I’ve been on the frontlines fighting human trafficking in more than twenty countries for more than fifteen years and I’ve come to a surprising conclusion: human trafficking is not a problem. It’s a symptom.
It’s important to make this distinction because we form effective strategies based on the question, “what is the problem?” If we are treating symptoms as problems we will miss the solutions.
When you are sick and go to the doctor, the main task of the professional is not to just help you feel better, but to ascertain what is the underlying source of the problem. Treating symptoms is important, but healing can’t occur if only this is done. The source of the illness must be sought.
When it comes to human trafficking, we need to ask: what is really wrong?
Last May, I visited a village in Bulgaria and witnessed how the Roma people are victims of racism and poverty. They live in a sprawling slum, encircled by garbage, in an environment where human trafficking flourishes. But these injustices are symptoms of the underlying problem that relationships have been broken for generations. Systems that support the brokenness in the culture reflect the values that drive oppression.
Out of brokenness, injustice thrives. Therefore, while we must serve with compassion at the margins (treat the symptoms) we must also simultaneously engage in the more difficult work of bringing hope and healing to our broken communities (addressing the real problem).
How do we do this?
First, we need to shift the justice paradigm we usually use to inspire our response from the model of the Good Samaritan to the model of the Exodus. The story of the Good Samaritan is compelling. It instructs us to reach out and rescue when we see the injured, the oppressed, the abused. At times this is exactly what needs to be done. This model for engaging in justice work isn’t wrong as much as it is incomplete.
A better, more holistic and complete model for the church is the Exodus. God liberates a broken people, journeys with them, and gives the law and the land. Along the journey the broken, become citizens in the community of the King.
The Good Samaritan model is based on reaction; the Exodus on responding out of who we are. The Good Samarian model can be paternalistically driven; the Exodus is about all of us working out our salvation together. The Good Samaritan model is based on what we do; the Exodus on who we are—the action being a characteristic of the community, which leads to the second point.
Second, while programs and projects are necessary, they will be limited in their effectiveness and unsustainable without the foundation of functional communities built upon authentic relationships. We can educate, rescue, restore, pass laws, and arrest traffickers, but doing these things alone won’t end slavery because they are only addressing symptoms. We need to start with creating community.
Here’s the challenge: running programs is easier than building community. Community is messy. Community takes time.
How do we build these functional communities? I’ve marveled at the words of Jesus in John 14: 12. He states that we will do greater things than he did. Really? How can this possibly be the case? Previously he gives a new commandment to love one another, and that by this all will know we follow Jesus (John 13: 34-35). I believe what he is calling us to is the difficult work of building communities of love. This is the greater work. This is the church’s high calling: be the people of God on mission with God, agents of hope and healing in a broken world. This leads to the third point.
Third, we are not powerless. The two prayers of Paul in Ephesians drive home the significance of the fact that through the power of the Holy Spirit, centered on Jesus, we have power. The first prayer in Ephesians 1: 15-23 strongly implies that we live in the power of the resurrection. Wow! The second prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 mentions power three times and in v. 20, states that God can do more than we ask or imagine according the power in us. It’s ours. It’s here. Now.
Add to these verses the change of identity for us in Jesus. We are saints, children of God, called, gifted, chosen, a holy nation, and a royal priesthood (I Peter 2:9). We are not dirty, rotten sinners who are helpless. We are powerful agents of God. There are no more excuses.
Fourth, this is a movement of hope. Empowered by the Spirit, we move from problems to possibilities. We lament and work against both the symptoms and the problems. But we do not stop there. We have an unwavering confidence in Jesus and in the calling of the church as the means God uses to bring reconciliation, hope, healing, and peace to our broken world.
Back to Bulgaria: God has called Chance and DeeDee Galloway, Free Methodist missionaries, to the difficult work of racial reconciliation. Together, Americans, Bulgarians, Roma, and others are using an incarnational approach and a holistic strategy to planting churches, pursuing justice, worshiping and witnessing as they journey with God, united as the community of the King. Not only is human trafficking being addressed, but so are racism, poverty, sin, salvation, structures, and culture. In other words, the people of God are uniting and working for shalom in Bulgaria. Together, they all acknowledge that they have power and that nothing is too difficult for God. They are confident in Jesus.
Like our brothers and sisters in Bulgaria, we can be agents of hope and healing, the community of the King. Being comes before doing; community before programs. The “how” is just as important as the “what.” Rather than setting our sights only on addressing the symptoms of injustice, we should instead be the people of God on mission with God, fostering shalom in our neighborhoods, cities, and countries.
Image attribution: start08 / Thinkstock