Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: This article will wake you up and your congregation to not only the horrors of human trafficking but also the Church’s malaise about doing something. Happily this article gives inaughty you can use to motivate a church to make a difference. A seminal article by Wesleyan Church General Superintendent Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, I encourage all students and colleagues to begin their introduction to this terrible problem with the viable solutions in this article.
The Evolution of Anti-Trafficking Campaigns in the Church
by Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, 5/2/14.
After a trip to Svay Pak stirred my desire to fight human trafficking, I was surprised to find that I initially faced resistance from people in the church.
In 1996, my life was dramatically changed after reading a New York Times article titled “Children for Sale,” which exposed a massive sex-trafficking operation in Svay Pak, Cambodia. I felt God tugging on my heart to see the area for myself, and soon after the article’s publication a missionary friend invited me to tag along on his trip to the area. In July, I arrived in Svay Pak and came face-to-face with the trafficking industry.
Within hours of landing, I stumbled upon a horrific scene in the middle of the street as we made our way to the hotel: children, sitting in plastic chairs, lining the street and waiting to be sold. The road looked as if it would never end. My head was spinning. Where to start? Who to contact? What to do? How can this be?
We returned home excited to rally our fellow Christians to this cause. Later that year, I founded World Hope International (WHI), a Christian relief and development NGO, and the official development arm of The Wesleyan Church, as a way to help put an end to trafficking. I was convinced our donor and church audience would be receptive to my story and join me fervently in this effort.
Instead, I found resistance from people in the church — not only The Wesleyan Church, but within Christianity as a whole. It seemed as if everyone I turned to was forgetting a clear injunction from scripture:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17 ESV)
Many church members chose ignorant bliss because they had a hard time hearing about the abuse. Others saw it only as a foreign issue and preferred to focus instead on local ministries. But I couldn’t erase from my mind what I’d seen in Svay Pak, and I was determined to inspire others to act. I knew that the foundation of human trafficking lay in issues widely decried throughout the Bible — exploitation, oppression, abuse, violence, and more. It was clear to me that no matter how much church people feared the subject, this was a problem the church was called to take a stand against.
Still, it took nearly three years for the fight to gain momentum within the church…