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Time for Lent: Human Trafficking

In my previous post on loving foreigners, I mentioned the episode of Who Do You Think You Are? which featured Emmitt Smith’s quest for his ancestral roots. At the end of the episode, Emmitt visits a school in Benin that is a safe haven for children who have been rescued from modern day slavery or human trafficking. The societal forces that unjustly brought Smith’s distant family to the United States are still brutalizing children and adults today. In fact, “there are likely more involuntary immigrants—people forced by violence, coercion or deception into crossing borders—today than there were at the height of the transatlantic slave trade.”[1]

Penny Hunter of International Justice Mission (IJM) shares these sobering statistics:

  • “[O]f the 600,000 to 800,000 people trafficked across international borders every year, 80 percent are female and 70 percent are trafficked for sexual exploitation.”[2]
  • “[A]pproximately one million children are forced into the commercial sex industry every year and are the most vulnerable to contracting and spreading HIV/AIDS.”[3]
  • “[W]orldwide, human trafficking generates about $9.5 billion annually.”[4]

A tragedy of this magnitude presents a number of challenges for disciples of Jesus. First, we can easily feel overwhelmed with the immensity of the evil, leading to a paralysis of despair. Gary Haugen, president of IJM, acknowledges this reaction and counters, “We need not feel overwhelmed or out of place in such a dark world of injustice. This is precisely the world into which Jesus intended his followers to go.”[5] Somehow, we must believe that our God is big, active and a recruiter of justice workers.[6]

Second, even if we are motivated to take action, we may not know how to respond. We’ll return to this soon, but for now I’ll just say that partnering with organizations that have proved effective in this area is a logical place to start. For example, International Justice Mission is doing amazing work to free those illegally held against their will in production facilities and brothels.[7]

Third, many of us are tempted to believe that the little support we can offer is insignificant in light of the scope of the problem. I believe God’s response is to remind us of the little things—a widow’s coins, a mustard seed, a cup of cold water.[8] Jesus did amazing things when the young boy gave his few loaves and fish.[9] He could not have imagined what Jesus was about to do with his meager lunch. What miracle will God perform with our small actions and gifts today?

Currently, International Justice Mission is running a campaign to raise awareness of this human tragedy. Their goal is to have 20,000 people sign this petition for President Obama. Taking this simple step, which is today’s task, is an easy way to help raise public awareness and political interest. Share this link (or article) with your coworkers, friends and church members.

Also, on the IJM website, you can find multiple ways to get involved. Specific actions are recommended for students of various ages (university, youth, children) and churches, and everyone can support through prayer. Additional activities include attending events, pursuing an internship, joining justice campaigns, supporting artist partners,[10] and volunteering.

Finally, when I worked with WeCare Missions,[11] we were exploring the use of two IJM resources for our short-term trips—As You Go and The Justice Mission. Virtually every Adventist academy goes on mission trips, and many churches do as well. If these curricula were used in conjunction with our trips, we would train a generation to more deeply know their world, their Bibles and their Creator’s heart.

Today I have focused on IJM because I trust them and respect their Christian perspective. However, a simple Google search for “end human trafficking” reveals that many quality organizations are working on this issue (including ADRA). Ultimately, the most important decision is not which organization to support, but rather which concrete actions to take in order to live out Jesus’ mission “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners” and “to release the oppressed.”[12]


Jeff Boyd is the Assistant Director of Church of Refuge at the Center for Youth Evangelism and is pursuing an MA in Peace Studies at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. He has undergraduate degrees from Union College in Religion and Psychology and an MBA from Andrews University.

[1] Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 84.

[2] Heather Zydek, ed., The Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing Your World (Orlando, FL: Relevant Books, 2006), 173.

[3] Ibid., 174.

[4] Ibid., 175.

[5] Gary A. Haugen, Good News about Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 50. This book played a pivotal role in opening my eyes to the social tragedies and solutions in our world today. It worked to reset my moral compass almost a decade ago when as a twenty-something I was trying to figure out what my life would be about.

[6] Matthew 9:37

[7] (website) & (blog).

[8] Luke 21:1-4; Matthew 13:31-32; 17:20; 10:32. See also the lyrics of “The Power of a Moment” by Chris Rice.

[9] John 6:9.

[10] Derek Webb and Justin McRoberts are two of my favorites.


[12] Luke 4:18.

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