I’ve heard story after story about human trafficking. I’ve heard so many perverse, horrible things that sometimes I forget what it feels like to hear them for the first time. The drive, the determination, the compassion doesn’t fade, but the shock factor does. A couple of weeks ago, however, I heard a story that shifted my universe. I met a survivor of human trafficking. American. Female. Educated and skilled to a degree that would be impressive in any situation, but particularly for someone who has had to overcome severe trauma in the midst of it. Is it unusual to hear of a woman being trafficked in the US of A? No. It’s not. Americans as well as foreigners are trafficked into and throughout the States. Two things were unique about this story and I’ve never before heard of either one.
a.) This person had been trafficked not just in North America, but also in Africa. (Abuse began at a very young age.)
b.) This person was trafficked by a group of corrupted leaders…in her church.
Let that sink in.
I won’t speak any more about her story because the details aren’t mine to tell, and in fact they’re not the reason for this entry. What I want you to see is the point of connection; the one that exists between you (if you are a Christian), me, and this story. Human beings are forever protecting themselves, or assuring themselves that they are protected. Of course. But we also do that when it comes to justice. We are forever assuring ourselves that we are safe from injustice. It may permeate other communities but it will not affect ours. There are terrible things out there and we might even speak up against them, but as long as we don’t look too hard in that direction then we, it is largely assured, are safe from becoming one of the unjust.
After I heard this woman’s story I had a few moments alone to stare at the approaching storm clouds colliding with clear, bright sky, and think. To wonder how I could ever hope to reconcile that story with my own picture of Church. I never wondered if her story involved a “real” church or a cult-like version of Church, or if her story was true. Everything in her eyes shouted that it was. And I’ve come to understand that from one step to the next, it’s really not a long way for anyone. It could start like this…
A glance at a picture or video you know reveals another person’s body in a way you have no right to. Maybe you were curious, or it was an accident. Maybe you purposely set out to see those things. Later, for whatever reason, you went looking again. This time you were careful to cover every track. Shame and guilt urged you onward, though maybe you didn’t know their names. With each cover-up there was more to hide: body, mind, and soul.
Eventually you – part of the community of those who follow Jesus Christ – do the unthinkable. It’s with a woman along the road as you drive to church to deliver a sermon; a person in the red light district of a foreign city when you’re there for the annual missions trip. It’s not as difficult as you always imagined and fulfills, in a hollow way, what the pictures and videos you saw created in your mind. When you’ve done it a few times it feels less absurd. You learn to juggle your work for God and your personal pleasure. He seems farther away and each time you buy someone’s body it’s a little easier to rationalize. You rationalize how it all started and the satisfaction of your flesh. You rationalize that none of the people you’re exploiting are doing it against their will. You rationalize the God-sin combo, and the festering shame that keeps you from telling anyone.
People have become object-like. Easy to compartmentalize, easy to move from place to place in your mind. Easy to remove. Easy to add. One day someone in the foreign city asks to speak to you for a moment, about a business opportunity. You have connections in America, they say. And you’ve gotten to know this area well. You’re here almost every year, and there’s an increased demand for Americans at the local brothels. What do you think? they ask. You hesitate and they add, just think about it. It’s good business.
And now, it’s not a far leap anymore.
No matter how much a church believes itself to be independent, each congregation is part of the Church. In a similar fashion, each person is not independent. “No man is an island” so says John Donne. Or the Biblical version – the Church is made up of us, the “living stones.” (I Peter 2:4-6) So what is the point of all this?
If one church is guilty of trafficking children, then every church is affected.
Did you hear me?
This affects your life. YOU.
You are NOT immune.
This affects YOUR life.
If you’ve never thought of human trafficking beyond a passing outrage, sadness, or confusion — anything that is passing, really — now is the time to reconsider. Now human trafficking has confronted a place that must be called both holy and everyday, since we are created in God’s image and yet fallen away. I know that it can be overwhelming, and confusing, to contemplate all the evil in this world. But as furiously as the darkness rages God’s love rages more. The potential for Christian leaders to become traffickers exists in one church, and therefore, could exist in yours. Slavery exists in one church, and therefore, exists in yours.
This is why I’ve felt God lead me to focus HOPE61 Australia & New Zealand on preventing demand among men in the Church. If the place that should most represent God on earth has been polluted to one degree (the prevalence of pornography addictions and, in Aus & NZ, a culture of legal prostitution)…it is all too possible to move to the next step. Shame makes it easy to hide one thing until it grows into many things. It’s time to stop that from going any further. Please pray with me as I aim to reach 100% of my funding by October 19, and then return to Australia on October 26. Right now I’m at 60%!