In recent days, our news feeds have been flooded with images of children separated from their parents and debates about how open our borders should be. Regardless of where we stand politically, we can’t ignore the fact that there are refugees gathered at our backdoor. They aren’t from the other side of the world, and these refugees are fleeing a different kind of war. It is a war that demands the blood of their sons and the innocence of their daughters.
Tag: Human Trafficking
At 14-years-old, K (let’s call her) didn’t have the easiest childhood. Adopted out of her birth parents’ home at age 8, she was removed from her adoptive family only 6 years later due to abuse. With nowhere to go, she was homeless, spending her days walking around town, trying to survive. There, she met a man who offered her help—a home, a friendly face, a place to belong.
Instead, she found herself in his house surrounded by other women and girls, all who were trapped in prostitution. K faced unimaginable atrocities until relief and rescue came when she was arrested for her own safety. The authorities took down her story, went after her traffickers, and worked to help her get aftercare services like counseling, healthcare, and education. Even now, she still struggles to live a normal life, but she has come a long way and is working to help other girls just like her.
At first, without context, it’s a little difficult to tell where this story is from—maybe Mexico or Moldova, South Africa, India, Germany. Maybe even New York City or Los Angeles. It seems like a story that should be removed from our everyday lives, happening far away in a place where crime is high, poverty is rampant, and prostitution is common, if not accepted by society.
The reality is that this story is about a girl who grew up in the city we call home—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
This is a reoccurring story, running through the lives of thousands of people living in America, happening in our own backyards—not just in foreign countries, huge cities, or sweatshops and large-scale farms. The true scope of trafficking is impossible to measure, but in the first 6 months of 2017, almost 5,000 trafficking cases had been reported to the National Hotline, ranging from sex trafficking to forced labor. And that only counts the cases that were called in, investigated, and identified as trafficking—so many more slip through the cracks. The average entry age into sex trafficking is 12 to 14 years old, and about 75% of child trafficking victims are now being advertised for and sold online. Labor trafficking is less talked about but it invades our hotels, farms, factories, and even homes. Almost 1/5 of reported labor trafficking cases were in domestic work.
In truth, trafficking victims look a whole lot less like the girl from Taken, kidnapped because she was acting carelessly and wildly in a foreign country, and a whole lot more like young girls from broken homes (rich or poor) who just want someone to validate their worth and show them love. Or like the Latino man who came to America for menial work to support his family, only to find himself overworked and unpaid with threats of imprisonment or deportation chaining him to an exploitive employer.
Human trafficking stems from broken systems failing vulnerable people and broken people taking advantage of them.
So maybe now you’re asking, “What can I do about this?” It seems like such a huge problem, and in reality, a lot of things need to change in order to really make progress, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or don’t have a role. As Christians, we should care because we are called to care. We are called to live like Christ, who acted in justice and who loved and showed mercy to the most vulnerable. Micah 6:8 says,
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
There are so many ways we can do this! Here are a few other suggestions for ways that you can begin to make a difference in your own homes and everyday lives:
This sounds counterintuitive to everything you’ve been told, but this is really one of the key points to not getting overwhelmed with these big, weighty issues. Keep in mind that you can’t do it all, but also remember that what you can do, however small, is extremely important. Educating yourself about human trafficking is a good place to start and can help guide you in the direction of taking action. It can also help you find ways to educate others in your life and to advocate for change and action regarding this issue. You can also give to reliable organizations who are combatting trafficking. Also PRAY, which is really thinking big—remembering that my God is bigger than any problem on this earth and that His heart is breaking for these victims!
Many organizations have shops that financially support their anti-trafficking work and safe houses, and many companies exist to raise money to send to various organizations for this cause. Americans contribute a lot to the labor trafficking industry, and intentional shopping can make a difference. When consumers demand that the companies care, we can really start to change the lives of millions of trafficking victims around the world. Pay attention to who is making the things you buy. Are the clothes you wear made by children in sweatshops or women who are severely overworked and underpaid? Is your food harvested by unpaid workers who can’t leave because their employers have them trapped in debt? Almost every industry is affected by labor trafficking somehow. You can learn more about this at free2work.org and slaveryfootprint.org.
