Human Trafficking. It’s something you may have heard a lot about recently. Maybe God has opened your eyes to this global injustice and your heart is stirred to do something about it. Maybe even your church or ministry has taken up the cause. That’s great. I commend you if that’s the case. But personally, I’ve decided I don’t care about human trafficking anymore.
Just hear me out. You see, it’s not that I don’t care about the issue or the people affected by it. Quite the contrary, in fact. If you know me, you know that I care very much about this issue. It’s just that I don’t care about the term anymore. Don’t get me wrong; I understand the need for the term. It’s nice to have a term to be able to talk about the issue. And I’m beyond grateful to have the term because of what it means for changes in legislation, prevention, and aftercare. So, I’m not ready to cast it aside. Not at all. You will most surely hear me use it again. I just want to make sure that it doesn’t become the litmus of which I judge situations and people. I want the heart of God to be my one and only litmus. And I know you do, too, dear reader. So I want to break this down for us.
Because lately, I’ve noticed how much this term can complicate things (especially in circles of ministry).
Labels and boxes just tend to complicate things. Always have; always will. They become receptacles in which to place people or not place them. Labels and boxes have a sneaky way of dehumanizing people because they leave no room for variation and unique circumstances. And everyone is unique and has a unique story. Labels and boxes keep us from seeing the trees for the forest. Labels and boxes reduce individuals to statistics. People become demographics. And faces become numbers. Stories are replaced with pie charts. And hearts are represented by graphs.
And woe to those who don’t quite fit the label. What happens to those who don’t fit the exact terms of the definition? Well, I’m afraid they are most often deemed unworthy of our compassion. But these are real people with real hearts whom God loves that we’re talking about. Should their opportunities really be determined by whether or not their circumstances fit a term that has most certainly become a buzz word?
You see, God began asking me these questions and really challenging my heart on this issue. And as a result, I’m not sure I know what the term “human trafficking” even means anymore and I’m not sure I care.
I used to think that I knew. My heart has been wrecked over the issue for the last eight years and I’ve spent a lot of time researching it and praying about it and seeking God’s heart concerning it. And for the longest time, I thought I knew what it looked like. It looked like a brothel in Southeast Asia where girls and woman have been sold into slavery by their own parents or husbands. It looked like the little girl walking home from school, when a white, windowless van pulls up beside her and a pedophile jumps out and forces her into the van, drives her away, and locks her up. It looked like a woman from Eastern Europe who came to America under the false pretense of a legitimate job, only to have her passport taken once she arrived and now she is forced by her captors to work the streets because of a debt she can never repay.
And all that’s true. It does look like that.
But what I didn’t know is that it also looks like the woman whose boyfriend spent months grooming her with subtle manipulation until he was finally able to convince her to sleep with his friend for money. It looks like the woman who was abused by every man in her life since childhood and sees her body as “up for grabs” so she began prostituting herself to survive on the streets and eventually came under the authority of a pimp for “protection.” It looks like a woman who is so affected by our pornified culture and so oppressed by the spirit of this age, that she concedes to let her abusive husband post her picture on Craigslist or Backpage for the highest bidder, because she’s convinced herself that it’s a way of loving him.
You see, the definition of trafficking is “any exploitation of a human by force, fraud, or COERCION.” We understand force: that’s the little girl swept away in the creeper van. We even get fraud: that’s the woman whose papers were stolen. But coercion? That’s hard to understand and even harder to detect. But it’s real. And it’s just as sinister as force or fraud.
I’ve seen it in the strip clubs where I serve and do outreaches. I’ve heard it in stories from my friends who’ve been radically saved by Jesus and as a result have broken free from the sex industry. But to be honest, the more I see and the more I hear, the less I care whether or not the woman sitting across from me telling me her story fits the definition of a trafficking victim. I just care about her, as a person, as an individual, because God cares about her. I really just care about her finding freedom from whatever kind of bondage she has in her life.
You see, if we worry too much about people fitting the definition, we’ll overlook so many precious lost sons and daughters whom God loves!
You know that chapter in Isaiah which foretells how Jesus will be “anointed to set the captives free and proclaim release to the prisoners” (Isaiah 61)? I’ve always thought of it as the Abolitionist’s Anthem. I thought anyone interested in abolishing slavery should know it by heart and pray it daily! I still think that; I just have a different understanding of what the scripture means.
I used to think captives and prisoners were the same. They’re not. A captive is someone who has been taken against their will. They can’t help what is being done to them. They are the definitive trafficking victim. But a prisoner is different than a captive. A prisoner is someone whose actions have landed them behind bars. They’re suffering the consequences of their own poor choices. Most people would say they deserve what they’ve gotten. So many people fall under the category of prisoner. In fact, I would go so far as to say that every one of us has played this role at some point in our lives and probably with again.
The good news is the scripture says that Jesus came to set both the captive AND the prisoner free. He doesn’t care how the person got into this mess; He just wants to get them out. He doesn’t discriminate between someone who is held prisoner by another human and someone who is held prisoner by their own sin. He’s the God of freedom! He’s all about it, in every form, because where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. He wants to set people free from exploitation, ALL forms of exploitation, whether they are being exploited by humans or exploited by the demonic.
Jesus didn’t just die on the cross to abolish human trafficking; He died on the cross to destroy the spirit of lust and perversion. God wants to set free anyone bound by that spirit and any other spirit for that matter. That’s good news for you and for me; it’s good news for the girl in your school with the not-so-great reputation; it’s good news for women working in strip clubs; and it’s good news for trafficking victims. And whether you want to believe it or not, it’s good news for traffickers, pimps, and johns too!
So, if you truly have a heart for abolition, I encourage you to press past the definition. God’s heart is deeper. His grace is more profound. His mercy is even more endless. Sink further into God’s love for the world. Move beyond the definition of trafficking and begin by caring about anyone who is bound by anything. Serve them. Become broken bread for them. Become poured out wine for them. Lay down your life for them. That’s what Jesus did for you. And you want to be like Him right?
Ultimately, I don’t think God really cares about the term, human trafficking, either. God really just cares about people. That’s what He wants us to care about too.