Viewing entries tagged
Sex trafficking


Setting the Captives Free: A Call to the Church

“Katie” met him at the mall. Though she was only 15, she knew that there was something different about this one. From the start, he showered her with kindness and attention. It wasn't long before she was falling for him. However, Katie was not prepared for what would happen next.

After dropping out of school and moving into his place, she noticed that the status of her relationship had changed. She was now being forced to prostitute herself.

Katie explains that her “boyfriend” kept her confined in his bedroom. She told WFTV news  that “all I did was sit in bed and wait for another client to come in.” Without knowing it, Katie had been lured into a life of sex trafficking. Though she earned as much as $2000 on some nights, she was never allowed to keep the money. She was kept penniless and dependent on her pimp.

Afraid to run, she became trapped in a cycle of exploitation. Instead of having a way out, she was forced to become more involved.  He would tell her, "If you get another girl, you don’t have to work as hard." So Katie would recruit other girls through Facebook and other social media channels. Like a twisted pyramid scheme, Katie's recruits would then recruit their friends at high school. The result was an ever-growing cycle of exploitation. This particular sex trafficking ring was not in Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia, but in suburban Central Florida (this happened in the quiet community where I grew up).

But though this account is horrifying, it is not an Isolated incident. There are stories like Katie’s being reported everywhere. Last year human trafficking was reported in all fifty states. Human trafficking is not a problem relegated to developing nations. According to the FBI, “an estimated 293,000 American youths currently are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation.” With so many youth at risk, we can begin to see why the average age of entry into prostitution is between 12-14 years old


Let's be honest, this is scary. Sex trafficking can happen when any one person exploits the vulnerabilities of another for commercial gain. However, there is hope. The turning point in Katie's story came when a pastor opened his eyes to her suffering. The report explains that Katie’s situation changed when a local Brevard County pastor began to help. Though he was not in law enforcement, he recognized that he could care for those trapped in forced prostitution. His compassion is a stark reminder that the church has a vital role to play in seeing human trafficking eradicated.

In a conversation with Carol Smolenski, the Executive Director of Ending Child Prostitution And Trafficking USA (ECPAT), she told me that the local church can and must engage in the fight against domestic sex trafficking. Smolenski explained that every pastor and church leader needs to know about human trafficking "because they WILL be first responders. It doesn’t take a lot of training to realize that ‘something is wrong here,' because people will naturally have that instinct. With just a little training, you can mobilize an army of volunteers to know the signs and to know how to respond to them.”

Matt Jackson, a youth pastor in Brevard County, is aware of the red flags of commercial sexual exploitation. He explains that "when you hear stories like this, it makes you feel that much more responsible to bring this stuff to light. As a father of two girls, I think 'what if that were my kid in the mall being recruited.’ Jackson believes that he is not simply responsible for the spiritual well-being of his children and students but their physical well-being, as well. He has some advice for fellow pastors. "Know where your kids are hanging out. Know their friends. Talk to them about this stuff. Your kids can be a great asset to finding others who might be in trouble. Be aware of the signs within social media. Create an atmosphere where kids can talk freely about human trafficking and where they want to do something about it. They will be watching for signs that you will never see as an adult."

Ultimately, Jackson believes that the church should "do whatever it takes to get up to speed on what is going on in the world around you and call your congregation's attention to the problem. God has called the church to be His hands and feet and that especially means to those in slavery, the widows, the orphans, and to those who feel there is no hope.” 

However, no one will ever be the “hands and feet” of Jesus until they have become His eyes and ears. In other words, we will never even attempt to care for someone if we do not know that they exist. We can no longer claim ignorance. We must do something. With that said, here are a few easy steps to start you out:

First, become aware of the problemFirst, you can take the US State Department’s Human Trafficking 101  training. To learn more you can read books that address the issue. 

Second, learn to recognize the signs of human trafficking.  

Third, if you suspect that child trafficking is happening in your community, learn how to report it to the authorities.   

Finally once you become aware, you can start making others aware. Here are a few easy things that you can do: Start conversations in your small group meeting or sunday school class; show documentaries on human trafficking; talk about the subject on Sunday Morning; bring an abolitionist as a guest speaker; lead your church to financially partner with like-minded non-profits that are making a difference.

