James E. Copple
On March 9, a global community of organizations, faith communities and governments will gather in places of worship and community centers for FREEDOM SUNDAY to confront and speak out about human-trafficking and slavery, an issue that affects 25 million people worldwide.
And that’s a conservative estimate. Principally expressed in coerced-sex and labor and often organized criminal activity, human-trafficking has become a $32-billion industry second only to drug-trafficking. Let me emphasize: 25 million people are living in slavery.
The issue has become the abolitionist movement of millennials and people of faith, young and old. But it seems so big and so out-of-sight that it’s paralyzing; doing anything more concrete than declarations and pronouncements sometimes seems a hill too steep to climb.
My tribe, the Wesleyan/Holiness Consortium and its Freedom Network, issued a declaration that includes the following statement: Casting off the limitations of restrictive rules as an expression of holiness, we embrace the divine call to wholeness and restorative living in reconciling all things to God. In response, the Holy Spirit brings freedom to the marginalized, oppressed, broken and hurting, and justice to the injustices and selfish influence caused by sin, until all things are restored in God’s reign. As a relevant and particular emphasis to the Wesleyan Holiness character within us, we speak to the contemporary scourge of human-trafficking and slavery as one aspect of the freedom we seek for all people in reflecting God’s holy nature.
This is a great statement, but I want to encourage you to move from inspiration to the gritty work of emancipation.
What can you do?
- Gather information in your community: What is the nature of the problem? Local data is a powerful tool.
- Create a resource directory that includes international, national, state and local organizations.
- Meet with the local district attorney, police chief or county sheriff to understand sex-trafficking and forced-labor in your community.
- Meet with local human-service organizations to understand the extent of the problem in families, schools and the broader community.
- To avoid duplication, ask who in your community is working in this space, then create partnerships whenever possible.
- Volunteer to serve on local task-forces, coalitions and other organizations working in this area.
- Pursue education and training from law-enforcement and community- based organizations to better inform yourself and your congregations or organizations of trafficking’s complexities. You may want to host these trainings.
- Search the internet to see the work of organizations and groups like the Wesleyan/Holiness Consortium, the Polaris Project and many more. Support them with letters to policy-makers; become a donor.
- Asset-map your congregation: What skill-sets and resources can you mobilize locally to stop human-trafficking?
- Educate local congregations about the needs of victims/survivors and how you, as a faith community, can best intervene or assist. DO NO HARM!
- Create a safe haven for women who have been exploited or for laborers who are coerced to work in factories or fields. A safe haven must be a judgment-free zone and you must be advocates for survivor restoration. A safe haven should include staff or volunteers with experience in post-traumatic stress or crisis-counseling. Use church buildings and community centers as safe zones for reporting and for accessing rescue and restoration resources.
- Facilitate reunification (only when it is safe to do so) with outreach efforts to family and friends of survivors.
- Create an employment database to help survivors find meaningful employment and build a journey toward independence.
- Understand the individual survivors with whom you are working. Use an informal survey process to identify family history, employment and education backgrounds – get to know them!
- Reach out to local educational institutions, such as community colleges, vocational school, public-school systems and specialized training programs .You can pray for rescue, but you must also become a true and living resource for individuals who have been emancipated.
- Think big, but act small. Small interventions like providing shelter, clothing, food and education all happen in locally and within sight of our congregations and community organizations.
- If none exist, your church or organization might post billboards that advertise your neighborhood as a safe zone, free of human-trafficking. Create a hotline to report trafficking of any kind.
- Implied in all of the above is a need to coordinate, collaborate and communicate with public officials and other organizations working to end human-trafficking. Step out of individual silos and isolated action to connect with others.
- Take informed action that can be measured, and don’t do this work alone! Work with people who have knowledge and expertise. Working in isolation can do more damage than good.
- And, finally: Do NOT over-promise and under- deliver!
Don’t be intimidated by the scope of problems. Every suggestion is a concrete activity that you, your church and organizations can do – as you are, from where you are, with your unique and identified skills, assets and resources. Pray; organize; then, mobilize to action.
FREEDOM SUNDAY is a great time to begin.
Review what you’re doing and anchor that concern to meaningful action. And by all means, follow the wisdom of the prophet Micah: “But what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
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