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human trafficking

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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

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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. 

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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.

 

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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.

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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 Restorenyc.org, 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. Smile.amazon.com 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 (Nominetwork.org)Named 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!

 

 

 

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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, www.raleighsadler.com or email him at raleigh.sadler@gmail.com.

 

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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

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"The Only Thing Necessary"

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke’s words serve as a solemn reminder that we have a responsibility to be an advocate for those whose voice is not heard. As awareness of this injustice grows, we are realizing that the issue of human trafficking is more than a political, geographic or religious problem. Human trafficking affects everyone and is by definition a “human” problem. 

“Trafficking in Persons” take places when the vulnerabilities of one person are exploited by another for commercial gain. More specifically, this modern day slavery exists when people are coerced, forced, and/or manipulated to do commercial sex acts or labor services against their will. Whether they are forced to work as a truck stop prostitute, a “masseuse” at an asian massage parlor, a nanny for a wealthy family, a brick maker in India, or a worker on a fishing boat in Southeast Asia, they are victims of exploitation. This injustice is not limited to developing nations, however. Quite to the contrary, every nation is affected and impacted by this violation of human rights.

With only drug trafficking surpassing it, human trafficking has become the second largest and the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. Approximately 27 million slaves are at work in the world today. Even in the US, many of them are enslaved in plain sight. As a matter of fact, the United States is second only to Germany as a top destination country for human trafficking.  

Already known for ethnic diversity, NYC is also gaining a reputation as a destination for victims of human trafficking. According to recent reports, “Queens, New York is emerging as an epicenter of human trafficking in the United States.” 

Along Roosevelt Avenue, a main thoroughfare in Queens, one will find illegitimate massage parlors, men passing out cards with the number of a local residential brothel, as well as vans serving as mobile bordellos. For this very reason, local church leaders and civic leaders from all over Queens gathered in the Corona neighborhood on August 24th to discover what they could do to help turn the tide. With the desire to bring awareness to human trafficking, “Let My People Go” served to inspire and equip local churches to be the answer to the ever-growing exploitation in Queens. The panel made up of NYC’s top Christian abolitionists dealt with how to identify and respond to human trafficking in a Gospel-centered manner. 

Testifying to witnessing prostitution within blocks of his church, the pastor of Iglesia Bautista Canaan, Juan Carlos Suero, told those in attendance that exploitation is a dangerous reality in his neighborhood. He continued to explain that he felt that his church was to be part of the solution.

As Pastor Juan Carlos recognized, God desires to use the local church to bring justice to the vulnerable. Jimmy Lee, the executive director of Restore NYC, an aftercare facility for foreign born victims, reminded those in attendance that “in every neighborhood where a woman is trafficked in NYC, there is a church that can be eyes and ears.” Lee reminded those listening that as they see red flags, they “can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1888-373-7888.”

Whether you live in Queens, NYC or Tulsa, Oklahoma, you must remember that before you can care for victims, you must first realize that they exist. Growing in our awareness is the first step toward bringing freedom to our communities. 

With that said, you do not have to wear a cape or have a Phd to be an advocate for the weak and vulnerable. God desires to use each of us. Though exploitation takes place everywhere, God is also sovereignly placing His church in every community in the world. The local church is God’s answer to the hurting all around us.  

Now as you read this article, you maybe be saying to yourself, “What can I do? This problem is too big. Why should I even try?” Edmund Burke, a member of the British Parliament in the late 1700s, who stood for the cause of the American Colonies understood the need for freedom, even when it was not popular or easy. He explained that “nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” Regardless of your age or your occupation, you can do something. As you begin to be aware of the exploitation that takes place around you, you are in the perfect position to care for the weak and vulnerable. Remember that the only thing necessary for you to fight human trafficking is to be a disciple that shows your love for God by the way that you love others.

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"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

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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?”

 

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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!

 

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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.