Though on this side of heaven injustice will be alive and well, we can rest in the fact that Justice will come completely when Christ returns. For now, we as pastors and leaders must join Christ on the "Already" side of the "Not yet" Kingdom. While we eagerly await Christ's second coming, we have the unique opportunity to see people set free physically and spiritually until that day. I pray that there would be more stories about pastors that care enough to notice people like Katie. 



Why Christmas Matters

When you think of NYC, Santa is probably last on your list, even if you check it twice. However, Santa Claus - as we know him- was born in Manhattan. Jeremy Seal, a New York Times contributing author, quotes a Cincinnati Newspaper from 1844 stating that "the sterling old Dutchman, Santa Claus, has just arrived from the renowned region of Manhattan, "with his usual budget of knickknacks for the Christmas times."  Manhattan is where the commercialized Santa Claus originated. The eyes of every child in America were on NYC each year as they eagerly awaited the gifts that Santa had packed onto his sleigh. However as we all know, Santa did not stay in NYC.



The reason that Santa left Manhattan for a more spacious address up north is simple. In the late 19th century, the city was steadily becoming urbanized. With the massive influx of the "tired, poor, and huddled masses yearning to breathe free" (as Emma Lazarus so eloquently stated in her poem, A New Colossus), Santa was forced to make a decision. Rather than trying to explain to their children that Santa Lived in a tenement house on the lower east side, parents began explaining that the Claus family lived in the North Pole.  


To this day, New York is a place where people from every nation find refuge. Currently, there are approximately 800 languages spoken in the greater metro area. As a Christian, I see New York City as a place where one person can actually fulfill the Great Commission. But with this rampant immigration and urbanization comes a sinister side. Not everyone who lives here is here by choice. The vulnerable populations, "the tired, the poor, and the huddle masses" are the very people that are being exploited for the commercial gain of others. The global nature of the urban context invites the scourge of human trafficking.


The Department of Justice reports that JFK airport is one of the top five airports where victims enter the country. One may find a potential victim in any one of the city's illegal Asian Massage Parlors, or residential brothels. The person that sells you fish in china town or the child that sells you fruit snacks on the subway could be being exploited as well. According to the National Institute of Justice, there are nearly 4,000 children being trafficked at any given time in New York City. 


There is not one community in the city that has not been touched by this evil in some way, however hope remains. During Christmas, we celebrate the advent of a miracle. The coming of the King whose purpose is to fix everything that is broken in the world. This helpless baby in the manger brought with him an invasion. As the hymn so eloquently states, "Hark the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled." Through Christ's vicarious life in the place of sinners, he achieved the righteous stand of which we have fallen short. His death in our placed paid the price that we owed for trampling on the holiness of God through our disobedience. His resurrection secures us as He lives as our representative before the Father. However, this is not the the only benefit for us.

When Christ came, He conquered sin and death through his own suffering. Christ then turned to those that were in the death camps. The scriptures states that each of us were "dead in our trespasses and sins,""blinded by the devil" in need of salvation. The sin that has broken our relationship with God, also destroyed our relationship with each other. Our own pain and suffering that we inflict on ourselves and each other testifies to our rebellion. Christ entered into our darkness and shone His light on our captivity. He broke our chains and set us free. Through faith, we can receive the gift of this great Abolitionist. He sets us free so that we could love Him and love others. This love overflows from our vertical relationship with God to our horizontal relationship with others. Because of His Grace, we can truly love our neighbor.

As this love overflows in action, we will see our communities changed. For example, in every neighborhood where there is suffering, there is a church. The local church exists to love God and to care for the weak and vulnerable in their midst. As scripture states repeatedly, God's  plan to end injustice on a global scale is the church and God doesn't have a plan B.


Yet, before  we care for the hurting, we must become aware of those suffering around us. We will never be the hands and feet of Christ, unless we are his eyes and ears. We will never attempt to love anyone if we don't know that they exist.

Imagine local churches, non profit organizations, and law enforcement all over the city partnering strategically to care for the weak and vulnerable. Picture community informational meetings such as panel discussions, and large events that create community awareness of exploitation. Watch believers become aware and have their eyes opened, and in turn seeing their neighbors differently. This contagious kind of lifestyle would not have been possible had it not been for a little child born in a stable over 2000 years ago.  

With that said, the message of Christmas is one of true change. For that very reason, the Gospel that we find showcased in the Christmas narrative is indispensable to the fight against global injustice.



