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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Just a Pet Peeve of Mine

There are many well-meaning church leaders who propagate the claim, "As Christians, we are all missionaries." The way I understand the term, "missionary", which I am not fond of the title, it is someone who traverses ethnic and linguistic lines to carry the message of Christ. This definition is drawn from the term nations, which Christ used in assigning the disciples the Great Commission. The term nations means essentially, the ethnics. That is, the Great Commission is a directive from the Lord to carry the gospel to all the people groups of the world.

Those who claim, we are all missionaries, mean well as we are to all evangelize. There is a difference. Evangelism is taking the gospel to everyone, particularly those of your own culture. Missions is taking that same message across cultural and linguistic lines. So, to say we are all missionaries is like saying, we are all pastors-it just is not true. To take the message to another culture involves learning another language, developing some level of understanding of the culture, learning what works in the new culture, and making a long-term commitment to that people group. By that definition and understanding, if we are all missionaries, then almost no one is doing missions. Missions is a long-term commitment to make relationships with people of other cultures and languages so that may see the Jesus in you.

The term missionary is not found in scripture, albeit the concept is there. I view the concept of the missionary as a definite office of the church to enhance the work of the church, keep the mission of the church in focus, and a vital part of the body of Christ. The cross-cultural worker is not be put on a pedestal, thought of as a super-Christian, but should not be relegated to the back burner of the church ministry and only appear as a line item on the annual budget. To say that we are all missionaries is to lessen the importance of the role.

So, what role should missions play in the life of the local church? For most, it is a department or team in the church with the responsibility of spotlighting international missions and/or local evangelism. However, when we structure the church in such a manner we are shortcircuiting the intent of the Great Commission. Missions is not a line item, department, or team with the church, but should be heartbeat of every part of the church. The Great Commission was given as the marching orders of the disciples and the church. However, when we assign missions as a department in the church we make the Great Commission optional. It was never meant to be optional. Show me a church where its focus is on the nations and I will show you a church that has the heart of God.

Friday, July 27, 2018

You, The Bystander

We are all bystanders in some fashion. We all see the world around us-the good and the bad. The good is there. The bad is there. Goodness is found in a single act of one person helping another carry their groceries to their car. Goodness is also found in a nation coming to the assistance of another in a time of crisis. Evil is present as well. Evil is found in a perpetrator abusing a child or in genocide. I am not addressing the theological aspects of good and evil although goodness is identified in the Bible as one of the fruits of the Spirit. For this article, I address goodness and evil as actions of an individual, group, or even a nation.

Some argue that there is no goodness nor evil in the world. There is only the world and nothing is good or evil in itself. However, a casual glimpse at the world reveals suffering and sacrifice, death and life, good and evil. I am not writing to debate the existence of either, but today, I am concerned with how we respond to the evil present in the world. Are we actively countering evil, or are we passively allowing it to exist?

I am not writing to challenge anyone for their passivity toward our area of interest: human trafficking and exploitation. I am asking the question, why am I doing, why are you doing what you are doing or not doing about this evil? What leads us to be a passive or active bystander in the face of such an atrocity inflicted on other people?

We are bystanders viewing the world. Some watch the world go by, good and evil, without ever intersecting. Then, there are those who actively address evil in the world by actively engaging by actions countering the evil. Why does one take one road and another person take the other road? What moves a person to become an active bystander addressing an evil?

I speak to churches and civic clubs to present the problem of human trafficking in the world. Some are eager to speak with me to find out how they can help. Some do everything they can to avoid me after hearing the subject matter. Why do some run to help and some run away to keep from helping?

The bystander effect is an interesting phenomenon that states the more bystanders are present at the scene of a crime or evil act, the less likely there will be anyone who will intervene to assist the victim. There are circumstances that can sway the outcome and move a passive bystander to offer assistance. Now we consider the crisis of human trafficking that result in sexual and labor exploitation of the most vulnerable among us. The problem is widely publicized. Every country deals with the problem of trafficking in some fashion. However, there are very few that come to the aide of those in need.