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The Foundation of the Christian Abolitionist

In the "Parable of the Good Samaritan," Jesus calls an expert in the Torah to the metaphorical carpet. Though the man attempted to catch Jesus off guard, Jesus showed him that he wasn't as much of an 'expert' as he may have originally thought. Jesus frames his response to the lawyer in the form of a parable. His point is simply that if you are loving God with all of your being, you will love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus uses the "Good Samaritan" as a picture of what it looks like to love your neighbor. Last week, I examined the disconnect between having "good theology" and doing acts of justice. At this point, I want to address the disconnect by answering the question: "does the Bible REALLY call Christians to care for the weak and vulnerable?" Please take time to read, study, and/or memorize the following 20 scripture passagesphoto-3 copy

Deuteronomy 10:16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

Psalm 140:12 I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy.

Psalm 146: 5-9 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Isaiah 30:18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

Isaiah 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; 3 a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

Isaiah 56:1 Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed."

Jeremiah 21:12 O house of David! Thus says the Lord: “‘Execute justice in the morning, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed, lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of your evil deeds.’”

Micah 6:8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Zechariah 7: 8-10 And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’

Takeaway: God cares about justice. His heart breaks for the oppressed. God calls and enables us to be changed by His grace. But He also calls us to live in light of His justice. As we follow him, we will love and embrace what God values.

Psalm 10:17 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear 18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

Isaiah 58:6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house;when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.11 And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water,whose waters do not fail.

Takeaway: Prayer and fasting focused on trusting God to bring justice will bring both personal and corporate revival.
Luke 4:18-19 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

Isaiah 1:16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil (repentance),17learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause (Justice).18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool (Gospel).

Luke 11: 42 But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.
James 1:27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Takeaway: Resist the temptation to have a mere theological knowledge and a sense of religious duty. Christians are called to care for the oppressed. The Gospel that frees us from sin motivates us to see others taste freedom. As we live in light of the Gospel, we are motivated to do justice.

Acts 2:43-45 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
1 John 3:17-18 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Matthew 25: 31-46 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’..." (The phrase "least of these" refers to the those in the believing community.)
Galatians 6:10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Luke 10:25-37 The Parable of the Good Samaritan: 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Takeaway: Christians are called to do 'justice' amongst those that are suffering and vulnerable within christian community as well as those outside of it.
Final takeaway: As you reflect on these 20 verses, rest in the fact that though the world is broken, God will bring justice and He desires to use you. Remember when we stand on the Gospel, we will stand against injustice.

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The Crux of Abolition Part 2

What do you need to be motivated to live a life of justice? Last week, we discovered that the character of God was a major example for the Christian to follow. However, a mere knowledge of God's character is not enough to transform us completely. For example, there are many of us that have grown up in theological traditions that emphasize theology and knowing God, yet they put little to no emphasis on caring for the "least of these." Somewhere between our belief in God and our practice, there is a disconnect. This problem occurs for a variety of reasons which vary from biblical ignorance to the fear of the "Social Gospel." For many of us, our "duties" as Christians go no farther than our church attendance and our evangelistic efforts. This is the status quo for many within the Christian community. Tim Keller, the author of Generous Justice reminds us that this is not enough. “If a person has grasped the meaning of God's grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn't live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God's grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn't care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn't understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just.” In essence, if we are not actively caring for the needy in our communities, we have a problem.

At the showing of "Sex and Money" talking to pastors and leaders encouraging them to stand on the Gospel in order to stand against injustice

In January 2012 while at the Passion Conference in Atlanta, Ga, I was convicted by the fact that though I cared a lot about having my "theology right," I didn't care very much about those that are being currently being exploited around the world. For me, human trafficking was a "third world" problem and it did not affect me. God showed me, however, that it was relevant because though it may have not pierced my heart, God's heart was broken over the suffering of these people. I realized at that point that I needed to change. But I had absolutely NO idea of what a life of justice would look like.