Giving the Gift of Freedom

 Though his roots are in Southern Turkey and Northern Europe, Santa Claus - as we know him- was born in Manhattan. Jeremy Seal, a New York TImes contributing author, quotes a Cincinnati Newspaper from 1844 stating that "the sterling old Dutchman, Santa Claus, has just arrived from the renowned regions of the Manhattoes," or Manhattan, "with his usual budget of knickknacks for the Christmas times."  Manhattan is where the commercialized Santa Claus originated. The eyes of every child in the USA were on NYC each year as they eagerly awaited the gifts that Santa had packed onto his sleigh. However as we all know, Santa did not stay in NYC.

 For many, the larger than life figure of old St. Nick has eclipsed the small child born in Bethlehem. According to the American Research Group, shoppers plan to spend an average of $801 on presents this year. Whether we like it or not, Christmas has become a commercial holiday. The weak and the vulnerable are probably the last thought that we have as we try to find a parking spot at the local mall. In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it's easy to miss the reason that we celebrate Christmas in the first place. The truth is that Jesus was born to a virgin in ancient Israel. When he had grown up, he went to the Cross and suffered for the very people that drove him there. As Christ died, he experienced the justice of God for us. On the third day, he rose from the grave with a promise to return and bring the justice of God to us. The justice of God means that God loves and cares for the widow, the orphan, the sojourner, and the victim of human trafficking.

 In light of this truth, how are we to respond? As we celebrate the birth of Christ this year, we can use our Christmas list to fight human trafficking. With that said, let's take our eyes off the North Pole and look again at Manhattan. 

Two Manhattan based organizations, Restore NYC and the Nomi Network recognize this reality. Both fight modern day slavery through generating awareness and caring for survivors of human trafficking. Restore NYC is an aftercare program in the city for foreign born survivors of sex trafficking. According to, their mission is to "end sex trafficking in New York and restore the well-being and independence of foreign-national survivors." When a girl moves into a Restore safe house, her restoration begins. Through counseling and basic job skills, she is placed on the road to healing. However, Jimmy Lee, Restore NYC's Executive Director, explains that even more restoration is needed. "Restoration without being restored to the Father is incomplete," explains Jimmy Lee. For Lee, the Gospel is paramount to the work of abolition. 

This Christmas, you can further this work, each time that you purchase a gift on Amazon. is a division of Amazon that gives .5% of the money that you spend on the site to a charity of your choice. When you register, simply select Restore NYC and you can use your purchasing power to bolster the work of these abolitionists in Manhattan. 

 Another organization headquartered in Manhattan is the Nomi Network ( after a survivor of sex trafficking, Nomi exists to restore survivors of sex trafficking in India and Cambodia. The Nomi Network manufactures their signature Buy Her Bag Not Her Body® and Made for a Better LifeTM products, which are sold in the U.S. to raise funds and awareness of trafficking. Proceeds from the sale of these bags provide wages, healthcare, and training for the "Nomi's" they serve in South and South East Asia.

In other words: with each T-shirt, ornament, bag or iPad case that you buy on their website, you are fighting human trafficking by empowering survivors.( To learn more please watch this short video. ) Through your purchases, you are giving a survivor the economic means to care for her family and stay out of "the life." 

 As we look toward Manhattan with a renewed vision this year, let's remember the reason that we celebrate Christmas. Christ became like us to experience the justice of God for us so that when he comes back he can bring the justice of God to us. As we celebrate his birth and await His return, I ask you to use your purchasing power to see an end come to global injustice this Christmas. This year give the gift that gives back!






Supporting the Fight Against Human Trafficking

The following post is from Guest blogger, John Patrick. John lives and works in Chicago, Il. He is a friend as well as a monthly ministry partner. I firmly believe that his words and experience will inspire you:

