April 25, 2009
Tackling the Sex Trade: Live from Catalyst
Fighting the third largest black market.
Friday morning's opening session began with a powerful music video that told the story of a thirteen-year-old girl from the Philippines named Constance. The video was based on a true story and told how Constance was sold by her father into sex slavery for $9. The man who bought her used her as a star on his website. I didn't catch all the lyrics, but the video sent a powerful message about the pervasive effects of sex trafficking - a man paying the subscription fee for a porn site in his suburban home may be propagating the sale and purchase of human beings for sex.
Following the video was a short panel discussion with three women who are on the front lines of the war against the sex trade. Jeannie Mai is a television host who recently spent two weeks ministering in the red light district of Bangkok, Thailand. She was joined by Naomi Zacharias (daughter of Ravi Zacharias) of Wellspring International and Bethany Hoang from International Justice Mission.
Bethany presented some staggering information. Sex trafficking currently enslaves 27 million people, more than were affected by the trans-Atlantic enslavement of Africans through the 19th century. That makes human trafficking the third largest black market today, after guns and drugs. In light of these overwhelming numbers, Bethany insisted that we must lead with hope. We have to believe that "the church truly is the answer to this problem, that the body of Christ can bring down this whole operation."
So what can we do? Jeannie encouraged us to pray. "Passionately pray and God begins to open doors to opportunities you didn't know existed in your area." Bethany reinforced the message that small efforts can make a huge difference. She told the story of a church of about 80 members that had been saving money to build their first facility. Then they heard that a huge need in the Philippines was for aftercare facility for women coming out of sex trafficking. In response, they decided they didn't need a building and gave their whole building fund to finance the after care facility. A church of any size can make an enormous difference, if it's willing to get involved.
Naomi Zacharias made what I thought was perhaps the most poignant observation. "Sexuality is something the church is still really intimidated by," she said, "so talking about sex trafficking is very uncomfortable." On the one hand, we don't really know how to respond to people involved in the sex trade. One prostitute in Mumbai asked Naomi, "If I walked into your church, would they see me as a woman or would they see me as a prostitute?" Naomi hesitated, and the woman added, "They want me to leave, but they never want to let me forget what I was."
On the other hand, and in light of our recent conversations about addictions, I wonder how the problem of Christian porn addiction perpetuates these challenges. Beyond the problem of funding the sex trade (by paying for porn), I wonder how many of us would be uncomfortable ministering to women escaping sex slavery, because we too have our own struggles with sexual sin. If a pastor struggles with a porn addiction, can he honestly tell a recovering prostitute that he can lead her to the life God wants for her?
The conversation that began here today would be a great one to continue. Have any of you been involved in ministries that target the sex trade? If so, tell us how we can get involved.