Refugees face many challenges when they arrive to the US. The cultural, linguistic, and institutional differences can create significant barriers for them, but as Christians, we can help them overcome those barriers and adjust to their new lives. Welcoming refugees in our city is the first step, but here are some tips for communication and compassion for those looking to get more involved.
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
I heard about the Open Table model a few years ago through the OrphanCare ministry of North Way Christian Community.
It’s a national model for providing small group support to a Brother or Sister functioning without a network or resources to move forward. I saw it as an opportunity to mentor someone but with other adult support… meaning all the responsibility wasn’t solely mine!
“Igniting human potential is simple: Relationship.”
Our Table of 6 adults met weekly for 1 year with our Sister, a 19 year old woman who had been on her own for several years. Our Sister set the goals for what she wanted to achieve in our time together and then as a Table we worked with her to help her achieve those. Relationships grew out of our meetings and we became a family. We shared meals, birthdays, shopping trips, prayer requests, countless text messages and so much more.
Was it all perfect? No…but what family is!?
While our official time to meet as a Table has ended, our relationships have not.
“95% of Table participants have long term relationships with one or more of their former Table members.”
I couldn’t be more proud of our Sister and all she’s accomplished. She is so smart and one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. She’s been through so much and yet she remains positive and loves to encourage others. I feel privileged to have been a part of her journey and can’t wait to see all that the Lord has in store for her.
Debi Coglianese, Wexford Campus Manager of North Way Christian Community and Open Table Volunteer
“Open Table’s faith-based model draws together the community and relationship life of congregations around the country. It provides technical support, training, structure, process.
Each Table is composed of a group of volunteers that make a year-long commitment to act–through relationship—as a team of life specialists, encouragers, and advocates. Over the course of a year, the Table works together to set goals, foster accountability, and implement a plan to create change.”