Volunteer with a local anti-trafficking organization, or join a program that invests into the lives of local kids/teens or immigrant communities—show those who are most vulnerable to trafficking that you care about their well-being and that you think they’re worth something! Anti-trafficking programs often need volunteers in every area of their organization. Or find out how you can get trained to be able to teach others to identify trafficking and know what to do for a victim. Write to a congressman or sign an online petition about an anti-trafficking bill or policy. Whether you drive “taxi” for a safe house or are lobbying to your state politicians, volunteering is one of the most hands-on ways to make a change.
Below is a list of resources that can help you learn more and get involved.
Pick something; do something!
Whether you simply commit to praying for this issue once a week or decide to jump right in and volunteer, the one option we, as Christians, don’t have is to ignore it. In his book Real Christianity, William Wilberforce challenges the church to take action, saying,
You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.
Resources for local and global organizations (aka places to volunteer!):
• Try a Google search for your local organizations!
Shops that support trafficking survivors or anti-trafficking organizations:
• Starfish Project
• Love Gives Way (helps people find ways to have their wedding day support anti-trafficking efforts)
• Thistle Farms (I can vouch for their lip balm and essential oils!)
• Purpose Jewelry
• UNCVRD Jewelry
• The Hope Bag Mission
• Malia Designs
• Sari Bari
• Good Paper
• To The Market (goods made by survivors of multiple tragedies, including human trafficking)
• Made for Freedom
• Made By Survivors
Freelance writer and Service Coordinator for Immigrant Services & Connections (ISAC) at Northern Area Multi-Service Center
It’s Friday, November 10th, at 6:00 pm and you’re pulling into the parking lot in expectation of a great weekend at Imagine.
We’re ready for you! For SIXTEEN months we’ve been planning, praying, and preparing for an amazing weekend where people can gather with other believers, be equipped and encouraged in our call, and take a step of obedience to live out an extraordinary calling to love!
But do you really know what to expect?
A warm welcome!
First and foremost we are glad you’re joining us. You’ll find plenty of free parking, and warm welcoming smiles as you enter the Wexford campus of North Way Christian Community. Come right in. Pick up a registration packet, a cup of coffee, relax, and visit some exhibitors (more on our amazing exhibitors later).
At about 7:00 pm make your way to the sanctuary. We’ve designed an evening of worship that will roll out the red carpet for the Holy Spirit. We’ll share stories from people just like you who will encourage you to take that first step in living out Jesus’ love. You’ll also hear from our powerful keynote speaker who will challenge you with Biblical truth.
We pray that you will use this evening as a time to allow God to speak to your heart.
As Jesus followers we are called to live out His extraordinary love. This can be challenging, scary, tiring, messy and complex, but it is always worth it. We want this evening to be a time of refreshment for you, a time to have your heart broken for what breaks God’s, and a time of revelation as He reveals to you your part in His plan.
And we’re just getting started. Be sure to come back tomorrow!
Saturday: Dig Deep
After a restful night’s sleep, head back Saturday morning for a jam-packed day. We’re starting bright and early with a continental breakfast. Grab a plate and pull up a seat at a table. Join the conversation with a friend. Didn’t come with one? No problem, make one! Share your story and what God spoke to you last night. Join us in the sanctuary for some opening thoughts and to orient your day in prayer.
Now let’s head to the breakout sessions! There are over 20 breakout sessions to choose from.
This is your chance to dig deep. We’ve gathered speakers who not only know about their field, but are actively engaged in it. Whether you want to learn more about human trafficking, serving refugees, understanding some of the racial tensions in our world, adoption or foster care, what it means to be truly “pro-life”, short term missions, caring for children with incarcerated parents, parenting kids who have faced trauma, poverty, addiction . . . there’s something for you. Be sure to check out the list of breakouts now, so you know how to plan your day.
We’re providing you lunch too, and an opportunity to connect with people whose hearts are burning with similar passions as yours. If you prefer to eat quietly and process all you’ve been learning, that’s fine too.
After lunch join us for a special General Session. Because it’s really easy to be overwhelmed with fears and what-ifs, we invite you to hear the stories of four everyday people from the Pittsburgh region who God called to step out of their comfort zone. And because our God is faithful, you’ll hear how He’s met them, provided for them, and continues to walk with them on their journeys.