As I stated in an earlier entry, "when we stand on the Gospel, we will stand against injustice." That means simply that the first step in biblical discipleship should not be to rush to do anything, but to rest in what has been done on your behalf. The Bible explains that we are absolutely powerless to save ourselves because in our natural state, we are spiritually dead. We have absolutely nothing to offer God to save us. Honestly, God would be entirely just to leave us in our sin and disobedience to naturally suffer the consequences that we deserve. But he does the complete opposite. He came and lived a perfect life in our place. He lived vicariously for you and me, obeying God the Father in everything. Unlike us, he never disobeyed God. Yet, he suffered as the most evil criminal in the history of mankind. Christ took our sins as his own and suffered God's wrath on sin in our place. In other words, it was as if He experienced Hell on the cross for us. Romans 5:8 explains that "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Understanding the Gospel not only saves, restores, and changes us, it also motivates us to action. As we ponder his grace, we will naturally begin to love and care for others. Christians must realize that we were once enslaved to our sin, but Christ set us free. Basking in this undeserved freedom is what drives us to action. In other words, recognizing that we have been freed from our spiritual shackles gives us the desire to see others freed from physical slavery. My friend Jonathan Walton, the director of Intervarsity's NYC Urban Project echoes this truth when he explains "to free people from physical and spiritual chains, we must be set free from our own physical and spiritual slavery. We cannot testify to a freedom that we don't know for ourselves."

Why would William Wilberforce risk his own livelihood to see that the English slave trade come to an end? Why would young professionals leave a promising career to work for struggling non profit organizations that are caring for victims of trafficking? They experienced the grace of God found in the Gospel and were changed forever. Realizing that the Gospel had set them free for eternity, their only response could be to seek that same freedom for others. Ultimately for Christians, the crux (latin for "cross") of abolition must be the Gospel.

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The Crux of Abolition Part 1

"Raleigh, what made you move to NYC? Why would you choose to work with Human trafficking abolition?" Believe it or not, I get this question all the time. If you are anything like me, you probably spend a good bit of time wondering what makes people tick, as well. You think to yourself, "why do they do what they do or why did they choose that particular career path over another possibly more logical choice?" Why would an 18th century English parliamentarian risk his political equity by seeking an end to the "socially accepted" slave trade in England? Why would a person leave a promising law career in NYC to work with a struggling non profit organization? What do you need to be properly motivated to live a life of justice?

To inspire NYC pastors to encourage their churches to fight human trafficking, we hosted a showing of the film "Sex and Money."

For the Christian, two motivations will stand head and shoulders above the rest; namely, the character of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From cover to cover, you can easily see the theme  of God working through his people to bring justice to the world especially to the orphan, the widow, the refugee, and the poor.  This group of four is mentioned repeatedly in scripture. God's love for the weak and vulnerable stems from his character. Of the many passages that speak of the justice of God, one text in particular speaks of God's heart for this population. In Deuteronomy 10:16-19, the reader discovers that because God is "the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe (all attributes of his character)... He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing." In verse 19, God pleas with his people to do the same. This passage is written in such a way that as the believer reflects on the character of God, he or she will be driven to respond in a similar fashion. Greg Beale explains this concept in his book, We Become What We Worship. His basic point is that “what people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or for restoration.” Ergo if we worship the God of justice, then we should naturally care for the things for which He cares, like the widow, the orphan, the refugee, and the poor. Jimmy Lee, the Executive Director of Restore NYC, reminded a group of pastors at an event called "Let My People Go, "that the scariest thing about human trafficking is that it's preying on the most vulnerable populations." These are those without a voice or an advocate. Through the light of scripture, we discover that though we may not actively care for the broken of society, God does. This love, grace, mercy, justice and overall goodness of God should be a motivation that drives all of his followers. Can this be said for you?

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"The Only Thing Necessary..."

...for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke's words serve as a solemn reminder that we have a responsibility to be an advocate for those without a voice. The issue of human trafficking is more than a political, regional or religious problem. Human trafficking is a "human" problem. We are all affected and impacted by this violation of human rights, whether we know it or not. Currently, approximately 27 million slaves are at work in the world today. "Trafficking in persons" is a $99 billion dollar industry as well as the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world.

According to Polarisproject.org, over 100,000 children are estimated to be introduced into the sex trade in the United States each year. In light of the previous statement, it is no wonder that the average age of entry into prostitution is between 12-14 years old. Whether they are born in the US or elsewhere, they are being bought sold on a daily basis. This happens in your cities and your neighborhoods.

Human trafficking which equates to modern day slavery exists when people are coerced, forced, and/or manipulated to do commercial sex acts or labor services against their will. Whether they serve as a prostitute at a truck stop, a "masseuse" as an asian massage parlor, a maid for a wealthy family, a brick maker in India, or are forced to work on fishing boats in Southeast Asia, they are victims of exploitation.