To be presented with the problem of human trafficking and then, take action to rectify the problem calls for what Ervin Staub in his book, The Psychology of Good and Evil: Why children, adults, and groups help and harm others, identifies as moral courage. Moral courage is the ability and willingness to act in accordance to one's values in the face of danger, disapproval, or cost to oneself. I think maybe our ability to assist others in their time of need is overshadowed by our need for personal comfort. Is it that our need for ease short-circuits the benevolent nature.  Then, at other times a person may posses the ability to act with  moral courage and engage actively, but their willingness is not there. They possess the ability and the willingness, but decide not to help. These are thoughts I plan to explore in the coming days.

This is the first in a series of blogs where I am thinking about Good and Evil and how we respond to the problem of human trafficking. I invite your comments.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Stateless in Thailand

The recent cave rescue of the soccer players in Northern Thailand has revealed more than expected. The finding and subsequent rescue of the players and coach was extraordinary. The depth of the cave coupled with the arduous journey in and out is only matched by the depth of the problems regarding statelessness many encounter. At least three of the players and the coach carry the title, "stateless". This cave rescue event attracted worldwide attention and brought to the forefront one of the main issues of Thailand.

A person who is "stateless" is someone with no nationality. That is, they are not a citizen of any country and therefore do not enjoy the benefits of either their country of origin or their present country in which they reside.

The Thailand Project reports that hundreds of  thousands of families and individuals have fled, crossing the border into Northern Thailand. They are denied political refugee status, but allowed to live within tight "districts of constraint" with very few rights. They have no legal bond with any country and are therefore stateless. In Thailand, this means they are denied the right to vote, travel, own property, work legally or have access to education and healthcare. 

This stateless status drives poverty and illiteracy and makes the individual subject to trafficking and exploitation. Many of these stateless individuals have found themselves exploited for sex or labor. The risk factors are present for the stateless soccer players. Now that they are celebrities, circumstances may change for them. Time will tell. However, for the thousands of stateless families and individuals that have migrated into Thailand because of the country's porous borders, celebrity status is not realistic.

Young stateless girls become primary targets for the traffickers. The Thai government estimates between 20 and 30 thousand children younger than 18 are in the commercial sex industry in Thailand alone. This is a major problem in Thailand as lives are destroyed and there is no hope for any future. So often parents misunderstand offers made to them from strangers to take their children to provide for them a better life. The better life is for the trafficker and not the child or the family.

Activist who provide a voice for the stateless say the process to citizen is extremely difficult at best, and mostly impossible. The individuals who live in rural Thailand have no support from their country of origin and are considered outsiders by the local authorities. Add to their poverty the problem of illiteracy among the population and you find bleak outcomes.

How is this problem solved? No one has come to the forefront to provide a solution. There has to be a pathway to citizenship for the stateless population, or at least a permit to allow attendance in school. This is only a portion of what needs to change. At core of the problem is racism. While the official stance is that everyone can attend school, your ethnicity determines much of your future in this part of the world as it does in many. Legislation can be passed. Parliament can be lobbied. Laws can even be changed. However, racism cannot be legislated out of the heart of man. Therefore, we remain at an impasse. No education. No country. No hope of escaping exploitation.

Racism. We see it in every part of the world although it manifests itself in various ways. However, the outcome is very similar. Racism says one group is better than the other. Racism says one group has more privilege than the other. Perpetuated by the dominate ethnic group, racism forces the target group to become subordinate to the majority culture. This puts the minority culture in harms way on a variety of levels including being at risk of sexual and labor exploitation. To address human trafficking we have address racism.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

There Is Always That Place You Can Point To And Say, That's Where It Started

Everyone has those benchmarks in their lives where they say, that was a turning point or that was where it all began for me. There are those times in history when most of us can look back on and remember where we were when it happened. We remember where we were when JFK was shot, the Challenger exploded, and when the Twin Towers came down. I remember when it all came home to me that trafficking was a real problem and how far reaching the crime extends.

