverynow or #breakthebondage and tagging public officials.
  • Churches can organize or participate in public demonstrations like pray-ins and prayer vigils at capitol buildings or other symbolic locations so that they can raise awareness about the issue and advocate for legislators to join the fight against human trafficking.
  • Churches can partner with other non-profits working on this issue and support their efforts and advocacy campaigns. In addition to the work Lott Carey is doing, International Justice Mission, the Polaris Project and Shared Hope International are all doing great work to break the bondage and end trafficking.
  • Check your state’s status on Shared Hope International’s State Report Cards to find where they stand on helping victims of human trafficking and call on state legislators to improve their efforts to put an end to slavery for good.end human trafficking poster

Civil Rights Leader Fannie Lou Hamer once said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” Churches have an important role in fighting for freedom for victims of human trafficking and there is certainly a lot we can do to put an end to this madness. We can speak life and hope into the lives of victims even as we give them the support and resources they need to get their lives back on track. We can also hold our public officials accountable to propose and vote for legislation that supports victims and ends trafficking. Change won’t occur overnight but change will happen if we put our hands to the plow and do the work.

This entry was posted in Healing, Human Trafficking, Justice, Overcoming Obstacles, Prayer, Violence Against Women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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