In the face of such a global evil, what can we do?

Raleigh Sadler moderating the panel of abolitionists

On April 27th, 2013, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion for pastors and church leaders which was aptly named "Let My People Go." The name of the event comes from the demand of Moses, God's spokesman, to Pharaoh who refused to release Israel from slavery. In a similar way, these pastors were challenged to stand and demand that those trapped in slavery today be set free. The goal was to equip these pastors and church leaders with the knowledge to equip their churches to fight human trafficking. The event featured three expert panelists, who are some of the top abolitionists in NYC; Jimmy Lee of Restore NYC, Diana Mao of Nomi Network, and Jonathan Walton of New York City Urban Project.

During this discussion, we wrestled with the nature of human trafficking and where is it found globally and locally. We also delved into where is slavery found in NYC, and how are we a part of the problem. Finally, we explored ways that the local church can be a positive force in the fight against the global slave trade.

In the next several articles, we will walk through several ways that Christians can practically fight human trafficking. We will learn that we don't have to wear a cape or have a Phd to be an advocate for the weak and vulnerable. As Christians we simply have to be disciples. Ultimately, true biblical discipleship fights trafficking. I will tease this out more in the articles to follow, but to put it succinctly, when we stand on the Gospel, we will naturally stand against injustice.

You may find this hard to believe. You may be struggling to read this article because your eyes keep rolling back in your head. You are saying to yourself, "What can I do? This problem is too big. Why should I even try?" Edmund Burke, who stood for the cause of the American colonies as a member of the British Parliament in the late 1700s, understood the need for freedom, even when it was not popular. He explained that "nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little." Regardless of your age or your occupation, you can do something. Remember that the only thing necessary for us to fight human trafficking is our willingness to do something... no matter how small it may seem.

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What To Do with the Prodigal?

You have probably heard of the  Prodigal son. This is arguably the most popular redemption story in the history of Western culture.  The parable of the "Prodigal Son" (also known in some circles as the "Parable of the Two Brothers") exists to deconstruct and to reconstruct our Christian worldview. Truth be told, the way that we view God will dictate how we handle the rest of our lives. If we see the Father as an unloving disciplinarian that always wants us to do better before He will accept us, then we will be more prone to anxiety and less prone to worshiping God freely. On the other hand if we choose to view God as a giant teddy bear who embraces the "I'm okay, you're okay" attitude without the slightest regard towards our personal holiness, then we will sin freely without fear of divine discipline. Whether we would like to admit or not, our view of God affects the ways that we manage our relationships with others.

As Jesus spoke to religious leaders and sinners, Jesus' point was that both groups see God the Father accurately. He is a God of grace that loves us and desires to be reconciled to us.

As Jesus continues to tell this beautiful story, you can almost see the sinners and outcasts smile as they hear how the father (representing God the Father) runs to accept his son that has sinned so extravagantly. Their minds were racing. "If the father would accept his own prodigal son, who recognized his sin and returned home, then maybe... just maybe God the Father would accept me." You can also hear the Pharisees complain and murmur when they realize that Jesus is saying that they are just like the elder brother, who thought that God should honor him because he was religious.

However, the beauty of this parable is that the Father pursued both brothers: the rebellious and the religious. The father freely ran to the prodigal that tried to save himself by exploring pleasure in a far off land and the brother that tried to save himself through keeping a moral code. 

God desires to save us regardless of what side of the spectrum we find ourselves. God can save us because ultimately Jesus was the perfect son. He hung out with the religious, but didn't sin and he dined with sinners and wasn't corrupted. He lived his life perfectly and unlike the other two brothers, Jesus loved the Father completely. However, this perfect son died on a cross to take the burden of the rebellious and the religious. He died to take our punishment in order to declare us righteous before the Father. The Father, who exists in holiness, accepts us, because Jesus was punished in our place (For more on this, listen to this podcast from a recent sermon that I preached).

Now, what should we do with this parable? What should we do with this new found understanding of God's love? First, when we finally understand that God the Father loves us unconditionally, we will desire to seek and save the lost. Had the elder brother understood that love, he wouldn't have stayed home trying to earn "behavior points" with his dad, he would have combed the desert looking for his brother, so that he could bring him back to his father. Understanding the Grace of God will motivate us to see that other people experience that same Grace as well.

