by Lora Steiner
Last year, Josh Meyer, associate pastor at Franconia Mennonite Church, raised a question at a gathering of conference leaders where conversation had heavily focused on seemingly divisive topics: “What are the important matters of justice, mercy, and faithfulness that we can gather around?” asked Meyer. “For example, doesn’t everyone agree that human beings shouldn’t be abused, raped, and sold into slavery?” For some, the question sparked something new; for others, it was a reminder of the importance of work already begun.
Line Lexington Mennonite Church is in the latter group. The congregation seeks to support local ministries—as many churches do—where its members can contribute funds as well as time. Line Lexington is situated just off Route 309, a primary conduit between Philadelphia and Allentown. Within a half mile of the congregation are several adult bookstores, bars, and massage parlors—establishments where victims of sex trafficking are generally more likely to be found. For more than two years, a group from the congregation has been meeting to pray for the community.
In March, Line Lexington hosted a fundraiser for Oasis of Hope, a ministry based in northern Pennsylvania that is a safe home for trafficked children. Its mission is to build awareness about sex trafficking of children in the United States, and restore the lives of survivors in a faith-based environment.
Shared Hope International defines human trafficking as “the buying and selling of people, as if they were store-bought merchandise.” It is, simply put, receiving or paying money for the sexual exploitation of another person.
Oasis of Hope, run by Debbie Colton, is a safe house for girls aged 12-19 who have been victims of sex trafficking. (The average age of recruitment into sex trafficking is 13.) Services are free, and range from music and art therapy, to counseling, to life skills and medical care. Oasis of Hope also offers home schooling and GED courses, as well as college preparation and support to attend trade school—things, as Colton puts it—that give the girls hope, and a future.
Oasis of Hope receives no government funding, and operates entirely from donations. Live-in staff come as missionaries and are asked to commit to one year of service. The organization does not preach to the girls; staff are trained to focus on love, to show unconditional love—which is how God speaks to them.
Colton spends much of her time on the road, speaking at schools, universities, and churches to raise awareness about sex trafficking. Colton says that not only can the victims be anyone, the buyers can, too. The last she’d heard, the top three buyers of sex are pastors, policemen, and lawyers.
Pornography, she says, feeds the problem.
“Please do not judge people if they come to you,” she asked the audience at the Saturday evening event, speaking of those dealing with addictions to pornography. “They need your help and they need your love… If you are involved with pornography, please get help.”
Colton also encouraged the audience to talk to their children and grandchildren because young children are vulnerable. She told the story of a 24-year-old man who posed as an 18-year-old and joined a church youth group, and started dating a girl in the group eventually leading her into a complicated relationship and two years of life as a trafficked person. “This stuff can happen, and it can happen to anyone’s child.”
Colton says the biggest thing that people can do to support the work of Oasis of Hope is to pray: “Pray for our ministry and pray for our staff and pray for our girls.”
“We are walking on the front lines and Satan does not like it at all… We need prayer.”
Over the weekend in March, Line Lexington raised about $5000 for Oasis of Hope.