This is the final article in a two-part series on sex trafficking and ministry among the poor. You can read part one here.
1. Keep an eye on the boys and girls in your church whom you suspect may be suffering abuse at home. They are vulnerable. It’s recently become true, we hear, that more youth are trafficked by someone in their family than outside their family. Of those children who are trafficked, 70% or more have already been abused. If you suspect grooming is happening (the lead-up to being trafficked), ask questions. This takes a deft hand, but this is not the time to say, “Oh, I’m sure that couldn’t happen here.” Ask questions carefully.
2. Train your Sunday School teachers, elders, women’s workers and youth workers. You have most likely already trained them about sexual abuse. Include trafficking awareness.
3. Become aware of good resources. We like the offerings of Love146 and Shared Hope. There are others. As you train leaders and workers, you don’t need to create materials from scratch. Employ these good resources, then add more as you become wiser about the issues.
4. Know who to call or text. In the US, the sex trafficking hotline is 888-373-7888. Or text “help” to 233733. In the UK call 999 if it’s an emergency, or 101 if it’s not urgent.
5. Find safe houses for trafficked and abused people and be prepared to recommend them when needed. Safe houses are in short supply, but very important for those needing to escape. Also, know what recovery ministries and organizations to recommend.
6. Become aware of the laws related to trafficking. Federal laws in the US and the UK are strong. But local laws about related issues can vary. For example, survivors may have criminal records. Some locales have “criminal record relief” laws that allow those crimes to be cleared, so that the survivor can get a job and a place to live.
7. Understand how the gospel applies to recovery. Mez McConnell’s material on recovery from abuse is among the best of resources for recovery. Trafficked survivors will need additional care specific to them. Amirah, Inc. is an example of a ministry devoted to the recovery of survivors.
The Hope of the Cross
The brutality and inhumanity of sex trafficking can leave one asking God, like Habakkuk,
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,Hab. 1:2–4
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.
God’s response to Habakkuk was to punish sinful Israel by way of the Babylonians, in order to bring the Israelites back to Him. His ultimate response is to punish His sinless Son on a Roman cross, to bring His children to Him.
The brutality of the cross is the only final and satisfying answer to the brutality of sin—especially the sin of sex trafficking. Through the cross, Christ shows us His love for sinners and sufferers. Through the cross, God shows that the death machine of Satan will not conquer life in the end.
And through the incarnation and the cross, in love, Jesus became one with us in order to deliver us from the final grip of evil. He sees evil. He understands pain. And He acted to rescue us one day from the suffering, the injustice, and the eternal consequences of it.
Because of the cross, perfect justice will be enacted on the final day. No act of evil, no moment of suffering, and no horror will be overlooked.
The gospel of the cross is likewise the only power that can heal. Christ demonstrates power over death at the cross, and then tenderly offers that same power to the broken, the despairing, and the exhausted. Healing for the survivor will come slowly. But Christ offers sympathetic mercy to each one to heal the wounds.
In closing, I want to offer a few remarks on what your church might be able to do.
First, all Christians should care about ending human trafficking. It is an unimaginable evil. A person made in the image of God is bought for sexual pleasure or financial gain. They are traumatized, branded, entrapped, beaten, raped, drugged, and then tossed aside when done. It is among the most heinous of evils a human can inflict on another. Loving our neighbor means doing what we can to protect those in our care from trafficking.
Additionally, church leaders in the inner city should be wise. Poverty has many facets. Financial need is one of them. But so is vulnerability and a lack of resources to protect oneself. In all the ways that a local church should be a safe place, this is one of them: that church leaders understand and are not naive about sex trafficking. Just as smiling airline attendants are trained to look for terrorists, so smiling youth workers and elders should have a steely eye out for those who could destroy the lives of children and women in our churches. Trafficking happens everywhere, but it happens more often among the poor.
Finally, pastors and elders must keep preaching and teaching the Scriptures, with the cross at the center. The issues that an inner-city pastor faces are strong, entrenched, and require God’s power. As Conn and Ortiz note:
“Many urban programs only minimally utilize Scripture in their planning for urban ministry. A mission can instead lean heavily on experience, intuition, the social sciences and common sense…. [But Christians] realize that it is the radical nature of the gospel that will alter the events of life and history….As the spiritual battle of the kingdom of darkness versus the kingdom of light takes hold (Eph. 6:10-14), the reality of that war is too much for any mere human being, even Christians, unless they apply the living and powerful Word (Rom. 1:16) to their everyday life and ministry.”425–426
How does this exhortation apply to sex trafficking? It’s easy to lose our theological head when confronted with such raw evil. Who is not moved to tears and fury when talking with a sex-trafficked victim? In moments like this, it’s easy to make our churches and ministries focus squarely on the issue. But as pastors, we must primarily address the root solution to these issues: the cross of Christ.
If we lose our biblical and theological bearings—in particular the teaching and preaching of the Word, centered on the cross of Christ—then we lose the ground of all hope to make any difference. The power of our churches is not first in the compassion of our people, but in the powerful compassion of Christ who died and rose to conquer death in all its ugly forms.
Sex trafficking is heinous. Be aware of it. Train yourself and your people in how to identify it. Take appropriate steps to protect your flock. And then meet this powerful evil with the greater power of the cross of Christ.