by Kelly King
Two years ago I received an email that changed the trajectory of my ministry. The email was an invitation to discuss the issue of human trafficking in the state of Oklahoma. I wasn’t sure why I received the email but I knew I needed to know more.
What I discovered at the meeting was a room full of people passionate about fighting human trafficking. As we were introduced to each other, I quickly realized I was the only person representing a faith-based organization. (I am the women’s missions and ministries specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.) After hearing from the FBI, government agencies, and social services, I returned to my office with a sick feeling—a feeling modern slavery was much darker and much closer than I had realized.
My eyes had been opened to an issue I wish didn’t exist. An issue I wish didn’t exist in my state, much less a few miles from my office. I returned with a sense of urgency. Human trafficking wasn’t just a social issue, but a spiritual issue—which, I learned later, was the reason I received the email invitation in the first place.
Since that initial meeting, I have asked lingering questions, searching how to confront the issue and how churches can respond. Some of the steps that we’ve initiated include:
Raising awareness among leadership. I invited an expert on the issue to talk with leaders in my sphere of influence. I took a group of women to a statewide human trafficking conference. I read everything I could and learned as much as I could about what was happening in our state. I explored solutions, because the questions I was most often asked after people heard a presentation were: “What can we do?” and “How can we stop this?
Developing a task force of women who have created a strategy with purpose. These women include a state representative, Christian communicators, my state WMU president, the coordinator of our state’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Committee, a college women’s basketball coach, and a former victim of trafficking, Barbara Maphet. These women have written articles and made presentations in several churches, thereby educating congregations and raising awareness.
I’d like to share a little about Barbara. At 17, following a tragic childhood, she met a woman with an escort service who offered a job. Barbara was taken to dinner by 2 men, who afterward took her to a hotel room and told her to strip. With the promise of clothes, drugs, and a nice place to stay— and nowhere else to go—she turned her first trick. Her journey into sex trafficking began at this time and as she was subsequently taken, as a minor, across state lines.
She was later arrested for drugs and incarcerated multiple times. In prison, she began reading Psalms. Then through the witness of two women who began visiting her cell once a week, she came to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Barbara now speaks publicly about her experience and is passionately ministering to women in the Oklahoma prison system. For more of her story, see http://baptistmessenger.com/human-trafficking-a-personal-story/.
Partnering with other organizations who are also tackling the issue. We’ve primarily worked with an organization called OATH (Oklahomans Against the Trafficking of Humans). I received the initial email from them. OATH was just forming and the founder is a pastor who understands not only the importance of including government and law enforcement, but the faith community as well. We also promote organizations such as Dayspring Villa, which to my knowledge is the only faith-based women’s shelter in our state. They are able to house victims of trafficking and domestic violence.
Creating interactive experiences. We use the excellent interactive experience found on the Release and Restore CD, a resource of national WMU’s Project HELPsm: Human Exploitation. This awareness-raising experience has been offered at an evangelism conference, a women’s conference, and most recently, a statewide collegiate event. More than 1,200 students heard about the issue and raised more than $4,200 in their offering to support Dayspring Villa.
Encouraging and equipping churches to get involved at the street level. Churches have donated hygiene items to victims and some have even begun a ministry to dancers in adult clubs. Because of the trucking industry in Oklahoma, we are encouraging churches to begin truck stop ministries and to be aware of possible victims in truck stop areas.
Including breakout seminars on this topic at women’s events. People will not get involved until they understand the issue. Books, such as Deliver Me From Evil by Kathi Macias and Not in My Town by Dillon Burroughs and Charles Powell, can be promoted as helpful resources on the subject. In addition, WorldCrafts offers a natural way to bring up the topic of international sex trafficking through its Set1Free campaign. By developing fair-trade businesses and jobs around the world, WorldCrafts and its local artisan partners help women leave the sex industry.
Human trafficking occurs in every state. Individuals and churches can spearhead these and other kinds of initiatives at the local, city, and state level.
You don’t have to have an official leadership title or a lot of connections or money to get started. How will your small group, your local church body, and your larger community of churches (city or state) get involved?
Kelly King is on the board of OATH (Oklahomans Against the Trafficking of Humans) and is the women’s missions and ministries specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.