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Equipping churches to build community

Loneliness and hopelessness are rampant in our world. Many are looking for love, seeking to feel welcomed and needed by someone else, or simply looking for a better life. Those looking to harm others can exploit these vulnerabilities. By creating a protective community for the lonely and broken, the church has a special opportunity and a unique calling to share the hope of Christ.

In 2010, One Mission Society created a ministry to prevent human trafficking called HOPE61.1 There are an estimated 24 to 45 million victims of human trafficking around the world. If we add the number of traffickers and buyers, there could be over 150 million people involved in or affected by human trafficking in some way.

HOPE61 began in Japan in 2018. Our main goals are to educate people about human trafficking in Japan and empower churches to reach out to vulnerable people in their communities.

There are two root causes of human trafficking: sinful hearts that need to know Jesus and vulnerable people who need protection. The church has the answer to both.

We know that salvation through Jesus is the only answer to the problem of sin. Traffickers, buyers, and even victims are slaves to sin. We cannot hope to change them or their situation without first introducing them to Jesus.

The church community is also the answer to the problem of vulnerability. HOPE61 has identified eight vulnerable groups that the church can focus on:

  1. People who are uneducated academically, biblically, or about human trafficking.
  2. Immigrants and refugees.
  3. Victims of abuse and people with unhealed trauma in their lives.
  4. Addicts of porn, gambling, alcohol, drugs, etc.
  5. Disabled and mentally ill people.
  6. Children in general, but especially orphans, foster children, and teens who have run away from home.
  7. Homeless people and others in poverty.
  8. People who are lonely, socially isolated, and lacking community support.

This last group is where the church can have the most impact. Social isolation is one of the biggest risk factors for becoming involved in human trafficking as a victim, trafficker, or buyer. Our relationships with others protect us and shape the kinds of decisions we make. The other seven vulnerabilities are almost all linked in some way to social isolation or a paucity of positive relationships. An isolated person is susceptible to attack. Whereas a person in community and with good relationships with others has a circle of protection around them.

No institution or group is better equipped to provide this kind of protective community for vulnerable people than God’s church. Instead of traffickers coming into their lives and exploiting them, the church can come into their lives to support and protect them. Our prevention strategy is twofold:

  • relationship evangelism to meet a person’s heart need, and
  • social ministry to meet their felt needs.

The church is an incredible asset for Christians. God has given us a community of people equipped by the Holy Spirit with gifts, talents, abilities, experiences, and resources. He has given us these things not just to benefit us, but also to share with other people, like the groups mentioned above. These gifts can be used to build bridges into our communities, to make connections with people who are in desperate need of the gospel.

The question we hear most often from churches is: “What can we do?”

We respond with: “What are your strengths?” Use what God has given you. Don’t look at what you lack—instead look at the strengths and assets God has provided you with as individuals and as a church community. Each church, no matter how small or financially poor, has a wealth of assets provided by the Lord. How can you use those things to serve God and your community?

One-day training

The bulk of the one-day training that HOPE61 does with churches focuses on this process of discovery. We spend the morning educating the church about human trafficking, how it occurs within Japan, and what our biblical response should be. Then in the afternoon we help the church create their own plan of action. We do this through a process of asset mapping and ministry development. Asset mapping is cataloguing all the assets (gifts, talents, and resources) within a community. It helps the church locate all their assets and social networks in a visible and tangible way.

Three main categories of assets are examined:

  1. Assets and abilities of individuals in the church (as assessed by a church survey).
  2. Assets and abilities inside the church community—current church ministries and social networks church members have in the wider community.
  3. Assets located within the community—e.g., non-profit or social service organizations, schools, hospitals, and police or fire departments.

Once the church has catalogued their strengths and assets, we ask them to consider what vulnerable groups live in their neighborhood. They then create an action plan for how they can strategically use their unique strengths to meet the needs and start building relationships with them. Belonging to a protective community and being introduced to Jesus are key to preventing human trafficking and a wealth of other social problems.

We walk the church through how to get from point A (the asset mapping and action plan) to point Z (carrying out the action plan), and all the steps in between. The asset map helps a church see opportunities for action and know where to best focus their energies or where they could potentially have the most impact. Change in a community occurs when people work together, through the Holy Spirit’s power, to share God’s love with their neighbors in word and deed.

Who can prevent human trafficking?

Everyone has a role to play in sharing the gospel and in preventing human trafficking. Because each ministry plan is based on the church’s unique assets and their community’s unique needs, each church will have a different ministry plan.

These are three examples of action plans that churches have or could come up with:

Church A has a basketball court and is near several schools. They plan to start a sports ministry for local kids. As they build relationships with the kids, they plan to tell them about Jesus and educate them about human trafficking in age-appropriate ways.

Church B is in an industrial area, where many immigrants work in factories. The congregation has several language teachers and an immigration lawyer. They plan to offer language classes at church along with free legal advice and assistance for those who face labor abuses.

Church C is near a children’s group home. One church member is a gifted teacher, and she has a friend who works at the group home. They hope to use that contact to offer tutoring services. The church also decides to offer support for children graduating from the group home—such as help them look for housing, seek to enter college, or start a job. A couple decide to explore adoption, and they become advocates for foster care and adoption within the Christian community.

You don’t have to be a trained professional or have years of experience to change your neighborhood, and by extension, your world. By befriending a lonely person or approaching someone you might not have talked to before, you can prevent human trafficking and share the love of Christ.

Ask yourself: What is God asking me to do? Where do my strengths lie? What opportunities has he put right in front of me? Then step out boldly in faith to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, because surely he is with you and will provide all you need.

1. For more information about HOPE61 see: https://www.onemissionsociety.org/hope

Photo supplied by author

Pamela Duhrkoop grew up in Japan as a missionary kid. She received a master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice from Portland State University in the USA and returned to Japan in 2018 to work with One Mission Society’s human trafficking prevention ministry, HOPE61.

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