"Several years ago I was waiting for a train near my office in downtown Chicago. As I stood, waiting in the cold, a young lady approached me. Her name was Sarah. Her natural demeanor seemed timid and reserved, but she pushed through all of that to speak to me. “Hey, you alone tonight?,” she asked. I was surprised by her forwardness and stumbled for an answer. “Nah, I have a lot of work to keep me company,” I quipped. She didn’t give up and a predictable “offer of services” was made. I told her I wasn’t interested in sex, but that I would buy her dinner if she would tell me her story. She agreed. For the next hour, over a paper plate of gyros and fries, she told me about her journey to the U.S. Sarah told me about life in her home country – the abuse, the privation, her desperate desire to leave. She told me about the day she was offered a job as a nanny in the U.S. for a wealthy family. Then, she explained how she had been tricked and that no such job was waiting for her in the U.S. Having no passport, money, home, or relationships she could either be deported and return to her past life of misery or work in prostitution. She chose the latter. I listened to her story and told her there is hope to escape this life of slavery. Eventually, the conversation shifted to the greater liberation offered in Jesus Christ through his gospel. She was torn between the fear of her “manager” and the hope of liberation. Sadly, she gave into fear. She left the restaurant and faded back into the darkness of a city too busy to notice her plight.

I know there are thousands of other people who share Sarah’s story. They are enslaved to the temporal cruelty of injustice and they are enslaved to the enduring shackles of sin. Having listened to Sarah’s story and knowing there are so many others like her the appropriate question for my family was not, “Why should we support Raleigh’s ministry.” The question for us is, “How can we not support his ministry.” We prayed about how much to give Raleigh and decided that our current lifestyle would not allow us to give what we wanted. So, we changed our lifestyle to free up more money. I don’t share this detail to highlight our generosity (we could do more). I share this detail to draw attention to the excesses we often enjoy that could be sacrificed for the good of other people. God has richly blessed our partnership with Raleigh by allowing us to see the fruit of our giving. Every time I read a story of conversion to Christ, liberation from slavery, or increased awareness I’m reminded of Sarah. Raleigh’s ministry reminds me that we are not giving money to a voiceless endeavor. We are partnering with Raleigh to lift high the name of Christ and to demand justice for people like Sarah."

Please note that Raleigh is not paid by any entity. He raises support through ministry partnership with different individuals and organization. Your prayer and financial partnership is needed and encouraged as Raleigh serves amongst the oppressed in NYC. Also, every gift that you give is tax deductible. If you would like to join the fight against exploitation by joining Raleigh's ministry support team, you can go to his website, or email him at




Human Trafficking Reading List

Human Trafficking or modern day slavery as it has been called, is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, according to the US Department of Justice. The International Labor Organization estimates that “of the 21 million in forced labour 70% are in forced labour exploitation and 22% are in forced sexual exploitation.” Simply put, human trafficking occurs when vulnerable populations are exploited for commercial gain. The annual income from this exploitation is approximately 32 billion dollars.

As we now see, slavery still exists both overseas and across the street. The US Department of State estimates that 18,000 foreign nationals are trafficked into the US each year.According to the FBI, “an estimated 293,000 American youths currently are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation.” So what can you do?

First you can become aware. Second, you can make others aware. Gary Haugen, the president of the International Justice Mission, explains that “awareness is doing the work.” Though not exhaustive, the following twelve books will engage, inform, and inspire you to be a voice for those whose voice is not heard.

