Religion

Churches more aware of human trafficking, victim’s needs

Local anti-human trafficking volunteers Margaret Henry, Beverly Ulrich and Kara Ballard prepare along with Presbyterian Women in the Church representative Diane Elliott before January's annual PresWIC gathering. The women spoke to the group about their volunteer experiences and local opportunities to help fight human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation and to work in the aid of victims.
Local anti-human trafficking volunteers Margaret Henry, Beverly Ulrich and Kara Ballard prepare along with Presbyterian Women in the Church representative Diane Elliott before January's annual PresWIC gathering. The women spoke to the group about their volunteer experiences and local opportunities to help fight human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation and to work in the aid of victims. Special to The Telegraph

The Rev. Wayne Anthony’s memory of his first encounter with human trafficking isn’t at all good.

As a young student minister at his first church, he said he now believes while trying to be a Good Samaritan he inadvertently helped traffickers.

“It was decades ago,” he said. “I didn’t know the first thing about the signs of human trafficking and, you know, it’s common for people to stop by churches to ask for gas money or food as they travel. That’s what happened. I helped these particular people and saw them off. To this day I remember the look in the eyes of some teens in the back seat and today I’m convinced they were being trafficked. At the time, I just didn’t know what I was seeing.”

With January being National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, Anthony and other area pastors, congregants and anti-trafficking activists agree awareness and action is growing among ministers and faith groups but much more is needed.

Anthony, now pastor at Liberty United Methodist Church on Houston Road, said picturing those eyes still haunts him.

“Any pastor should at least learn the signs of trafficking,” he said. “Pastors meet people all the time and some could be in this situation. With 200,000 cars passing through Macon daily on the interstate and all that goes on here, odds say it’s likely. We want to be Good Samaritans but need to be wise. Today I tell people we won’t help unless we can look in their car, talk to people and even look in the trunk. I don’t see where that’s a problem.”

Anthony said his civic involvements, such as having been an elected member of the National League of Cities Steering Committee, have deepened his awareness that human trafficking is a reality in every community. As result, Liberty UMC members have grown more aware and active by conducting seminars and educational events featuring local and national faith-based anti-trafficking groups such as International Justice Mission, Out of Darkness and community-based groups like MG ALERT and Traffick Jam.

Other churches are also engaged in support and action collectively and through individual members, such as Stone Edge Church. Stone Edge has held events to inform and guide members to action and meetings for area pastors and leaders to learn of victim needs. Stone Edge pastor Joey Ellis and wife Carla were career missionaries and faced trafficking issues in third world settings.

A sampling of other activities in the past year include Ingleside Baptist Church and Fellowship Bible Baptist Church in Warner Robins promoting concerts that promoted awareness and personal action. Second Baptist Church in Warner Robins playing host to an afternoon IJM prayer conference. Aglow International sponsoring an anti-trafficking seminar-prayer gathering, and Mount Calvary Lutheran Women in Warner Robins regularly supporting MG ALERT.

A small but growing group of other churches and groups are doing similar events, and of course, anti-trafficking groups rely on volunteers and contributions.

On a Saturday morning in January, a group of Presbyterian Church in America women gathered for their annual Central Georgia PresWIC business meeting, but made time to hear from volunteers from anti-trafficking ministries. One was Beverly Ulrich, who leads volunteer ministry and mentoring outreach in the Macon-Bibb County Jail for Out of Darkness Middle Georgia.

“I so much appreciate the opportunity to share what we’re doing and the need that’s there,” Ulrich said. “I encourage women to join us because there are so many in jail who would like to meet with us but so few trained volunteers. Most of the women we see were arrested for other things besides prostitution, but alongside it a great number were also trafficked and prostituted. Drug and alcohol abuse and other crimes are closely tied to trafficking. Often it’s after years of sexual and other abuse and so many other terrible things.”

Ulrich said volunteers receive training then meet with women in jail alongside other volunteers, then on their own as volunteer groups visit the facility.

Christine Watson is a longtime Middle Georgia anti-human trafficking activist most active with IJM, but who serves on boards with Out of Darkness and MG ALERT.

She said more churches and people should take action.

“I recommend learning to recognize trafficking’s red flags and what to do when you see them,” she said. “One of the main things you can do is call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Of course if you see a dangerous emergency situation you should call 911, too, but at the very least, everyone should know the signs and the number. It’s so simple and you may truly be protecting someone. You’ll at least be adding to a database of information that could help someone later or even bolster a trafficker’s conviction. Beyond that, contact local organizations and ask to be educated. Find a place God might encourage you to help. There are people who want to come speak to your church or your group so you should have them come. God cares for these individuals and it’s just regular people that God uses to do it.”

Watson is IJM’s Senior Advocacy Coordinator for Middle Georgia and focuses largely on local, state and national legislative action. Her volunteer work has put her before groups of twos and threes and large congregations as well as elected officials locally and in Washington, D.C. She has traveled to Guatemala to see IJM’s international work firsthand and to be further educated herself.

“As far as legislative issues and help for victims goes, that’s another area where it’s easy to make a big difference,” she said. “A phone call or an email does make a difference to lawmakers, especially when they’re from constituents.”

Tim Sizemore is pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church on Sardis Church Road and a member of Out of Darkness Middle Georgia’s advisory board. Out of Darkness volunteers meet at Lighthouse facilities before going out on what are called Princess Nights in Macon and Warner Robins in hopes of encountering commercially and sexually exploited women. They offer them paid-for slots in short and long-term restoration and recovery programs.

“We’re involved because we were enlightened to the need,” said Sizemore, who is also a former law enforcement officer. “God is concerned for people caught in these situations. A big need is just that people change their perceptions and understand trafficked women, men and children are victims that have usually been so beaten down they can’t see there’s another life. If Christians have anything to offer, it’s the knowledge that through Jesus Christ there’s always a way out and another life to live. We want to help people out of their circumstances and, even better, introduce them to Jesus Christ. What I see Out of Darkness doing is giving the church another way to be the hands and feet of Jesus. I’ve been in the vans on the streets on Princess Nights and so has my daughter, Leah. I know the good it can do. It just needs to grow. I know Out of Darkness is professionally and safely run, but being a charitable group it’s sadly underfunded. I’m working now to organize a golf fundraiser. There are ways to help trafficked people in dire need and we, the church, Christ’s body, need to be doing it. Whether they’re captive physically or through physical or psychological abuse, we have to care and we have to do something.”

Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

What are the signs of human trafficking? http://www.macon.com/living/religion/article196120984.html

A sampling of Middle Georgia anti-human trafficking organizations-chapters-advocates:

Out of Darkness of Middle Georgia: www.outofdarknessmiddlega.org

International Justice Mission: www.ijm.org

Christine Watson: 478-213-5236

MG ALERT: www.mgalert.org

Traffick Jam: www.traffickjamgeorgia.com

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