Why I Stopped Caring About Human Trafficking

human_barcode_mark-of-the-beastHuman 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).

people-in-boxes-500-499Labels 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?

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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.

domestic-violenceBut 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.

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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!

isa-61You 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.

barcode-of-freedom-300x245The 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.

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Why the Sex Industry?

121016071812-generic-prostitution-story-topI could go on about trafficking stats and the realities of the industry, but I won’t do that in this post.  Instead, I’d rather focus on the main reason.

I’m always amused at people’s reactions when I tell them that I participate in a ministry which serves people affected by the sex industry.  I get a mixed bag of responses especially from other Christians.

For the most part, people are curious.  And I LOVE that!  Curiosity and questions are my favorite reactions because it’s an opportunity for us to break bread together, learn about each other, learn more about God’s heart, and hopefully grow.  If you’ve been wondering about BeLoved and how it all works and why, please ask me!!!  Answering questions about it is my favorite thing in the world!

Another reaction I often get is that of pure excitement that such an outreach exists.  Many people want to know right away how they can be involved because they recognize the need to love people right where they’re at.  I love that reaction too!  It’s my great privilege to participate in a ministry in which I can open doors for people to love other people.  And there are so many ways for you to get involved.  So, if you’re interested in being a bearer of God’s love to some precious people, just ask me about that too!

But, I also am met with a lot of misunderstanding and religious attitudes from some people.  They have attitudes such as “Well, why don’t they just get another job.”  “I mean, they are choosing their lifestyle.”  And deep down in their heart, what they really believe is that they are better than people affected by this industry.  Deep down, they believe that people in the industry don’t deserve love because they are somehow less than.

And that breaks my heart.

It breaks my heart for the Christians with that attitude because it’s a symptom of not having the fullness of grace and redemption operating in their own lives.  You can’t give grace to people in the sex industry if you don’t have grace.  You can’t give mercy to people in the sex industry if you don’t have mercy.  You can’t show love to people in the sex industry if you haven’t received love.

forgiven-muchJesus said that the sinful woman loved much because she had been forgiven much.  We should all desire and seek after the ability to love much.  This means we have to be forgiven much.  Now, I’m not saying go out and intentionally sin so that you can receive more forgiveness.  On the contrary.  I’m saying, recognize your great need for His grace and mercy each and every day.  Recognize that no matter how much deliverance you experience, there is always more to experience.  Live a lifestyle of repentance and dependency on God’s forgiveness.  The more you do that, the more you will love people.  Crucify haughtiness.  Crucify self-righteousness.  Crucify judgment.  Recognize that without His grace, mercy, and love we are each and every one of us, wretched!  Our own righteousness is filthy to Him.  His righteousness, the righteousness He has so freely shared with us, even though we don’t deserve it and never will, is supposed to make us more like Him: better and better at loving people, even people we may have deemed as unlovable.

The truth is that people in the sex industry are anything but unlovable.  They are so incredibly precious to my Father.  He loves them unconditionally.  They are each beautiful unique expressions of His image.  And they are His lost sons and daughters.  He aches for them to know Him as a Father.  He groans to be reconciled to them.  He desperately longs for them to walk in their true identities in the Kingdom.  He yearns to wipe away their tears.  He desires to shower them with affection.   His heart burns with passion for them to know His love!

So, why the sex industry?

Simply put: Because God loves people in the sex industry.

Isn’t that enough?