  1. The Trafficking in Persons Report 2013
    “The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. It is also the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts and reflects the U.S. Government’s commitment to global leadership on this key human rights and law enforcement issue. It represents an updated, global look at the nature and scope of trafficking in persons and the broad range of government actions to confront and eliminate it.
  2. A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery by E. Benjamin Skinner . Skinner examines and exposes the reality of slavery in the world today. This book will exists not merely to inform you to the horrors of human trafficking but to inspire you to action.
  3. The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade by Victor Malarek.  The Natashas has been described as “an angry, impassioned book, for which Malarek makes no apologies.” Malarek painstakingly describes the trafficking of young girls from the former Soviet Union into countries around the world. His research and strength as a journalist make this a must read for those that desire to know the inner workings of the sex trade.
  4. Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Day Slavery by Siddharth Kara. According to Kevin Bales, president of Free the Slaves, this is “the best book ever written on human trafficking for sexual exploitation. Representing a new period of solid yet humane scholarship, this breakthrough analysis represents a quantum leap in the study of this subject. Simply beyond anything I have seen anywhere.” Kara uses his background in finance and economics to provide an analysis on the business of sex trafficking. This is a worthwhile read.
  5. Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade–and How We Can Fight It by David Batstone. “Award-winning journalist David Batstone, whom Bono calls “a heroic character,” profiles the new generation of abolitionists who are leading the movement. This groundbreaking global report is now updated with the latest findings, new stories, and statistics that highlight what is being done to end this appalling epidemic—and how you can join the movement.” (from the back cover)
  6. The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today by Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter. “…But human trafficking doesn’t happen in the US, right?” Bales and Soodalter expose the slavery that is hidden in plain sight right here in the USA. This book is a must read for those that want to know about domestic human trafficking.
  7. Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World where Girls Are Not for Sale by Rachel Lloyd. From the back cover: “During her teens, Rachel Lloyd ended up a victim of commercial sexual exploitation. With time, through incredible resilience, and with the help of a local church community, she finally broke free of her pimp and her past and devoted herself to helping other young girls escape “the life.” In Girls Like Us, Lloyd reveals the dark world of commercial sex trafficking in cinematic detail and tells the story of her groundbreaking nonprofit organization: GEMS, Girls Educational and Mentoring Services. With great humanity, she shares the stories of the girls whose lives GEMS has helped—small victories that have healed her wounds and made her whole. Revelatory, authentic, and brave, Girls Like Us is an unforgettable memoir.”
  8. Good News about Injustice by Gary Haugen.  ”The good news about injustice is that God is against it. God is in the business of using the unlikely to accomplish justice and mercy. In this tenth-anniversary edition of Gary Haugen’s challenging and encouraging book he offers stories of courageous Christians who have stood up for justice in the face of human trafficking, forced prostitution, racial and religious persecution, and torture. This expanded edition brings up to date his work in calling for the body of Christ to act. Throughout, he provides concrete guidance on how ordinary Christians can rise up to seek justice throughout the world.”
  9. Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller. “It is commonly thought in secular society that the Bible is one of the greatest hindrances to doing justice. Isn’t it full of regressive views? Didn’t it condone slavery? Why look to the Bible for guidance on how to have a more just society? But Timothy Keller challenges these preconceived beliefs and presents the Bible as a fundamental source for promoting justice and compassion for those in need. In Generous Justice, he explores a life of justice empowered by an experience of grace: a generous, gracious justice.” Generous Justice foundational for any christian that is interested in learning more about how he or she change the world!
  10. Refuse To Do Nothing: Finding Your Power To Abolish Modern Day Slavery by Shayne Moore and Kimberly Yim. You don’t have to wear a cape to fight injustice. The authors, Yim and Moore, show us what normal ordinary people can do to fight modern day slavery. This is a must read for those interested in fighting human trafficking.
  11. The Just Church: Becoming a Risk-taking, Justice-Seeking, Disciple-making Congregation by Jim MartinExploitation happens in every community in the world. But God has also placed his church in every community in the world. The Just Church serves as a guide for church leaders and individuals. Martin’s book offers practical examples and advice for those that want to be relevant to those that are being exploited both overseas and across the street.
  12. Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves by Kevin Bales. ”None of us is truly free while others remain enslaved. The continuing existence of slavery is one of the greatest tragedies facing our global humanity. Today we finally have the means and increasingly the conviction to end this scourge and to bring millions of slaves to freedom. Read Kevin Bales’s practical and inspiring book, and you will discover how our world can be free at last.”—Desmond Tutu



"Where is God?"

How can we reconcile the goodness and justice of God with suffering that we see happening on a global scale through human trafficking? Gary Haugen, president of the International Justice Mission, offers a unique perspective on this frequently asked question in his book, Terrify No More


For many of us, the ugliness of abuse and oppression in our world leads us, quite understandably, to ask: Where is God in the midst of such suffering? Even if we have drifted to a place in life where we rarely address God, there is something about the rank cruelty of exploitation and the naked brutality of human violence that seems to lift our objection almost involuntarily to something larger and beyond ourselves…

But over time, having seen the suffering of the innocent and the crushing of the weak all around the world, my plea has changed. More and more I find myself asking not, Where is God? but, Where are God’s people?

Given all the power and resources that God has placed in the hands of humankind, I have yet to see any injustice of humankind that could not also be stopped by humankind. I find myself sympathizing with a God who, speaking through the ancient prophet, told his people, “You have wearied the LORD with your words . . . by saying, . . . ‘Where is the God of justice?’ ” (Malachi 2:17 NIV). Increasingly, I feel quite sure of the whereabouts of God. My tradition tells of a Father in heaven who refused to love an unjust world from a safe distance, but took his dwelling among us to endure the humility of false arrests, vicious torture, and execution.