Before the event, I had heard of trafficking. I had listened to news reports about men arrested for human trafficking and the fate of many who were reported missing. I had been aware of the crisis of human trafficking from a distance but never linking much of what we know today together. The human rights violation of human trafficking was not humanized until I was in a small village in Southern Peru near the Bolivian border. A couple of community leaders accompanied me into the village to promote a youth event that was to take place that weekend. The evening was to be filled with music, activities, socializing, and the local pastor sharing a message of hope. As we are making our way through the village of approximately 3,000 people we encountered a group of high school girls and we invited them to the weekend event. As we are sharing with the students one of the mothers comes running out of her home telling the children they should run away because I was a bad man and I had intentions of kidnapping and selling them.

In a remote village in Southern Peru high in the Andes mountains these people had experienced the presence of human traffickers. The people are very poor and most illiterate. #seemypreviousblog

As I looked into the mother's fearful eyes I could see the heartache, fury, frustration, and anger against me. As I saw the face of the teenagers present I knew that they understood her warnings. The men I was with try to console the mother and inform her of our intentions, but she would have none of it.

This was my first personal encounter of what trafficking brings to families. I am reminded of the terror in that mother's eyes each time I hear of a trafficking story and I am reminded of why I do what I do. On January 28, 1986, when the Challenger exploded on national television,  I was at Fort Stewart Georgia serving a three year tour with the US Army. On September 11, 2001, I was in Cartersville, Georgia. The day the crisis of human trafficking became real to me was on a June afternoon in Lampa, Peru outside the gymnasium as we were inviting teens to a weekend event. Trafficking devastates families, ruins lives, rots the soul, drags humanity into a pit of vileness.

What event or point in time can you say, that is where it started for me? Maybe, you have not had that moment in time and trafficking has not been humanized for you. If that is you, go to our or check out our Facebook site: Global Relief Association for Crises & Emergencies and check out the photos. Look at the faces of the children and families. Allow the problem of trafficking to become real for you. When it does become real to you, take action. Sexual exploitation affects society as a whole and there are victims in prostitution. To think otherwise is to contribute to the existing problem.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


The term vulnerability refers to the state of being exposed to the possibility of being harmed, attacked, or exploited. Within our organization we have the mission statement, "We exist to strengthen families and eradicate the vulnerabilities that lead to human trafficking and exploitation." The singular statement drives everything we do. However, to increase our effectiveness of defending the at-risk to take a step toward the eradication of those vulnerabilities we have to develop a deep understanding of those vulnerabilities.

We have identified two major vulnerabilities. Those vulnerabilities can be shared in a singular statement, but it can take a lifetime to understand those factors and learn how to address the problem. The vulnerabilities are poverty and illiteracy. However, most who read this blog are neither living in poverty and, well you are reading this blog. Therefore, for the more 'fortunate' who are reading this text and had a decent meal today, it can be difficult to understand vulnerability in the sense we are discussing today. We have already said to be vulnerable is to exposed. Most of us are shielded from many of the adverse and dark things in this world. I was. I was until I looked eye to eye into vulnerability and witnessed the untenable position that many in the world find themselves.

Poverty. The poverty of which I write forces a parent to sell their daughter to the neighbor so dinner can be served. Poverty. The poverty of which I write asks a young daughter to move away from family in the country to find "work" in the city to provide the necessities of living to their kin. Poverty. Poverty, where the standard of living is not determined by some line the government determines, but poverty determined by how many days since a meal. The poverty of which I write is seen in communities where no electricity, no running water, and no beds exist. The bed may be a mat or a collection of newspapers strategically placed on the dirt floor to keep  heads out of the dirt or mud if it rains. Poverty, where the stench is so fierce it can take your breath away at times. This type of poverty exposes men, women, and children to traffickers and the false hope of a good job in the city. In the end, poverty is then the least of their concerns as life in the brothel leads to emotional and physical torture, scars that run deeper than hunger, a soul destroyed, and sometimes death. Poverty is a major vulnerability that leads to human trafficking and exploitation. We see it everyday and maybe understand it a little, yet poverty marches on.

