If we are to be known by our love for one another, let's pray for trafficking victims. Let's give to those who are rescuing and counseling and helping, Lee writes.
Slavery is an ugly part of our history. It is something that should have ended long ago.
But for the millions of people held captive in our world today, slavery is alive and thriving. Human trafficking generates billions of dollars of profit every year. That's a lot of money and a lot of victims.
It's tempting to imagine that trafficking only happens in faraway countries. It's easier to think of the millions of victims living somewhere else, in places that are much different than America.
That's not the reality. Trafficking does happen in third-world countries. It is also happening in the United States. It is not confined to "bad" neighborhoods. It happens in our "safe," middle-class communities too.
These statistics represent real human beings. There are millions of individuals, many of them children, who are held captive for the purposes of sexual exploitation or forced labor.
Each victim has a name. Each one has a story.
Tajuan McCarty grew up in Georgia, in the so-called "Bible Belt," and was trafficked for the first time at the age of 15.
Over the next few years, she was trafficked all over the United States. Like so many young girls, McCarty was just looking for support when a trafficker took advantage of her.
Eliza (name changed for security purposes), a young girl from a poor Eastern European country, was lured from her home with the promise of a career and a steady income.
She signed a contract that was written in a foreign language. She was trying to escape poverty but found herself at the mercy of her captors in a foreign land, her passport taken away and no means of escape.
If there are millions of people who are held captive in our world, then we are still fighting a war to end slavery.
There are Christian organizations all over the world reaching out to trafficking victims. Some groups are survivor-founded, like McCarty's organization, The WellHouse in Birmingham, Alabama.
Other groups, like Turlac Mission in eastern Europe, minister to victims in countries where the hope of Christ is desperately needed but the gospel is not always welcome.
The WellHouse and Turlac Mission are two of the organizations that have received grants from the Woman's Missionary Union (WMU) Foundation's Hayes Endowment, which was established to provide a Christian response to human trafficking in the United States and around the world.
The grant from the WMU Foundation made it possible for The WellHouse to provide trauma counseling, medical assistance and housing to trafficking victims. The WellHouse also rescues victims from all over the United States, helping them escape dangerous situations.
Turlac Mission used their Hayes Endowment grant to purchase sewing machines. They set up a ministry teaching sewing skills to Moldovan women and giving them the ability to earn an income.
"The victims are discouraged," said Oleg Turlac, founder of Turlac Mission. "Many think there's no escape, but we've seen many situations where people have shown compassion. There is a way out. Christ is the only answer because otherwise, this is too much of a burden for a woman to bear."
The WMU Foundation's goal through the Hayes Endowment is to support Christians who are working to prevent human trafficking, rescue victims and provide counseling and safe housing. It also provides Christians with a way to proactively fight human trafficking.
"We intentionally make two grants per year from the Hayes Endowment," explains David George, WMU Foundation president. "One grant goes to an international group, and the other to an organization in the United States. When people give, it makes a difference globally."
Yes, human trafficking is an overwhelming problem. But do not for one minute believe you are powerless.
If we are to be known by our love for one another, let's pray for trafficking victims. Let's give to those who are rescuing and counseling and helping.
Let us, the followers of Christ, refuse to ignore those who are held captive and abused. As long as there are victims and as long as Jesus wants us to love our neighbor, let us continue to fight human trafficking.
Candice Lee is marketing director for the WMU Foundation. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband and two children.
Editor's note: This article is part of a series on how local churches and nonprofit organizations are working (and can work) to address human trafficking.
Previous articles in the series are:
A Baptist Report Card on Human Trafficking
The Thin Line Between Prostitution and Sex Trafficking
One Church's Role to Put Dent in Sex Trafficking
Stopping Human Trafficking Begins in Our Churches
4 Steps You Can Take to Thwart Human Trafficking
What Your Church Must Know to Combat Human Trafficking