This is the God who could be found as “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3 NIV). The more I have come to know him, the harder it has become for me to ask such a God to explain where he has been. In fact, surprisingly, I don’t generally hear the victims of abuse doubting the presence of God either. Much more often I hear them asking me, “Where have you been?”




Freedom Walks Through Queens

What many know as the home of the Lemon Ice King and incredible ethnic food has become the home of something far more sinister. According to recent reports, “Queens, New York is emerging as an epicenter of human trafficking in the United States.” For instance, as you stroll though the neighborhood of Corona, you will walk by men passing out “chicka chicka” cards. Though this card seems harmless as you look at the bouquet of flowers on it, you realize that the number on the card connects you to a residential brothel in the neighborhood. Continuing to walk through the neighborhood, you see a white refrigerated van that drives by and stops on a side street. Upon closer inspection, you notice that there is a bed in the back of the van with a girl laying on it. If you continue to walk along Roosevelt Avenue you will find people walking the street and many massage parlors promising “happy endings” and “sensual massages.” This happens everyday in Queens. In Queens, like everywhere else, exploitation is hidden in plain sight. Though many of us avert our eyes, it doesn’t automatically disappear.

This is why we chose to have “Let My People Go” take place in Corona on August 24th.  “Let My People Go” is a movement in NYC to inspire and equip people, especially church and community leaders, to stand against the exploitation that is happening in their neighborhoods. With pastors, leaders, and interested community members in attendance, the panelists dealt with everything from the nature of human trafficking to the practical steps that the church and community can take to abolish it. The event began as Pastor Juan Carlos Suero testified to witnessing prostitution within blocks of his church. Raleigh Sadler pointed to the fact, that like Pastor Suero, all Christians must recognize what is taking place in our neighborhoods. He explained that “human trafficking is happening in every community in the world, but the Church is also in every community in the world. However, we will never care for the oppressed, if we don’t know that they exist.”

 Jonathan Walton explained that before we began doing social justice, we must first rely on the gospel. One “will never be able to testify to a freedom that they have never experienced,” he said. His point was that the Gospel of Jesus Christ not only models freedom but inspires the believer to see others set free both physically and spiritually. As Christians rest in the gospel and become better “stewards of their time, talent, and treasure,” they can fight human trafficking. For example, if people would not consume clothing and food that is produced by the hands of forced laborers, the demand would diminish. Walton’s point was simply that if the demand is weakened, the need for supply will cease. This is a tangible way that every believer can fight human trafficking.

However, a question lingered on the minds of those listening: “What happens to the victims of human trafficking?” Alyssa Moore pointed to the work that the Nomi Network is doing with caring for survivors of sex trafficking in Cambodia and India. As these girls are given jobs making clothing which promotes human trafficking awareness, they are given marketable skills that provide the framework for their personal restoration. Jimmy Lee pointed to the gospel when he spoke about the restoration of the victims of sex trafficking that come through the doors of Restore NYC. Lee reminded those in attendance that “restoration without restoration to our Father is incomplete.”

For that very reason, we inspire Christians to recognize that God has called his church to be part of the solution. God has called you to “Let My People Go.”

If you have never been able to be part of a “Let My People Go” event, click here to register for the event in Washington Heights next week!




Living in Light of the Good Samaritan: Giving Value to the Devalued

A placard in the lobby of the Ace Hotel in Manhattan.

A placard in the lobby of the Ace Hotel in Manhattan.

Recently, according to the Coalition for the Homeless, homelessness in New York City (NYC) has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s. As of March 2013, there was an all-time record of 50,700 homeless people living on the streets of NYC. If you walk more than a block in NYC, you will be confronted with this reality.

After preaching the parable of the Good Samaritan at the Gallery Church(click to listen to the message), I was headed to Harlem for dinner with my girlfriend, Liz. As we were walking up the stairs to exit the subway, I saw him; a nameless elderly man dressed in dirty clothes, begging for change. This isn't out of the norm to see at a subway stop. But for me, this time was different. I watched as people walked by and refused to acknowledge his existence. Yet, he persisted, "can I have a dollar for a sandwich?" I watched as each person actively chose to look down rather than to look up at the face of the man. Honestly, I have to confess that I also walked by. However, with each step, my feet felt heavier to the point that I could no longer continue. I now heard two voices. One was the faint, defeated voice of the man asking for change. The other voice was my own, reciting the remnants of that morning's sermon I had just preached: "don't be the levite, don't be the priest, who walked by and refused to love the man who was vulnerable."