Illiteracy. The inability to read and write fuels trafficking. Elementary and high school are basically free in the US. There are some costs involved, but everyone goes to school. This is not the case in much of the world. When a child does not attend school for economic or stateless issues, the problem of trafficking is exacerbated and the spiral of human degradation continues its downward trend as we marginalize the already at-risk. No school and no skills makes one subject to trafficking and a target for exploitation. Poverty and illiteracy are brothers in an unholy marriage that is destined to destroy everyone encountered.

For those of us who can read this blog with relative ease and have no worries about dinner tonight, we should be able to see the blessing of education and our position in the world. We cannot push forward with the attitude, 'well, I got mine, let them get theirs.' That statement in itself reveals ignorance toward the problem.  If we help to elevate one in society, then we are all elevated. By the same token, if we turn a blind eye to the problem of poverty and illiteracy, sooner or later we all will become at-risk as we are interconnected in various ways. Poverty and illiteracy do not exist in a vacuum, but exist because of complex systemic issues that need addressing from every level.

We have often said trafficking is hidden in plain sight. However, today, we hear more about trafficking and understand more of the risk factors and consequences of trafficking. Each year Facebook is filled with people who apply the red X on their hand and stare determined into the camera. For the most part that is it. They go back to work and are overwhelmed in their day to day life giving little thought to the plight of the impoverish and illiterate. All the the while, trafficking continues, women are exploited, boys are sold and the misery continues.

You can make a difference. Prevention starts when you see the problem and take action. As we attend to the day to day needs of families and address the problems of poverty and illiteracy, change is possible. Now, do not let this end with simple awareness. Awareness has to translate to action. That action is now up to you. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Addressing Prevention

Human trafficking is the recruitment and movement of people using means such as deception and coercion for the purposes of exploitation. From that exploitation, survivors typically endure a myriad of mental health issues including, but not limited to depression, suicide, self-harm, PTSD, and anger issues. Additionally, various psychotic disorders including schizophrenia have been found in survivors. The human and financial cost because of these disorders is distressing. Poor mental health also raises the vulnerabilities of individuals to be trafficked initially. Poverty, illiteracy, and poor mental health are major factors that place many at-risk of exploitation which results in exacerbating the pre-existing mental health condition. I applaud the efforts of rescuers, rehabilitators, and those who care for these survivors after exploitation.  The problem of trafficking is so extensive rescue agencies and mental health professionals possess a monumental task.

The massive cost of recovering an individual from the depths of a trafficked life is money well-spent. However, I must ask the question, what is the cost of keeping an individual from being trafficked in the first place? We could run the numbers and present various scenarios, but all lead to high dollar amounts. We are not suggesting placing a dollar amount on a human life. The point here is not the financial, but beyond the economic. Can a person recover from being trafficked and exploited sexually or for labor? Yes, recovery is possible but arduous.

Beyond the pecuniary is the well-being of the person. At GRACE, we have identified two major factors that lead to human trafficking and exploitation: poverty and illiteracy. Rescue and rehabilitation are what most think of regarding justice in the field of anti-trafficking work. Nonetheless, prevention and awareness programs may alleviate much pain endured by individuals if they were never trafficking in the first place.

Poverty and illiteracy are the main players that lead to the exploitation of many individuals. Past research indicates a lack of school performance, deficiencies in the acquisition of the spoken and written language, and a shortfall in computer training drastically increase the possibility of the individual being subjected to exploitation. This type of work is not what is typically thought of as trafficking prevention work as it is the day to day work with children and families by providing homework assistance, English language classes, computer classes, and activities that promote learning and self-esteem. The team who raids the brothel and rescues the girls gets the press and deservingly so but let us not forget to do the hard work of digging to the root and empower individuals and families to rise above their circumstances.

Every country, city, and many communities need prevention and awareness work. Churches, community groups, local NGO's and governments have the task to realistically evaluate the risk factors present in their own neighborhoods and take appropriate action. Believing that the problem does not exist in your area is fantasy. Therefore, starting with awareness by presenting the facts of what is known as it relates to your area is a worthy launching point.

