Justice issues have a way of overwhelming the church—and perhaps nothing feels more crippling than human trafficking.
We can barely grapple with the thought of one person being manipulated and forced to work against their will, let alone coming to grips with the 36 million slaves living in our world today. We shake our heads in shock at the $150 billion each year earned by criminals who exploit innocent people—and even though we are ultimately a people of hope, we feel powerless.
Because human trafficking overwhelms us, our natural reaction is to take a reductionist approach. We over-simplify the problem as a “prostitution issue” or a “pornography problem” to find some semblance of control. We conclude that it’s simply a matter of demand while waving off the deeper problems of human brokenness and ignoring the intersectionality of race, gender, economics, and politics.
Or, we distance ourselves from it. We point to the potency of human trafficking in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia—because trying to solve problems in other countries is easier than trying to solve the problems permeating our own borders. Trying to fix brokenness in other people makes us feel less ashamed than addressing the problems within ourselves.
But combating slavery and abuse in our communities doesn’t mean we’re going to have to have all the answers. It isn’t a quest reserved for the moral elite or the heroes among us. Justice only demands that we try.
What most churches don’t realize is that they’re already on the right track to preventing human trafficking to some degree. In particular, churches with strong outreach ministries to vulnerable populations might be indirectly protecting individuals from exploitation without even knowing it. Despite how the media sensationalizes human trafficking and glamorizes its interventions, fighting against modern-day slavery is more accessible than we may think.
5 Ways Churches Can Combat Human Trafficking
Prayer is important, but so is action. Any of the following five points are practical ways your church can become an agent of change in addressing human trafficking in our own neighborhoods and around the world:
1. Get involved in the local foster care system.
Anywhere between 50-90% of child sex trafficking victims in the U.S. were involved in child welfare services (source). Churches can help protect at-risk youth by supplying volunteers for local child welfare agencies or supporting families who decide to become foster parents.
2. Serve ethically sourced goods.
Choosing to serve fair or direct trade coffee before or after church services—instead of supporting companies notorious for using slave labor, like Nestlé—is one step in the direction of fostering a church with zero tolerance for slavery. Camano Island Coffee Roasters provides free shipping to coffee club members and gives 10% from every purchase to the Set Free Movement.
3. Mentor youth in your community.
Churches with strong youth programs can help build the self-esteem and spiritual development of youth, which is critical to their resilience against exploitative individuals who prey on children seeking belonging. Shared Hope International provides educational tools on how to protect domestic minors from sex trafficking.
4. Get to know newcomers in your church.
The vulnerabilities faced by migrant workers, refugees, and individuals with an immigrant status may put them at risk for labor trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Learn to identify the signs of human trafficking and call the national human trafficking hotline number if you notice something suspicious: 1.888.373.7888.
5. Sponsoring children locally and globally.
Individuals or churches who give financially to organizations like International Child Care Ministries are helping to give children access to food, education, and medical care, which creates a ripple effect benefiting entire families and communities.
We are not helpless. We each have a place, a role in standing against human trafficking. What will yours be?
Image attribution: aradaphotography / Thinkstock