Exhibitors: Connecting God’s Call for You with a First Step
Between breakout sessions visit the Imagine Exhibitors. We’ve gathered over 45 amazing exhibitors for you to connect with.
To clarify, we don’t have vendors. We invite local and national organizations who are on the front lines of serving our neighbors near and far so that as God whispers a direction to your heart, you can connect with someone right there and step out in obedience.
If you’re on the front lines already, we recognize sometimes you’re the one needing some support – our exhibitors offer those services too. You will not want to miss the wide variety of quality organizations that are there to engage with you.
The end –just the beginning
As Saturday afternoon draws to a close, and you drive off the campus, it is our prayer that God has spoken at least one thing to your heart, and that you will respond by taking that one next step.
Can you Imagine the difference we will make in our city, country and world if we each live out this extraordinary calling to love?
We can. It gives us chills.
Be sure to register for the Imagine Conference!
Erin Brothers, Co-Director of OrphanCare Ministry, North Way Christian Community
Brace yourself for a story of miraculous proportions…
On the night of Saturday, August 13, 2016, I attended a church that delivered a powerful message of biblical justice for the oppressed and how women are under attack from Satan. At the end of the service, without hint or preview, Facebook Private Messenger decided to reveal messages that were undelivered, dating back three years, one year, six months, and three months. I never saw this screen before or since on my smart phone. It quickly disappeared and I could not get it back. While recognizing some of the senders, I was suddenly concerned about conversations that others were attempting to have with me and that they probably thought I did not care.
Knowing that apps and websites can look drastically different on a mobile device versus a laptop, I logged-on when I got home. I was able to locate this hidden screen and discovered two dozen messages. Many were unimportant, but one clearly stood out. It was a response to a message that I sent six months prior, on a Facebook Page, in February 2016. The conversation was from Philadelphia-based Do What’s Wright Production Company, LLC. They had been filming a documentary throughout Pennsylvania focusing on statewide anti-human trafficking efforts and the history of abolitionism concerning slavery. I offered to help and asked how I could be involved should they come to Pittsburgh. At that time, I thought my message was either being ignored or forgotten, so I was disappointed.
As it turns out, the producer responded right away and accepted the assistance. However, now I am reading this for the first time, six months later. I responded with an apology for the half-year delay and tried to explain what seemed inexplicable. Since she also gave her email address in the message, I doubled my efforts to reach out. This documentary could easily have been in post-production by now and I feared that I might have missed an incredible opportunity.
However, two days later, the associate producer of ‘From Liberty to Captivity’ responded and assured that this was no coincidence. You see, just this week, the filmmakers were going to start calling contacts in Western PA to schedule appointments.
Let’s take a step back for a moment. A conversation that I initiated was lost for a period of six months, then it “just happened” to appear at a perfectly timed moment which was literally the best week possible.
The next miraculous occurrence: she described a major gap that they had regarding content. She said that they did not have anyone to report on outreach in the hospitality industry, as related to sex trafficking.
Wait a minute. For the past two years, I had led a hotel/motel ministry that brought awareness of warning signs and resources to take action for front desk staff and managers. The team had been to 130 hotels and motels from Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg, New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.
Furthermore, I had recently trained a church group of 6-10 in Philadelphia to mirror these outreach efforts.
Next, she referenced advocates in the Pittsburgh area that she was trying to reach without much success. One-by-one I began to close the gaps with my local network of faith-based, law enforcement, and clinical contacts. I was becoming somewhat of a consultant for the film.
If that is not enough evidence for you that this was a divine appointment, I suggested a regional event that should be of interest to them. The Imagine Conference focuses on the most vulnerable population of children that are at the highest risk of being trafficked; which is those that need mentored, sponsored, fostered, and adopted. The year before, I spoke during a segment representing the plague and battle of domestic minor sex trafficking. After I explained that the event would be held on October 22, 2016, she said that is THE WEEK that production was planning on relocating to Pittsburgh! Progress moved swiftly and with few obstacles, from filming locations to interviews of courageous survivors, former traffickers, and local advocates. Exactly what they were seeking is what I had been prepared to provide.
