Tag Archives: human trafficking

Line Lexington Congregation Helps Cultivate an Oasis for Trafficking Survivors

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.

Untitled-1In 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.


Look Around and Be Alert

“Look around and be alert!” Putting an end to human trafficking for the sake of survivors, victims and those at-risk

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

8-days-movie-reviewThe friend sitting next to me was a sex trafficking survivor. We were at a screening of 8 Days, a movie about children who are kidnapped, sold, or tricked into a life of prostitution.

“How was that for you?” I asked her when the film was over.

Not as bad as she expected, she told me, until the one part at the end when the woman arrested on prostitution charges left the police station. She had almost seemed to wilt. “I can’t do this anymore,” she had said as she collapsed into the police officer who escorted her.

My friend looked at me with tears in her eyes. “That was me. I never wanted to do this, but I didn’t know how to get out.” It’s been a tenuous three months, but slowly this survivor is building a new life.

In the women’s room, it wasn’t hard to overhear the conversation happening between two stalls. “I know that was intense,” a mom said to her 14-year-old daughter, “but I wanted you to see that there are real consequences. People are watching. You can’t always have your face buried in your phone as you walk. You need to look around and be alert.”

I wanted to weep that we live in a broken society where we have to teach our children how not to be raped or kidnapped.

The film director’s sister was a trafficking survivor in South Africa. He thought, when he came to the U.S., he could leave that behind … until he discovered that five of the top ten cities where trafficking takes place around the world are in the U.S. The highest ranked U.S. city is Atlanta, Georgia.

We live there.

The corridor between Washington, D.C. and New York City, with its teeming interstate system, is a hotbed for human trafficking.

We live there, too.

Only one percent of the millions of children forced into sex trafficking every year are ever rescued.

A few crusaders can’t end modern-day slavery. But a few thousand, a few million Jesus-followers with eyes, ears, mouths, flashlights shining into the dark places … together, we’ve got this.

For the survivors, the victims, the at-risk—together, by the power of the Spirit among us, we’ve got this.

We have to.

For more information about bringing a showing of 8 Days into your community, contact Emily: eralph@franconiaconference.org.

Franconia congregations partner to fight human trafficking

Franconia pastor Josh Meyer sparked conversation at the February 8 delegate gathering when he asked delegates to partner in issues of justice.  Photo by Emily Ralph.
Franconia pastor Josh Meyer sparked conversation at the February 8 delegate gathering when he asked delegates to partner in issues of justice. Photo by Emily Ralph.

by Sheldon C. Good, for Franconia Conference

As debate around human sexuality continues to leave many church leaders wondering what binds together people with diverse beliefs, at least four Franconia Conference congregations are partnering to advocate for basic human rights, declaring that human beings shouldn’t be abused, raped, and sold.

The four Pennsylvania congregations – Doylestown, Finland, Franconia, and Philadelphia Praise Center – independently of each other became aware of the issue of human trafficking, commonly defined as the illegal movement of people, often for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.

These congregations are each comprised of members with diverse theological perspectives, racial makeup, and socio-economic status, making their shared interest in addressing human trafficking unique and important at a time when conversations around homosexuality have polarized many churches.

Each congregation has taken its own steps toward becoming informed about the impact of human trafficking internationally, nationally, and locally, and toward advocating for victims of human trafficking everywhere.  It wasn’t until recently, however, that leaders from the four churches realized their shared conviction at a seemingly surprising location: a delegate meeting.

In February, as Franconia Conference leaders conducted business and wrestled with questions related to homosexuality, Josh Meyer, associate pastor of Franconia congregation, stood up and appealed to church leaders, “What are the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness that we can gather around?”  For example, Meyer suggested, despite differing opinions about homosexuality, doesn’t everyone agree that human beings shouldn’t be abused, raped, and sold into slavery?

IMG_3560“That was the appeal that sparked a quick, on-the-spot poll of pastors and leaders present to ask, ‘which congregations want to be in conversation on this, want to get together to work on this?’” said Samantha Lioi, Franconia Conference minister of peace and justice.

