Human Trafficking Awareness Month

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month: Here’s What You Can Do, Pittsburgh

Get your clicking finger ready: It’s time to test that “fake news IQ” you’ve spent the past year developing. Sure, you can spot a click-bait headline a mile away—“Joanna Gaines is Leaving ‘Fixer Upper’ to Become a Scuba Diving Instructor!”—but can you figure out what’s missing from the following real-news headlines? Hint: It has to do with where they happened. Go ahead and Google them; I’ll wait. Continue reading “Human Trafficking Awareness Month”

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Ordinary People Living Out an Extraordinary Calling to Love

Imagine 2017

Over 600 completely average people joined us for Imagine last weekend. We joined together because we believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is that He came to seek and to save sinners just like us. We also believe that the whole of the Gospel is much more radical: it invites us to live as a disciple of the One who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed children, and spent time with those society deemed unworthy and outcasts.

 

This past weekend, over 600 ordinary followers of Jesus joined together to learn how to better seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). We recognized the fears that often paralyze us, and we leaned into the truths from Scripture: that the same way our Savior walked right into the “Samarias” of His world, we are called to the “Samarias” of ours…the places others would rather avoid: the streets, the group home, the orphanage, the prison, the abortion clinic, the rehab center, and the strip club. He walked in, bent down, and looked people right in the eye because relationships transform. He not only calls us to follow Him, but equips us as we do.

 

“Imagine made me realize that my fear of stepping out is normal, and reminded me that God can use anyone.”

“Some moments my heart was breaking and at the same time my fears are lessening. Opening my mind to what it means to truly love others as God loves us!”

“It gave me further conviction to open up to more possibilities that previously scared me.”

 

Throughout the weekend together we considered the idea of “What’s my one?” Our God is an intentional God seeking out the one lost sheep, the one lost coin, and the prodigal son (Luke 15). He has designed and equipped each of us with a different, yet complementary role to play in living out the Gospel (Romans 12:3-6). As each attendee prayerfully considers, “What’s my one?”, together we are able to make an impact in our world.

Here are just a few of the “ones” God led attendees to:

  • Haiti
  • Foster Dad
  • Short-term missions
  • Mentoring
  • Cambodia
  • Refugees learning English
  • Sex Trafficking
  • Strengthening a culture of life in our churches
  • China special needs adoption
  • Foster mom advocate
  • Homelessness
  • Encouraging adoptive families

 

Our prayer is that each person to whom the Lord spoke one thing would respond with prompt obedience to this call. Imagine what would happen if followers of Jesus took a stand for the hungry, the hurting and the fatherless. Let us bring that to life each and every day of the coming year!

Our deepest appreciation to each speaker, exhibitor and to the team of volunteers who planned and executed this event. Our time together was encouraging, refreshing, and equipping. We look forward to seeing you at Imagine 2018.

 

We’d love to hear your story of how God is using you, a completely ordinary person to live out His extraordinary calling to love.

Email us at connect@imagineconferencepgh.com

For encouragement and practical help living out this calling year round, be sure to subscribe to our blog.

 

 

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Listening to God’s Heart for Justice

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”

“Local Activist Battling Human Trafficking in PA”

Walk Her Home


Written by Gary Caldwell, Assistant Producer of ‘From Liberty to Captivity’ film

 

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We All Must Do Something

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:

The U.S. State Department last put the number of victims worldwide at an estimated 27 million, but according to its most recent report, it’s likely in the tens of millions.

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.

You can be too.

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

Check out Nicole’s Fully Story

 


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.

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