Too many times, we dehumanize the very people that God loves and values. Tim Keller in his book, Generous Justice, explains that "Jesus taught that a lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one’s spiritual compass, the heart." His point is that a heart that is not bent towards grace and mercy is one that has not experienced true compassion. The mere fact that we choose to ignore the poor whom God values  points to a "heart" that doesn't value God.

Dehumanization, or the active refusal to give value to other humans, drives all forms of exploitation. This is especially seen in commercial sex trafficking and labor trafficking. A person is "dehumanized" when the "personhood" of the individual is stripped away and they are left as nothing but an objective commodity to be bought and sold. From the moment that we dehumanize our "neighbor," it is not a far leap to objectification and commodification.

In the Newsweek article, The John Next Door, the reader is invited into the mind of someone who buys sex. Leslie Bennetts, the author, explains that "the attitudes and habits of sex buyers reveal them as men who dehumanize and commodify women, view them with anger and contempt, lack empathy for their suffering, and relish their own ability to inflict pain and degradation." In a related study, several "johns" were asked to comment on the women from whom they bought sexual services. One "john" explained that "she is just a biological object that charges for services." While another sex buyer said that "being with a prostitute is like having a cup of coffee, when you‘re done, you throw it out." Another man went as far to say that "the relationship has to stay superficial because they are a person and you're capable of getting to know them. But once you know them, it's a problem, because you can't objectify them anymore."

Unlike these "johns," the majority of us devalue other human beings unconsciously.  Whether we do it out of self protection, fear, or apathy, our response to those who are weak and vulnerable indicates where they rank in our value system. In the parable, Jesus did not investigate whether or not the reasons that the "priest and levite" walked by the dying man were valid; that was not His point. The issue was that regardless of their reasoning, they actively chose to walk away and not show compassion. They chose not to love their neighbor.

By giving this lesson in the form of a parable, Jesus challenges the reader to identify with the characters. He wants us to see our reflection as we see the lack of love of the priest and levite. He wants us to see our own neediness as we see the "man lying in the ditch." Unlike the "half dead" man, the Bible says that we are completely dead in our sins. In our sin and spiritual deadness, We are enemies of Christ. However, Christ did not leave us to die.  He didn't call to us in our deadness and say, "Now if you do this, then you will live." He spoke life into my death, when I could not love God and I could not love others. He didn't merely risk his life to help us, He freely gave it. Jesus Christ has fulfilled the character of the Good Samaritan. He came to us in our brokenness and rescued us by his grace. By his vicarious life, death, and resurrection in my place, He graciously saved me. There was nothing that I could to earn his favor.

As a response to his free grace, I am moved to act in compassion and trust God with the results. My response is to care for the vulnerable and to give graciously. Only as we reflect on the Gospel can we go from someone that desires self protection to someone that desires to protect others. The Gospel motivates us to see every person as someone whom God values, rather than merely a statistic. The Gospel empowers us to value those whom society rejects as those whom have been created in the image of God.

With that fact fresh in mind, I turned around and began talking with the man. Liz later told me that his face brightened up as I acknowledged him. I asked him what he needed and he told me that he just wanted a sandwich. So we quickly went to the local bodega and I told him to order whatever he wanted. As we talked, I began to notice a change in my own heart. This man, who I had originally chosen to ignore, had a name. Timothy, or "Dreads" as he liked to be called, told us about his life. He was so excited that we would stop to spend time with him that he invited us to swing by his shelter and ask for him anytime. He even gave us the phone number for his "brand new" prepaid phone. "What are you doing for the Fourth of July," Timothy asked. "Because a few other friends in the shelter and I are getting together to have a little bar-be-que, we would love for you to come and spend some time with us," he explained. After this invitation, I was moved as I realized that I now spoke to this man as if he were a member of my own family. Honestly by the end of the conversation, I could tell that the feeling was mutual and that we both valued one another.

People continually ask, "What should my first step be in fighting exploitation?" My answer is simple: return value back to those from whom you have taken it. Give value to those whom you have devalued.