After the delegate meeting, leaders from the four congregations, plus Lioi, formed an informal task force “to explore what it would look like to work together and make responding to human trafficking a priority in our Conference,” Meyer said. The task force organized a resourcing breakfast focused on human trafficking, held in September, and organized an anti-trafficking workshop to be held during Conference Assembly on November 15. The task force is planning a day of public witness, where people will be invited to gather and pray outside popular trafficking spots in southeastern Pennsylvania.

“Moving forward, we’re excited about making more congregations aware of the issue, and providing practical, tangible ways for churches to respond together,” Meyer said.

The Finland congregation has been addressing human trafficking for several years, hosting local speakers including Debbie Wright, an activist who is producing a documentary about sex trafficking in southeastern Pennsylvania. Pastor Kris Wint first encountered trafficking while in Cambodia. “To do nothing is to keep people enslaved and live contrary to the One we claim to follow,” Wint said.

Franconia congregation has focused a Sunday morning service on trafficking, hosted an awareness night, heard from guest speakers, and provided resources on how to get involved in combatting trafficking.  “My sense is many congregations don’t even realize the extent to which human trafficking is a reality in our world,” Meyer said. “There are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in human history.  Churches need to know about this … My other sense is that many churches are aware of the situation but don’t know what to do in response. It seems like such a big issue; it’s hard to know how to engage. If we can find ways to help churches act in practical, tangible ways, that would be a great thing.”

About three years ago, Doylestown staff members KrisAnne Swartley and Sandy Landes began prayer walking around Hilltown. As they walked, they became aware of area businesses that profit from the sex trade: adult bookstores, strip bars, massage parlors.

“It deeply troubled us, but we weren’t sure what we could do about it, other than continue to pray,” said Swartley, Doylestown’s minister for the missional journey.

Eventually, the Doylestown congregation connected with local advocates: Worthwhile Wear and The Well. With this kind of partnering, Swartley sees advocating for an end to human trafficking as missional.

“Individually, we can do very little to end modern day slavery,” she said. “As we partner together, we can accomplish so much more – each person and congregation offering different gifts as we have them, for this ministry.”

Adrian Suryajaya agrees. Some members of his congregation, Philadelphia Praise Center, have been victims of forced labor and wage theft.

“It is important that we work together on this issue because it is such a big, overwhelming issue to tackle alone,” he said. “We need a lot of resources and teamwork.”

The diversity of the Franconia Conference congregations partnering to end modern day slavery shows this teamwork is already happening. Lioi hopes more join in, and hopes the upcoming conference assembly will provide ample opportunity to do so.

“I don’t know why, but it seems this injustice, this oppression in particular, has drawn a more diverse group of leaders together than any other I have seen,” she said. “I believe we can be publicly present in standing against traffickers and standing with survivors, especially since we have information about places close to our congregations that have been centers for trafficking.”

Human Trafficking: Cultivating a Christian Response to Modern-Day Slavery

Human trafficking“Few of us know someone who has been trafficked.  So to step out and care for someone who has been trafficked is a true expression of God’s love.”

Today’s resourcing breakfast featured Debbie Wright,  fromlibertytocaptivity.com.  Debbie is a former advocate for International Justice Mission who is currently working on a documentary about human trafficking in Pennsylvania.  Debbie shared statistics about human trafficking globally and locally, pointing out that Pennsylvania is a hotbed for trafficking because of the highway system that connects so many portions of the country.  But Pennsylvania, and Mennonites in Pennsylvania, also has a history of abolition … and can again.

“Make no mistake.  God sees and God is angry….  He hears [the victims’] cries and he wants to bring rescue.  So this heaviness you feel inside is God calling….  We are his plan of rescue… to step into the dark places.”

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During her talk, Debbie recommended the book Just Church by Jim Martin and referred to the 1688 Protest Against Slavery.