Just as an end note, everyone should know that many times the exploited person is exploited because they are simply trying to survive. Kidnapping does happen. People are snatched, moved against their will, and sold. However, many times the person drifts into that line of work because they have no education and no other means to survive-they see it as their only option. If someone had encouraged them, took the time to help, provided a way out-they might have taken the other route. At other times, because of their economic situation, traffickers promise a new start in life but find they had been tricked and led down a path they had never intended to go.

What if we helped them with their homework, provided computer training and some English language skills, and invested in them as a person? This is not a guarantee exploitation will be averted, but what if some were given the chance at a life that would have otherwise ended up in disaster.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Knowledge and Responsibility

Today, it is understood that wherever you live, work, and play exploitation is a problem. The defilement of people endures internationally but seems to take on a more pervasive element in the Global South. However, trafficking is more than a problem, it is a human rights violation of the highest order. Trafficking robs a person of their freedom, dignity, self-worth, health, and views them as a commodity to be sold rather than a human being to be valued and celebrated.

Statistics, dollar amounts, and percentages that relate to the business of slavery do not adequately convey toll exploitation exacts on its victims. Bar and graphs do not tell the story, but it is only when you look into the eyes of a young lady who has just been rescued and see the despair, but also the glimmer of hope in her eyes. The number of children at risk of exploitation is inconceivable but looking into the face of an innocent child brings into clear focus the need to end this nightmare. The question persists, how can we be aware of this human rights violation and not respond in a meaningful fashion?

To be aware of these human rights violations and not respond in a meaningful fashion is counterproductive to the advancement of humanity. The question was asked long ago, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer to that question is yes on two counts. One, we are to be our brother’s keeper by not committing acts of violence against another. Also, we are to exhibit compassion to others. The keeping of our brother is found in ensuring dignity and wholeness is kept. However, we consistently observe violent acts against others and a pervasive lack of compassion. Therefore, to be keepers, we do no harm, but we go beyond that concept of doing no harm to offering compassion.
One reason I offer as a possibility for knowing but not responding is the belief that the problem does not affect society. However, trafficking cuts to the core of a community as children who are trafficked are affected psychologically and physically for the remainder of their lives. Often, this perpetuates the cycle of violence to the next generation. Additionally, men who find themselves labor trafficked are paid very little, if anything at all, which drives poverty, drug use, alcoholism, and erodes the fabric of the family. To say trafficking does not affect the greater society is demonstrating their ignorance of the facts.

A second possibility for knowing but not responding is believing that nothing meaningful can be accomplished. Trafficking is hidden in front of us daily. True numbers of trafficking statistics are difficult to know because of the secrecy of the problem. One individual, agency, or country cannot combat trafficking with success. However, one person can do something. If each person can reach one person who has been trafficked, is at risk of being trafficked, or is a trafficker, we can eradicate the problem in a generation. For some, trafficking seems to be too big of a crisis to make a difference. So, the only way to address this problem is for everyone to do their part and take one bite at a time. The problem remains, too many are not willing to take their bite.

A third reason for knowing but not acting is allowing the daily pressures of our own lives to override the despair of others.  Everyone has their own story, struggle, pressures, worries, and schedules. However, if we work from the philosophy that we are our brother’s keeper, then our story begins to intersect with another’s story and we are a step toward abolition.

I lead an NGO in the Global South that addresses the prevention aspect of the trafficking of minors. Men, predominately, visit my area regularly to buy other men, women, boys, and girls. For many who have visited me here from the West, they see the problem and want to be involved. They invest financially or partner in some other way. However, the majority simply visit for a day or so and exit the country while never giving the plight of the children another thought. As stated, they either believe this is an isolated problem with no consequences to the larger society, they are apathetic to the problem, overwhelmed by the issue, or they are caught up in their world of worries and pressures.

The problem of trafficking will not go away without direct and ongoing intervention from prevention to aftercare. Therefore, those who are currently responding to the problem must continue to research, speak, and intervene to see that all humans are free to live their lives.