With continued collaboration, I was told that I no longer was going to be a subject interviewed for the film. Rather, I was being tapped to be Assistant Producer. (Perhaps, I edged myself out by finding way more interesting people than myself to interview, but who cares!)
To give a little more personal context: the year 2016 was extremely difficult. Within the first six months of the year, I grieved for the loss of two very close family members and experienced spousal job loss. Probably somewhere around early to mid-summer, I was longing for another sign from God that I was on the right path by fighting human trafficking, as I was starting to become a little stagnant. All I knew was, I had never felt as close to God as I did when I was deeply serving Him in this area. Defining moments have been instituting the hotel/motel ministry; lobbying for International Justice Mission on Capitol Hill; making an awareness video through my church; and speaking at the Imagine Conference before 400 attendees. I was ready for the next level.
The two Sundays after the second family death, I was at my home church and acutely engaged with the worship. Suddenly I heard God’s audible voice-as audible as it could be while in my head-say, “Trust me. You won’t believe what I have for you.” I literally heard this message and cannot even type it without tears. I had this divine experience on Sunday, July 31st and again on Sunday, August 7th. The following Saturday, August 13th the archived/lost Facebook Private Messenger messages popped-up, which guided me to the six-month old correspondence, and becoming Assistant Producer on ‘From Liberty to Captivity’. I do not tell this story to say – “Hey look at me!” Make no mistake; I am ecstatic as this marries my lifelong passion of film and compassion for victims/survivors of human trafficking.
I am telling this story as a real-life illustration of God’s perfect timing and divine intervention.
This is something beyond our understanding. If God knows all things, can be all places, and is all-powerful, He certainly can control something like our electronic devices. There is no way this is a coincidence, by happenstance, or irony. This can only be explained as the movement of God.
He has orchestrated this to the point of it being undeniable. He has been preparing this opportunity for years. I just had to learn to listen to God’s heart for justice.
You can too:
Register for the Imagine Conference
Learn more, and get involved in supporting “From Liberty to Captivity”
Written by Gary Caldwell, Assistant Producer of ‘From Liberty to Captivity’ film
Her name is Nicole, and I met her.
She traveled all the way from California to my house. I wish I could say I’d invited her. She walked right up to my front door and knocked. “I can’t let you in,” I said. “I have so much going on, you know, with work, my husband, kids. I’m a mom; you understand.”
There was no response. She knocked again. “I guess you didn’t hear me; I can’t let you in. I have to send these emails and plan dinner. The house is a mess. Sorry! Not a good time.” Nothing. Then came more knocking, soft and polite. “Wow, you again.” I was getting annoyed. “Honestly? I haven’t worked out yet today, or had my quiet time, or showered for that matter,” I said. “Can you please come back when I’ve met all their needs plus my own, wrapped up these projects, gotten myself organized, and my kids are in school all day?”
I opened the door a crack and walked away because I thought she’d left. Then she was standing in my living room. “My name is Nicole,” she said. She had long brown hair and was extremely attractive—she looked like she could have been about my age but was probably younger. Her look was on trend, and she had a welcoming smile. “Hi, Nicole,” I said, and I resumed working.
“When I was 18 years old, I was addicted to drugs and dancing at a club to make ends meet,” she began. “I met a guy, and he offered to help me get clean.”
That was the beginning of her nightmare, as that man would eventually enslave and traffic her across the United States, forcing her to pick up other women off the street as they went.
I stopped what I was doing and listened as Nicole shared details I couldn’t even repeat about her seven-year ordeal, which included constant abuse, threats of violence, and two forced abortions. As she talked, I could hear my two daughters shrieking with laughter from their attic playroom, and I broke down and wept.
Because her name is Nicole, and I met her. And my world was rocked forever.
A Call to Action
Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. There are more people in slavery today than at any other time in human history:
Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, generating more than $150 billion USD every year, according to the International Labour Organization.
In 2016, an estimated 1 out of 6 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims. Of those, 86% were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran away.
While there is no official estimate of the total number of human trafficking victims in the United States, it probably reaches into the hundreds of thousands.
