Pastor Jay Abernathy speaks at a 2015 press conference outside the Texas Capitol on Human Trafficking Advocacy Day. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)
Human trafficking is a global, year-round challenge with a significant presence at major sporting events like the Super Bowl.
Awareness of the problem is just the beginning.
When I learned of the extent of trafficking, I became "gloriously ruined," as Tomi Grover of TraffickStop.org says. I soon found others within my church that God was calling to make an effective and enduring impact.
First Baptist Church of Palestine, Texas, the church I pastored at the time, spawned the Refuge of Light - an organization that provides safe housing to female victims of sex trafficking.
The congregation prayerfully voted to endorse the ministry and its leaders from within the church. Soon, other congregations and our state convention validated it.
When the Super Bowl was in Dallas in 2011, our Refuge of Light leadership helped law enforcement watch hotels for trafficking signs. Thankfully, icy weather that year limited activity.
However, God intended greater things for Refuge of Light. The organizers and directors of Refuge of Light sought mentoring from and connection with successful ministries in other states.
Now, after several years of intentional work, the Refuge of Light is the only long-term residential facility like it in our state with a record of success noted by our state leadership. We hope it will be replicated across the state soon.
If you want to help end trafficking, you should join with organizations that are authentic in their approach to helping trafficking victims. Make sure churches and other reputable entities endorse them before you dive in and volunteer or give.
Additionally, use your voice and vote to advocate for solutions to trafficking. If you're part of a church, your voice is amplified to your legislators and local governments. Find your elected officials here.
Because of advocacy by Baptists in Texas, legislation exists that no longer prosecutes minors as prostitutes but recognizes them as victims.
Legislators work "across the aisle" to compose and enact laws that make punishments against traffickers and pimps harsher.
But more legislation is needed to help public and private entities help victims of trafficking.
Law enforcement and social services are more attuned to the need for action, but they need your voice to help them be staffed and funded for intervention and recovery for the sake of victims.
The church is the place of restoration for redeemed sinners. We diminish the saving work of Jesus Christ when we deny or avoid any particular sin. Now, more than ever, the church should not be silent about trafficking and pornography addiction.
According to 360Family.org, more than $3,000 per second is spent on online pornography. The price is paid by our families in physical, financial and emotional devastation.
The church can offer hope and help. Both xxxChurch.com and PureHope.net are good starting places for information and resources for those battling addiction to pornography.
The demand for pornography feeds the plague of trafficking because the need for "performers" (in reality, "victims") is increased. Organized crime sees the financial gain and forcibly coerces both children and adults into "the business."
These victims often grow up to victimize, so redemptive ministries like the Refuge of Light exist to restore wounded individuals and break the generational cycle of sex trafficking.
A great testimony to the effectiveness of Refuge of Light is the response of one of the victims when called to testify against her trafficker. She wanted him to know the love and forgiveness of God that she had come to know.
In 1958, the CEO of Volvo was devastated by his cousin's death in a car crash, and he motivated the improvement of seatbelts.
In 1964, the surgeon general of the United States was moved by the mounting data that smoking caused lung cancer and demanded warning labels be affixed to cigarette packages.
The initiative of those two persons means that 11,000 lives are saved by seatbelts annually and tobacco use is now halved.
Imagine if each congregation became active voices against trafficking and for restoration. Imagine if we saw a decrease in the demand for pornography and prostitution.
Imagine if the Super Bowl and other major sporting events were no longer connected to the dark cloud of exploitation and enslavement.
Imagine a community of faith with genuine healing for victims and victimizers. Imagine a year that doesn't need EthicsDaily.com addressing this issue!
Jay Abernathy is the associate pastor of pastoral care and 50-plus adults at First Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas, and has pastored churches since 1987. He is president of the board of directors for the Refuge of Light, a ministry and home in Texas dedicated to the redemptive rescue and recovery of female victims of domestic minor sex-trafficking. You can follow him on Twitter @jayabernathy.
EthicsDaily.com published in January a seven-part series on how local churches and nonprofit organizations are working (and can work) to address human trafficking:
A Baptist Report Card on Human Trafficking by Robert Parham
The Thin Line Between Prostitution and Sex Trafficking by Valerie Carter
One Church's Role to Put Dent in Sex Trafficking by Duane Brooks and Jen Whittenberg
Stopping Human Trafficking Begins in Our Churches by Pam Strickland
4 Steps You Can Take to Thwart Human Trafficking by Stacy Blackmon
What Your Church Must Know to Combat Human Trafficking by Elizabeth Goatley
How Baptist Women Fight Against Modern-Day Slavery by Candice Lee