Jesus didn't just seek out those that looked like him or had common interests. Luke 19:10 says that the "the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." He met with priests and prostitutes, criminals and church goers, the prodigal and the elder brother. Jesus desires that victims of trafficking as well as pimps be made right with himself. We can find out how we view the Father by who we are seeking. Are we seeking to introduce those that are lost to the Father's love?

 

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Enslaved in Plain Sight: Opening Our Eyes to Modern Day Slavery

"As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy."    -Abraham Lincoln

On the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation designating January 2013 to be "National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month." In the proclamation, President Obama explains that:

"This month, we rededicate ourselves to stopping one of the greatest human rights abuses of our time. Around the world, millions of men, women, and children are bought, sold, beaten, and abused, locked in compelled service and hidden in darkness. They toil in factories and fields; in brothels and sweatshops; at sea, abroad, and at home. They are the victims of human trafficking -- a crime that amounts to modern-day slavery."

In essence, the same passion that led our 16th President to fight for justice should drive us to see world-wide slavery ended. Modern day slavery, or Human Trafficking as it known, is not a minor issue. It is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world. It is estimated that currently there are 27 million slaves, who are being forced, coerced, manipulated, and/or threatened unless they perform certain acts. Despite the opinion of many, they DO NOT choose to be sex or labor slaves.

You may think, "Well, that's simply a political issue and it isn't an issue in the United States." Cases of Human Trafficking have been reported in all 50 states. For example in NYC, you will walk by many asian massage parlors. Many of these employ trafficked girls, who came to the US in search of a better life. But this isn't just an issue facing those who come from overseas, domestic trafficking is alive and well. Joe Mazilli, a private investigator specializing in trafficking cases, told me recently that in NYC a runaway is approached by a trafficker within 48 hours of being on the street. This is a danger that affects all of us. As Christians, we must stand against this epidemic.

Last January, God opened my eyes to modern day slavery and I have never been the same. A year later, I am serving in NYC with college students to help open their eyes to different ways that they can stand against trafficking.

On January 1st, 2013,  I took students from the Gallery Church to the Passion Conference at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. It was here that over 60,000 students heard the Gospel and heard about the horrors of Modern Day slavery. With speakers like John Piper, Francis Chan, Louie Giglio, and Gary Haugen, the students heard Gospel-centered messages that called them to action. The first step that these students took was to collectively raise 3.5 million dollars to be used in the fight against slavery.

At passion, there were "End it" stations, where students could give financially. Here we are at a station.

Louie Giglio, the founder of the Passion Movement explains that "the voices of this generation, what are called 'poor college students,' [gave] 3.2 or 3.3 or 3.5 million dollars in four days. That's a big message, and their voice has reached the White House, it's reached a lot of streams of culture, and we pray the White House is listening, engaging, and doing what they can," Giglio added.

Here we are on the last day of Passion

"It's not any one person or organization that's going to solve this. It's every one of us, doing what we can, at the level of influence we have, to not only shine a light on slavery, but to end it."

So how do we stand against slavery? Here are a few basic things that you can do to stand against slavery in a practical way.

First, as we ponder how the Gospel frees us and saves us, we should be empowered to see slavery abolished. If you stand on the Gospel, you should naturally stand against injustice. If you have time, listen to a message that I preached on the this recently.

Second, educate yourself on the signs of Human trafficking. Become prepared to report tips on potential human trafficking activity to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888.

Third, become aware of what is happening in your own state. Using Slaverymap.org, you are able to track cases of domestic trafficking in 'your own neck of the woods.'

Fourth, take the survey on slaveryfootprint.org in order to answer the question, "how many slaves work for you?" This is a sobering survey, which shows us that in many ways the goods that we consume have been touched by forced labor. Using the marketplace, we can stand against illegal trade practices. For other ways to fight trafficking, click here!

Fifth, take a stand and take the pledge to "End It!"

In closing, any 'Evangelical Christian" would agree that faith in the vicarious life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus is what sets us free from our slavery to sin and to Satan. As we think on the Gospel, we should be stirred to action. Our Gospel freedom is what sets us free to fight for the physical and spiritual freedom of others. May the Gospel propel us to see people liberated from their slavery.

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