And here’s the kicker:
Only 1 percent of human trafficking victims are ever rescued.
That these statistics are overwhelming and disheartening is an understatement.
Impossible might be the best way to describe the prospect of even slowing the momentum of this massive, powerful, runaway freight train of darkness—let alone stopping it in its tracks.
Except for one thing.
As Christians, we serve the God who created every single man, woman, and child enslaved in trafficking today—who sees, and knows, and loves each and every one of them. The God for whom nothing is impossible, and who wants to remind us that what is impossible with man is possible with God (Luke 18:27, Matthew 19:26). The God who might be calling you to action. Just like he called Christine.
We Can’t Do it All, But We Can All Do Something
In 2007, Christine Caine—today an internationally known teacher, evangelist, activist, author, and speaker—was walking through the airport in Thessaloniki, Greece, when she noticed that littering the walls were handmade posters showing the faces of girls and women who had disappeared. She wondered how there could be so many people missing at the same time, until someone told her they were all victims of human trafficking.
Caine was incredulous. “I thought ‘Human trafficking? That doesn’t happen, that’s ridiculous.’ Then I went online and did some research, and I was stunned.” [“Abolishing Sex Slavery by Helping One Girl at a Time”]
Or as she would later put it: “My. World. Was. Rocked. Forever. … Life as I knew it before seeing the missing posters was over.” [“A Dream Come True”]
A year later in 2008, she and her husband, Nick, founded The A21 Campaign, an anti-human trafficking organization dedicated to abolishing injustice in the 21st century. A21’s comprehensive approach includes raising awareness, preventing future trafficking, taking legal action, and providing rehabilitation services to survivors.
With a stated mission to abolish slavery everywhere forever, A21 has 12 offices in 11 countries—all focused on aspects of its three-pronged solution: Reach, Rescue, Restore.
REACH THE VULNERABLE AND DISRUPT THE DEMAND.
RESCUE VICTIMS AND SEEK JUSTICE AGAINST THEIR CAPTORS.
RESTORE SURVIVORS AND EQUIP THEM TO LIVE INDEPENDENTLY.
That first one, Reach. That’s where you and I come in: “Prevent slavery from ever happening by engaging people through events, student presentations, and education programs.”
Because chances are you’re feeling pretty unqualified right about now, seeing as how you’re not ready to go off and found an entire antislavery organization. Chances are you’re thinking something along the lines of
I’m too busy.
It’s too big an issue.
I can’t do it all.
But we can all do something.
“Often, I think, because we think, ‘I can’t do it all,’ we end up being paralyzed. So we do nothing,” says Caine. “But if we understand we can’t do everything but we all must do something, and we all find the one thing that we can do, then we’ll find that together we will all make such a huge difference and we’ll be able to put a stop to this.”
Putting a Stop to This: The Walk for Freedom
Remember my earlier encounter with Nicole? It was imagined, but her story isn’t, and it was what showed up in my living room that day. A few years later, on a warm May night at a church in suburban Pittsburgh, I was there as Nicole stood next to Christine Caine and shared her story live in front of an audience for the first time. You see, Nicole is alive, well, and free today because of A21. And now, she’s part of the fight.
On October 14, 2017, you can join me, Nicole, and tens of thousands of other 21st-century abolitionists in 600 cities and 50 countries around the world by participating in the fourth annual Walk For Freedom, A21’s global fundraising and awareness campaign. Designed to reflect A21’s heart for freedom and justice, it is ultimately designed to turn awareness into action.
Register now at a21.org/pittsburgh, or find the event closest to you by visiting walkforfreedom.org and entering your location. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram by searching “Walk for Freedom Pittsburgh 2017,” and invite others to walk with you.
Finally, join me at Imagine Conference! Learn directly from those who are on the front lines in the fight against human trafficking, and find out how to support and partner with local and national organizations like A21.
Together, as followers of Jesus, we can do something. Together, we can answer His call to live out love.
“It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life… Use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom.” GALATIANS 5:14
Written by Kelly Sjol
When she’s not being wife to a great guy, mom to two silly girls, or marketing consultant to universities and has free time (which is almost never), Kelly Sjol blogs at wearemadefree.com.