Engaging Your Church in Anti-Human Trafficking Work

It starts in various ways. For our church, it made the news in our town and people in our congregation started to ask questions. As knowledge about the issue of human trafficking was growing, so was our pastor’s inbox with questions such as, “Does the church have a place in this?” and “Is there something we can do?” We came to the understanding that all churches are called to be involved in justice work, whether that be in human trafficking, foster care, the refugee crisis or the like, the Church has a role to play. For our church, we felt the call to be involved in anti-human trafficking work and pray other churches do as well. But how are churches supposed to begin working in this arena?

We must start with the facts. Human trafficking is becoming ever more known and discussed both in the private and public sector. It is “modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” Human trafficking is estimated to be a $150 billion industry worldwide and the number of people living in slavery today is said to be 21-36 million. To fight human trafficking requires multiple institutions including the government, nonprofits, and the church. While the Church may not seem to fit in the lineup of players fighting human trafficking, God calls the Church to be involved. But how?

Using the three steps below as a guide, not in a prescriptive manner, you can help your church begin engaging in anti-human trafficking efforts or in other justice issues. Whether a pastor or an everyday congregation member, you can be a part of helping the local church body fulfill their calling to bring God’s justice to this broken world.

Lift the Vail

In our society today, the type and amount of news we ingest is up to us. It is as simple as scrolling on a smartphone or changing the channel, and we easily remain isolated from injustices pervading the world today. Throughout Scripture, we see Jesus constantly going toward the needy, the victims, and the marginalized. The Church is called to live like the body of Christ, and can’t afford to turn a blind eye to issues of injustice. Now, this will look vastly different for each local church. For my church, isolation and the power to scroll to something less “depressing” was a key problem in the justice journey we needed to address. Our church is in a well-off, suburban community that at surface level glance, is free of the needy, injustices and frankly, free of the need of the church to be anything but a place to come fill a pew on a Sunday morning. For us, the answer to begin getting involved in anti-human trafficking work was simply lifting the veil of unawareness. Perhaps your church is here too. So how do we lift the veil and usher in awareness without being another news outlet simply inundating our people with depressing story after depressing story?

Don’t be afraid of the shock factor. Depending on your local context and congregational makeup, talking about the issue of human trafficking could truly shock people, there is no way around it. If you are a pastor, one way to break this barrier is by teaching on justice in Scripture. Pick a passage, whether Amos 5, Isaiah 1:17, Luke 4 or James 1:27, for example. This can look like discussing the need for justice to reign in your community over issues such as human trafficking. Be honest from the pulpit that this is a massive undertaking, but it is one that God calls all to. Keep the momentum going by following the sermon with an invitation to a human trafficking informational meeting where you can provide helpful basics on the issue while also presenting the call on the Church to be involved. Or for those who are not teaching pastors, lean into these passages of Scripture and ask your pastors if they would teach on the topic of justice in the Bible.

Teach on Justice

After the initial breaking of ground has happened and the wheels begin turning in congregants’ minds, many view the next logical step as action. While this is important, I believe the next step should be teaching on who the God of justice is. For many, the understanding that justice is an arch that is seen from Genesis to Revelation is a foreign concept. The idea of God calling all followers of Him to have a DNA of justice is often counter to the primary understanding that justice is optional, that it is simply a vocational calling for select few in the church body. If we want our churches to be doing justice out of an understanding that God is a God of justice, that we know He hears the cries of the oppressed and therefore we want to also, then we cannot simply give people a chance to do justice, but we must teach them about the why and how of biblical justice.

So what are practical ways to do this? Do a sermon series on justice while simultaneously giving opportunities to corporately pray and lament over injustices and provide tangible ways to work for justice. Commit to going through a justice oriented Bible study or book as a church or asking your pastor if you can start a group at your church around this topic. There are a multitude of resources available for this such as God of Justice, Generous Justice, The Just Church and Overrated.

Take Small Steps That are Right for Your Church

Once you have taken the plunge, made this topic known from the pulpit, committed to doing Jesus’ justice work, not societal moral good deeds, what is next? At this stage in the justice journey the paths begin to look different for each church depending on your demographics, your already existing missional commitments, your congregation, your church’s unique gifting and your role in your community.

For us, the demographics of our church and our already in motion missional commitments were crucial to take into consideration. Though the increase of awareness of injustices in the world today has seemed to come primarily from the millennial generation, justice does not have an age limit. At my church this meant creating easy on-ramps to justice for people of all ages. We keep this in mind for events we plan, meetings, and even the way we communicate, that it needs to be accessible enough for those on one end of the demographic spectrum as well as being professional and relevant enough to those younger in our church.

What will it look like in your church? How is your church uniquely created to be active workers in your city and around the world to end human trafficking? Do you have a large youth ministry? Invite a professional from a local nonprofit that works to fight human trafficking come speak to your students in an effort of awareness and prevention. Do you have business professionals who are engaged with various people groups on a daily basis? Educate them on signs and the ways to report suspicious activity. Is there a safe house in your town, an organization that works to end this injustice? Ask them how your church can serve them and join them in their mission. There are many ways to take small steps that are right for your church but are faithful to answering the call to be a part of God’s work for justice.

The Church has a part to play in the work of justice, and even in the hard work of anti-human trafficking efforts. The justice journey is a process but one that God asks the Church to be a part of and to show up to the dark places of this world as a beacon for His light and ultimate victory. Let’s commit to lifting the veil of unawareness, doing God’s work of justice, and doing so in a manner that is right for the way God has crafted each local church body.

-Kelsie Doan recently completed an internship at International Justice Mission in Washington, D.C., and is currently pursuing a MA in Intercultural Studies and Children at Risk at Fuller Theological Seminary in Arizona