I heard about the men’s convention before I even returned to Australia. Belgrave Heights Convention Centre, located in the woods which gives it extra points in my book, is well known for holding Christian conferences throughout the year. This year the annual men’s conference was held in late May. Just a week before the conference and just a couple weeks after getting to Melbourne, I finally received confirmation that HOPE61 would get a vendor’s space.
What should a person really be doing while hosting a table/booth/display? Some missionaries have suggested talking to everyone who comes nearby. Others have said that’s a sure way to scare everyone off. For the time being, after visiting numerous churches and conferences, my personal style is to say hello when someone comes by – and then give them some time to look at the display before I ask if they have any questions. Seems to work alright.
The speakers at the conference, themed “Follow That Man,” were the commissioner of the New South Wales police force, a senior pastor, and a church planter & evangelist. Workshops were on topics like addictions, being a father, being a husband, and more. In a sea of 300 to 400 men, I was one of perhaps three or four women. The others were working behind the scenes, so I was the only woman in most of the seminars and sessions. No, I wasn’t the intended audience, but I still found every speaker inspiring.
Honestly, I didn’t speak with many guys but I saw several take information and spend time reading the display. A couple signed up for HOPE61 newsletters. And two conversations, though short, stand out in my memory.
The first is an elderly man who stopped by the table and began reading the information. He seemed agitated but before I could ask if he had any questions, the next session began. The man looked up at me and said he’d come back later. When he returned we chatted a bit.
“It may be that other people come here and do this, but Australians do not.” He asserted. I asked him to explain. He went on to say he was sure that, while foreigners might come to the continent to traffick/exploit or end up being trafficked, Australians wouldn’t be involved. (My display contradicts that.) It’s been a while since I’ve been introduced to modern day slavery. In fact, I don’t remember the first time I learned that we’ve been lied to and slavery never ended. But I can imagine how horrible it would be to, after having lived most of your life in a country you feel proud of, suddenly learn that something so intensely wrong is happening there.
I tried to harness that empathy. “Well, unfortunately, to be honest…” and I told him the truth. Even in an advanced and modern country like Australia, it’s not just foreigners who can be exploited, trafficked, or leading the exploitation. Though he wouldn’t look me in the eye and still seemed a little uncomfortable, he took a packet with information and said he would pray for us.
The second interaction happened later, when a man in his thirties intently read every scrap of information at the table. This looked promising!
“Do you have any questions?” I asked as he began putting his contact details on the sign-up sheet.
“Oh!” He said. “I don’t know. I just had no idea that this was such a widespread problem.”
We talked for a few more minutes, talked about the problem is spread not only in nearby countries but in Australia. You know how some people are clearly open to hearing new things? That was this guy. He listened intently and nodded, following along.
These interactions, though contrasting, stand out for three important reasons.
People don’t know.
Even though it’s sensationalized in movies (Taken, am I right?) and sometimes featured on a TV exposé, human trafficking is still an unknown on a planet where literal millions are enslaved and still more are vulnerable. Knowledge is the first footstep towards fighting the battle, which is why one of HOPE61’s goals is to “Raise Awareness.”
People don’t understand.
Once you do hear about human trafficking, at least in western countries, it is too easy to label it “horror-in-someone-else’s-land” and leave it at that. Preventing the growth of this billion-dollar industry/crime necessitates the acceptance of everyday people. Ordinary men and women who accept the responsibility for their own country’s role. And their own role in the choices they make.
People will do something.
Each of these men reacted differently. One a bit resentfully, the other stunned but open. Both made a first step just by agreeing to pray, taking information, or signing up to learn more. It may take time and it may not always be an easy sell but given the opportunity there are followers of God who want to react.
These reasons keep me at work in Australia and New Zealand – and so do people like the two I met at Belgrave Heights. Two more who know, understand a little more, and have taken the first step for the abolition of the modern day slave trade.