Two articles in Canada Lutheran (People are Not for Sale, Oct/Nov 2017, and Challenging Human Trafficking, March 2018) provided the incentive to hold an informational event about human trafficking at Abundant Life, East St. Paul, Man.
Prior to this, the seed had been planted from the theme Human Beings—Not for Sale during the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The cover on the Eternity for Today devotional for the last quarter of 2017 depicted the haunting silhouette of people on the vertical lines of a bar code. It was a definite impetus for perturbing thoughts.
A few days before our early October 2018 event, a news release reported that a woman had escaped a situation where she had been held captive and tortured in Winnipeg. This really hit home. Abundant Life is a small congregation, a short drive north of Winnipeg. As unbelievable and shocking as it is, trafficking occurs everywhere.
Who should learn about human trafficking? Anyone who has connections to youth, young adults and vulnerable persons; teens, parents, community volunteers, school teachers, hockey coaches, church council members, Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders….
Human life is precious. Our Creator God has lovingly bestowed this gift to each and every human being. Human trafficking is an extreme contradiction to this.
We have a responsibility as Christians to learn, think, discuss, pray, reflect, respondand act. We, who are able, should strive to access justice for all people. Created as unique individuals, we will each do this in unique ways, with God’s grace, love, mercy and justice.
Publicizing our event
We focused most of our advertising in this community, with electronic signs and local e-news, the community newspaper, and with posters on community bulletin boards and mailbox locations. We also used posters in some public places, particularly in northeast Winnipeg. Informational emails with posters also went to synod congregations in the city, synod offices and other churches in the area. We accessed public community announcements online and on the radio.
The Bible verse selected for the publicity posters was, What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8b).
A change of plans
Our original goal was to educate people about trafficking, with hope that this awareness would enable more people to speak out, act and support anti-trafficking organizations, and perhaps even prevent or rescue someone from being trafficked.
Regardless of extremely detailed planning during the months, weeks, days and minutes prior to our event, God reminded us that we are not in charge—only God is.
We were thrilled when Joy Smith, former Member of Parliament, agreed to be the presenter. She is known for introducing two Bills (C-268 and C-310), which amended Canada’s Criminal Code. There had not been prior legislation in Canada against human trafficking.
Much to our consternation, two weeks prior to our event, we learned that Smith would be unable to attend. Her son, Sgt. Edward Riglin would present in her stead. He is an RCMP officer and has worked in the Integrated Child Exploitation Unit.
Because some attendees might be quite disappointed that Joy Smith would not be speaking, an arduous task loomed ahead. It entailed retracing all our publicity, replacing posters and revising information in email messages.
With patience and trust, everything worked out, very smoothly, even though moments of the “not knowing” continued until just minutes prior to the event.
We called our event Human Trafficking: Canada’s Secret Shame. About 80 people attended, including choir, presenter and many highly appreciated volunteers.
During the opening welcome we acknowledged that “we are on treaty land….” A small choral group from a nearby high school performed.
The young women sang Amazing Grace in beautiful harmony, accompanied by oboe. Their music teacher spoke about the history of Amazing Grace. The writer had been involved in the slave trade on his ship. Following a faith experience; he penned the words to this famous song.
Their second piece, Be Like the Bird, was absolutely exquisite.
Riglin spoke on behalf of the Joy Smith Foundation, where the focus is sexual trafficking. The Power Point presentation was interspersed with insights gained from his experience. He encouraged questions from the audience throughout the evening.
Important facts included information on: spotting a predator; signs that a child/youth is being groomed (#KnowTheSigns); not blaming the victim, but rather the predator.
One slide had shocking statistics for Canada. Annual profit from one trafficking victim is $280,000; average age entering the sex trade is 12–14 years; 20–30 million people are trapped in slavery worldwide (UN).
Refreshments and casual conversations with members, visitors and the speaker rounded out the evening.
Somehow, the plan for our pastor to pray near the beginning had been omitted. It was only noticed at the end of the evening (perhaps a whisper from God?). Her prayer was very eloquent and positively worded in a hopeful manner. Considering the gravity of the evening presentation, it was a very fitting end to the formal portion of the event.
It was a pleasant surprise to note a reporter in attendance at the event. The community paper contained a write-up about this event the following week providing more education about the issue of human trafficking.
Comments from attendees
The choir helped to set the tone for the presentation and helped us leave our lives behind for a bit. Our minds were in the right place for the presenter. The pieces chosen were so appropriate and the voices were perfect.
The expertise and openness of the presenter was very much appreciated. Also it is reassuring to hear his high praise of the police forces and teams that work in this area of crime.
In particular, his signs to watch out for information was well received by the audience.
It was a very good idea to try to invite the wider community; to somehow serve the community unselfishly.
In a letter to Canada Lutheran, I wrote, “Education is key to developing awareness. It is difficult to fathom the severity of trafficking. Acting alone, we are helpless to rectify this deep-seated issue of humankind. Yet we do need to develop action plans. As Christians, each one of us is called into action for justice.” (Post, April 2018)
Resources about human trafficking are readily available, enabling individuals and congregations to be informed and involved in this endeavour to eradicate it.
Each one of us can be a spokesperson who educates, proclaims and acts toward the righteous goal of justice for children, youth and adults who are trapped in the horrendous conditions of human trafficking. As Christians, we can be the voices that speak for those who are hidden, suffering and cannot be heard.
The Joy Smith Foundation website is user-friendly. It contains educational information, statistics, brief videos, signs of trafficking and resources (joysmithfoundation.com).
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada website has compiled an excellent list of resources. Click “resources,” go to “documents,” then go to “addressing the issue of sexual exploitation and human trafficking.” Many of these are from ecumenical organizations.
—Lori L. Brooks