BRINGING FREEDOM TO THE CAPTIVES
MORE THAN A NUMBER
There are plenty of statistics out there regarding human trafficking. Horrifying facts enumerating the prevalence of the darkest things one human can perpetrate against another, or worse yet against a small child and, more horrifying still…to profit off of it. There are other numbers. Growing numbers. Numbers that represent hope and transformation. Lives saved and restored, criminals prosecuted, perpetrators convicted. Good numbers. But no one becomes involved in the pursuit of ending human trafficking because of a number.
As an elementary school teacher turned stay at home mom my journey into the world of human trafficking began with my heart for children. So instead of spouting prevalence figures, I’d like to introduce you to a little friend.That’s him in the middle, holding onto the goat. Doesn’t he have the greatest smile?
I don’t even know his name but as a former teacher I can tell you with certainty he is the joy and delight of teachers in the very same moment that he makes them want to pull their hair out. Can’t you just hear his laughter? Every child should be this free to laugh and learn and grow and maybe get into a little mischief. But he didn’t always have this laughter and this freedom. He was born into a life of slavery on a rice farm. It was a life of abuse, hard labor, deprivation, and violence. His family was freed through the efforts of International Justice Mission and his father, Raman, is now a leader in his community, working to bring water and electricity to their whole village. And their owner? Convicted and jailed. It was made possible because, twenty years ago, one man believed that every single person is created in the image of God and deserves dignity and freedom and was willing to say, “I will stand up for those who are hidden in slavery and I will be a voice for the voiceless. Every man is my brother and “I am my brother’s keeper.”
JUSTICE MINISTRY DEFINED
When we talk about human trafficking, slavery, and the church’s call to respond to these issues, it’s referred to as Justice Ministry (which is not the same thing as social justice. That’s a different topic.) If the term Justice Ministry sounds a little clinical, trust me, it is anything but. Ministries dedicated to addressing poverty, hunger, medical needs, (all of which are vitally needed), are easier to understand. It’s easier to see how to address those needs head on. When it comes to Justice Ministry it’s harder to see our role. Can I lay my heart on the table for a minute here? I serve alongside volunteer teams across the nation dedicated to ending human trafficking in our lifetime and one of the hardest challenges every one of our teams faces is: it’s hard to engage the church. I don’t believe for a second it’s because we, the church in America, lack compassion for the issues. I believe we lack understanding of the scope of the issues and how we can be a part of the solution. I certainly did. I grew up in the church. While I clearly understood missions and poverty alleviation, justice was just not something I was ever taught. To me, it conjured thoughts of “One day all the bad guys will get their comeuppance.”
And yet, God makes it clear that his justice and his love are inextricable. It’s not simply about bad guys getting their due. It’s about restoring wholeness in our world. Restoring right relationship between man and man and between God and man. It is everything encompassed in Shalom and we are God’s plan to bring Shalom to the world. If justice is at the very heart of who our God is and how he loves the world, and if we are to have a heart for what our God cares about, it is then absolutely clear that justice ministry is not optional to us. It is central to understanding God and to how we express his love to the world.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING IS DIFFERENT
Which brings us to this question: Why is human trafficking so different than these other global needs? The difference is violence. Trafficking doesn’t happen by accident or bad luck or lack of opportunity. It requires that one human intentionally makes and carries out plans to hurt a fellow human. They prey upon the most vulnerable whom they believe no one will stand up for. The poor and the weak. And children.
Maybe you’ve read stories. It starts with a visceral emotional reaction. Rage co-mingles with horror and sadness and perhaps a bit of helplessness. It’s what many people feel when faced with the brutality that is the world of human trafficking. Engaging in the work of justice ministry is different than any other form of ministry. My heart has been saddened and moved to action over extreme poverty but never have I felt the strength of emotional reaction that I do at the thought of child-sex-trafficking.
The redemptive work God has worked out in our hearts and lives, he is also working out in our world and he invites us into it. He invites us out of our comfort zones to be a part of rescuing and restoring this world by setting our eyes firmly on Him and stepping toward the darkness to end slavery for good. He invites us beyond the tears and the rage and bewilderment we feel and into action to end it. Because it CAN be ended for good. It can be ended in our lifetime but it’s going to take courage, and tenacity, patience and willingness to say, “I will stand for those hidden in slavery and I will be a voice for the voiceless. Every man is my brother and I am my brother’s keeper.”
ENGAGING WITH JUSTICE
If this is an issue that speaks to your heart, we will be exploring it throughout the month of April in a Monday night Woodmen U class. We’ll talk about our questions like, “Where is God in the face of all this violence? And what is our role as his church?”
In the words of Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission, “Fundamentally, the struggle for justice forms a different kind of Christian - a Christian who has the steadiness of heart to look at the problem of violence and to actually do something about it. Give me a Christian who has walked with Jesus in the struggle against aggressive, violent, injustice, and I will show you a Christian who has been changed by the journey.”
If you’re willing to be changed by the journey, email Sarah to learn more about the upcoming class or about how you can become involved in ending slavery from right here in Colorado.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah serves alongside her husband, Andy, as co-team leaders of International Justice Mission’s Colorado Front Range Volunteer Team. Sarah and Andy attend Woodmen’s Rockrimmon Campus. They like to hike, travel, cook, embarrass their two daughters with kitchen dance parties, and read.